There were still a million and one questions I needed answers to, and they hung at the cliff of my lips just waiting for expression. Did the old woman ever get to meet my grandfather again? Did all the time pieces in that box have the power to enable time travel? And if so, did she get to experience it?
Even though I was yet to tell her of my single experience, I felt she already knew. There wasn’t so much one could hide from the look on her eyes. She could take my entire future out of my mouth, by just looking into my eyes. Was it some hypnotic ability she possessed, or it was me just being plain vulnerable?
The eye is the gateway to the soul. I was sure I had once heard that before.
“To everything created, there is a time. Even the sun has got its own.”
Hmm. I thought about that for a second.
“I never got the chance to meet Eli again, like I said, I knew I was late; but I saw him more than a few times.”
“You –” I stopped my sentence midway, and swiftly regurgitated what I just heard. Sally was busy trying to put some images together, while the only picture of my grandfather that popped in my head was that of the portrait that hung on the wall of my father’s house. The picture was that of a straight-faced man, with the bushy hair of a twentieth century learned uptown Negro.
“You saw him again, but never met him?” It was Sally who eventually asked. “How’s that?”
“Oh yes, a few times.” She said again. “Once, before I traveled down to Africa, and some more after.” Granny smiled. It seemed like the thoughts were flooding in, but it was clear she savoured this moment, sharing of her life with us, maybe in a way she had never done to anyone.
“The first time I traveled through time was a coincidence. I had just returned to my home country after my mourning phase and thought of parting with the box since I never got to meet that strange gentleman again. Well, I believed he must have been killed.” She sighed. “Just the night before I decided to tell someone, I lay in bed, sleep a thousand miles away, and thoughts sailing through my mind, as I recalled the fleeting romance I had with the first man I loved; and how all the memories I had of him kept me through my hard times.” She took a sip of the air, then exhaled slowly.
“That night, as I pressed on to my chest the time piece he had given me, I realized it ticked in rhythm with my heartbeat. I had only stared at the moving fingers of the watch for a few seconds when I noticed the words written inside of the device for the first time.
“It was like a dream. I had woken up as a nun in a convent in a small quiet town in East Germany. One of the priests, Father Boyle, was reading from a book the exact words in the watch to a dying nun in whose body I suddenly found myself.” She paused to see if we understood what she was saying. We didn’t. Not entirely. For me, my mind was beginning to drift. Drifting to my very own experience with the alarm clock.
“I was awoken to a glad gathering of nuns and priests and other members of the convent. I remained in that future for about two weeks, only to get back to my present and discovered I had been away for just a night.
“The next day, I took a train out of town in search of the convent in a no man’s land. That was how I found myself in Germany.”
“The time span between my dream and the actual real time seemed very close – about two days difference. When I found the convent in the present day time, one sister Rose had just passed away, and I was the first visitor there since her death. How I got to have a spitting image of the dead wasn’t something I could explain. That was where I learnt the meaning of the words in the tiny book, and the power of the pieces that lay inside of the box I secretly carried around. Father Boyle wasn’t just an ordinary prelate after all.”
“The second time I experienced time travel, it was like I was driving a rocket to a known destination in outer space. I knew exactly where I needed to be.”
My mind sagged from the tension of hearing the old lady share her story while I painfully locked mine in a dungeon down in my soul.
She turned slightly as if to address Sally now. “I said we didn’t meet because I didn’t disclose my identity to him.” The old woman must have been the centre of attraction everywhere she went. The beauty that had faded with her age seemed to litter her face every once in a while. I couldn’t help but put myself in my grandfather’s shoes – I wasn’t sure I would have left this woman had I met her when she was eighteen.
“It was at the village square, when the Oba of Benin held his yearly gathering with his chiefs, priests, and all his people. It was a large gathering that lasted for three days. On the first day, I stood in the crowd, but my attention was focused on him the entire time.
“Did he notice you?” Sally took the words out of my mouth.
