Three months ago, I bought a watch. A gold face and a leather-look plastic band with a buckle I had repaired for $13. I bought it from a vintage-seller on the backstreets of Istanbul, but there is no accompanying tale of how I found the place, nor any quirks from its previous ownership. In fact, I’ll hazard a guess that unless faux leather was part of the trend in the 60s, I’m probably not wearing vintage.
Although it’s not a fancy timepiece it does its job. It tells me the time when I need it to. Actually, it tells the time regardless.
I’m about to get started on an assignment when mum messages about grandma: ‘Stage 4 cancer grandma.’
The four words glow on the iPhone and I don’t bother unlocking it. I already knew about the tumour. I found out on a recent trip, visiting her in Malaysia. Even then I was barely sorry for her condition; I barely knew her.
I feel slow. I open up the Canberra Times. Still no sudden waves of worry or sorrow.
I’m distracted. I google ‘stage four cancer.’ I guess I should know more.
Stage four is the final stage. The cancer can spread to other parts of the body and bloodstream. If it’s in the liver, like grandma’s, there is a less than 30% chance of survival.
I call mum. Mum says she is fine. I look at my watch. 1.30pm. I read an article on the online newspaper. 1.31pm. Don McLean’s American Pie on Youtube. 8 minutes, 40 seconds, it’s a long song. 1.39pm.
I catch myself looking again, 1.39pm. The long hand lingers before the 8. It stops. Staring at the clock face, I wait for the needle to send the next motion to the cog to push the hand forward. A bead of water escapes my eye. The needle ticks back into cycle. More droplets make their way down my face. I am sitting in Menzie’s library, sobbing with the long-awaited remorse I had withheld.
From 1.40pm to 2pm I think about the time my grandma has left to live. About the time it takes to travel to Malaysia and the time it would take me to tell my boss I wouldn’t make it to work. About lost time, time I never had bonding with my grandmother.
I look at my watch, this time through blurred vision. I watch the clock watching me telling, but not telling me, ticking over, telling the time. Time goes on. It doesn’t tell anyone. I do up the buckle on the device and push the thin metal bar through the faux-leather. It just watches.
Elena Tjandra is a fourth-year student at the ANU. This semester she is following whim and whimsy in Melbourne.