The sunlight dances in as the breeze pushes the curtains away from the window. The cracks widen, and I’m stabbed by the bright shining blade of sunlight as the cruel icy wind laps around its heels. Together they wake me. I sit up, feeling like I’ve not slept at all. That instead I ran a marathon and then tumbled down as many stairs as I could find. What happened last night? Nothing. I know that.
Where to start. I haven’t decided, no matter how much I’ve thought about it during the week. Do I try to stop him before he leaves the village. Or get involved just before the fight. Maybe if I just follow him, and stop him that way. There has to be a good way of doing it. I just don’t want to fail. I only have one shot at this. I can’t just keep on going back, that will make things even more complicated than they have to be.
I get out of bed, stretch and try to make myself feel human, which is somehow a lot harder than it sounds. I don’t want to go downstairs to get anything to eat. I’ve been putting this off for long enough. It’s now or never. I reach over to the pocket watch, and grasping it tightly in my fist I think. Back to that Friday night. Just coming home from school, knowing how much Tobi hated me. Would that be enough time. Maybe that morning. Just after I left for school, so I won’t bump into myself. Me rushing out the door for school, last Friday. I focus on that thought, trying to remember what I had for breakfast. Even if I arrive when I’m downstairs, at least I won’t see myself. That might set this whole thing off-balance.
The world around me cascades into a waterfall of colours. It blurs into darkness, and then back again. Nothing has changed. That probably means I’m in the right place. My book might have moved on the bed-side table. But other than that it’s all the same. Even the smiling face, just there, looking at me like a guardian angel. Giving me some kind of boost that I didn’t realise I needed. I can do this. Outside the world is the same, I couldn’t tell the difference if someone offered me everything in the world.
I’ve never done this before, even though I’ve thought about it. Climbing out the window. It’s the only way this plan works. Dad never really leaves the shop, unless I’m there, so out the window I go. The window swings outwards on its hinge, frozen out in the icy winter air. All I need to do is climb down the wooden frame of the house, but that’s easier said than done. I could probably just jump down, it’s not that far. But if I hurt myself doing that, then that would be the end of all of this. I would get caught or go back to my time and get caught. Either way it’s not good. Maybe they’ll think I’m suicidal. I could blame it on the loss of my Mum. I could also blame it on the people at school and the crap they say. That would get them, wouldn’t it? They would be devastated that they could drive someone to that.
What am I thinking? This isn’t why I’m here. I just want to use the watch for the good of others. Using it for the full potential, not get back at the idiots at school. They have enough to feel bad about, just waking up knowing your useless should be enough. Let’s not put my death on top of that.
I grab the edges of the open window, hoisting myself out in the air. It’s odd how everything looks so different from just a slightly different perspective. I’ve never looked at the village like this, the buildings look different. The crooked wooden houses, each pointing to a different part of the sky. The dirt tracks running between them, so worn down that no grass could ever grow there. The village looks dark, but it’s not horrible to look at. This is home. And I’m going to make it just that little bit better. Shame that no one will ever know, but then again they says that’s true selflessness.
I turn and lower myself, hanging from the bottom of the window frame. I could probably drop from here, but that’s not going to happen. I didn’t realise I had a problem with heights before now. Well I suppose it’s more the falling I have a problem with.
The wooden boards that make up the outside of the house feel like they’re going to break away as I cling to them. They must have been nailed together years and years ago. No matter how many improvements Dad makes, this will always look as if it’s going to crumble. Is it too late to go back to my time and leave the house before I go back. Why didn’t I think ahead. This was stupid. And I want to be a hero who saves people. How am I supposed to do that, when I make leaving my own home into a quest in itself.
Just a couple more boards and I’ll be on the floor. I’m sure Dad will get questions about this. I’m not exactly being quick, people must have seen me by now. I take the next board and try to find a place for my foot, swinging it around like a drunk on the way home. Nothing, crap. I can’t believe this. Too late to turn back now, do I just jump? It’s not that far down, not that I can look down to check. I feel sick. I have to just let go. My hands release and I fall to the floor, landing perfectly on my feet, about an inch lower than my foot could reach before.
“Well that’s that sorted,” I start. “And now I’m talking to myself. This is amazing. I’m so going to make a difference around here. Well I best be off, nice talking to you. And you, see you soon.”
