Time is a fickle mistress. I picture her as an ageing hippy – thick silver hair, bare feet and long patchwork skirts with dirty hems. She messes with me a lot, speeding up and slowing down as she pleases. She never slows when I’m eating ice-cream, though – rather, she moves so fast that the human eye can’t see the cone fly from the cashier to my hand, to my mouth. Bystanders only spot my pupils dilating as a brain freeze hits.
Then, there are the situations when she throws on the brakes, bends in the middle, flips back on herself, and taunts me by agonisingly dragging her feet. If you’re puzzled and thinking, “She’s making this shit up, time is consistent,” let me be clear about two things: 1. time is not the same for all of us; and 2. you’re right, I am, just go with it. Everyone has their own time hippy, and she will slow the hands of your clock or warp your perception of time independent of those around you. (If you’re not heaps mad for science, just trust me. If you are a scientist, don’t steal my work, please.)
I’ve been noticing time slowing a lot of late – maybe she’s getting old, or maybe she’s decided she enjoys my suffering. This morning, for instance, I tried initiating a conversation with another cyclist as we waited for the lift at work. “Nice day for a ride!” I chirped. “Sure,” he shrugged. I think he shrugged, anyway – it was hard to tell with all the restrictive lycra. Either way, it wasn’t the convivial connection I’d envisioned. A stressed-out silence settled in, and I realised the error of my ways: we now had to wait for and ride in the lift together. Just us, connected by a yawning sinkhole of failed conversation. Do you know how long it can take to wait for a lift, then ride 25 storeys with a stranger you made an unreciprocated attempt at chit-chat with? Technically two minutes, but for me, about two hours and 17 seconds.
We stood in silence; tick tock, tick tock. Inside the lift, I thought maybe I should try again, shovelling some words into the sinkhole. Ideas raced through my mind. It was too late to loop back to the topic of riding – it would look desperate, which I was. I could talk about the building, bomb threats, fires, emergency exits, broken lift cables, my period, Barnaby Joyce? Tick tock, tick tock. I nearly tore my neck out of its socket (I was a top biology student) staring up at the lift numbers. Brightly lit numbers, have you ever seen anything so fascinating? Tick…tock...t...i....c...k. Finally, time got bored and relented. The lift arrived at his floor and he exited without even a nod. I swore I could hear a distant patchouli-laced cackling.
We’re all putty in time’s hands. She messes with us constantly: those moments after you send an insensitive text or email to the wrong person; while you wait to disembark a plane on the tarmac; the moment you realise you’ve forgotten your best friend’s birthday for the second year in a row. Plus, when you accidentally fart in yoga and the sound ricochets off every hard surface in the hot, silent room; while you walk down an interminably long corridor towards a work colleague; and the moment the doctor’s mouth forms the words to deliver your test results. The list goes on, and time, well, she stretches on with it.
There’s no happy ending to this story. All we can do is surrender to time and amateur science. So, when you next find yourself stuck in a painful, slowly unfolding situation, just picture her, Time: a nasty, middle-aged hippy dancing around a bonfire as she taunts and teases you. It won’t speed things up, but it might at least evoke the calming scent of ylang ylang oil. ■