The Day Time Stood Still

Once, I knew a man. He was tall and well built, yet when my eyes fell upon him, he looked so hunched over. He always looked upon the happenings of this world as if it were nothing. I found out it was not arrogance. There was another reality behind his expressions.  He seemed to be constantly piled upon by the lives of millions on his shoulders but it was not of his choice. It was his destiny. He was burdened with the unfathomable weight of the universe yet he stood alone, unappreciated and bound down to his fate.

It was in that shabby, dimly lit restaurant when I first met one of them. He looked attractive, yet oddly terrifying. We were both waiting for somebody that would never come. I was sitting at the table beside his and he was in deep thought.

“Waiting for a partner that wouldn’t appear?” he asked so softly that I almost did not realize he even spoke.

“I’m sorry, did you say something?” I turned to ask him.

“Why would anybody miss dinner with such a beautiful lady?” he looked up at me and smiled.

He was perfect. I looked into his deep blue eyes and fell right into them. His gorgeous smile almost melted my heart there and then. I could feel my cheeks growing hot with embarrassment at my infatuation with a man I just met.

“What about you? Are you waiting for somebody too?” I diverted the topic away from myself.

“I’m always waiting. Waiting for the right person and the right time,” he replied poetically.

I was at a loss of words and sat uncomfortably in the silence that lingered after. He, on the other hand, was perfectly contented with the silence and fell back again into his thoughts. I finally decided to leave the restaurant and head home.

Walking along the pavement on an unusually silent September night, I felt the first drops of rain. Looking up, the cold raindrops fell on my face before rolling down my cheeks.

Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to walk in the rain once in a while… I thought, wanting to experience the childhood joy of being drenched in the rain once more.

I walked calmly as other pedestrians rushed past me for shelter. It felt great to experience the cool wind against my face as it rained upon me like tears from God.

Then, the rain stopped.

Looking up and around, I saw him. He was holding up an umbrella for me. I stopped walking and stared at him. There was no reason why he would take the time to do something for me, a stranger.

There we stood, in the middle of the pavement, staring at each other, while pedestrians brushed past us swiftly. It was not some romantic moment. The air was filled with my doubt and suspicion, mixed with his enigmatic aura that filled the atmosphere with mixed feelings.

“Are we just going to stand here or do you want to grab dinner?” he asked spontaneously as I was still stifling through my thoughts.

“Well... Sure,” I replied, slightly taken aback at his request.

He directed the way and we wound up entering the same restaurant. He requested a table for two and we sat at a table by the glass panel. The entire time, I was deep in thought. I could not comprehend his actions. I was fearful for a hidden motive yet he seemed too sincere and his actions too harmless.

It was just dinner… I coaxed myself.

Thinking back, it was not just dinner. It was more than that. In just one hour, I knew things that an average person would not even dream about. I knew things beyond everyone’s imagination. Most importantly, I knew the truth. It was not by choice that this truth dawned upon me. It was an involuntary situation that chanced upon me this fateful September night, just like how all things, I eventually realized, was no more than fate.

There at that uneventful restaurant, the most exhilarating time of my life was about to start. Little did I know that it would impact my life so much that to this day, I would never forget what happened at that exact moment.

He stopped time.

I never actually realized until he told me, though it did seem pretty odd that nothing was moving around us.

“Are you alright?” he asked courteously after what seemed like eternity.

“What,” I spoke in harsh tones, “Did you do?! You must have slipped some drug into my drink!”

He looked at me curiously before chuckling, as if my panic to him was a joke. At that point of time, I was thoroughly frightened. To me, it was truly like I had fallen into the hands of a lion like a prey wanting to be taken into captivity. He, however, looked at me as though I was merely another speck in his life, nothing more.

“My, my, you sure seem to be thinking a little too much,” he said in an unusually cheery voice, “I, merely stopped time.”

“You... What?!” I could feel my jaw drop instantaneously. I stared at him, eyes wide in horror. I was certain of what he said but my brain was not accepting it as fact.

