Have any spare time?
“Please, sir,” Ayla said. Her face now a deep maroon with tears soaring down her hollowed cheeks. Her eyes darted back and forth between the man’s blank expression and her wrist that carried a constantly dimming wristwatch. “There is really nothing more I can do.” said the expressionless man as if he had much better, much more interesting things to do. Instead, he was stuck behind his cherry wood desk, in his state of the art, ergonomic desk chair and shiny gold wristwatch, staring at this frantic woman who had very little time left. “You should have been more responsible with your time,” he says. “We give you the watch for a reason.” and with that dismissed her entirely.
Ayla pleaded and fought and sobbed all the way to the front doors which were kicked open by two gruff men in suits. They threw her delicate body through the double glass doors and blocked the entry way until the doors closed staring at her in disgust. The two guards remained there until Ayla finally walked off, picking her oversized, knit sweater over her shoulders.This mustard yellow sweater was her favorite, but now it’s simply the only one left. It’s only a matter of time before this one disappears as well. Ayla often wondered when she would go to pick it up on her shoulders or wrap it around her thin skeleton to find that it was gone just like the others, just like everything she once owned.
Ayla never thought she would be in a situation like this. She never realized that running out of time could be her reality. She grew up in a family that was extremely wealthy. Ayla had so much time that she and her family hardly even knew what to do with it all. The whole family wore their government issued watches that connected to a device deep within their wrist, of course. They were also able to fill their home with clocks in each room, along the hallways and beside every entryway. There was never a shortage of time in the Henry house.
Now, everyone’s time eventually runs out. Once you have reached 110 years old your watch will expire and that will be the end. Within those 110 years, however, you are able to earn more time for both you and your family. This is done through hard work, yes, but also by having the right connections and getting in good with certain leaders, shall we say. The Henry family, well the Henry family had those connections and had plenty of them.
When Ayla Henry went off, fell in love and started her new life at the ripe age of 18 her family promptly cut her off from their wealth. “No time will be given to a daughter who leaves this family for someone who barely has any time left for themselves!” shouted Ayla’s mother. A calmer, more subdued voice chimed in, “How will they be able to care for you when they can hardly care for themselves?” her father asked with sad eyes. Ayla tried to cure her parents’ concerns with grand plans of how she and her love will work hard and make their way and have plenty of time to build their own family. Her parents flinch at the mention of “hard work” but Ayla doesn’t notice. She described the details with bright eyes that looked off into the distance as if she were watching it all play out right there in the fireplace-lit den that they were having this conversation in. Mrs. Henry scoffed as she clacked her high-heels over to Ayla. Bracing as if her mother was about to slap her hard against the face, which wouldn’t have been the first time, she felt a tug at her wrist and then a quick, painless snap.
Hanging from everyone’s wristwatch in the Henry family was a small key that resembled a keychain. This key was essential to getting into the never ending clocks that enveloped the Henry family’s home decor. Whenever their personal time was starting to decline they would simply insert the key into the keyhole, make a slightly uncomfortable twist of the wristwatch that was attached to their wrist and set it on top of a small prong inside the larger clock. The watch could be removed from its person for a maximum of 10 minutes before causing irreparable damage or death. This charging station would load the wristwatch up with more time, or in the Henry family’s case unlimited time.
Ayla and her love, Riley, sought out to live a life of adventure together. The problem with living adventurously is that it all costs time. You see, there is no time transfer to simply walk down the street or get your mail or chat with a neighbor, but there is for traveling and getting food and certain public disturbances such as getting thrown out of the bank where your attempt at a time advance on your wristwatch was promptly declined. This was obviously the case for Ayla, as mentioned earlier where she was denied the advance, humiliated and then to top it all off had time extracted from her wristwatch for it all.
With Ayla’s family fortune cut off and Riley never really having any sort of fortune to begin with, they were convinced they could live this adventurous love story on a budget and eventually they would do what the rest of the world does and work hard to earn back their time spent. “It will all come back to us eventually,” they would whisper to each other as they exchanged a portion of their time to experience the world through travel and exotic restaurants. This all seemed possible too before Riley got sick. It was the oddest array of symptoms that no one could ever figure out and instead they would send out referral after referral until Riley’s watch looked almost completely dimmed, like a black hole. Black holes are fascinating, just not when it’s looming on your wrist showing you and the rest of the world that you are going to disappear at any moment.
Now whether you share your life with someone or you have an entire family, you are able to transfer time between each of you. Ayla and Riley never really got around to earning their time back though so Ayla’s wristwatch was not looking so good either, granted hers was more of a half moon than a black hole. For months she had begged Riley to take some of her time. “Just take enough to keep you going a little longer while I make up for the time spent.” she would say night after night in the hospital after an entire day’s attempt at earning some time. It seemed like no matter what she did the entire day she was not able to earn enough to make a difference and Riley knew this.
Riley grew up very differently than Ayla. There was no secret to the wealth, either some people had it through connections and inheritance and some people had to work their asses off day in and day out just to survive with a constant half-moon haunting their and their families wrists. A shortened, adventure-filled life spent with Ayla was enough for Riley though, so this side of the world and time was never discussed. Instead they just made their time together the priority, regardless of what the future may hold.
Ayla watched for months as Riley’s belongings began to disappear. One day she was putting away the laundry and noticed half of the clothes were missing. Another day Riley’s instruments began dwindling every time Ayla walked in and out of their bedroom. On Riley’s last day Ayla noticed the mustard colored knit sweater hanging at the foot of the hospital bed and quickly snatched it up and claimed it as her own as she wrapped it around her shaking shoulders even though it must have been a hundred degrees out. When she looked up from picking some of the cat hair off of it she was no longer standing in front of the sleeping Riley that she loved so much. Instead she was standing in front of an empty hospital bed that still held an imprint of Riley’s body as well as her watch.
