Arresting the Thief of Time


Time is a volley of arrows, piercing the outer perimeters of creation. Time is a river, flowing into the cosmic ocean, carrying all in its variable current. Time is the fourth dimension, the space within the up, down, and across. Time is an illusion, a conscious burden carried only by humans at the expense of all other animals. Time is passing. It has been eight months since I saw my father and my brother, who are this moment flying in a Qantas Tardis to be reunited with me. In losing three hours of their lives to be three hours ahead, I gain priceless hours with them, hours felled by time’s arrow, drowned by time’s river, or otherwise never existed in the big cosmic cover-up.

Seeing my brother and father again in but a few hours from now has made me reflect on the passing of time. By the time they wheel those trolleys through the arrivals gate tonight it will be eight months since we were last in each other’s presence. That adds up to a lot of water under different bridges. They in their kingdom prone to flooding, their river was a torrent. Me in this sheikhdom of ephemeral rains, mine was nothing followed by a trickle, a torrent, a trickle, then nothing. Time’s perfect bell curve.

Looking back on it, August seemed to evaporate in a blistering heatwave. September melted onto the end, producing two months in a Swedish sauna with the door jammed closed from the outside. October came and went, punctured as it was by a road trip to a baked layer cake of jutting rock called the Musandam Peninsula. While hardly an odyssey of Homeric proportions, that event at least laid down a temporal marker. The flag fluttering at some indeterminate point on life’s course bore a message for posterity. On it was written,

…October 2015, camping in the fjords and on the high plateau of the Musandam, Sultanate of Oman….

While everyone else was wilting on the Arabian Peninsula, we temperate-seeking individuals were shivering cold next to a fire at 5,000 feet above the heat, above the bullshit expat culture, above even the song of the adhan – that quilt of Quranic verse patched together from the voice of more mosques than you can possibly imagine. Jumping from islet to islet with pointed fingers on an archipelago of stars in a night sky of purest black, their names were the only glint of gold of that Islamic age, gone as the time since I last saw my dear father and brother. They were the only reminders that we had cast ourselves out of the lands of our birth. There’s Deneb, the tail, and Aldebaran, the follower of the cluster Pleiades. And there rising on the eastern elliptic, over Jebel Harem (the mountain of the women) Orion the hunter. The rhinestone buckle on his belt, put there by the great astronomers of Abbasid Baghdad, they called Alnitak, the belt. And there above it, just as the donkey starts to bray somewhere far or near – who can tell – the burning coals of Betelgeuse and Bellatrix. Not everyone can claim to have that experience marking time on their short course to oblivion.

Winter eased gently in and before long the temperature was summer everywhere else that was not the Sahara, or the Australian Outback, or Death Valley. While Europe took a drenching and the US got snowed under in more ways than one, we were sitting on the balcony disbelieving ourselves that this was not too bad after all.

December came and with it new horizons. From the yellow to the green. To Angkor, founded into the world’s largest city, then lost into the jungle, then found again by a French archaeologist armed only with a machete and a vague idea, now lost again in a sense to tourist hordes. Eye-popping Pattaya where bottles disappear into the unlikeliest of quarters. Myanmar followed. Last chance to see an old curiosity before globalisation rehashes it into another mass-produced trinket worth hanging a cut-price label on.

January saw a return to the desert. The rains had fallen, the humidity crashed, and suddenly we could all see clearly again. The dust and the grime had been cleansed from the windows of our apartments and our minds. Now we could see just how many tankers lay anchored offshore. The mountains were no longer a mirage, but that was about as far as clarity got. Time continued to obfuscate judgment, to defy youthful hopes. Still the doubts weighed heavily on the lingering notion that though time was passing quicker than ever, our sense of alacrity was not quite up to speed. While it was being stretched and pulled asunder, turning days into weeks, I was feeling as lugubrious as I had ever felt. While it was being compressed and choked, turning months into minutes, I was feeling manic helplessness on a runaway train. I lumbered and lurched like a bi-polar dog on a leash he can’t decide is short or extendable.

The pathos bit hard. Time called time on me for a while. These were what some referred to as the mid-term blues, and others the dog days. I preferred to compare them to neither blue nor dogs. Blue for me is that break in the clouds we from the overcast north consider heaven sent. And dogs are friends you need to consider indispensable when the alternative is talking to the wall.

The mood recession of early 2016 didn’t quite become a full-blown depression. It was salvaged by a stern recovery brought about through a surge in consumer confidence. Once again, investors were willing to risk on return, and time’s borrowers were willing to chance it on a reasonable APR. The confidence came in knowing that all who comprehend the weird passing of time both borrow from it and invest into it. Knowing that made dealing with time’s funny fluid dynamics easier.

When it wasn’t spinning out of control, it was juddering to a halt. Confounding all who try to swim against it, sweeping away those who go with it, time bit me hardest here in a land where there are no seasons, no discernible way of measuring the metrics of time. Yet through it all, I can rise above it here and now and let it be known that you might have placed much temporal distance between my brother, my father and me, but you, Old Father Time, never managed to diminish the love I have for them. You may have even done me a favour by revealing a better, kinder and more gentler version of yourself to us over the coming days.

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