I spend a couple more minutes with Mum, but then it’s time to go back home. I close my eyes and listen to her say goodbye as I think about the present. I end up back in my room, the eerie silence has returned. I wonder how she feels watching me disappear, if that’s how it works. Am I just there one second, and not the next? Or do I fade away.
I lay down and gently go to sleep.
I wake up. It’s Saturday. I have no plans today. It feels weird. Two full days to read, relax and feel energised for next week. I get up slowly and head towards the door. I can’t remember the last time I felt this hungry. The floorboards squeak under my uneven steps. I feel as if I’m walking through an earthquake. So much aching. Did I get any sleep last night? The door seems to tease me by moving away, with every step I take towards it. I don’t seem to move, and it’s just there, laughing. My whole body drags along, until I pretty much fall into the door. I swing it open and walk towards the stairs. Slowly regaining full movement. I’m so tired. It always catches up when you have nothing to do. Two days to recover though. Lets just take it one moment at a time. Get something to eat and then I’ll think about the rest of the day. Maybe.
I reach the kitchen in record time and find my Dad already cooking some eggs.
“Enough for me?” I ask as I sit down.
“Maybe, maybe not. I see you’ve decided to come downstairs at least today.”
“What do you mean?”
“Yesterday, you literally spend the entire day sitting on your bed reading. Good book?”
I don’t remember that, does that mean it’s Sunday. Has it happened again. Should I not have used the watch. It took an entire day away from me. It would explain why I feel so tired. Dad brings a plate of fried eggs over. I eat them up. My belly grumbling for more.
“Did you just not eat yesterday?”
“I don’t know.”
“Good book then? I need to go into the City today and pay the electricity bills. It’s got to be done today. You okay to look after the shop for a few hours.”
“Yeah of course.”
That was something I really didn’t want to do today.
“Thanks. I’ll see if I can get another book for you.”
“Thank you. I’m just going to take a book into the shop today, that’s okay?”
“Yeah of course. Enjoy. It’s probably going to be a quiet day anyway. I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Anyway. You alright today. I mean you were quiet yesterday, but is Tobi still bothering you.”
“No. I understand. He has to let it out some way. It’s not like he actually hurt me.”
“Exactly, because if he did. I would deal with him, I’m a trained fighter you know.”
“No I don’t, when did this happen?”
“Well back when I was a teenager I used to fight bears for food. It was tough in the old days. You don’t know how lucky you are.”
“Really? How interesting. I could go back with the pocket watch to see.”
“You could, but it would be too scary. I wasn’t very good. Lost two very good arms. Now I look normal with only two. You know how easy it was to fix clocks with four arms?”
“Well I’m off. See you later. I shouldn’t be too long.”
He leaves me alone in the shop, wondering what day it is. It’s got to be Sunday, that’s the only thing that makes sense. Which means I’ve lost an entire day. I go upstairs to fetch my book and the book mark has moved considerably through the book. I couldn’t tell you a thing that’s happened. I don’t feel as tired as I did a couple of weeks back though, so at least that’s something, I’ve only lost one day instead of a few. It’s still not ideal.
I spend the whole day rereading what I’ve already read, not remembering a single word of it. Not even the slightest recollection that I’ve read it before. Before I know it Dad’s back. There was no customers, just reading. At least that’s all I remember.
“Hey honey, see told you I wouldn’t be long. I got you a sandwich, and this book. Not sure if you’ve read it again, but it has a nice cover.”
“Thanks, I don’t think I’ve read it. Thank you.”
“No problem, any customers.”
“Shame I kept you here all day then. You’re free now though.”
“Thanks, I’m going to head to my room and carry on reading. I’m feeling a little sleepy.”
“Sure thing, see you later.”
I head into my room, two books and a sandwich cradled in my arms. I drop them all on the bed and sit next to them. The pocket watch catches my eye. I can almost hear it ticking. It isn’t, but I feel like it is. Even that didn’t annoy me today. The ticking downstairs, it didn’t even faze me. I just say through it. It’s an odd feeling, knowing that I’m not completely here. Is this what a drug is like. I’ve heard tales from the City. Is this what it feels like. Because I really don’t like it. Not being in complete control. Doing stuff without realising it.
I fall asleep at some point, and Monday arrives. The evening seems like a blur, but at least I was present for most of it. I get out of bed, realising I haven’t eaten the sandwich. It’s still sitting there wrapped in the paper bag. It’s probably gone off a little now, they don’t stay fresh for long. Did I just not eat at all yesterday. That is probably not a good thing. I really need to eat something.