Ayla left the hospital and slept in their tiny, cramped apartment that felt so big now for weeks without moving. She checked her watch every few minutes that she was awake to see if her time was almost up. But because she was neither spending her time nor earning it, the little half-moon staring back at her didn’t budge. One day, about five weeks after Riley ran out of time, Ayla checked the fridge to see that there was no longer anything left that she could survive off of. No crumb of old pie and no wedge of cheese to nibble on. She had to go to the market. Aside from a lack of food, she had also noticed that various items around the apartment had begun to disappear, but she paid very little mind to that.
It was getting colder outside now so Ayla put the mustard sweater over her thin shoulders, tied her mass of dark, coiled hair back out of her face and grabbed her canvas bag that had a drawing of a stack of books with a cup of tea on the front. She peaked inside to clean everything out before she filled it with groceries and noticed about twenty crumpled name tags with “Ayla” written on them, a few hospital wristbands, a watch with what looked like a black hole on the face of it and a handful of discharge papers. “All from the hospital,” she struggled to whisper to herself as tears streamed down her face silently. She turned the bag upside down over the trashcan and watched the last of her life with Riley spill out into the bin. Before she could give it any more thought she nearly flung herself out of the front door, slammed it shut and twisted the key inside to lock it.
As she walked lazily through the market filling her bag with only the essentials, she took notice of the other wristwatches that surrounded her filling up their own baskets. Most of the watches looked like hers, dimmed down to look like a half-moon or less. The people attached to those watches were young and had small baskets or canvas bags like Ayla did, just for the necessities. The other population of watches were fully bright without even a speck of dimness anywhere on them. The people attached to these watches were mostly older folks, her parents’ age maybe and had large buggies that they were filling with far more than just the necessities.
Ayla understood at that moment, in the middle of the produce aisle, how the concept of time really worked and it wasn’t at all about hard work. If the people in control could tell the population to keep working hard at their jobs and spend all of their time worrying about how much time they had earned or used, the higher powers would never lose control of their communities. The citizens would always remain in the dark about the world around them and that is exactly what they want, control. What this really got anyone was a lifetime of labor and struggling only to run out of time and disappear before they got to do anything they really wanted in life. The people with bright white watches on the other hand, would go on to continue hoarding their clocks so that they never run out of time. The hard workers in the community would only stand a chance into their 30’s or maybe 40’s if they are lucky while the others would live on until 110 years old when their watches finally retired. The cycle would never end.
A teary eyed, shaking Ayla who definitely now had handprint marks on either arm from the guards who threw her out of the bank now sat on the side of a building about two blocks away from where she had just been humiliated. Her watch was dimmed even more now. Only about a quarter of the watch face was lit. The man at the bank really wanted to put her in her place for that outburst, and he did. Ayla took a peach from her canvas bag that had cost her two whole minutes at the market where she had her epiphany. As she bit into the peach she caught a glimpse of something shiny in her bag and reached in to see what it was.
Riley’s watch hung from her forefinger as she examined it and took another bite from her peach. Of course she didn’t throw this out like she did the rest of the hospital memorabilia, but she did forget all about it in her rush to get out of her front door and during her outing. As she rubbed the watch between her fingers she felt an odd texture on the back. Where the watch had clipped into Riley’s wrist there was an engraving. Ayla read it silently and could hear it in Riley’s voice, “If your time has been wasted, steal it back.”
Ayla chucked her peach to the side near the opening of a narrow alleyway and stood up quickly, almost losing consciousness from the hurriedness of it all. A woman with perfectly curled hair, a sophisticated outfit and a bright white watch that glowed with the infinite time she had left bumped hard into Ayla and scolded her for being in her way. The woman caught a glimpse at the dimmed wristwatch on Ayla’s wrist and in her fury began chuckling and batting at the companions that walked beside her. “Looks like this one will be disappearing any day now too! I cannot wait to finally be rid of them just as we were promised.” she said as she strutted away with her friends. “Hey! You can’t talk about me like that! You can’t talk about us like that!” Ayla shouted as she choked back sobs. She was suddenly realizing the disgusting abuse of power that time held over her and the person she loved the most. “And what are you going to do about it?” the woman said as she sauntered closer to Ayla glaring at her while her gaggle of excitable friends gathered close behind. “Steal it back,” she said in a low, fierce tone as she kicked in the knees of the wretched woman and snatched the watch right off of her wrist.
Now, the woman was fine. The well-to-do’s always carry extra wristwatches and have plenty of time stored at their homes in case of any oddities like what happened with Ayla that day. She was able to fumble on one of her spare watches well before the ten 10 minute limit as Ayla successfully got away with her original watch. The woman did, however, create one of the biggest man-hunts, or in this case Ayla-hunts, the world has ever seen. It’s not like some wealthy person’s watch hasn’t been stolen before, but this wealthy person was, as you can possibly imagine, wealthy in connections as well as time. Very, very wealthy in connections.
It’s been ten years since this incident happened and although no one has seen or heard of Ayla since, there are still news reports daily about a crazy, enraged, wild woman roaming the world in search of the people with the wealthiest wristwatches, attacking them and stealing their watch. Although there is no proof that it is Ayla, something that happens once you have run out of time, unless already claimed by someone else, your watch is traced back to your family and sent to them. Ayla’s family has never received her watch nor have they seen her since the day she left with Riley. It is highly assumed by her family and the rest of the world that the crazy, enraged, wild woman is indeed, their Ayla. They keep up with the news reports of the attacks and theft each day and wait patiently for when Ayla returns for them, their time and most likely, their lives.