The Time Maker: by Ntando Nzuza

Photo credit: Alexander Burghardt via Flickr

If time is a constant, then the reality of its existence can’t be passed or reversed… right? But what if I told you that time is a dependent mechanism that can be reversed by a simple trick?”

I remember him taking a deep breath as he brushed his eyebrows into a mess. I looked at him and simply nodded, urging him to explain his thesis.

“Think about it, besides our existence in the conscious realm, people have a subconscious mind.” He took off his coat and placed it on my sofa before taking a seat.

“The idea that we can make gods of ourselves is a frightening resolution to humans but contrary to popular belief, the subconscious can be accessed. Yes, it’s tricky, but memories can be reenacted within our subconscious state. The human brain can relive any, and every moment if given enough information.”

I asked him if he needed anything to drink. He did this when he was depressed; each time he would come up with a new idea to relieve the pain. We had talked about him going back to therapy the week before. That was the only thing that made him calm, that and the pills. He needed a professional. He needed the pills. They always made him better.

As I was speaking, I remember him walking towards the co-joining room that was furnished with a library of books. I found him staring mischievously at the shelves, considering a selection. The room was dimly lit. In the far corner, by the blinders and the small cabinet of glasses and alcohol, a lone leather couch stood alone until he occupied it. He had settled for a red book and was now searching frantically through the pages. Each page was flipped more violently than its predecessor. At times he would pause and run his fingers along the pages, an exercise he did when looking for a sentence. He did this for what seemed like forever.

Youssou had been my friend since my first year in university. He was a science major dealing mainly with biology, whilst I was a Bcom student working towards an economics degree. We became friends because my sister had asked him out, apparently he was charming but lacked confidence – at least that’s what my sister said. When I first met him he was a nervous guy who hardly laughed. After some time we became good friends. He was an easy guy with an interesting outlook on life. He married my sister the year after they finished varsity, and eventually became a science teacher as it was difficult for non-nationals to get jobs in South Africa. My sister became a microbiologist.

Youssou became a father to my niece; he and my sister had tried for a baby for almost ten years. I’m yet to see anyone love a person like Youssou loved his daughter. My sister always said that Youssou would have given his life to save Angel, no matter the situation. She’d also say, usually laughing with tears, that Angel would never marry if Youssou remained so close to her by the time she’d reached her thirties. In his defence, he’d always contend that his daughter was the most beautiful girl in the world, followed by Anika of course – my daughter, and due to that, no man was worth her companionship. They never had another child after Angel. Me and my wife had five. Anika, our youngest, was Angel’s age.

“I know that this sounds crazy, but dreaming is the only way I’ll see them again… listen to me Paul, the conception of a dream is primarily influenced by the environment,” he continued flipping through the book, “I read this yesterday… it was on page 100 or something,” he said in a confused voice. I wanted to tell him that he was looking through my book; to remind him that he was sitting in my house and not his own. Somehow, I refrained.

“My friend you need help. You can’t live your life in the past. My sister would have wanted you to carry on living,” I remember my voice building in strength as I talked to him “Your thesis will not revive them, they are gone and that’s what life is about. We are all bound to die; it’s the only result of living. And as for time, we have no option but to abide by its will.”

“I can’t though… I can’t just live as though they never were. I can’t erase the scene…the scene…I wake up with the lights in my eyes and the horn in my ears every morning. It’s just like…I’m paralyzed in a nightmare and I’m not able to stop it.” He turned back to the book, and went on to reassure me that he had read all about the conception of a dream the day before.

The accident had happened on a rainy October evening five years before. They were coming home from Anika and Angel’s school. Considering that we lived five minutes away from each other, we agreed to conserve petrol. It was Youssou and my sister’s turn. He had gone to fetch my sister from work, and the girls were picked up afterwards.

His car collided with a taxi that had burst its tires whilst driving madly on the freeway. The accident was so horrific that we couldn’t have an open casket for my sister. My daughter died on impact. Angel died a day after being admitted to ICU. Youssou was in a coma for seven months, and was paralyzed for three years after waking up.

