Time flies when you are engrossed in work, working from home that is. You just go on slogging away, unaffected by lockdowns, or news of the menacing virus, even the fact that you haven’t met your friends for a while doesn’t matter.
As I write these lines on a lazy, cloudy Saturday afternoon, my thoughts go back to the conundrum that is time. And time reminds me of Erica’s wristwatch, which is still in my possession.
I met Erica at a wedding party of an acquaintance. We found ourselves seated at the same table with three other people who knew each other a little too well. I am not very sociable, and it’s not because I am shy. It’s just that conversations at social gatherings sound inane to me. Erica however, had othes ideas on the subject and started a conversation about the size of fingers and how it meant different things for men and for women. Her theory was that the size of fingers is directly proportional to the size of penis or to the magnitude of artistic inclination if you had no penis. She was ten years older than me, though she didn’t look like it. She didn’t look exceptionally beautiful either, or to put it in another way, if I was with my girlfriend I wouldn’t have checked her out. But she looked young, maybe she lied about her age. In any case, for her, things like age, marital status, size of fingers, beauty, played a part only in social gatherings.
‘If you cannot change something by your thinking or your way of life, it is pointless to discuss it,’ she had said looking at my face filled with wonder.
‘So what is it that matters to you?’
‘Time,’ she had replied instantly, ‘it’s the most important aspect of our lives. Yet we either ignore it or take it for granted.’
She had a solemn expression on her face, a look that went well with her elegant dark purple dress and probing eyes. I didn’t know what to say in response to that, so I complimented on the food.
After the wedding, we went our ways. I had then finished school and got myself a job which kept me busy. When I met her next, she was with a man who looked as tipsy as she looked bored. I walked up to her and tried in my clumsy way to remind her of our earlier encounter. She cut me short in acknowledgement, asked for my number and dialed.
‘So you have my number now,’ she said with a wink.
‘Don’t sit on it, your time is running out,’ added her companion. She shushed him in a way that looked either like admonishing, or a bit condescending.
My life was well occupied those days, both on the professional and personal front. I had a girlfriend who was very much into drinking and sex, she never asked the difficult relationship questions. So I never felt the urge to call Erica.
At midnight on a weekday, a few weeks later, she called. I ignored, but she kept calling and forced me to get up and answer.
‘You should not take phone calls at midnight,’ she said.
I was too baffled to even comprehend it, and replied in some grumpy gibberish. Then she started interrogating me about why I asked for her number when I didn’t intend to call. I was getting more and more awake by the tone of her voice, which was accusative, but somehow felt husky and seductive. We talked for a long time. She did most of the talking, but I liked what she had to say. It was not often that you come across weird, mysterious women.
We met the next day for coffee, but she didn’t appear to be interested in either the coffee or the conversation. Neither did she look interesting, nor was she weird. We left soon and were in her bedroom. She undressed quickly and gestured me to do the same. There was a sense of urgency about her movements, it percolated into mine too. Then she took out a wristwatch from the table drawer next to the bed and looked at me. I was however not in a mood to ask questions. She kept stealing glances at the watch during the sex, which lasted longer than average, maybe because of this curious behaviour. Even towards the end she was more interested in the watch than either me or her pleasures. It was disturbing, but I liked it. She was weird after all. Apart from this queer behaviour, everything about her was normal, she always looked presentable, she was good at conversations and quite intelligent too.
Everytime after that she would wear the wristwatch, but only while having sex. Once done, she put take it off, slowly with deliberation and either put it back in the drawer or into her purse if we were at my place. I don’t recall why, but this measured way of hers somehow prevented me from broaching the subject, there were always better topics to talk to her about. Also, I might have been worried that talking about the watch might put a stop to this unique experience I was going through.
Once she followed my eyes and probably my thoughts as she was putting the watch away. She was naked and looked beautiful. She asked me if she was and I nodded. Then she said something that I still think about.
‘There is something odd about every human being, and the reason why we find some people to be normal, to be like others, is not because they lack imagination or verve. It’s because we have not examined them closely yet.’
I worked out many theories. At first I thought she was interested in checking how long it takes, maybe she maintains a journal. Probably an excel sheet. Every relationship, as we all know, follows the bell curve of sex-time. I have myself often thought of breaking up at the apex. No one feels bad at being dumped when they just had the best sex in a relationship. The only flaw in this approach is to correctly assess, how do you know if you have hit the absolute maxima. To add to the problem is women, they have their own ways of assessing. An objective way of evaluation is next to impossible if it’s to be done with consensus. I had this constant worry that she might be planning to pull off the bell curve tangent on me. I mean, after all I invented it.
This went on for a few months till the night we went out for a movie. She was very quiet throughout, maybe she was the type who want an immersive experience. After the movie, we went to her place and I found myself alone on her bed. She had gone to freshen up. I was so accustomed to the room, that there was nothing more to explore. And then it happened. On an impulse, I took the wristwatch from the drawer and put in my pocket. She came back and we went through the usual routine till it was the turn for the watch.
She rummaged the contents of the drawer to no success. Then she searched among the books, the cupboard. I tried telling her that it was ok, that we can look for it later, but she gestured me to stop speaking and went on looking frantically for it in every nook and corner. I saw how disturbed she was and decided it was enough, I had almost taken it out of my pocket when she turned around abruptly and looked into my eyes. I was wrong, she was not disturbed, or irritated. She just stood still, looking at me as if transfixed and I saw sadness. I was seeing her sad for the first time.
But the sadness she felt looked distant, so far away from me and my ideas of sadness that it felt alien, a feeling so intense that I froze. In the silence that ensued, I could hear my heart beat in my chest and the watch tick in my pocket, but these sounds were drowned by the echoes of sorrow coming out from some unknown place within her. I wanted to console her, but I knew it would only aggravate her pain because what I really felt then was a mixture of pity and guilt. She snapped out of it after a few more minutes of remaining suspended and asked me to leave, which I did. The watch remained in my pocket.
The next day she didn’t take my call. I tried contacting her but she severed all ties and cut off all channels of communication. I did see her a couple of times, but she was always with a group of friends.
Almost a year later, I found sitting alone in a pub, sipping a beer and looking peaceful, contended. I went up to her and was thankful that she recognised me. Instead of small talk, I plunged into the watch episode straightaway, and confessed to my crime. To my surprise, she was neither angry nor sad, instead she acted as if it didn’t matter and tried to change the subject and ask me about my life. But I was determined. I had to ask, and I did, expecting either no response or a lengthy explanation. Surprising me further, or rather confusing me, she said, ‘I look at the passage of time when I am most vulnerable, during those moments when I am about to lose the sense of time.’ I wanted her to go on, but she got up and walked away. Only at the door did she stop and turned around, smiled at me and blew me a flying kiss. Thats when I saw that she was wearing the same wristwatch.