Buying Time (1st Prize, Category 4)
One day, man has done it. He has finally found a way to make time palpable. Now, time is a physical dimension, a tangible collection that is kept locked up in the great Time Vault. Time is fickle, constantly shifting and changing color, but no matter how it changes, each piece of time always represents one more day. Every hour of every day, people are lining up to get a peek at their remaining supply and to buy more time. Inside the Time Vault are accountants who are ceaselessly handling transactions and typing furiously away at their calculators, trying to keep track of each person’s days left. Their lives are never permanent. With only a few dollars, more time can be bought, and death can be temporarily evaded. People are pouring their life savings into the Time Vault, because time is money, and money is time.
And one day, the poor are the admired. When they walk by, clad in rags and stinking of homelessness, people nudge each other and gape in hushed awe, for the ones with nothing are the ones who have dedicated the most to time. They are the respected ascetics. The poor walk around proud, for though they have given up everything, they have the most time, and time is everything. All of their efforts go into buying more time. As soon as a little money comes their way, it immediately goes into buying a few extra days. Comforts such as clothing, shelter, sanitation, and food are pushed to the wayside. Time is their religion. Nothing else matters.
And one day, words change. People now refer to the future as the present, because time is the greatest gift. No one even thinks about giving anything else. When students graduate, relatives and friends all gift them with more time so that they can fully explore their options at their own pace. When couples get married, friends gift them with more time to spend loving each other. When couples get divorced, they simply buy more time and smile through their pain, because time heals all wounds, and they have plenty of time.
And one day, jealous competition stops. Students stop competing about grades, because they realize that they are not defined by letters or numbers or class ranks. Adults stop competing about social status, because they realize that they are not defined by the career they have chosen or the amount of money they earn. They are defined by the time they have left. As long as they have some money, they can keep adding to their time, and with an ever-increasing amount of time, all things can be accomplished. When the future is always extending, people are not worried about having too little time. There is no desire to do now what can be done in the future. There is no rat race. Everyone is relaxed and indolent. The stress to be the best does not exist.
And one day, schools are in disarray. If everyone can live forever, why should education be crammed into the first 20 years? Students spend their nights reveling and their days pleading for extensions. They negotiate agreements by bribing their teachers with more time. They receive more time by giving it away. The teachers never turn down these gifts. Though their job is to educate and to enlighten, they are still humans, after all, and all humans want more time.
And one day, deadlines become obsolete. If people can always have more time, then straining to finish things within certain time limits is illogical. Humans are the governors of time. They do what they please when they please. They refuse to have their actions controlled by minutes and hours. Thus, no one rushes around furiously cramming for tests or pulling all-nighters trying to finish homework. It is impossible to set meetings or organize projects or gather in groups. Society slowly deteriorates, but nobody really cares. There will always be time to change.
And one day, freshness fades. Sooner or later, all first times are experienced. People live through their first loves, their first kisses, their first touches, their first heartbreaks. Sooner or later, all has been done. Sooner or later, everything gets old. So people drift from place to place and relationship to relationship, searching for something new, searching for a spark. But when there is infinite time, endless possibilities become disturbingly finite. All actions are dulled by the knowledge that infinite lives bring infinite boredom. Eventually, people resign themselves to going through the same motions every day. As life continues, excitement dies, but at least they still have control over time.
And one day, people get old. Their joints creak, their bones ache, and their skin becomes a canvas of spots and lines, but they still keep hobbling to the Time Vault to buy more time. They live in constant agony, but when asked about what it is like to live forever by bright-eyed children, they all smile and lie. Nobody dares to admit that they would rather die. Infinite days bear infinite pain, but they must carry on. The few who have chosen to die are mocked and scorned. People gossip about the heinous ingrates, the ones who have given up, the ones who could not appreciate the incredible gift of time. The elderly lie aching in their beds at night, praying to remember what it was like to want more time.
And I am living in this world of one day’s, and my world is falling apart. We all think that we govern the clock, but really, time governs us. We may have limitless time, but we are caught in a quagmire of inaction. Surely a change is desperately needed. Our schools are corrupt jokes. Nothing ever gets done. There is always the seductive promise of the future, where people will band together and change the world with their boundless energy and infinite time, but I have lived through enough of these days to know that this will never happen. We are all blind worshippers of time. I think that we have all forgotten the reason for our wretched addiction to time, but nobody can openly admit that without the risk of being ridiculed. We live in this perpetual struggle because in the past, when we could not extend our lives, everyone wanted more time. I cannot imagine why. We were meant to be bright flashes of life, not interminable drones of lethargy. I dream of going back to the days when we could not control time. I dream of the days when time was absolute and unchangeable. I dream of the days when we raced towards one goal after another, driven by the knowledge that time would run out. Take me to a day when we are freed of the unbearable burden of inexhaustible time. Take me to a day when we are suffocating under the pressures of this life, because we can breathe easy knowing that there will always be a new exhilarating challenge. Take me to a day when my destiny is not under my control, because life loses its excitement when we are its masters. Take me back to that day.
By Daphne Fong,
16 years, Concordia International School Shanghai