Downstairs, Dad is preparing something. I can almost smell it before I get to the bottom of the stairs. What is it?
“Hey honey,” he shouts as I push on the kitchen door. “Want some of this?”
It’s bacon. I haven’t had that in years.
“I went to the farm this morning, to give them some money. They gave me some of their freshest bacon.”
“I haven’t cooked this in years, so hopefully you like it.”
“You’re a decent enough cook.”
“You’re a decent enough daughter.”
I devour the food, not leaving a scrap. It’s delicious, one of the best things I’ve eaten, I think ever. I walk through to the store front. Is that the time really? I’m going to be late. Did I really sleep in that much? I didn’t think I did. What am I going to do. I really need to get going now. I say my goodbyes and run through the door. I’ll make it, just. God, I’m not normally late. I’m going to get in so much trouble. I don’t need this. The normal straddlers are not on the street, I’m later than them today. Did the watch do this to me? Stupid question, things have gotten complicated since that watch showed up.
There are still some people in the playground, so at least that’s something, no one has come out to tell them to move just yet. They all go silent when I walk through the gates, maybe they’re just as shocked as me that I’m late, but somehow I doubt that would result in stunned silence. Something else is going on.
“Do you think she knows?” I hear someone whisper.
“Probably, she doesn’t care though, look at her.”
“Yeah, god Tobi is destroyed.”
“What’s happened?” I ask.
“You don’t know,” Khiln states.
“Tobi’s dad, he went into the City yesterday, tried to cause a fight. He seriously hurt a policeman and then got shot. He’s dead.”
“Yeah. Tobi’s dad died. He isn’t here today. We didn’t think you would come either.”
“Why wouldn’t I be here?”
“No, I don’t, Why wouldn’t I be here.”
“Because your family caused him to leave.”
“You’re saying it’s my fault?”
She shifts a little, but doesn’t answer.
“It’s not. I didn’t do anything. My family didn’t do anything. He was just angry and looking for someone to blame. He was jealous that my Dad has a job that actually makes money. That’s not my fault.”
“Yeah, but people will that kind of money should just go and live in the city, not stay out here with the rest of us. It’s asking for trouble.”
“My dad doesn’t keep the money, he puts it into the farm. He helps people.”
“Sure. My Mum says he just buys the best food so none of us can get any.”
“That isn’t true.”
“My dad says he just gives the money to mock the farm,” someone else adds.
“That isn’t true. He loves the village.”
“The village doesn’t love him.”
I walk off, knowing I’m not going to get anywhere with this. If I wasn’t alone before, then I’m beyond alone now. The classroom is silent, I slink into my seat and try ignore everyone around me. I didn’t do anything. How did people find out like this. Does Dad know? Does he care? That’s a stupid question, of course he cares. He loves this village, these people just can’t see that.
After class I stay behind hoping to get a work with Ms Edina.
“Nymia,” she starts. “Is everything okay?”
“No, I don’t think so. Tobi’s Dad. Have you heard what happened?”
“Yes, I read the newspaper this morning. We have it delivered from the city for the teachers room. Even if it is a day old. What’s troubling you?”
“They blame me.”
“Everyone. They think my family drove him to start the fight.”
“That isn’t what happened. Tobi’s Dad, Salime. He was a drunk. I don’t want to talk disrespectfully of him. So don’t repeat this. But I’ve seen the trouble he’s been in, or caused over the years. He couldn’t hold a job, probably worked for everyone in the village. He didn’t want to work. He looked at the people around the village, like your Father, and he wanted what they had.”
“But my dad works hard.”
“That isn’t how he saw it though. He had a problem with your Dad, everyone knew that. He was quite vocal. He blamed your Father for being born into a family where his life was set in stone from birth. That clockmaker shop has been there for generations, as I’m sure you know. It’s always made money, for as long as I can remember. People have always travelled from this City or beyond for the clocks. They’re high quality and people see that. People hate that success. Your family makes money.”
“But my Dad gives it to the people here. He donates most of it, to get food to the poor, to buy clothes. He doesn’t keep any that he doesn’t have too. I don’t have anything. Other than my books.”
“Which is still more than most. But that isn’t important. People will find a way to be angry, no matter what your Dad does. They would be angry if he moved the village, they would be angry if he kept all the money. Sometimes there just isn’t a way to win. It’s a shame, but that’s the way of the world. I wish it wasn’t like this.”
