Copyright © 2015 Alby Stone
I was ready to leave. Out of habit, I was early to avoid having to rush for my train. But I didn’t want to step out of the front door. That would signal the beginning of a journey I didn’t want to make, to somewhere I didn’t want to be. I’d done something very bad and without drastic intervention the consequences would be pretty dire. There was some time to spare, though, and I had to make it count. I had only half an hour to think of something – thirty minutes to come up with an idea that might just save my life.
It isn’t very long, even when you’re not having any fun at all.
There I was, the clock ticking or whatever it is that digital timepieces do, and my mind was utterly blank. I sat in my usually comfortable chair – now a lumpy, creaky, arse-aching source of misery – and rummaged frantically through the contents of my brain. I came up empty-handed. The tank was empty, the well dry as a bone. The ideas department was as bankrupt as a Greek hedge fund.
Staring at the pictures on my wall and titles on the bookshelves didn’t help. Nor did lighting a cigarette, sipping tepid tea or scratching my head. The cat offered no assistance. The radio gave breathless, sketchy reports of a beheading at a French factory, a suicide bomber in a Kuwaiti mosque, tourists massacred on a Tunisian beach. Wall-to-wall bleakness.
Twenty minutes left.
For light relief the Prime Minister took a break from attempting to renegotiate the nation’s EU deal to express his outrage at the latest round of atrocities. He looked tired, uncertain and as out of his depth as I felt. Free-market capitalist politicians always find terrorism an uncomfortable topic, because fighting it means spending public money and that means taxing their chums and the companies they hope to join as consultants and directors when their Westminster gravy train rolls into the terminus. They discuss terrorism in the tones their public school teachers used when expressing concern at tomorrow’s leaders getting caught smoking behind the bike-sheds. It doesn’t inspire confidence in their humanity. Just once I’d like to see the people in charge lose it completely and express genuine emotions, not just mime to a spin-doctor’s song. I’d like to hear them shout and scream and weep with rage and distress. I want to see those upper lips fully destabilised and their cheeks wet with tears. But I guess control, like entropy, tends toward totality.
When the news turned to the bland, corporatised Glastonbury Festival, I turned the radio off. There’s only so much smug, self-congratulatory, sycophantic bullshit I can take. Where ‘Glasto’ is concerned, my tolerance dials are set to zero. Fuck the BBC’s pampered talking heads, who swan around as if the festival was their creation. Fuck the rich kids who don’t give a shit about the music but are only there to be seen to be there, to tick another box on their bloody bucket lists and maybe get spotted on the telly by their envious mates. Fuck the complacent ageing rockers going through the motions, the needy white girls who sing in strangled, nasal voices because they think it sounds authentically black, the acned wastes of musical space basking in the media taste-makers’ approval while secretly trembling in anticipation of the inevitable backlash.
Ten minutes left.
I gazed out of the window at the neighbours’ gardens, but all I could think of was being somewhere else, somewhere far from where I was sitting and even further from where I was supposed to be going – anywhere that didn’t have pebble-eyed killers mowing down the innocent and defenceless, coke-fuelled corporate monsters, idiot statesmen masquerading as voices of reason, or well-heeled kids pretending to have a good time while the rain came relentlessly down and they sank up to their crotches into sudden mud as they damaged their brains with bad drugs and worse music. I soon realised there wasn’t anywhere like that.
So I gave up and simply watched the clock run down, trying not to dwell upon the horrors that lay ahead. It was surprisingly easy. Metaphorical tumbleweed aside, my mind was void. Then it was time to go and I still had nothing. The deadline crept up and nailed me then moved on to harass someone else.
However you measure it, half an hour isn’t very long. One forty-eighth of a day; thirty minutes; one thousand, eight hundred seconds. Sometimes it seems like a lifetime, but not that day, not when I really needed time to slow down and give me some thinking room. I’d concocted no believable excuses. I’d dreamed up nothing that might placate. I had no olive branch to extend. Belated chocolates and flowers would cut no ice. Diamonds – both forever and a girl’s best friend – were beyond my sadly Hellenised bank account.
There was no getting away from it. I’d forgotten her birthday and she was going to kill me.
Authors note: The above was written as both a personal challenge and a way to fill precisely the span of time indicated by the title. I had half an hour to kill, and I showed it no mercy.