“Every time I jump like that, I feel like time slows down a little bit.”
– Son, today, after a hop over a puddle
On the back wall of my elementary school cafeteria, there was a big clock. White background, black hands, no numbers, just the short lines that indicate the five-minute (or second) intervals the hands have to make to travel around the face.
There was also something else I’ve never been able to forget in my school, and that was the rule that you had to finish your plate, because food was never to be wasted. That’s why I sometimes sat alone at a long table and stared at the clock, while trying to chew whatever food was given to me that day.
One time, when I was there alone, trying to make the food go down, I glanced at the clock, and waited for the seconds hand to move, as it did, second by second, not in one smooth motion – but it didn’t.
The hand didn’t move at all, and all kinds of thoughts went through my head.
I knew that at least I was conscious because I was having all these thoughts, although I could have been dreaming, too, I guess. But maybe time had frozen for everybody else, and they were stuck sitting at their places in the school cafeteria, while I, on other hand, was free to move around among my friends frozen in time and space.
Then I realized that if that was the case, I’d be all alone, and I would be the one stuck in time, if not place, and got scared. I thought about my parents, and my homework – I was ten years old – and the soccer match that night while keeping my eyes on the clock, and its stubborn seconds hand still just standing still somewhere between two and three.
My breathing grew heavy, and I really wanted to move, walk, run, do something, anything, just to make sure I still could. Then I thought that maybe time hadn’t stopped, maybe I had got superpowers. Maybe I had become superfast?
Before I sprinted around the cafeteria, I saw Anna. It occurred to me that I probably should’ve invited her to my birthday party, because I had really wanted to but none of the other boys in my class had invited girls to their parties so I didn’t, either.
And now I was stuck in time, alone, and I could never do it.
But what I could do, I realized, was to get up and walk over to her at the other end of the cafeteria, and look her straight in those beautiful, beautiful blue eyes, and hold her hand, or maybe even give her a kiss on the cheek. If there ever was the right moment to do it, it was right now, while time stood still.
Nobody would know, not even Anna because she’d just sit there with a fish stick on its way from the plate into her mouth. She wouldn’t know that I was sitting right next to her, that I’d be holding her hand, that I could take that blonde wisp of hair that was hanging straight down, and almost landing on the plate, and tuck it behind her ear, and then I’d just quickly give her that kiss.
She wouldn’t know, nobody else would know, but I would know. I’d know, and I’d remember it forever. As a couple – which we might become – we wouldn’t always have school kitchen, but I would.
The thought made me braver so I decided to go for it.
I pushed my plate forward and just as I was getting up, the seconds hand moved again and kept on running.
I just stared at Anna, sitting five tables away from me, chatting with a friend, snickering. She had the coolest denim overalls I had ever seen, and around her neck, I could see the golden necklace with a golden A that she always wore.
Then she and her best friend got up and left the cafeteria.
I still had some food on my plate. So I stayed – for exactly two minutes and thirty-three seconds.