“When I got my chance, I moved closer, till I was able to cross his vision. He tailed me afterwards to know who I was, because I was in a different skin. He even saw me off to the end of the market, and ordered his guards to make sure I arrived safely at my home. He was sure he had met someone like me before. But the veil was there all the time. The veil of a different skin I was in.”
“We saw the next day also; and on the last day, he told me he had something strange he wanted to tell me. I almost chocked, thinking he had discovered who I was. But what he told me melted my heart. He said he was drawn to me the way he had never been drawn to anyone else, except for a lady he once knew years before. He said, he wasn’t used to living like a chief, and couldn’t marry more than a wife, for he would have loved to have me as his second wife.”
“I almost crept out of my skin. I couldn’t stop the flow of tears from my eyes. They poured endlessly, and he must have wondered why.”
Was grandma going to cry now? Again. She only sniffed.
“I wanted to tell him I was Anna, the girl he used to know from across the road, far away in Albania. I wanted to tell him how he preferred to call me Ann, and how he looked at me when he walked past the window of my master’s shop. I wanted to tell him there and then how I had hardly slept any night since the last time he kissed me. I wanted to tell him of the box of time pieces I still had with me, and how he too could use his.”
“But I didn’t. He was married. It might have been true, what he felt, but he was married. I knew all along that I was late. From the very day we parted ways at the dock, I knew I was late, and would always be.”
No, those weren’t tears rolling down Sally’s face. It was only my imagination. I sniffed.
“That night, I went back to my present, back at the convent.” Anna braced up herself, even as she spoke. It showed it must have taken all the courage she could get to make that one decision. “My decision wasn’t based on my religious beliefs; neither was it because I couldn’t bear to live with the consequence to never returning to the present. My decision was made by him. Eli was no coward. He stuck to the principles he built his life around. Whether they were a prison that hindered him from accepting life outside of his own rules, or a shield that helped preserve his dignity, I respected his choices and I decided I wouldn’t be the reason he broke them.”
“It wasn’t until a year later that I went on another time travel to pay Eli a visit. I had stayed away for too long. The only man that I was ever in love with had to know what had become of my choice. And his also. After I rationalized all that had happened to both of us, I felt the blame was for us to share, for he could have waited for me on that dock. Or he could have gone back with me instead of insisting on his way or the high way. This time around, I was angry, and furious, realizing that I was never one cut out for a life of celibacy, while my lover was just a second away, however the distance between us.”
I sighed. Like really?
“This next travel, I married him.”
“What!” Sally and I exclaimed in unison. “How did you?”
“In the time travel,” Grandma knew exactly how we would react. She shoved our exclamation aside, like it didn’t matter. Well, it never did, anyway. “I found that I had been married to him for about six years. But then evil struck our home.”
“Evil.” I ricocheted. The way she said the word, it was as if something really grave happened. Every word she spoke reflected in her eyes.
“Permit me to call it a dream, because that’s the only way it becomes easy to understand.”
Sally and I nodded.
“The oracle had asked for our child. Our only child. To be killed to take away the curse that had plagued the land for many years. I thought Eli would have refused. I expected him to have taken us away from the land, and save his son from death by what I saw as a false and faulty belief system. He had many sons and daughters from the first wife, but why the oracle asked for my only son, was beyond my understanding.”
How this old woman carried all of these stories and experiences in her for this many years was beyond my capacity.
“Eli agreed. And my son was taken.”
It was like a minute silence had been given in respect of either the dead, or the gods that demanded such bloodshed. We remained quiet till Grandma Anna felt she was ready to speak again.
“When I awoken from this nightmare/time travel, I never for once thought about trying to travel to be with Eli again, let alone getting married to him. I had seen my future with Eli, and I concluded that perhaps we weren’t meant to be together.”
“Not until twelve years later did I actually move down to Nigeria. I mean physically. I never tried travelling through time again; I never tried searching for Eli. Even though I knew I loved him so; even as he loved me the same, I felt it was okay that I lived a separate life from the bond I had with him. If somehow we met in the future, it sure wouldn’t be by my orchestration.”
