When Aaron wakes up from a coma, he has no memory of his past or who he is. Lost and confused, he wanders the streets of a foreign town, taking on the name Tibu as he tries to piece together his identity. Meanwhile, Lily is lost in her dreams, searching for someone to help her understand who she is. As Aaron/Tibu travels through different worlds and encounters a cast of characters, he starts to remember that he had the ability to time travel through the Wall of Watches. Can Aaron/Tibu unlock the secrets of his past and help Lily find her way back to reality, or will they both be lost forever?
So the Story goes...
It’s the Wall of Watches, where the last remaining heart beats of the condemned live on, refusing to be forgotten. The wall itself is high, with chains crisscrossing it’s face to keep a patchwork of boards in place. Threaded into the chains, however, were the watches of those who died at the wall.
The watches hung from each other. There would be one watch attached to the chains and then more watches would be strung on it’s bands. It was a practical solution to diminishing real estate on the wall, but it was metaphorical as well, representing the interconnection of hearts and souls.
Most watches were mechanical, but wound by the movement of handling. On the day of their death, or if they expected it, they’d run to the wall and fit their watch to the chains. Well-wishers would visit the memorial and handle the watches to both keep them going and to remember their loved-one once more. As long as the ticking continued, it was said that their heart remained beating in this world.
The guards would walk the condemned men past the wall to remind them of the people who came before. Dissenters.
As a line of men shuffled past the wall, an inmate leapt out of line and furiously fumbled with his watch, trying all he could to attach it. There was always one. One guy would become so overwhelmed by the empathy of the symbolism, would connect so strongly with the wall, that he’d leap out of line and attach his watch…an act which would be paid for by immediate death.
A guard watched with a certain pity. The orders were to shoot on sight, but he would let them have their last act. Right as the band slipped through the buckle, a shot was fired and the inmate fell in a lump.
All of this seemed so familiar to Aaron…or was it? Is this where he was supposed to be? He had a sudden moment of clarity while standing in that line, watching his fellow inmate fall. What was he doing here?! It was one of those moments that hits you. What in the world is all this bullshit?!
He loosened the belt on his watch as he drew closer to the wall, not wanting to seem suspicious. He would attach his watch, willingly and premeditated. Their expectations of him would not hold him ransom…rather, he’d use their own expectations against them. They would not kill him. He was in control. This was his time. This was his life. He was taking it back.
And, right as he slid the belt through, he got one last look at the black face of the watch…
“Aaron, it’s time.”
A female voice. But low for woman, and harsh. Not gentle like his mother’s voice. The voice on the other side of the wooden door was familiar although at that moment Aaron could not have attached a name or a face to the voice.
“Aaron, are you there? It’s time. We can’t be late.”
Aaron’s insides contracted. Reflexively he closed his eyes. At the same time his right hand moved to cover the watch on his left wrist—a gift from his father when he turned 10 years old. He did these things without thinking.
If he had thought, if he had had the luxury of time to analyse these small movements—and it was clear from the voice that he did not—he would have come to the conclusion that he hoped to block out the truth of what the voice was saying.
“Aaron!” The tone had changed. Now, the voice implied a threat.
Still without thought, Aaron picked up his jacket and a small brown suitcase and moved slowly towards the voice.
Lily was lost. She had closed her eyes and was listening to the voices of the crowd. She had discovered that she could make it appear as if they were all the same voice or many different voices just by wishing it. At the moment she was more comfortable with only one voice, but the voice made no sense at all. So she wasn’t listening to it.
Her mother had once told her that when she was lost, she should always stay at the same spot so that her parents could find her. And she couldn’t speak to strangers. It was easier if she had her eyes closed.
Someone touched her arm. She pretended it was the branch of a tree. It was easier when she had her eyes closed to make the fear disappear. Her parents would be back soon.
The waiter stood to the side of the of the tables and chairs on the pavement, smoking a cigarette and listening to the babble of conversation. Holiday makers exposed themselves in the sun, in shades of white, pink and red striped flesh, while the regulars were seated closer to the cafe in the shade of the awning.
Across the road, a bone thin ebony skinned man carrying a small brown suitcase paused, and scanned the street. Laying the suitcase down, he opened it and removed a tattered cloth which he spread out upon the sidewalk and proceeded to display an assortment of sunglasses and cheap glittery watches. The man sat down behind his small display of wares, leaning against the wall. The waiter felt a physical pang in his gut as he registered the expression on the face of the watch seller: resigned hopelessness. A palpable lack of optimistic anticipation. The waiter wondered how he managed to sell any watches, indeed how he managed to get out of bed in the morning, if indeed he had such a thing as a bed.
The waiter stubbed out the cigarette butt and lit another one. A group of five teenage girls picked at their pastries while passing around a bottle of sun protection lotion, giggling as they showed each other photos on their phones. An older couple bickered quietly between themselves at the next table, the wife admonishing her husband over the amount of butter he spread on his toasted baguette. A younger woman with two neatly attired and scrubbed faced children waved away a stray wisp of cigarette smoke with a righteous frown, and glared in the direction of nearby smokers.