God. I’m not funny, even I find myself annoying. No wonder no one wants to spend any time with me. Should I be sad now? No. That isn’t going to solve anything. Now I just need to take one step at a time. Towards the city.
“Shouldn’t you be in school?”
I turn and freeze in place as if I’m about to be stabbed and know there is nothing I can do to stop it. It’s one of the neighbours.
“I’m on my way, I woke up late.” I state.
“Why do you look so scared? And didn’t I see you a minute ago.”
“I don’t think so. I’m going to be late, I need to go.”
“Isn’t it quicker if you go that way?”
“Yes. I was supposed to meet someone, but I bet they’ve already left and just gone to school.”
That was some quick thinking, I’m almost proud of myself. I should just go back to the present and then get into the city. Or go to the weekend. You know so people don’t ask these questions. Imagine what the guard at the gate is going to say. I should be at school. I don’t think he’ll let me explain that I am at school, just here at the same time.
I duck in-between two houses on the way to the school. A small forgotten crevice that I can hide in, shielding myself from the world. I used to play hide and seek here before I went to school, in the long summer days. When I was too young to help in the shop. When I didn’t understand the world at all. Back then the village was the only thing that existed, it was the only thing that mattered.
I pull out the pocket watch, ignoring the smell of god knows what. I probably shouldn’t have been playing here when I was smaller. I don’t remember it smelling like this though, as if this was the slaughtering ground of the farm. I need to go back to tomorrow. As if that’s a sentence that makes sense. I need to go to that Saturday. I close my eyes, and let the world around me flow, the gentle breeze bringing that foul stench as it tussles my hair, pushing its way through and around me, circling around me as I hide between these two buildings.
I open my eyes, knowing time has moved, the world shifted. Everything is different, even though I know it’s the same. I head towards the city gates, and no one speaks to me. A couple of people nod, but nothing. This is the way I should have gone from the start. I need to think smarter about this, I can’t go around making these stupid mistakes time and time again.
The guard lets me through the gate without much hesitation. I tell him I’m going to see family. He politely tells me he’s going to search me. I let him, and five seconds later the gate is slowly fading into the distance. I wonder if he knew what happened to Tobi’s Dad. I’m sure he does. He must have been the person who let him through the gate yesterday. He probably doesn’t know right now, but he will do. Give it time, but I’m not going to let that happen. I know where he was yesterday, and that’s all I need. I can help him before he needs help.
I read that newspaper over and over again, the one I the teacher gave me. I knew the story inside out. The timeline, ingrained in my head. I could picture every second as it played out, step by step. I’d read that thing more times than anything else. I had it kept next to my bed, it was the first thing I read every morning, and the last every night. I had to know it inside out, there was no way this could go wrong. I can’t risk messing things up and not being able to come back again to fix it.
He would have walked this path late Thursday night, heading towards the City, the towering spectacle growing ever closer, step by step. He never really left the village, but that day was different. It’s almost as if he was planning on dying. It was out of character. He reached the City, and straight away headed for a pub, the Brown Bear. He had been there before, years ago when he worked for the farm. They went there to celebrate a successful harvest. Things were looking up. It was probably the happiest time in his life. Maybe he wanted to repeat it, or maybe he saw that as the place he lost all hope, the beginning of the end. Apparently he drank all night, until closing. In silence. He spent all the money he had, took every penny from his family to drink himself to death. When he ran out of money he kicked off, caused a fuss. Got angry, and then wobbled outside into the street.
Witnesses saw him fall asleep in an alley, and left him. They were scared he was dangerous. At least that’s what the newspaper says, but it’s easy to say that in hindsight to make yourself feel better. Really these witnesses just didn’t want to help, they saw village scum. They are all just a list of people who didn’t do anything to stop what happened, but they can make themselves feel better. That’s good for them.
He spent the next day wondering around the streets, and when the police came to make sure he wasn’t bothering anyone he retaliated. A lost soul, on the brink of destruction pushed over the edge and into the abyss. He probably won’t be sober when I get to him, but at least he won’t be completely drunk like the night before. That is something I don’t want to deal with, if I’m honest.
As I walk towards the City, I double-check everything. I have a small idea where the pub is, but that’s about it. I know I’m on the right day, I checked that as many times as possible, its early morning, so he should be asleep in an alleyway.