We all have our different ways of healing after a traumatic incident. I thought Youssou would heal after a year, but he progressed in his grief, which ended up with attempted suicides and eventually losing his job four years after the accident. He became obsessed with religion in a bid to negotiate with God; after that phase diminished, he became an avid disbeliever. He was a shadow of the man I had once known; his muscles shrunk and his image slowly deteriorated. I saw a man who had been defeated by the world; a man left in a graceless corner to suffer for having been alive. From escaping civil wars in his native country, to struggling to find his feet in a foreign country, Youssou had suffered enough. I begged God to be a little gentler on him.

“Stop! Youssou please stop that,” I said as I snatched the book from his grasp. He leapt up with an uncertain violence in his demeanor, and with a slight realisation of his madness, he sat down and cradled his head in his arms. He sobbed until he found his voice. “God I’m crazy,” he said, smearing the tears that had streamed down his face.

The ambience of the study was dark and cold as my wife entered the room and calmly asked if all was okay. I told her not to worry and she left, closing the door silently behind her.

“I killed them. I killed them Paul. My wife, Angel and Anika,” he looked up at me, “Forgive me,” he whispered. I assured him that the accident wasn’t his fault and that I didn’t blame him for anything. He took a breath and dried his eyes with the neck of his shirt.

He went on to explain the theory that would reunite him with his wife and his girl. He explained how to use the subconscious as the mechanism of travelling back in time. He told me that introducing an element, such as a sound or a smell, before sleeping, could program our imagination. The element is set to be a memory carrier of the space within time. His favourite memory was Angel’s 10th birthday party, and the upbeat song of a local band could ignite that dream as it always did in his conscious state.

All he had was the averaged 90 to 110 minutes to acquire the dream and to enact it within his REM stage. “The problem comes with waking up after the second or third sleeping cycle. When the body is refreshed one has to wake up, so sleeping can’t be controlled” he was staring into my eyes as he explained this. Time passed in an uncomfortable silence as he searched my eyes for a glimmer of understanding. He apologised and asked that I forgive him for the craziness he had portrayed.

“It’s just one of those days,” he sighed and gave me a smirk as he looked at me. I remember, as he reached out for his coat, he assured me that he would go back to his psychologist. “Anyway, beyond my craziness there has to be a way to reach four or five sleeping cycles. And no it’s not about Angel and my wife, I really need to rest, the nightmares have made me an insomniac,” he concluded here and said his goodbyes. As he walked out, I knew he would find a way to prolong his sleep.

He was found a week after his visit to my house. My wife and I had been out of town visiting our eldest daughter. He too was buried in a closed casket. He was found with an oxygen mask attached to an anesthesia machine, a book about sleep (I don’t remember its title, although I remember my wife read it after his death), and a photo of my sister and Angel on the bedside table. The radio, which they found, had a scratched CD playing in it. The police noted that every 3 hours, it seemed to restart with a child laughing and mumbling ‘I love daddy’, followed by a once popular upbeat local song. The forensic team later discovered that he had had a stroke and died in his sleep.

I lost Youssou in the car crash. I lost my friend, my secret barrier, and most importantly, my brother. Although I believe he never meant to kill himself, what he did has stuck with me throughout my life. I sit now, an ancient version of my former self, recollecting the past and my existence in it. My oldest daughter has become my guardian. Dreams have become my companion. They all start out good, until they’re marred by the memory of  Youssou’s last visit and his theory of controlling time.

Our dreams are time benders. Every time I’m in them I feel young. I feel alive. I can touch my late wife and even smell her next to me. Perhaps the time maker, my dear friend Youssou, was right all along. He reversed time and stopped it as he had wished. I would like to believe that at the time of his death he was trapped in Angel’s 10th birthday party.


Ntando Nzuza (@NtandoNzuza) is a young South African student who enjoys writing stories. He is passionate about talking about the human condition, and everything that makes humans unique.

Related country: South Africa

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