I sighed. Sally sighed. Anna gave a big final sigh.
“Truly, I never could predict it was going to be this way. I mean, you here, his grandson.”
Grandma Anna beckoned that I drew closer to her. When I did, she held my hands together in hers and rubbed softly. Her hands were so fragile and soft I felt they would peel as a result of the friction.
“It’s your turn to make your decisions, son. And somehow I believe you will make the right ones.”
“I traveled once.” The lump in my throat finally went down, as I made a fast confession. It was as if a big weight was lifted off me. “It was accidental. I think.”
Grandma Anna and Sally looked at me, the younger lady looking way more surprised.
“I figured out. This time, you can decide where and when and how. I believe you will make the right decisions.”
I didn’t know how to respond. I simply made a cursory glance around the room, and settled my eyes on the old woman’s wrinkled fingers.
“There are some things you should see. And some things you should know. Don’t be in so much of a hurry to get going. There isn’t any such thing as a waste of time if you are on the right course. Remember, you have all the time in the world.”
Grandma signaled Sally it was time we left this room. I felt there was still a lot I could learn about this room, but it sure would be another time. I have all the time in the world… Why does the statement sound too familiar?
My mind kept wondering as we exited the room and headed down the corridor… An image began to form in the dingy corner of my head… You have all the time in the world… I saw in my mind’s eye a man in white overalls giving a courteous smile, and saying only a few words… You have all the time in the word… Then it dawned. It became clear. It was the doctor from the holograph device in my future.
“Ikh bin nisht ristreynd durkh tsayt .
Tsayt iz gegrindet far mir, aun nit mir far mol.
Azoy tsayt vet nor zeyn a getsayg far mir tsu tog meyn arbet do, aun gornisht mer.
Es gehert tsu mir mortalz .
Ikh bin a fragment fun im ver gemakht mol , aun ikh arbet vi er arbet. nit keyn onheyb , keyn sof.
Fun eybikeyt ikh kumen, tsu eybikeyt ikh tsurikkumen.”
Grandma Anna read offhand from the closed book on her lap. She had pulled it off the shelf in this overstuffed library we had entered. It was complete gibberish what she just said, although in those words l sensed lay some codes.
Grandma looked up at me and handed the cracked leather covered diary to me. It was so tiny I felt it would slip out of my hands even if I clenched it tight in a fist. I didn’t open it, for I felt there was no point if I couldn’t read it. I just stared at the tiny mystical inscription on the brown leather cover.
“Aoys fun umendikayt ir gekumen, tsu umendikayt ir vet tsurikkumen.” Grandma sheepishly smiled at me, as if she could read my mind.
I responded as one who found oasis in a desert. My heart literarily leaped at the sound of the familiar words from my alarm clock. For the first time, I heard someone say it with utmost articulation.
Grandma Anna must have relished this moment. It was as if she was passing on a mantle; like she was giving farewell instruction. Her smile widened.
“What do these words mean?” I asked, hoping she would let me into the mystery of the statement.
“Oh my son. This is what I have spent my entire life doing- trying to understand the words fully. Knowing it vabertim isn’t the same as understanding it totally. They are simple words, but they are codes. Codes that lay in plan site.”
Every question seemed to demand a lecture of some sort, when what I really needed to know was a formula. The exact equation to this time travel thing.
“At first it was hidden from the sight of ordinary men. But in the nearest future, it will be hidden in plain sight. For that is the secret place for this generation. People look for what is hidden; people become obsessed for the unknown, but the real truth is out there in the open. We breathe it every day.”
Okay. I turned to look at Sally for a second. Her face was void of expression. So I dedicated a few seconds to observe the form of the tiny book in my hand. The Code Book.
“So this book is some sort of mystery book. What is the language it’s written in, ma?”
“It’s an eastern language.” It seemed as though Grandma Anna was being distracted by my inquisitiveness. And lack of patience. I calmed down, and made the zip-close sign over my lips.