I step into the maze, an elaborate snaking road that weaves between the gigantic buildings, blocking out the sunlight. It creeps in through the slits above us, highlighting us just enough. I wish I thought things through more. That I didn’t just walk into the City without finding out where the pub was. Why do I act so quickly. I never think things through, I just do it and then live to regret it. Everything I do is a mistake, what makes me think I can do anything to help anyone. I’m a failure, through and through.
I turn a few random corners, with no real direction in mind. All the time wondering if I could possibly retrace my steps to my uncle. Maybe he could tell me where the Bear was. That would solve a lot of problems, even if it would be a strange conversation to have. Another few random corners, and then it starts to dawn on me how stupid I really am. I’m not being harsh on myself. It’s ridiculous. I start these things, as if by fate I’m about to stumble across things. I’ve always been like this. Desperately searching to be the hero of my own story, but that’s not the way that life works. I’m not special, no matter how badly I want to be.
I turn one more corner, on the verge of tears. Fists clenched, and ready to turn around. I don’t belong here, dressed in these rags, dirty to the bone. Why do they even let me through the gate, to give me a glimpse of what I could achieve if I put my mind to it. That I can one day better myself, while in reality I should just curl up and accept that the village is all I will ever know. Mum couldn’t escape from it, and neither will I.
And there it is. Sitting part way down the street, The Brown Bear. I can’t believe it’s there. I’ve studied the picture for so long, and here it is, just popping out in front of me, as if I had willed it into existence. I can’t believe it, maybe fate is real, and this is my destiny.
I walk towards the building, knowing that I’m not going to be allowed inside. It’s not a school day, it’s Saturday. So at least I wouldn’t be asked that question, but that’s about as much luck as I’m going to have. No one is going to listen to a little girl from the village. Maybe. But that’s not what a hero would do. I need to know where he went. What ally is he asleep in right now, it isn’t that one next to the pub. Maybe they know something inside. I need to be brave and go inside. This is what I was born to do.
Why are pubs open this early, they really shouldn’t be. It’s heading onto noon, but it’s not quite there yet, and already there are people sitting in this dark dingy room. The whole City is out there, waiting for people to grasp every enjoyment out of it, the bright towers glooming over us, and still there are people in here. Not a lot, but enough to keep the place open. What a waste. I walk over the bar, avoiding eye contact with the staring onlookers. I don’t belong here, but I don’t need reminding.
“Hi,” I manage to say.
“Morning, what are you doing here? We don’t sell to the underagers here.”
“No, it’s not like that. I believe my Dad was here last night. From the village. I’m looking for him.”
“Oh, he’s your dad is he. That’s a shame. You seem like a nice girl. He was a bit of a mess last night, probably should have stopped serving him earlier, but couldn’t have guessed he was gonna turn like that, you know. Seemed a bit down a first, but that’s normal here.”
“Do you know where he went.”
“Yeah, kind of. I kicked him out around eleven. He started trying to fight people, and then he walked outside. I saw him on the way back to my flat, sleeping cocked up against the wall. Down an alley a little way down the road, yeah go out and in that direction. You tell him he needs to get himself sorted. He can’t be doing that to his kids. He needs to get back to the village and provide for you. Make sure you give him a hard time for it.”
“Thanks,” I turn without another word and start to head towards the entrance. The audience still stares, desperate to get a look at this intruder. It’s unsettling, as if they could all jump up and murder me, rip me apart so I don’t expose their secret, their early morning drinking.
Outside is a welcoming embrace. The chill in the air greets me, swirling around me, grabbing at me in a welcoming embrace. Slowly it picks off the stench of alcohol and faded regret. It takes them away from me, leaving me cold and alone in the street.
I can’t believe it’s only been a couple of weeks since we were sitting on that rooftop, watching the snow. So much has changed. It feels so much longer. I wouldn’t believe it, if someone had told me it was snowing. It was a distant memory, I don’t feel like I remember it at all. That’s what the watch has done to me. Time seems to have stumbled to a stop, and yet the days are flying past. I can barely remember one from the next.
I take the alley that the bartender mentioned. The smell hits me instantly, as if it was running straight for me. Targeting me in the alley. I was alone. One step into the alley and the city was left behind. I was completely alone here. My feet shuffled through the trash. It was hard to believe it was part of the same place. The rest of the city was so clean and pristine. This was hidden away, as if everyone was ashamed of it and agreed to do nothing about it.