“It’s not fair.”
“I know, but you will understand when you’re older. There are so many problems in the village, and people just don’t know how to deal with it. I’m surprised we don’t have more riots, we’re probably too hungry to do that.”
“Can I see the newspaper. I want to know what happened.”
“Okay, I’ll get it to you by the end of the day. I promise.”
I leave the room, knowing I have to spend lunch time being stared at and blamed for something I had nothing to do with. Maybe I can curl up into a ball and skip it with the pocket watch.
One of the classrooms on the way out is empty, I duck inside, and move to the back wall. I can’t be seen from the doorway here. I drop to the floor and curl up against the wall. I want to just cry. But I can’t. I need to go home. I don’t care about the scholarship. I just want to go home. Get away from these people. I can just live in the shop, no one will bother me. I’ll learn clockmaking. That will be my life, away from everyone else. Maybe I will move to the city. When I take over the shop, I’ll take one of the offers and move to the city. Forget about the village. Never let it bother me again. That’s exactly what I’ll do.
I pull the watch out of my pocket. I know my plan isn’t going to work. I’m going to just skip to the end of the day. Maybe people will forget about it by tomorrow, and I’ll be able to get back to my life. I think about walking home, the setting sun, the cold breeze. But nothing. I’m still in the room. I can’t go forward. I thought I could just skip all of this. I can go back though. That’s the power of this watch. I could go back. I could stop Tobi’s Dad. I could make a difference. Dad was scared to use it, but I could. He doesn’t have to die for nothing. I could change the way of the world. But what if that changes things. What if it destroys the world. I mean in the sense that time itself won’t be right. I would have changed something that has happened, something big that will impact on the wider world. This isn’t ordering a coffee, and adding one extra sale. It’s saving a life. It could lead to other things. I’m not a hero. This isn’t a question I want to answer.
I can go back and ask Mum. She will know what to do. She’s more open minded than Dad. He gave this to me, like it’s my birthright. But he never helped me use it. He knew I should know my family, but that’s it. He’s not thinking about the rest of the world. Even just the village. Some of the stuff I could change with this. The good I could do. He wants to save the village, give it all the money he has, but why not more. He doesn’t even use it to make his trips to the City instantly. He just leaves it. Why did he give it to me, if he couldn’t use it himself. He could have saved Mum, couldn’t he? If the doctors knew sooner then she could still be here now? Is that how this works? Is that too much power for one person?
I don’t think I can do it. I can’t change the past. It would make too many problems. Too many things that couldn’t be fixed. I really am my Dad’s daughter.
The rest of the day drags along at a slow pace, I sit in the back of the classroom and hope that no one turns around. When they do I just ignore them, and keep to myself. I feel alone more than normal. No one wants to talk to me, or be friendly. It’s just ignore me, talk about me as if I’m not there and then occasionally give a stare of hate. I suppose I deserve it, if not for the reason they have, but because I have this watch, that could change things, and I’m not using it. I’m scared. I don’t want to change everything.
When I get home, Dad is deep into working on some clock. I close the door quietly behind me and stand still. He doesn’t realise I’m there at first, completely absorbed in his work, making the tinniest adjustments, as if it was the most precious thing in the world. To him it is. I don’t know what’s more amazing watching him work, or looking at how many things are in some of the clocks and seeing that work.
The big rectangle, with the face on one side, struggles to tick when he cranks it to life. It tries, but can’t make it. There are intricate pillars on either side of the face with plants strangling them, moving higher until blooming out above the clock face, an arch way above everything, as if it was meant to be a portable clock.
“Hi,” I say softly, hoping not to mess anything up.
“Oh, hey, I didn’t see you come in. Very quiet, what’s up? School okay?”
“I don’t know. Did you hear what happened?”
“No? I’ve been in here all day working.”
“Tobi’s dad, he died.”
“He started a fight in the City and got shot.”
“Really? That’s such a shame. He really was a troubled man.”
“They all blame me for it.”
“Because of this family. They blame us for having money, making him jealous. All day, that’s all what happened. People hate me.”
“Come here,” he starts while walking towards me and wrapping me up in his arms. Finally I can start crying. “It’s not your fault, it’s not my fault. He made his decisions. He was angry about his place in the world. A lot of people are, and he lashed out. It doesn’t work that way, sadly. Life is unfair. You’ll understand when you’re older. He’s right to be angry, but there just isn’t anything we can do about it, but try and help each other. Most of the money I make goes to the farm, it helps him keep the prices lower so people can afford to eat. If he didn’t have my donations then he would have to increase the prices.”