None of them had noticed the watch seller with the small battered brown suitcase across the road. The waiter caught his eye and nodded, giving him a good luck thumbs up sign. The watch seller acknowledged him with an unenthusiastic lift of his hand.
The waiter sighed, ground his cigarette butt out with his heel, and went back inside the cafe.
“Aaron!” his focus snapped. Was he day dreaming?
As he came to the door, he looked at his suit in the mirror. It was keen, with straight lines and not a wave or wrinkle to be found. It was the epitome of structure and order.
He hated it.
He hated the way it felt. He hated the properness that came with it. He hated the lie.
In the next moment, he began to shake off the prissiness. It felt as if he could wriggle out of it, loosen up a little. And as he stood there, shaking his hands and feet, trying to get the funk off him, the suit shook off, too. It fell to the floor in pieces as though it were the very manifestation of inhibition.
As he stood there, in front of the mirror and half naked, a low murmur came up from his stomach. It was an uneasiness, a call to action, a desire to move…but he had no idea what for or why. It welled up in him and he became anxious without the slightest clue as to what he was going through. Frankly enough, it scared him.
The voice was a part of him and there was nothing but himself staring at himself. Everything seemed to become more and more energized. It felt like he extended beyond the limit of his skin, like water in a balloon trying to push outward.
Were it not for his containment, there was a very real possibility that he might just completely leap out of his skin and bones. He felt that, given a small slip in concentration, he’d be liable to explode headlong into the atmosphere with the vigor of a superhero on poorly made bath salts.
His heart raced. He could feel it beating in his chest. He could feel it beating all over. What was happening? Where was he?
He looked back at his surroundings and found himself sitting behind a tattered cloth spread with sunglasses and watches…and his suitcase?
At first he’d stayed in the same spot. Waiting, for what he didn’t know, but for someone or something to provide a clue, or a reminder. He’d given up checking his pockets, hoping he was mistaken and that of course he had a wallet, some keys, a phone. But there was nothing. Nothing but that suitcase, lighter than it should have been for its size, because there was nothing it in except a few pairs of underpants and a couple of ties. A toiletry bag, unzipped, with nothing in it but a toothbrush.
He closed his eyes. Stay in the same spot if you’re lost. Had his mother said that once, long ago? His head hurt with the effort to try and recall.
He’d found himself sitting in an alley next to a rubbish container, sprawled on the suitcase. Squinting in the shaft of bold sunlight, he automatically reached into his shirt pocket for sunglasses. The pocket was empty. He checked his other pockets, his alarm and confusion growing. Why was he wearing socks but no shoes? He elbowed himself up to a sitting position and noticed the suitcase. A wave of relief washed over him: everything must be inside the suitcase. Relief gave way to horror. It was almost empty. I’ve been robbed! he thought. But what did they take? What did I have in there?
And then the full realization hit. He had no idea where he was. And no idea who he was.
Someone will come looking for me, he thought. But who? He weighed up his options. What could he do? Go to the police? And tell them what?
He shrank back as two women approached, looking down as they glanced at him. They walked past, continuing their conversation. Why were they speaking Spanish? He looked around, noticing a number of signs. Most of them were in Spanish, but some were in English. For a brief moment he was inordinately pleased at the realization that he was English speaking. The first puzzle piece. He was thinking in American English. Therefore, he must be an American. He rubbed his eyes. His headache was getting worse.
A man needs a name, so they called him Tibu. It wasn’t that anyone chose the name, they had started calling him “the man from the back of the Tibu” and it got shortened. It was where they found him sitting next to an empty suitcase, by the back entrance of the Tibu nightclub, in the service alley behind the marina shop fronts.
The man they called Tibu had been staying with the street hawkers from Senegal for several months. They were kind, and he was grateful. He was fed and had a place to sleep. It perplexed him that he couldn’t recall anything of the language they spoke between themselves. Was he one of them? Many of them spoke English, but the way they spoke it wasn’t familiar to him. Nothing seemed familiar, not the people he now shared a life with, nor the whitewashed Spanish town.
Some of his new friends assumed that he’d been so traumatized during the journey that brought him here that he had mentally blocked it; others were inclined towards the idea of witchcraft. One or two of them suspected he was pretending, that he was hiding something, but for the most part they were patient and accommodating. He was a mystery, but he was no trouble. They all had their own stories, after all, and the focus wasn’t on the past but on the present ~ and the hopes of a different future. So they did what they had to do and sold what they could. They ate and they sent money back home when they could.
They filled Tibu’s suitcase with watches, gave him a threadbare white sheet, and showed him the ropes. The first time they left him to hawk on his own he’s walked and walked before he could bring himself to find a spot and lay out the watches. Fear knotted his stomach and threatened to loosen his bowels. Before long the fear was replaced by a profound sadness. He felt invisible, not worth looking at.