Darkness crept around me, as the buildings grew and grew leaving the sunlight as a distant dream. I could just about make out the split bin bags that had been thrown down here, scattering their insides like war victims. At first I didn’t think anyone was down here. Salime wouldn’t have stayed here for long. I knew that much. Even if the papers didn’t know what he did exactly, they knew enough. He didn’t die until the afternoon. I had until then to get to him and stop him.
I reach the end of the alley, and it breaks into two pathways. Left and right, leading behind the rows of buildings I just walked in front of. I had no real idea which way to go, so I turned right, it was heading back towards the pub. Maybe Salime had headed back there from behind. It was possible.
Ahead of me there was a massive tub, it was overflowing with bin bags. Their liquid insides seeping out, draining along the tub. If I didn’t find Salime by then, I would turn back. I had time, but not enough to waste. Even with the watch, I could just go back and back. I can only imagine what would happen if I replicated myself at the same spot. I may not have the same worries as my Dad, but I still worry.
It didn’t matter, anyway. As I approached the tub, the bags started to move. My heart grew faster and faster, like a scared puppy wanting to escape from its cage. I stopped moving, not wanting to be too close. God knows what’s in there. It might not even be human.
“Salime?” I call out, quietly.
I don’t get a response, not that I was expecting one. The rumbling in the bags grow and they start to fall. A figure rises out of the tub and knocks the bags away. I step backwards.
“Salime?” I repeat.
A groggy and sleepy sound erupts from the figure. It’s Salime, I’m sure of it. Even though he is covered in a thick layer of grime, I know it’s him.
“Nymia?” he asks with a weak voice. “What are you doing here?”
“I can to look for you.”
“You’re here to gloat?”
“No, I’m here…” I don’t know how to explain it.
“Leave, I know who you are, your father. Leave me alone.”
“I can’t. I’m here to help. Tobi wants you to come home.”
“What are you on about? You know nothing. You didn’t know Tobi existed before. You never spoke to him. He never had a nice word to say about you. Your whole family is toxic.”
“I spoke to him yesterday. He’s upset that you’ve gone. He was crying at school.”
“And what?” He shouts as he stumbles out of the bin and towards me. His rotten breath freezes me in place. “You’re here to save the day. You don’t understand. Leave me alone child.”
As he turns away I don’t say anything. I don’t know what to say. Even though he’s not facing me, I can still feel his eyes. As he was standing in front of me, they seemed so distant. Angry and broken. His whole body had given up, it was struggling to stand and having an even harder time walking.
He was making his way through the small mountains of trash, back to the street. Maybe I’ve done enough. Maybe he’ll survive now. I can’t be sure though. He could walk out now, instead of later and still get into trouble. I’ve changed everything by waking him early, but I can’t be sure. I have to try again to get him back to the village.
“Salime. I’m not a child.”
“Yes you are,” he shouts without stopping.
“It doesn’t matter. Listen to me. I’m not the one causing Tobi to be in tears right now.”
That stopped him.
“What’s that supposed to mean,” he slurs as he turns back at me. Those spaced out eyes trying to focus on me. “You calling me a bad parent.”
“No,” I don’t want to go down that path, that’s not even a last resort. I don’t think he’s a violent man. But I don’t want to push someone who has drunk that much. “I’m not saying that. He’s sad you’ve left isn’t he? That means you’re a good parent.” I cringe at my words. I don’t know what to say. “All I’m saying is go back home to him.”
“Leave. Don’t come to me, shouting stuff like that. You don’t understand. You’re a child. Live like a child. The world is a different place than you think it is. Nothing is simple. Nothing is easy. Not for everyone. You will never understand. Your family gets away with living in that little bubble, filled with your pointless clocks. The rest of us have to make our own way. You were born into that. I don’t care what you’re trying to do. You think you’re doing good? You’re really not. You think I don’t know how I’ve failed my family? You think I’m that stupid. It’s just not that simple. I’m not talking to you anymore. Leave now.”
His words echo throughout my bones. His wavering eyes keep me from answering him. I’ve failed. He won’t listen to me. I can’t change anything. I don’t know enough to get through to him, he won’t listen to me. He’s right. I’m just a child.
