Fall of 1993
The song of the clock flooded the whole room at five o’clock in the morning. I always set my alarms at this time, ever since I was a university student, and ever since I had learned how to do so.
From a town fair I had won my first alarm clock, in a game on which you bet on a combination of colors that should match the one on three blocks of wood. It was not a fancy piece; neither it was the prize I was expecting on winning the game. Like you know, you bet the last paper money you got inside your wallet and you expected to double it. But no, I got this alarm clock instead, truly made of plastic, about two inches tall, with hands glowing in the dark and a red button that lights up a tiny bulb inside. Just so I could tell the time in case I suddenly wake up at three in the morning. At the back, the usual spinning dials and a battery compartment. Pretty neat though, it lasted me a year in the university before the cheap plastic broke and the cheap bulb got busted and the cheap metal works inside the battery compartment rusted and everything else cheap melted into nothingness until it was no longer usable. The day after I threw it away, I bought myself a new one, with metal framework and metal hands and metal ringer and metal battery compartment, realizing how vital its role had become in my life. If I had not gotten a new one, I doubt I would ever wake up into a new day.
And then this metal clock I so adored, with its shiny metal framework and metal hands and metal ringer, lasted the next three years until the night before graduation day. It so happened that we had a big party that night, despite the restrictions of our dormitory’s landlady. Our building stood the closest from the university gate; it was with this reason that the group had chosen the place as the venue. It was bordered with small kitchenettes selling beef and pork stew I knew only tasted good because of the enormous amount of condiments and bouillon cubes twice or thrice the regular size that they put. Like you want to buy a bowl of soup and they give you liquefied version of kidney stones. That is why whenever I ate there, how badly I would like to dump a gallon of water in my system. So back to the metal clock, hard as we tried to keep everything discrete and quiet that night before the graduation, you just cannot keep a party from being a party. How do you expect university boys in their twenties throwing a silent party of orange juice, board games and solitaire? In simpler terms, we did not heed the words of the landlady and went on with our celebration, despite the numerous times we heard her from downstairs, banging on her ceiling with the end of a broomstick. We had beer and cigarettes and considerable amount of booze until four in the morning. When the place cleared of drunkards and their girlfriends, I found the metal clock smashed on the floor, around were litters of empty red cups, cigarette butts and condom foils. We really did have a party that night. This and I did not expect that the years to follow will be the entire opposite of my university years.
Immediately I decided to move out of my parent’s place. Not that I was one of those kids who were entirely decided of leaving home even before finishing high school. I just felt that after the university their job is done, which, in my case, they did pretty well. I only waited three days after graduation before I asked them to drive me into another town almost eight hours away from our place—excluding the traffic. I brought only some of my personal stuff, most of them I already had in the university dorm. The rest I left back home: old clothes, old books, old gaming consoles, old high school letters, old pens, old notebooks, old photographs and pretty much all the oldness I can leave behind. I told them my brother could have it. And those that he does not want, they can throw away. They asked me whether I would like them to save my academic medals and put them on display inside a glass case. I find this utterly unnecessary and ostentatious. So in order not to spoil the moment, I told them they can do whatever they want, even hang each on a door or a window, make it a wind chime perhaps. After all, when I aimed to get those awards, I studied hard to do it for them. They looked really pleased, my mother close to crying a river. But I was too excited to dwell in my new place that I failed to respond with mutual sentimentality. The parting was not dramatic either, I told them I was only eight hours away and still in the same country. Besides, I had already spent more time away from home in the last four years. That day only made it official.
The apartment I got was nifty and neat. My friends told me it was a strange choice, moving in a town yet to have a name for itself. But the place seemed perfect for me, a bay in the west and ridges of mountain in the north. As much as they wanted to convince me to go with them in the country capital to have adventures, I had paid the apartment six months in advance. No turning back.