“From eternity you come, to eternity you will return. But first, come with me.” I wasn’t sure if grandma was referring to me, although Sally’s eye language prompted me to follow grandma towards the opposite end of the room.
“Patience is a virtue my son. Seeing the future may destroy you forever, if you lack patience.” Her serious face suddenly turned a half-moon smile. That immediately rested my nerves. No, grandma wasn’t crossed by my questions.
“I was only able to make it back from all the time travel because of my attention to subtle details.” She paused her wheelchair midway as she looked into my eyes to pass the message. I nodded a few times in affirmation.
“What you see at first sight isn’t always true. And your mind is to blame for the deception. So you have to look twice, listen closely, tread softly. There are no coordinates, only focus.”
“The future, however dreary or pleasant it is can still be changed by the actions you take. And in all, the present is what matters the most. If your reason for going to the future is centered around you, then there is a bigger chance you will make a mess of it all.”
That last statement by the old woman stopped me on my tracks. A frown funneled down my temple, and I thought deeply about what she just said. I knew my reason for wanting to go back to my future. I saw it as my escape route from here. On meeting this old woman and her granddaughter, my perception no doubt was quickly changing, however I still remained adamant on getting back to my future. If only to see one more time the people I had left behind. If I could learn all the secrets surrounding who I was in the future; If only I could shed this Eli identity and be Sam again. Even if for just one evening.
I watched as Grandma Anna adjusted her wheelchair so deftly till she was facing the wall directly. I didn’t pick out a dull bronze plated clock hung on the wall above her head. It only drew my attention when grandma stretched her hand and turned the fingers of the clock to a quarter of seven. The seconds finger was also turned to a certain angle.
The first sound I heard was a sharp click. Then another click. What followed next was the sound of friction caused from an oscillator engine somewhere out of sight. Suddenly, the wall opposite us carved in and bore a dark hole that defined well what an abyss was like. Before I could respond adequately to what I was seeing, pots of light on the floor flickered on till it stopped before another door a few feet away.
Grandma rolled her wheelchair in. Sally followed. I hesitated.
They got to the end of the short corridor, and grandma pressed on the door knob. Sally motioned that I joined them as the wall in front of me began its rotary rounds. I quickly stepped in and joined then before the wall closed behind me.
We stepped through the metal door grandma had pushed open. Light from the outer corridor shed some of its ray into this dark room. The air here was surprisingly clean and refreshing like it was sourced from an arboreal habitat. It felt as though it could be drunk. Sally turned on a switch somewhere, and everywhere shone bright with almost blinding light.
My eyes quickly adjusted to the light, and what I saw was beyond my imagination. My jaw slacked from its bolts, and all I could do was stare. From wall to wall, chest to chest, all shapes and sizes of clocks either hung or sat. Most of them were made of rare metals. Maybe gold, maybe silver, maybe platinum, but it was obvious these were all noble metals.
Grandma and Sally allowed me to bask in the euphoric feeling. I leaped from one corner of the available space to another. I screamed bloody French trauma, and ran a Jewish hand over some of the precious artifacts. It was like I had found the mythical King Solomon’s mines.
Now for the first time since I stumbled on the capacity of my alarm clock, I had no strong desire to go back to my future. Suddenly my present was glorious. If I was given just one tiny chip off one of these time pieces, I will compete in worth with Dangote and Otedola. Their father!
All the time pieces in this large room had a mystical message inscribed in them. I moved from one piece to the other, my eyes popping and my mouth yearning for air.
I had never acted this nut. I was about to do a back flip plus Sub-zero combo when grandma called my attention.
“Young man.” She called me exactly how Sally did.
I spun around, and stood at attention.
“Do you still want to go to our future?”
I nodded and shook my head at the same time. I couldn’t calm the excitement that electrified my veins, so I shook my head vehemently. As soon as I realized what message I passed, I screamed out. “No, no no no. I mean yes. Yes. Wait.” What was I saying? I took a deep breath as Sally and her grandma watched me with pity.
“Yes. Yes ma. I still want to go to my future.” I motioned my hands around the room. I wanted to say that this was my future.
