Recently, my cousin and I decided to assign each other a writing exercise wherein we’d pick a common topic and write whatever story germinates from the idea of it.
The topic we had picked was a grandfather clock and below is the story that struck me when I contemplated on it:
Sleep. In the eight years that she had lived, sleep was the one thing she had never experienced, or rather, had never remembered experiencing.
Insomnia, the doctors claimed. Fancy excuses for staying awake, her weary old governess dismissed.
But from what she had heard and read and seen of sleep, she found the lack of it not as perturbing as she thought it would be. For sleep was nothing but a transcendental state of existence where you could walk in your dreams. Sleep, as her governess had once wisely educated her, was when all the information swirling around inside the head came to rest down on the nerves and from there, be absorbed into them and flow straight into the brain which consequently ensured that this information stays remembered.
But all of this was too scientific for the girl. Too technical.
Every night while her governess slept, the girl awoke from her feigned sleep. She used to hastily stuff the blankets with pillows which vaguely resembled her lithe eight year old figure and slipped out of the room into the Mansion.It was a busier night than usual at the Mansion, she observed as she skipped around. She patted the armchair on his arms and waved at the lamp. She greeted the wall by trying to hug him and the couch by jumping onto him from behind. The closet groaned in discomfort when her door creaked open in the wind. The girl got up and shut the door for her firmly, all the while growing increasingly curious about the excited buzz all around the house.
“Mrs. Closet, do you know what is up with everybody? Why are they all so excited and loud tonight?”
“Oh little one, it is a matter that is best left unexplored. Thank you for your help anyway, but it is now time for me to sleep!”
But just as the girl had spun around to walk back, the closet said in a hushed voice, “Little one, whatever you do, just don’t go to the corridor on the second floor.”
But the closet was already fast asleep or pretending to be fast asleep.
“Stop, quick one, stop!” cried the steps as she ran up them.
“Oh, hello there Mr. Steps! What can I do for you?”
“Just don’t climb any further, o quick one, for on the floor above, The Lord of Us All stands tall and awake.”
The girl grew wide-eyed in wonder. Her pudgy stub of a chin quivered in excitement as she contemplated on what Mr. Steps had just said.
“Don’t fret, Step! I would do just about anything to meet the Lord of You All.”
And saying so, she scampered up the steps, turned a right, ran straight and turned a left and lo! Before her lay the now infamous second floor corridor. It was a peculiar inclusion to the mansion, for it led nowhere and had no rooms alongside. Its far end was always shrouded in darkness and there was just one window.
Although she had never visited the corridor before, she was familiar with its door. The door was an old and bitter fellow. Broken and cracked in many places with rot all over his wood and rust over his knobs.
His only claim to significance was being the door at the entrance of the study but now, he had not even that for he was replaced with a fresher and sturdier one, rendering him purposeless and bitter.
He was placed instead at the entrance of the second floor corridor, which had once been an impromptu smoking chamber. He was always muttering to himself and cursing at all that walked past. On many an occasion, he refused to let stray smokers or kids playing hide-and-seek out of the corridor just for the sadistic pleasure of it.
He reveled in the discomfort his creakiness caused everybody and made it a point to be as creaky and creepy as possible.
But the girl was familiar with all tricks, and greeted him by roughly twisting his rusty knob and pushing him wide open.
The door let loose a roar of displeasure and screamed in his rickety voice, “You insolent little rodent! You brat! You will pay dearly for your insolence, you will pay so badly, so heavily. Mark my words!”
But the girl was already inside the corridor, ignoring Grandpa Door (who had fast shut himself) and walking briskly towards the moonlit dead-end.
As she neared the pale moonlight, she could feel a presence and something else about it that she couldn’t quite grasp.She could make out a vague physical shape and what struck her immediately was the imposing height of this figure. Whoever he/she was, the girl knew within that they had to be old and very tall.
DING DONG. DING DONG.
The midnight chimes resonated through the corridor, giving the girl a start.
It’s just a clock. An old grandfather clock.
The girl couldn’t contain herself any longer. It was this ancient and weary timepiece that had had all her friends on tenterhooks. She swelled up in anger, balled her fists and stomped right up to the clock.
“Look Mister, I don’t know who you..”
“Aaaaahhhhhhhhhh!” yawned the grandfather clock.
He was tall and very old, built of sturdy wood. His wood was dark and very plainly designed. The golden pendulum kept moving steadily, hypnotically.
He spoke in a raspy and gravelly voice, “What brings you here, child?”
“I’m here to find out who you are and why my friends are scared of you. You shouldn’t scare people, it’s a mean thing to do!”
The clock stood silent, scrutinizing the girl. He wasn’t used to being spoken to in this manner.
“Why don’t you respond, Mr. Clock? Who are you? Why are you the Lord of Them All? What’s so special about you?”
There was a soft creak as the rotten door stood himself up straight, “He not only is the Lord of Us All, but the Lord of Everything. Including you, o insolent one.”