“They said that you do that out of pity.”
“No, I do that out of compassion. You see the world is broken. That’s something we can actually agree on, and I’m in a position to help some people, as you will be one day. You can choose not to, it’s up to you. But if you want to help you can. I give as much money as possible to the village. I don’t keep it for myself. I know some people don’t see it that way, but I was born here, my parents were born here. I feel the need to give back. I’m sorry for getting worked up, but it really pushes me. I can’t believe people would have a go at you for that.”
“I’m sorry for saying anything.”
“Don’t blame yourself. It’s not your fault. The world is just really broken.”
I spend quite a while just standing within his grasp. Letting him hold me and feel safe, even if it only lasts a moment.
“Dad,” I start, not knowing how to continue.
“Yes?” He lets go of me.
“You want to help out so much, but there is something else you can do.”
“Where are you going for this.”
“The watch,” I start.
“Nymia, think about what you’re saying,” Dad interrupts.
“Listen to me. What if we could go back and stop Tobi’s dad from doing anything. We could stop him from dying.”
“No. You need to learn that right now. No. It’s more complicated than that. It’s in the past, it’s already happened. It can’t be changed. There is nothing we can do to stop that. The watch isn’t there for that kind of thing. It doesn’t make you a hero. You have to understand. It’s a gift. If you use it correctly it can help you a lot. You can learn more. Never miss a deadline. Spend the day with someone and study. It will help a lot at University. I can assure you of that.”
“But have you tried?”
“To change something, no. But you can’t. And don’t try either. I know that sounds like I’m just crazy, but you can’t change the past. Learn from it, don’t go chasing dead dreams.”
“Okay, I trust you.”
“Thank you. I know you do honey. Now go and clean up. I’ll cook us some dinner. I’ve got us some chicken.”
“That sounds good. Thanks.”
I leave the room and head to my room. Slumping on the bed, I take off my bag and throw it aside. My hands dive deep in my pockets, as if I’m not controlling them, and pull out the pocket watch. I wonder. What could I actually do with this. Has Dad tried. Does he know for sure, or is he just scared. I’ve read so many books about time travel, but it’s one thing reading about it, another living it. He obviously trusts me, or he wouldn’t have let me keep the watch. I’m surprised he didn’t just destroy it, or bury it somewhere. Even if it is a family heirloom, he still doesn’t like it. I close my fist around the watch and let it take me, transcending the world around me and throwing me backwards. It happens in an instant, and even if I’ve done this a millions times I’ll never get used to the feeling. I stand up, and walk out of the familiar room.
Mum is downstairs in the kitchen. I knew she would be somehow, I imagine Dad is in the shop.
“Hi,” I say when walking in.
“Hi? I didn’t expect you today. I never expect you really. I can’t believe you’re here again. Do you want anything to drink? Anything to eat?”
“No thank you, is Dad in the shop?”
“Yes, he won’t be out for a while, so don’t worry. Is everything okay?”
He’s here, Tobi’s Dad. Just outside of these thin walls, he’s here. Just out of reach. He is alive. I can tell him how he is going to die. But that’s the same as the person standing in front of me. Her blonde hair curling in under her chin, just under her concerned smile. Deep inside knowing something must happen that I wouldn’t be here, if she was still with me.
“I don’t know.”
“What’s up you can tell me?”
“It’s hard. Something has happened, and I can do something about it. With the watch I mean. But should I do something. Is that the right thing to do.”
“Have you told Dad?”
“Yes, he tells me that I can’t do anything, that the past has already been written that I can’t change anything. But I feel like I can. That this hadn’t happened until I made it happen. Shouldn’t I use that for good.”
“Maybe he’s right, maybe he isn’t. But that isn’t the question. You already know the answer. If you go back and change something, it could change too much. That isn’t a gift, that’s a curse. But if you feel like it’s really the right thing to do, then it’s your responsibility to do it. I can’t answer those questions for you. But maybe I can help. Follow me.”
We walk back through the house, and upstairs to my future room. Mum lifts a knife that I didn’t realise she was still carrying.
“Make a mark, on the wall, just above your bed. Where you know there isn’t a mark.”
“If you’re sure it wasn’t there in the future, then you can either add it, or it won’t work. The past is already written? That’s what he says. Time to find out. Your dad, he’s a cautious one. He doesn’t like feeling special, all he wants is a normal life, but we’re different. Both of us. So be free, and try.”