He began to hate the ugly replica watches he was selling, and wondered why he hated them so. He had never liked them, but now he detested them. Hadn’t he had better watches than this? He stared at his watchless left wrist and wondered.
Tibu preferred selling second hand books to selling watches, for he could read them while waiting for customers instead of watching the minutes and hours tick by. Maybe that’s why they called them “watches”, he thought, because if you have one, you watch it. Too much, it would seem.
He was reading “The Perilous Treks of Lord Gustard Willoughby Fergusson” while sheltering from the pounding rain, huddled in the corner of an office building porch with a few dozen books piled onto an old blue blanket. He rarely sold any books, but passing strangers kindly brought him a coffee in a take away cup from time to time, or a sandwich or burger. The more thoughtful ones dropped some money into the upturned bowler hat that he’d found in the bin, so that he could choose tea, which he preferred, or some fruit, which he preferred to burgers. One of the regular office girls, a fresh faced young looking redhead, brought him a brand new lighter one day, after noticing him asking for a light the day before. She was a good listener, and often stood beside him silently listening to him read aloud from one of his books.
“Lord Gustard Willoughby Fergusson helped his wife Floribunda onto the camel,” Tibu spoke softly, gently turning the well worn page. “And clamboured onto his own. Cranky and Illi were mounted on donkeys, as were Tibn Zig and Tanlil Ubt, their local guides. Three hot dusty days, and two bitterly cold nights away lay their destination: Tsnit n’Agger and the home of the legendary giant of the Alal’ Azntignit.”
A movement caught Tibu’s eye and he glanced up. She was still there, listening.
He turned back to the book and continued reading. “Cranky was feeling like a fish out of water in the desert, but Illi had taken to it like a duck to water. Not that there was alot of water about in the desert, Cranky grumbled to herself. What she wouldn’t have given for a nice hot cup of tea and a crumpet.”
“Hey, would you like a cup of tea?” she interrupted. “It’s such rotten weather to stand out here and I ~ well, I like just listening to you.”
Tibu looked up at her, surprised by the offer. He hadn’t expected anyone to offer him anything more than spare change or a half-eaten sandwich. “That’s very kind of you,” he said with a small smile, “I’d like that very much.”
The young woman returned his smile and disappeared for a while. She came back a few minutes later, with two cups of steaming hot tea. Handing one to Tibu, she started sipping her own while they stood in silence for a moment looking at the last drops of dripping water from the eaves overhead, as the rain had started to subside.
Tibu couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness. Here he was, a man with no memory of his past, selling books on the street for spare change, and yet this stranger was treating him with kindness and respect.
“Thank you,” he said softly his voice barely audible, “I really appreciate this.”
The woman shrugged and smiled again. “It’s no trouble at all. I think it’s nice to just take a break and chat with someone for a while. It can get lonely in this city sometimes.”
Tibu nodded in agreement. “I know what you mean. I feel like a stranger in my own life sometimes.”
The woman’s expression softened. “That must be hard. But you know, sometimes it’s good to start over. You can be whoever you want to be, do whatever you want to do. It’s like a second chance.”
As they continued their conversation, a crumpled torn piece of newspaper caught Tibu’s eye, lodged in a nearby gutter. The headline mentioned a job fair happening the next day, an opportunity for people to find new careers. An idea began to form in his mind – attending the job fair could be his first step in creating a new life.
Tibu looked at the woman, still struck by her earlier words. It was a new way of thinking for him. Maybe he didn’t have to be defined by his past or his amnesia. Maybe he could create a new life for himself, with new people and new experiences.
“Thank you,” he said again, feeling a newfound sense of hope. “You’ve given me a lot to think about.”
The woman smiled and finished her tea. “Well, I should probably get back to work. But it was nice talking to you. Maybe I’ll see you around. I’m Lorena, by the way.”
Tibu nodded and watched her walk away, feeling a warmth in his chest. Maybe things weren’t so hopeless after all. Maybe he could create a new life for himself; he checked the crumbled paper; his decision was made; armed with renewed purpose, he’d resolved to attend the job fair.
Of course, he’d need to prepare, sort out stuff…
He looked down at the book in his hand and smiled. For now, he had Lord Gustard Willoughby Fergusson to keep him company and inspire him about acts of bravery and embrace with gusto the great leap into the unknown.
Thanks to the fresh faced young looking redhead for her kindness, Tibu’s leap into the unknown went exceedingly well. He had a new warmth in his heart and the confidence to make a good impression when he went to the job fair all those years ago, and a tall handsome French man with a winning smile had offered him a job in his new rock and gem shop. Tibu had been honest with him about his past, telling him about the amnesia and that Tibu wasn’t really his name but he didn’t know what his name really was, but the French man said he loved the name Tibu. Tibu sighed with a deep sense of relief. What a stroke of luck to have a chance at a new life. When he started the new job, he gradually stopped dwelling on the forgotten past life as his new life took shape and he made new friends. He never forgot the book he’d been reading when that kind redhead brought him tea and listened to him, and it inspired him to write his own story, in case anyone ever found comfort in it.