The girl’s teeth were clenched and her tiny stub of a chin was quivering as she turned around to face the door. Her body was stiff and her chest was puffed up in rage as she boldly announced, “This old clock is not my lord. He’s just another person living in this house, but he most certainly isn’t some big Lord!” Her mouth was an angry pout as she gazed daggers at the door.
The floorboards creaked as they spoke, “Young one! Such courage is admirable but alas, youth lacks the wisdom to recognize without fault where it must be employed!”
“Youth lacks the wisdom and depth to reconcile itself with reality”, continued the Clock. “In a world far removed, isolated from all that is ordinary, sits your age- choosing to imagine the extraordinary and bemoan its absence rather than experience the ordinary and live with it.”
“But behind everything ordinary, there is always something extraordinary, Mr. Clock. Behind the honey we cherish is the extraordinary story of the honey bee’s travels and travails. Behind the water we drink is the extraordinary fact of minuscule orbs fusing in multitudes to bring to life the very source of life.
Ordinary is but a direct consequence of the Extraordinary, for without the latter, the former ceases to exist, to operate”, said the girl. She had sat herself down and on her crossed legs lay her loosely clasped hands. Her black hair hung behind her face as she gazed at the clock, relaxed and confident, polite but irreverent.
The steady tick-tock of the clock punched through the silence that curtained the room after the girl spoke. The floorboards and the door were paralyzed with wonder as the clock stood tall, contemplating and understanding.
At long last, he spoke, “It pleases me that someone as young as you is capable enough to recognize the process behind the ordinary world and all that is worldly and ordinary. But tell me, little one, have you understood what the Extraordinary is?”
“No. I have been searching for it, trying to isolate it, but to no avail.”
The clock coughed- dry and gravelly, before he spoke again, “Before you, right now, stands the Extraordinary. I am it. I am the Extraordinary!” exclaimed the clock suddenly, possessed by a sudden fervor.
She still sat unabashed but gazed at the clock with more curiosity and puzzlement. “I’m sorry”, she said. “I still don’t see the Extraordinary.”
The clock drew himself up with a huge breath and exploded into explanation, “Don’t you see, little one, don’t you see the evident? I am Time! I measure all, control all and kill all! I am the Master the universe itself hurries to answer! I am the beginning and the end of all, the very fabric of existence! I lend definition to all just as I erase all, I protect all just as I expose all and I create all just as I kill all! Nothing escapes my gaze as age is common to all and all that exists must age! And therefore, I stand here- the Perpetual Counter, the Eternal Overseer. I am Time. I am all. I am the beyond. I am the Extraordinary- the cause behind all that is ordinary.”
The girl slowly turned her head away from the clock, her eyes lingering on him for a moment thoughtfully before they followed suit. She stared outside the window, elbow on her thigh and head perched on her fist. Her stubby chin was even stubbier now that it was pushed upward by her fist, making her face look all the more intense and at the same time, child-like.
“But Mr. Clock”, she said, still staring out the window, “You are just that. A clock. You have been built by the hands of men and designed for the eyes of men. Your purpose is to display time, in all its accuracy and continuity. But you are not time itself. For if I bring my fork and fork those clock hands off of your dial, you will not be able to display time, but time will not for a moment cease flowing. Its perpetual nature will not for a moment change nor will its ubiquity for a moment stand masked.” She turned to face the clock, eyes burning with the fire of discovery. She stood up, head cocked to one side, hair thrown over her back and hands balled into fists. She stood with her legs slightly spread apart, staring back at the clock with a sneer. “You are nothing but a mere display, a common tool, with millions like you over the world. Your capability is and will always be the display of time and never will it be possible for you or anyone like you to transcend this limitation.”
The clock seemed to grow smaller as she spoke, with her voice hitting stronger and stronger notes as she continued. “In this house, perhaps you are the only one of your kind- old, wise and strong for which, I respect you and encourage others to do too. But this house is but an insignificant dot in this world, for the world is vast. And because all the residents in this house recognize the universal importance of time and its subsequent realities, they were beguiled into respecting you, you who happen to be a mere
representation of time. I ask you, Mr. Clock, are you too not affected by the passage of time? For I refuse to believe when you were built anew, the designer saw fit to use chipped and cracked wood in your construction. Therefore, it stands to reason that the Mills of Time have ground you down too, over the years, just as they have ground all that exists and existed.”
She tapped the floorboards with her foot and patted the wall with her hand. She walked towards the door, which swung open without a word. She walked to the far end of the passage and turned to look at the clock. Illuminated by the pale moonlight, he stood tall once more and ticked steadily, as he had been all his life. However, his ticking seemed to have new energy and his countenance seemed in possession of new strength- a new awareness had crept through him.As the girl skipped down the stairs, not a word was spoken. The silence prevailed as she walked across the hallway back to her bedroom. As she opened the door to the bedroom, she encountered some resistance from the door.
“Little one, you have been awake all your life, while we slept through ours. Now that you have awakened us, it is time you slept.”
“Door my dearest, we are all awake, at all times. It all just boils down to what extent we are awake and more importantly, to what it is that awakens us.”
She kissed the door goodnight and crawled back into her bed and lay under her blankets, feeling warm and snug.
It was perhaps the soundest sleep she had feigned in a long time.