I’ve been having trouble writing lately, and when that’s the case I undertake all sorts of chores in the idle hope of feeling useful.
Yesterday, I decided to clean out the drawers of my desk and to my surprise I found the travel alarm clock that was given to me by Felipe’s family at a Christmas party almost forty years ago.
It’s small and has a transparent screen that flips open so that the time is digitally displayed. I was touched by this thoughtful present, which made me feel part of the family.
I used to do my radio broadcasts in the middle of the night and would sit in the half-dark by myself until the station in Hilversum called, which was often long after the agreed hour.
During that waiting time the alarm clock was my silent companion. I was intrigued by how the vertical and horizontal stripes flashed when taking on the different forms that marked the minutes and seconds. It felt like a pulsating dance.
Several years later, when I found out I had HIV, we had to leave Mexico for the United States so I could get the medical care I needed. Time took on a different meaning then: the passing of the hours was no longer a joyful dance but a mortal threat. Still, I kept the alarm clock on my night table as a relic of when I was healthy and active.
In Barcelona, a sleekly designed Braun alarm clock substituted for the little Timex. I am not sure if it ended up at the bottom of the drawer out of neglect or that I hid it there because it reminded me too much of the time in Mexico when the years stretched out endlessly before me.
When I showed Felipe the clock yesterday, he recognized it at once and put in a new battery.
We sat at the kitchen table looking at how the stripes on the screen palpitated, as if the clock was trying to catch its breath after being in the dark for thirty years. We both cheered as if we could will it back to life. And we did! Suddenly, the blinking stripes formed the hour, one minute past one with one second, then two seconds, then three, and on it went.
The alarm clock now stands on my writing desk, next to the Mexican monk and the brown bowl given by our Korean artists. It doesn’t show the correct time. We still feel a bit hesitant to change the hour out of fear that the clock will give in. But it’s ticking, and that’s what counts.