The Watch

By

By JASPER FU

It wasn’t very important, I suppose. A two-dollar watch probably worth half that; an impulse purchase as I waited and wondered for the hundredth time how much time I had spent waiting and wondering. Besides, it matched my jacket: an ugly, bright red gift from a well-meaning cousin. I put it on as the cashier was ringing it up, staring at the chrome-ish bezel. It felt comfortable, at least.

By the time I lost it, the rubber was worn, the strap too loose, the face stained and almost opaque with scratches. I was playing with the ragged rubber strap, killing time as I waited for the bus to roll up to the stop. The strap itself, bleached to an almost pinkish color, was fraying in a half-dozen places. The sky glowered a dull grey-black, an hour before sunrise, and the snow was an almost dizzying shade of white.  I was still mostly asleep when I leaned back against the bus stop. The shock of frozen metal on my neck jolted me forward, and as my arm rose the strap tore free, sending it flying into the brown mush by the road. I must have looked a sight – scrabbling in a slush that was more dirt than snow for a candy-red rubber watch, dressed in a cheap suit and off-black slacks, two coffees short of asleep. I could see people staring at me as I squatted in the snow, awkwardly fumbling for a watch with hands that would barely be able to feel it.

I left it there in the snow, with my shoes damp and my hands numb. I didn’t think a cheap, convenience-store watch was worth the curious stares, the soaked everything, or missing the bus hurtling towards me. I stepped onto the bus, brushing snow and water off of my sleeves. The steps were wet where the snow had melted, and I clambered on to the nearest seat, still shivering. I stripped off my damp gloves and rubbed my hands together in a hopeless attempt to warm them. The shapeless grey cushion dug uncomfortably into my back. Around me were a half-dozen freezing, exhausted commuters, clinging to chilled metal bars or perched on colorless plastic seats like a gaggle of depressed geese. I sat back on the grey seat, pushing back my sleeves to try to keep the damp fabric from my skin. The rustling cloth drew bored stares from other passengers as I settled back.

The grey sky ambled past, but it was too dark to make out anything specific. As I was staring out, my phone vibrated, a muted buzz that shook me out of my stupor. I hurriedly snatched it from my pocket and read the caller id: the bright letters spelled out the name of my artificially perky boss.

“Hey, we expected you twenty minutes ago,” he said, his voice altogether too bright for the time of day. “What’s holding you up?”

“Uh, there’s a lot of traffic in this area.” I replied, still drowsy. The lie was so barefaced that some of the other commuters turned towards me with wry smiles. I quickly corrected myself: “The snow’s pretty bad, too. The bus is running a bit late.”

My fellow travellers returned to whatever they were doing as I continued talking. “I’ll be at the office in a ten or twenty minutes, max. See you there.”

I fumbled at my phone with frozen fingers. The screen faded to black as I tucked it into a pocket. The grey sky was turning brighter as I passed vague shapes blurring into frost-covered cars and empty office buildings. I rested the side of my head on the window, ignoring the chill of the glass and metal, and tried my best to remain awake.

By the time I stepped off the bus, I was mostly if uncomfortably lucid. The shock of the cold had, at least for a time, brought me to my senses. I glanced at my wrist before I caught myself and turned to my office. As I stepped forwards, a man rushed up to greet me.

“Where have you been?” he asked, heatedly. “You told me ten minutes half an hour ago. I’ve got people waiting on you, people waiting on them, and it’s all just a big mess. Do you even know what time it is?”

I stared mournfully at my bare wrist as Derek chattered on. It was going to be a very long day.

Jasper Fu ([email protected]) doesn’t wear a watch.