Time by Allie Wilson
He’s the familiar pedestrian on the sidewalk, gait changing frequently but always recognisable by the way other people part to avoid him, eyes glazing over to shift their gaze to the cityscape surrounding them rather than acknowledge his presence. His moods shift moment by moment, like south west weather systems, sometimes (often) I can feel him breathing hot and heavy down my neck. He sends shivers down my spine when he does that; my pace quickens to close to a jog as goosebumps spread across my skin, but he’s always right behind me. Occasionally, when he’s in a good mood, the bustling world of commuters slows to almost a stop, as he seems to part the looming clouds to let us soak in a moment of tangerine sunshine, and for a breath we virtually forget he exists.
No one’s ever tried to ask him to leave the city or walk a different way to work, because no matter where we are he seems to be there right along-side us. Every time I’ve gone on holiday, he’s come with me; his footsteps landing beside mine as he pulls a Hawaiian shirt over his pinstripe suit or stuffs his snowboots into a bag as I hurry to the airport.
But there was one time he seemed to disappear, as I sipped my first glass of Moroccan mint tea I nervously glanced around; but cloaked in desert hues and lounging on fading rugs and cushions, he was unrecognisable, and I overlooked him. I couldn’t remember the last time I hadn’t felt his presence. But as the room appeared empty, I began to feel the shackles fall free from my wrists.
Suddenly my life wasn’t defined by his presence, but by the tides and the way laughter spread across my face and rumbled in my ribcage; I wasn’t living to see him but to see the way the sun painted the horizon each morning and evening, and then the stars as they gradually appeared across the darkening sky canvas. I was soaked in sunshine and presence like I’d never felt before. I didn’t look at the ticking clocks, and time passed differently – not sauntering like he had, but gently cocooning me in every moment.
Moroccan time meant everything was delayed, but in the way that also meant everything was perfectly on time. Nothing ever felt forced or rushed; we lounged on foam boards on beach breaks that felt like home and never once missed the city streets. The ocean surged beneath us and pulled us below the surface to feel its strength and its mercy. As we came up sucking in breaths of air, we never once glanced at the figure sitting quietly on the beach, because all that moment allowed was presence, as our lungs screamed for oxygen.
We became worshippers of tides and swell charts, of the wind and the strain of our own bodies as muscle replaced the smog clogged tissue, and freckles planted themselves across our white-washed, nondescript skin. To surf was to glide through time at nature's leisure, not the whip-cracking pace of the city, not the frantic commute hounded by him.
Those few months taught me to surrender - not to Time himself, but to the moments that made us feel like Time didn’t exist at all, the moments that made us forget what shoes pounding on pavement felt like, as salt water waves kept us afloat. I learnt to surrender to the swell that pushed me down and the air in my lungs that pulled me up. We paid homage to the campfire smoke that trailed through the air and got caught in our hair and we didn’t think about the toxic fumes that were awaiting our return in the city, ready to choke us and send stars dancing in our eyes.
But eventually we did return to the city; to the world less full of magic, the world where everyone’s being followed by him, and by the expectations built up as high as the skyscrapers that obscure the sunrise each morning. When I saw him again, waiting at the airport terminal for my arrival, I couldn’t help but notice that he had shrunk a bit since I’d seen him last - like he’d had one less soul to feed on while I’d been away. As I approached, he seemed to cower slightly, and hold himself a little less dignified; his steps a little less sure beside mine.
We came to an understanding pretty quickly - he couldn’t influence me any more than I could him. And so, time and I began to live in harmony on those filthy city streets, weaving between schedules and sunsets without missing a step.
He didn’t send shivers down my spine and I didn’t blame him when things went awry.
And he never came on holiday with me anymore.