“Yes, merely one of my many abilities,” he sighed and looked out of the glass panels into the streets.

“Remember when I said I was always waiting for the right person and right time?” I nodded, still unable to form words.

“You, you were the right person. You appeared at the right time. I thought over it! You really are the right person!” He grabbed my hands and looked at me with eyes of extreme delight.  “You can help me!”

“Wha- How?” I quickly pulled back my hands. I could not comprehend what he was requesting of me, partly due to my shock and also partly due to the fact that he was doing a poor job of explaining himself.

“Oh dear, I forgot you were still human,” he said matter-of-factly, seeming to have finally come around to the fact that I was utterly confused.

Still human.

It rang through my mind like an alarm bell but I did nothing. I was rooted to the chair. I wanted to know more.

“I am a clocksmaster. I am not from Earth. Crudely put, I am an alien, but I’d rather you not to refer me as that. You can call me T,” he paused slightly before adding, “T for time.”

“In short, I am one of a kind in this world. There can only be one clocksmaster at any point of time in this universe. I have a job, an extremely tedious one some may say. I… how should I say it… determine the fates of everybody. I decide what should happen when and who should be meeting or doing what at any point of time. I am what you humans may sometimes call, God,” he finished, folding his arms on the table and looked at me expectantly.

“Questions, my dear?” he asked politely.

“Why do you need my help?” I murmured timidly.

He paused for a moment, as though carefully crafting an answer.

“That would be a case of complicated mistakes on my account,” he replied, slightly embarrassed at his confession. “Once in a few billion years, a random occurrence may come to pass and I wait for it. That is why I am always waiting. I wait for a random unexpected event in which I have to go with the flow. I no longer know what happens next, only what happened before. I have the choice to leave it or fix it. To me, not knowing what is going to happen next is such a torture. I plan every step with such detail that when something unexpected happens, it is as though my life has just been splattered with white paint. It becomes a void of nothingness, vacuum. The previous time I left a random occurrence untouched, the consequences weren’t pleasant. It led to a serious of arbitrarily occurring events that had many, many unexpected deaths. The guilt broods over me even now. This time, I will try to fix it, and you can help me.”

I stared blankly at him. This was too much for me to process in such a short time. Stopping time, planning fates, voids… I could not believe what I had just heard. Everything that I have known and believed in for my entire life had been shattered to pieces simply by his words. He had a firm conviction in his voice that made me believe him, yet it was undeniable that I was hopelessly drowning in the overload of knowledge.

“You doubt me,” he said simply. “Let me show you. It would be easier for you.”

In that instant, he gripped my wrist and I blacked out.

*

When I woke up, I found myself in an elegant room, lying on a king sized bed. I quickly got up and rushed for the door which, to my surprise, was unlocked. Slowly and steadily, I opened it and sneaked out. I was expecting to enter a corridor like all other houses but instead, I entered another room.

This room was the exact opposite of the one I came from. The high ceiling made me feel puny and insignificant. It was cluttered with books, documents, maps, and the most astonishing one – a wall of computer screens. I was standing in the middle of a cluttered stack of books when I caught sight of T. He was sitting in front of the holographic screens, looking at them, pensive. He did not even realize when I toppled over a stack of foreign-looking memory cards that hit the ground with a loud thud.

“T?” I called out, to no avail.

Clearing my throat, I spoke much louder.  “T?”

He whipped around so quickly I was slightly taken aback and knocked down another stack of files to my left.

“Just leave them. I tried packing but apparently, I just have too much stuff. Comes with the job,” he chuckled to himself as I stood in an awkward manner in the middle of his papers.

“Oh dear, just make your way across. I did not expect you to faint from that travel. I don’t usually bring people up here. You’re the first. It’s pretty unsuitable for guests, as you can see.” He rambled apologetically.

I cautiously made my way across the stacks of items to the empty area before the screens, toppling almost everything on the way there. It slowly dawned onto me what he was doing. On every screen were folders and documents of countless people.

He was doing what he said his job was. He was planning the lives of others.

“Where’s mine?” I asked.

