“Time?” I repeated.
“The time, please,” answered the questioner.
I now knew the nature of the question he needed me to answer and, taking my ungloved hand from its pocket, I glanced at the wrist, feeling myself intent on more than just cracking the old schoolboy joke (“Two hairs past the tick”); I felt myself guided by the assumption of memory that I was wearing a watch where, in truth, I wasn’t.
The man was a stranger. Strangers always asked me the time. This stranger was no exception, fulfilling the role of making me his own stranger (he always asked strangers the time rather than wait for them to ask him), creating from me, therefore, the necessary stranger to be encountered upon his own constitutional that chilly Spring evening not long after the clocks had jumped forward through another missing hour when a real story could have happened or had time to be told: not this insubstantial story I am forced to make you read in even more haste than I wrote it.
He showed me his face with no revealing jab or jolt from unseen control. He performed a stranger unashamed of strangeness. The evening was still light enough for him to see me clearly, me him. The light was cast by no sun, simply a light that spread us out as if the air were its own proscenium of light creating us by containing us. Despite a barely perceptible rogue hair wiggling on the edge of an ancient projected film, there were no significant drawn-out shadows to lengthen themselves in cloying ghost-like delay; the deceptive ease of light's repetition lubricated the way things moved within each subsequent spot or string or spread of light. A movement more quick than sudden. A dome was there at the edge of light, unremarked, unremarkable...
“I’m afraid I haven’t got the time,” I finally had to say.
His nod of knowing this already sucked my thoughts into the thoughts he thought were his.
Thousands of Easter worshippers passed either side like a sea dividing upon a crumbling promontory towards a vigil beneath the dome they intended to keep from being candlelit. Time passed more quickly when unwatched. Time: a passing stranger. Hands in deep pockets.
(written and published here today)