Salini Vineeth lets us in to the quiet world of a clock keeper who has been left behind by time…

He was the prisoner and the jailer. He was the hostage and the captor. He was the master and the slave. He was the keeper of the time. Like a demigod, he watched over the market from his magnificent tower. When the enormous turret clock on the tower chimed seven, shops opened. When it ticked nine, shops closed. With contentment, he looked down at the mortal beings operating according to his time.

The tower was his home, and the clock was his only family. The sturdy clock hands were his sons. The pendulum was his capricious daughter. The steady, resounding clunk of the clock was his heartbeat. He spent his days attending to the clock – winding, oiling, cleaning, and adjusting; softly talking to the clock all the while.

Sometimes, he climbed on the belfry and surveyed his subjects below – travelers admiring the clock, shop keepers peeping out to check the time, load bearers taking a short recess in the shade of the tower, and the pigeons that perched all over it.

Those were days when knowledge of the time was precious. People knew how to calculate time by looking at their shadows. But the time they produced was crude. Watches were costly and owned only by the zemindars. For the working class, their only access to precise time was the clock tower. His sole duty was to provide them the time, accurate to even seconds.

He had everything he needed inside the tower – a narrow charpoy, a small toilet, and a kerosene stove. No one had ever seen him stepping outside. No one dared climb up those winding stairs either.

For decades, he ruled his kingdom from his magnificent tower. Time never failed him. Summer gave way to the monsoons. The rains gave way to the winter. He was so absorbed in the now that he failed to notice the passage of time. Only the present mattered to him— day in, day out, he mended time with his nimble fingers.

Over the years, the winding stairs became worn and uneven. His knees pained as he climbed up and down the spiral staircase. Generations of pigeons had left their nests, and dust accumulated on the narrow-slit windows on the periphery of the tower. Light ceased to enter through them. It didn’t matter to him, though. He had turned blind a long time back, without him even realizing it. After all, he didn’t need his eyes to make his way around his tower. Every inch of it was etched in his heart. He glided from the bell-ringer’s room to the clock room and the belfry with the grace of a cloud.

He failed to notice the winds of change. He was oblivious to the arrival of freedom and the blood spill after it. He didn’t know about the famines or socialism. He didn’t hear about zemindars falling and the peasants rising. He didn’t see the advent of the new-age capitalist landlords.

Time soon became commonplace – a commodity as cheap as salt. People no longer looked at the clock tower. They neither noticed when the clock started showing the wrong time nor his decaying body inside the clock tower.

Salini Vineeth is a fiction and freelance writer based in Bangalore. She has published four books – Magic Square (novella), Everyday People (short story collection), and travel guides for Hampi and Badami. She has also published several stories on anthologies by Eka Publications, Ukiyoto Publishers, The Hive and Literatures Light. Her short story collection Everyday People was the finalist in the Amazon Pen2Publish contest 2019.

Artwork by Ruati Chhangte for The Mean Journal.

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