Sally had to laugh a little at my state of profuse confusion.
“But I guess I would prefer that I become a horologist.” If this was what Sally meant when she first told me at the Park that her grandma was a horologist, then I wouldn’t mind to be one. Or even a guard here wouldn’t be a bad idea. I have working experience, you know.
This time around both Sally and her grandma had a good few seconds of laughter.
“Open the book to its first page. And read.” The old woman ordered.
I fumbled at the pages of the mysterious book still in my hand, and turned all the way back to the first page. It was still gibberish. It hadn’t magically changed to something I could understand. I looked up at her.
I began coarsely, almost knocking out a frontal tooth.
“You should never forget it. That is who you are. That is what would guard you.”
But I didn’t understand what was written here. How should I not forget something I don’t understand? I looked to Sally for help. She looked clueless.
I continued reading. “Tsayt iz gegrindet far mir, aun nit mir far mol.”
“Never forget that.” Grandma was moving close to me. For the first time I was afraid of this old woman, as I watch her get really serious. Apparently, she wasn’t all play and pamper.
Never forget what?
Sally laughed, covering her mouth for a sec. This was the part of the old woman she knew so well.
The old woman stopped before me and handed me the silver chain watch. My hands shook uncontrollably. My entire body vibrated. This was what I have wanted all the time. Now, it was handed over to me on a platter.
“You have to go now. You have to be there now.” She took the book from my hand as I made mental notes of the letters of the first page.
This state of confusion was killing. “Where do I have to be now?”
“Try take a seat, it would help.” Sally said.
I dropped into a single sofa. There was something I didn’t understand with these people.
“I believe you will make the right choice.” Grandma’s voice was high pitched now.
Suddenly, the watch in my hand began to glow, then it dimmed alternatively. The fingers began to whirl, first slowly then fast till my eyes whirled to a dazed state. It shook me vehemently, until my sight went blur, and I began to fall. Falling into a hole. Falling into an endless pit. I could hear Grandma Anna’s voice. I could hear Sally’s voice. I tried to clear the thick cloud that gathered around me, but it only thickened and finally wrapped me in. I kept falling.
Suddenly, I became still, like I floated in space. My both arms clenched to my sides. I tried to calm my breathing. I moved my hands. They obeyed. I tried to move my legs. They hit a wall. I tried to get up. I hit my head. I looked around. Nothing. Pitch blackness surrounded me.
Dr Ethel Islo turned off the light to the inner lab. Although it was three minutes past one in the morning, she didn’t feel she had done enough for the week. As she went out the A-PIT lab, she hibernated the last of the legi. She made a mental note of all the stages on the ventilator tanks and channels, and heaved a sigh of relief. She was done. Now she would think of the perfect excuse for Thomas. She had run out of ideas, and could hardly think of another brazing stunt as an excuse for standing him up. Thomas had a magnanimous nature, which was the only plead she could hold on to. Hopefully, he wasn’t already running his emotions on empty. She prayed she would never find herself one day late and a dollar short. Somehow, Thomas made her feel that way. He even made a hint of it once.
I will make it up to him. I promise.
Ethel grabbed her vehicle poke from where she had dropped it two days ago. It wasn’t a big deal anymore for her to spend two days at work, locking herself away from the rest of the world. There were days she had spent the entire week in the lab with her legis; and Thomas had had to report the situation to her father. Once, he had even threatened to call off the engagement. He was convinced his fiancée was already married. Spoused to her work.
As she turned out the last of the light switches in the central A-PIT, she was happy she was the last person to leave the lab. She sure would be the first to resume on Monday. Before she shut the lead door, she thought she heard a sound. Not the kind of sound from one of the machines, or legis. It wasn’t a beep either. She stopped. One foot in the darkness, the other slightly out on the lighted corridor. She listened again. Nothing. She was sure.
The click sound of the lead door meant it was locked, and only authorized personnel could access it. For her it was leaving her first love for an entire weekend.
I will be back before you know it, I promise. I will be back.