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“The pace of time” by Jesmal Jalal

In October of 2022, we released our second Open Call: How might we view healing in mental health through art, letters, stories and poetry following the pandemic? The following is a story submission we received from this open call.


“When life is free, nobody acknowledges its power and we think of how futile it is to exist. Then, under restrictions, we long to taste the flavours of life and understand how meaningful the free life was. That’s why we hate covid quarantine so much. This realization alone can deal with the mental problems we deal in the free world. In this story, a dull man deals with the isolation issues in covid quarantine and recognizes the path to happiness in his life.”

Jesmal Jalal

The pace of time

“Life is so boring and stressful,” I remarked while sipping my coffee. My friend Hari looked at me curiously. My eyes went out of the glass window next to me. People were going like ghosts to somewhere they didn’t belong. The only difference is the covid masks on their faces. We were at the Indian Coffee House, a fine restaurant in Trivandrum. It’s been a while since we met. 

“Hey, is this really you? How merrily you spoke while we were kids!” 

“Yeah. I’m not that kid anymore, Hari. I’m a man who is trying to get a good job.”

“Current job?”

“Oh! Very stressful. And what do I get for bearing it? Not enough to save anything!”

“What’s your ambition, my friend? Getting a good job?” Hari raised his eyebrows.

“Of course.”

“And your dream?”

Dream? Just the same.”

“Did you forget?” Hari smiled. “As a kid, you told me you wanted to travel all the countries in the world. I think that’s your real dream.”

“Uh?” I said, patting my poverty-stricken wallet. “Really? Do you think I have time for that? The clock slows down for no one. I need a job to earn money now. Then, I can think of that old dream.”

“Your dream is never old if your passion lies in it. You always loved traveling.”

“Yes, But I’m not that kid with plenty of time. Maybe after getting—”

“After the job,” Hari interrupted. “comes your marriage and all. The responsibilities now grow with time. Now’s the time!”

“So what? You know nothing of my life! Nothing came perfectly my way ever in my life. I don’t want that fate in my job further. Then only I can handle those responsibilities that you said. So I don’t care about my long lost dream—”

Suddenly my mobile began ringing. I answered it.

Putting the phone back, I said coldly, “Hari, you might take leave now.”

“Now?”

“The test result came,” I said. “I’m covid positive.”

#

I was always happy with the notion of quarantine. For me, it was an escape from this asphyxiating life.

But I was wrong.

On the first day, I spent time with my phone and tv. My fingers ran tirelessly through the internet feeds for hours. But my eyes got tired. So before I knew it, I was dozing off with my hands holding the mobile phone, Instagram still open on its screen.

The next day, I woke up with a headache, and my body tired. The very notion of unlocking my mobile was hurting my head. Also, I had seen the end of the feed for the first time in my life. So then social media had become so dull.

I strolled around the room like a restless soul—the same feeling as a caged animal.

The silence of the loneliness was haunting me. Much worse was the tiredness due to the inactivity. The house seemed to shrink as time went by.

I hate this quarantine! I want to go out and live.

I looked out of the window. For hours, my eyes stayed outside the window, feasting on the free world there.

 Far away stood the green mountains and hills. From up above, the sky peeks through the cotton candy-like clouds. What a beauty! They are calling me to enjoy their sights. Why didn’t I notice them before?

I had no time.

 My eyes went down, and I spotted a youth my age on the footpath below. A big traveller bag rested on his shoulder. It jumbled as his Forclaz Trek shoes hopped toward some unknown destination. Somehow that sight coincided with my reflection in the window—like a mirror—like that man walking inside my head trying to go out.

I was always after a job and money. Of course, money and a job bring happiness to one’s life. What about my life? Will I be happy with acquiring a high-class office work job and salary? My life would be better for sure. And I’ll feel content, maybe.

But will I be happy? And who knows when I will finally get such a job!

“I want to travel,” my mouth uttered finally.

What about the time?

Time waits for no man.

But I was wrong—again.

In that lonely room, I felt the actual pace of time; my eyes fixed on the clock. Each tick took a millennium. Even snails can go faster!

Whether the time moves like the Sonic or a snail depends on your perception. 

I have time. I just didn’t feel it!

My eyes wore bored with the clock. I turned back to the window again. The blue sky soon became white. Then, out of the blue, the dark clouds enveloped the sky. As my face got wet from the sputtering, I smiled.

Then, I smiled again.

I felt alive.

#

Two months later, I met Hari again.

“So you went to Nepal right after you got negative?” He asked dubiously.

“Yes.” I smiled.

“Ha! It seems like my advice finally got into your head!” He laughed.

“Maybe,” I chuckled. “But it’s the quarantine that made me reflect upon myself. I was suffocating to stay inside my own room. I realized my dreams were still alive within me. I wanted to travel the world.”

“Your dilemma of time and job?”

“Well, that job wasn’t stressful for the person loving office work. It turns out I am not the right person. So I left the job.”

Hari looked puzzled. 

 “Don’t worry. I am not going to wander without doing my responsibilities. I want to work as a travel guide now. That’s where my dream and job coexist. That’s where everything becomes perfect in my life.”

“Time flies like a falcon, my dear friend,” Hari remarked. “But never lose that kid who loves to dream. Never lose his dreams in the voyage of time.”

“I never will, Hari,” said I as I walked towards the exit.

“You look so pleasant and exuberant. Seems like one who came back from death!”

 “It’s true, in a sense. I have never tried to live,” I remarked. “I was trying to survive all this time. Now, I am beginning to live. Now, I have finally found happiness.”


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1 Comment

  • Sreenath s
    December 4, 2023
    reply

    Real awesome work.

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