Unlike the previous dormitory I shared with a roommate, which usually took me ten minutes of walking to get to my daily destination, the apartment was located away from known civilization, in the suburbs where it was much quieter and simpler and you could literally hear the song of the wind in the morning. The roads were wider than the cityscape’s; trees and bushes seemed to grow twice in number as you go further down. In cold nights of solitude, the velvety black sky was bare and lovely, even without the flashy skyline. A convenience store stood three blocks away, a small grocer farther and just around the block, an independent, low-ceilinged record store. These neighbors were influences of why I chose the place, which was a little odd because for most bachelor of my age, they will surely choose a city space five or ten minutes away from clubs. But I guess I have grown tired of that too; too much alcohol I had already ingested when I was younger. I moved in a week before I was to start in my new job, in a company that hired me even before I learned I was included in the list of graduates.
The first thing I did when I arrived was to scour stores for the cheapest and most essential furniture. I lived a mediocre life back in our mediocre town, in a two story mediocre house made of stone and steel, from mediocre parents who sold textile for a living, with an annoying and mediocre brother, and pretty much everything else that consisted my mediocre years on earth. That became my first difficulty in keeping an apartment for myself, because the stores in my area sold flashy and bulky furniture, all the more expensive, and it took me at least three days before finding the right stuff for my mediocre living, and the whole week to put everything into place.
The unit was just right for a bachelor’s pad. I placed a couch against a wall facing an empty table that soon held a small colored television when I got my first paycheck, a dining set of four seats used only once when my family came over the first holiday I spent there, a twin-size bed in a separate room, a closet and a mini fridge I kept near the terrace. I did not find it necessary to change the lights. I kept the plain bulbs and fluorescents. However, that day before I was to start in my new job I realized I still lacked one more mediocre detail inside my mediocre apartment, and that was an alarm clock.
The nearest department store I found was three miles away. The crew from the convenience store said that I could reach it the quickest through the bus, since I did not have my own car and was left with no other option. I thanked him and took my pack of cigarettes, after which I smoked a stick and went off. I walked towards the bus stop finishing my second stick and before I reached the aisle of alarm clocks inside the department store, the third one died into ashes.
The department store was ancient and smelled of mothballs. Pretty much every stuff inside was either covered with considerable amount of dust that seemed untouched for the last five years or those contained in boxes started to accumulate mildew. Nonetheless I looked for the section where they sold clocks, mainly the small ones I could prop up on my nightstand. Something inside me itched that day that if ever I fail to get one, I would be doomed on every task I will face tomorrow. And I will never be able to wake up in the days that will follow. Keeping an alarm clock seemed to have become my sense of security. I knew for sure that for other people, it is no more than something you put near your bed so you could tell time. In my years in the university, I had been especially meticulous with regards to deadlines and schedules. Clocks are objects that tell me how much time is left before the bomb explodes.
‘Are you looking for something particular?’ I heard a sales lady say from behind my back. She was watching me from the very point I walked in. I ignored her for a moment and shook my head but it seemed like their job description entailed walking after customers.
I paused before the short aisle of alarm clocks; faces that contained numbers staring down on me. I felt some familiarity, realizing that it had been almost a week since I found that three-year old metal alarm clock of mine smashed into pieces inside my university dorm. They ticked silently on the metal shelves and their hands simultaneously moved in congruent manner like synchronized swimmers. I gazed around, trying to look for the same one I broke a week ago. It served me well anyway. Life tested our three years on the rough.
‘Do you have here a steel alarm clock? Like the one with the metal ringer?’
The lady looked through the shelves.
‘That is all we have, sir. They ring loud and wakes you up at once.’
I ignored the advertisement.
‘And they tell time pretty accurate, too.’
I nodded. ‘Yes. Why else would they be clocks if they would not, right? But I am looking for this metal clock because I broke mine a week ago. It is just that it matches the whole set up of the room.’
‘Maybe you should try coming next week. We stock up new ones on Friday nights.’
I sighed. ‘Well I guess whatever is in here looks fine. I cannot wake up the mornings without any alarms.’
‘Then you have a whole lot to choose from. They tell the same time after all.’
In my disappointment I took the one closest to me, the one my arm can reach, and did not bother to inspect it carefully. Up until I paid for it in the cashier line, the sales lady trotted behind. How I wish the suburbs were not full of this kind of people.
The one I took was a digital one, a rectangular piece covered in black silicon rubber, had a monochromatic screen that lights up blue when you press the button on top. Not bad at all. We have been together for almost four years.