58.

Once, I wrote this for a contest entry. Since nothing happened, I decided that I could leave it here.

In this world, time travelling is a right. It is not a mere privilege belonging to the well-dressed elites. No matter who you are or what you have done, it is a unique situation where implementing this right is as simple as walking through an office door. A specific one. Alongside the fact that as we all know of our typical government institutions, the waiting line makes for cheery company.

Numbers are taken even as one waits in increasing impatience for the special appointment. Feet are tapping, constructing an unintended chorus of tap dancers if one listened close enough. Here, silence is mandatory. No one wants to know why you are here to change something in the time frame. In fact, they would rather not be enlightened in this manner. This unspoken rule befits all.

A newspaper picked up for perusal is immediately dismissed. The state of the economy is no smiling matter and as it happens, yours truly is an entrepreneur in this field. There is no tomorrow, the headline contemplates. What is tomorrow, however? Is the stroke past midnight, or the voice that tells you keep going forward? We live in a sea of ambiguity, with no permanent anchor to hold us. This reckless freedom brings me to a particular attention.

In this world, the number one has not always been the first.

“Mr. Chong, come in.”

Here to claim my roll call, yes. The feet that point inward and into a room so ordinary, it makes one blink in utter surprise. Typical whitewashed, cue the stereotype. Minimalistic and efficient. A man dressed according to my similar conduct does not spare a smile, but merely assembles a holographic statement before me. The stoic voice that emanates.

“Have you read the terms and conditions applied?”

Once, that would be considered a joke. In this world, such words are as powerful as the law. Mumble a yes, knowing very well that though time travelling is a right, they come with their rules. The main thing to consider is the fact that I can only use this right once. No matter where I go in this timeline, the system is able to track every detail using the same technology the time travel device operates with. It is a way of controlling this fearsome potential.

The deal is signed. Having envisioned that I will walk into some sort of calibrated portal or room, the man who continues to sit across me strikes me as incredibly odd. He asks me this.

“What do you seek?”

Where do I wish to go? Time travel requires the person to be focused on that single moment that they need changing, or a desire that is felt sufficiently. To say them aloud is no intent of mine, yet say them I will.

“I want to go back in time,” I hear myself say. “I will find a way to turn this economic crisis that this nation is facing that is depriving us all.”

The device glows and undergoes speedy reconfigurations, something alien to me. A click sound goes off in my mind, a torrent of scenes flash and it ends. I feel light-headed. His indifferent smile greets me.

“Congratulations, Mr. Chong. You are now the country’s economic genius.”

Had he been a deceiver, it was convincing as I am greeted by a chauffeur at the door. Reporters and security at my beck and call. My face plastered on the news even as the limousine speeds away from here and to a place I call home.

After that meeting in the government office, I return with riches and fame. Everything desirable, the economic situation of the country running like clockwork. Pleased, I make a phone call. It reaches a dead end. My mind reels. The second and third call changes nothing. A previous used number is attempted. No response. Search the phone directory and the emails, every other possible method a rich man can now employ.

I sleep disturbed, the night long and unfaithful.

The next day, early while the sun is still struggling to rise above the misty clouds, I ambulate toward the office, take the number and wait in incredibly worry and impatience. Luckily, my inquiry begs for a shorter line, causing me to be admitted in one-eighth of the time I used up yesterday. The same man mocks me. Yet I cannot let that aggravate me, because based on the terms stipulated, after the twenty-four hours I can make no complaint.

“Your younger brother is dead.”

Stare at him in disbelief, yet it hurt on how things made sense. Scenes are coming back to me like a whirlwind. Me, but a child, killing my baby brother. No, it is my adult hands that slayed him. I took his body elsewhere unidentifiable and everything is covered up. In my mind, I do not remember being anything but an only child.

The man looks at me in boredom. “Your desire to save the country’s economy is noble, but there was a thorn in your heart which mattered more,” he explains briefly. “Your brother who is also a business person like you thrived in ways you could not. When he confided in you regarding the mistake the company made that soon affected this country substantially, you were both happy and angry. The time travelling device capitalised on this intent and so you are here now.” He takes a momentary pause.

“It’s a surprise that a learned man such as you have returned to change your thought about this result. After all, no soul will know of this alteration once the day has passed. The memory of your younger brother would only be a figment of your imagination.”

Fists clenched, the shaky voice. My younger brother is still someone I care for. I cannot let this be. I wish to disavow this alteration. There is no time to lose. Time has become a currency in which we humans have meddled with.

The man guides me through the process. I say the words.

“I denounce my right of time travelling and all the alterations I have committed.”

The familiar click sound registers, and I am back at the murder scene. This time, I would not let my younger brother lose his life. He will live and he will be great, he will show the world all that he can be.

The knife lifts. Its steel complexion gleams in the dark of the night.

Tell me, my friend. Which one is larger? The human’s heart to love, or their fist to destroy? I do not know it for myself, thus the questioning, yet this is what I do know.

In this world, the number zero was the first.

A life for a life.

From dust to dust.

The body of Mr. Chong disappears untraced in the complexities of time-space manipulation.

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