He knows I’m not going to answer back. He’s put me in my place. I don’t move as he turns and walks away. The garbage is swirling around me, not letting me make more of a fool of myself. I can’t do any good. What was I thinking, trying to change anything? I was just being stupid. This watch doesn’t give me powers. It doesn’t help me get anything. I’m not special. I’m stupid.
I want to throw away the watch, throw it into the garbage, and never look at it again. Never think about this power. These last few months have been so pointless. I can’t just throw it away though. I know that. It’s not because it’s something my Dad gave me. It’s not because it’s my only way back to see my Mum, or even the only way back to my own time and home. It’s because I’m weak. I wanted to be special so badly.
Those books I’d read. I wanted to be like that. Living in a fantasy world full of exploration and adventures. I wanted to be special. I never admitted it myself, but I really thought that pocket watch was my start in a journey like that. I would save the village from poverty, somehow join my uncles fight for equality in the City. Together we would change the face of the Earth.
But it’s not that simple. It never is. I failed.
The garbage moves away from me, giving me a parting to walk though freely. I have nothing hold me back. If I was that hero, I would go and find Salime. I would drag him back to the village. Give him no other option. But big moves like that are too much for me. If I spoke to him, he would trample all over me again, and I would do nothing in return.
I’m sure he’s gone now, anyway. Found another alleyway somewhere to curl up into. I don’t think I’ve done enough, but I can’t carry on. I want to find my own alley to swallow me whole. Live there for a while and then disappear completely. What good do I do outside of that. I really believed that watch was something special. It is, but I’m not the right person for it. If I wasn’t such a coward I would throw it away right now.
I hate everything about today. I’ve done nothing right. I’m a complete mess. I can’t go home, tears rolling down my face. I’m not ready to face the world just yet, I need to go away for a moment. Just to figure out what’s going on. How much damage have I actually done.
I walk down the street with no real direction, but I end up at the cafe. I wasn’t heading there, but I’m not surprised either. It was no different from the last time I was there. People sitting around tables, either waiting or already drinking their drinks. A couple of people started looking at me, but they didn’t stare. They just darted their eyes to me and then off to the floor or their friends. I must have looked so out-of-place, in my rags. Everyone else wearing full clothes. I don’t think the alley stuck to me, but it probably did even if I can’t smell it.
I take the watch out and stare at it. Nothing has changed. Why would it have. The fingers still point to where they’ve always pointed. There is never a change. I’m focusing on the watch, when I should be making a decision. Do I go and see her now. Before she knows who I am. Before she’s my Mum. Should I go and see her like this, red-eyed and shaking? What harm can it do? I don’t need to speak to her, I just need to see her. She wouldn’t even remember it, how many people would she have served. Did she remember all of them? Any of them at all? No. I can go back and she’ll never know it’s me.
The world around me moves, it starts shaking, and then the pavement changes. It becomes older and cracked, as if the world around me is falling apart. The building in front of me, though, gets younger. Plants grow and thrive under the summer sun, standing tall on the windowsills. The tables are more crowded, and brighter. The yellow painted legs aren’t chipped and faded, they shine brightly in the sun.
She sees me straight away, stops while placing a cup on a table. She doesn’t move towards me, but stands still looking at me. Her eyes glowing, as tears slowly form. Her whole body starts to shake, until someone calls her over. She snaps out of her trance and walks over to the table. I see her smile, and say something. I’m not close enough to hear. Instead of going back inside, she walks straight over to me.
“Hi,” she says.
“Hi,” I reply.
“Are you?” She pauses. “I mean, you know me?”
“I think so.”
“Are you related to NYMIA’s DAD”
“I thought you were, I saw the way you looked at him before. I pieced it together after that. You look like me.”
“Thanks,” I chuckle.
“I can’t believe this is real. He took me back to see a band. They broke up when I was a child. I have all of their records, and I got to see them live. I couldn’t believe it.”
“It’s hard to take in. I still don’t get it.”
“How old are you?”
“Are you really my daughter?”
“Why are you sorry. Come here. I can’t believe I’m holding you. You’re not even ten years younger than me. Why are you sorry?”
“I don’t know. For you finding out like this.”
“Your Dad, he is a weird one. This family is so weird. We’ve only been on a couple of dates. No need to feel nervous about how it ends now, do I?”
I start to cry, shaking.
“No you don’t,” I sob.