I take the knife, slowly. Thinking carefully about what I’m about to do. I have to be sure this isn’t something that I remember being there. Something I would have noticed a long time ago. The wood resists to the knife, but only at first. Slowly I edge out a shape, a circle, add a couple of pin points, and a wide smile.
“Really? A smiling face?”
“Yes, I would have seen that, it’s just above where my bedside table is. I would have seen it, I’m a hundred percent sure. That’s where I keep my books.”
“Well as long as that is still there when you get back then you can change things. That’s one thing sorted. You just need to decide if it’s the right thing to do. You’re not just going to resit a test or something are you?”
“No it’s not like that. Something happened to someone I know, and I feel like I should do something. I know Dad says I shouldn’t, that it would change things for the worse. But I should do it. This watch should be used for helping people, not for my own gain, to give myself a better life. Dad told me I should use it sparingly, but he’s just scared. I don’t like saying it, but he is wrong.”
“Do yourself a favour and don’t tell him about this. Let’s keep it between us. I’m so proud of you, deciding to do it like this.”
“Thanks, next time I see you, I will just come back to talk, and see you.”
“Don’t say anything else, I don’t want to sit here wondering what you mean.”
“I’m sorry. I know this is hard.”
“I don’t mind, I’m here for you. Now and forever. You can talk to me whenever and wherever you like. Remember that.”
“See you later.”
The world around me spins, making me dizzy. It blurs together like wet paint, and turns dark, like the blackening sky. This sight is becoming as normal as the passing day. The darkness subsides and light is regained. All with just a simple thought, home. That one word means so much.
The face, it’s there. I can feel it, the smooth engravings. The nearly 20 year old marks, that I made only moments ago. It’s the same. I’ve never seen this before, have I? It wasn’t here for the whole of my life, was it? I’m sure it wasn’t. Positive it wasn’t. But it seems somehow so familiar. That I line books up next to it. It wasn’t there yesterday, was it? That I know for certain. It wasn’t there. At least I think it wasn’t.
I go back downstairs and walk into the kitchen. Dad is leaning over the crooked stove, watching his creation. Not many people have stoves in the village, or even working toilets. But we do. That’s why people don’t like us. I think I understand that now.
“Yes? Dinner won’t be long. I promise.”
“Thanks. I was wondering, that smiling face on the wall in my bedroom. Where did it come from?”
“You’re asking this again? I’ve told you a hundred times, at least.”
“I want to hear again.”
“You sure do like that story. Well, the year was something. I can’t quite remember it. It was at least a hundred years ago. I was sitting at this very table, just after I’d gotten back from the war. There had been a horrendous explosion down the road and half of the village was living in this very house. We had one bite of food each, for days and days. We even got attacked by a crocodile, but that’s another story. Anyway, I was upstairs telling all of the children of the village a bedtime story. Outside it was cold and windy, but we were so close together all we could feel was warmth. I told then a story, and when I got to the part, and they lived happily ever after, someone asked me what does happy mean. Really touched me you know, this small child didn’t know what happy was. So I pulled out the knife, same knife I killed that crocodile with, even though it took one of my eyes, it was a good fight. I took the knife and drew the smiling face in the wall. The room fell silent and everyone looked at it, mesmerised they were. They just couldn’t stop staring. Beautiful one of them called it. And then they all just started crying. It’s when I knew the gift I’d been given.”
“Of making up stories?”
“No, of just being me.”
“Sure,” I didn’t stop him from talking, even though I’ve kind of grown out of his stories, I still love them. “But the real story. How did the face get there.”
“Really? You want me to lie. Well if you insist. I don’t really know why, but your Mum did it. I’m not sure when. I found it when I was making the room up, just before you were born. I was going to paint the walls, give that crooked wood a nice sheen. But then I found that face. Your mum said she wanted you to be happy. She said that the face would remind you to be happy. That she hoped it would bring a smile to your face from time to time. But that’s not true, just to be sure.”
“Why are you asking?”
“I don’t know, it just caught my eye, and I started to wonder.”
“Well I’m sure dinner is ready now, so let’s eat up.”
After dinner I went back to my room, sat on my bed and stared at the face. I feel like I would have noticed it more if it had already been there. But Dad’s story? I remember it. Not clearly, it’s like a dream. I feel like I’ve heard it before, but I’m not entirely sure.