“You?” he looked at me queerly. “I don’t have a record of you in the DiCE.”

I stared at him, as if he had just spoken to me in Greek.

“Sorry, I meant the Dispatching Crux EX. You are the random person I have been waiting for. You appeared at the restaurant without my knowing. I was so taken aback when I saw you that I was thinking of what to do. And now I am trying to put things right, but,” he replied reluctantly, “I am giving you a choice.”

“Choice? What choice?” his words continued to puzzle me.

“I have to obtain your biology on the Internal BioField, but I can only do so if I kill you and extract your heart. There is no turning back on events. A random event only occurs so many times. If I want to set things straight, I have to destroy the event entirely, which means destroying you.” His eyes were filled with sadness. “I can insist on making things right but it would not be pleasant. I am giving you a choice. I am letting you choose whether you are to continue living your life as a random event or to let me make things right.”

“What happened the previous time?” I dug further for information to feed my quizzical mind.

“Extinction of dinosaurs all the way to the sinking of the titanic. All the hazards and disasters. It was that bad.” A grave expression drew over his face as he spoke and a series of records flashed over those very screens. “It may seem like an extremely long time for you, but for a clocksmaster like me, I’ve been around so long that that entire period of time was like a couple of years to you.”

I gaped at it. That was a pretty serious consequence for such a small event like me spontaneously walking into a restaurant for dinner. I knew what I had to do. Sacrifice. Big decision many may think, but at that time and place, thinking of the lives I would cost! The extinction of dinosaurs till the sinking of the titanic was a few billion years!

“I know what to do. I cannot let so many people die at my cost!” I said all at once.

He looked surprised at my decision.

“But such a beautiful lady shouldn’t die at my hands…” He sighed and turned away. “I have already killed too many. I shouldn’t kill anyone anymore. Not in my last hour, and definitely not such a gorgeous woman.”

“What last hour?” I caught on immediately.

He gazed back at me and started walking, hunched down with the weight of the world on his shoulders. I followed quickly behind, the youth in my step a contrast to his timeless burden.

He led me into a room of clocks, broken clocks. It was queer that they would be broken. After all, he did claim to be a clocksmaster. He pointed to the largest clock on the wall. It was the only ticking one. It was reaching 12 O’clock in a matter of minutes. I looked at the clock then back at him. I knew what he meant. He was dying.

It seemed almost impossible that it could be true. He was a manipulator of time, yet time still got to him. Having lived past such eras, it must only be logical that he would eventually go too. However, it was unbelievable that a person like him could also be taken away in the passage of time. He warped time, yet time still caught up to him ultimately.

“Time is the only timeless object,” he commented dryly.

Looking at him now, the excitement and demeanour all gone, I could see his weariness. He was tired of watching everything go by, knowing what would happen next and what had happened before. To him, life was a matter of playing a carefully planned game of chess where he was both players and there were no unexpected moves.

“Let me send you back to where you belong now. You will no longer be my worry and I will not have the right to write your story,” he eventually decided.

*

I woke up in the restaurant, at where the both of us were sitting by the glass panel. Only this time, I was alone. The rain outside had stopped and everybody was moving about, talking. Time was no longer stagnant. I quickly got up from my seat and headed for the door.

Stepping out into the streets for the second time today, I checked my watch. It was exactly midnight. Sighing, I looked up to the sky. To my amazement, there was an unexpected shooting star that flew across the night sky. I gasped in exhilaration at its beauty but no one else was looking. My bewilderment was soon replaced by sorrow. The shooting star had reminded me of T and his magnificence. I sighed and walked down the street towards my home. Thinking of T, I bumped into a fine young man.

“I’m sorry,” he caught me before I could fall and stabilized me.

Seeing that I was fine, he smiled and walked on into the restaurant. Looking at him, he seemed to resemble a younger T. His smile, his eyes, and the way he spoke… I cleared my thoughts. T was dead. He was gone like how the shooting star had blazed across the night sky and been part of my life. It could not be him.

I must be thinking too much.