THE WRISTWATCH

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Maxwell, 7 years old, was running as fast as his small legs could carry him. As he ran, he did not bother to look back. He maintained his gaze up ahead, into the lush field of green and yellow corn stalks.

He was running through the corn fields, running in fright; running away from danger.

“Maxwell,” she called. “Maxwell, come back right now, I say!”

He refused to heed the call and maintained his pace, panting under his breath as he ran through the field.

“Maxwell, you come back here, or I swear by heaven I’ll skin you alive when I get you!”

Those words sank deep into his spirit. Even as he ran, Maxwell could not help but shudder.

She was going to skin him alive!

The mere thought of it made him break out in sweat. He was perspiring not because of his flight through the fields, but out of fear. He knew it was not an empty threat; no, it was real and the only way to avoid it was to run – to run as fast as he could.

Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain. It shot up from his right ankle and coursed through his muscles until it had enveloped his entire right leg.

Maxwell screamed. He did not need to look to figure out what had happened. As he fell, he flung his hands in the air as if trying to grab onto something to prevent his fall, but it was futile.

He had been running at a high speed and now he seemed to be flying through the air, with his arms outstretched. Then he came crashing down on the soft ground. He tumbled over several times before he came to a stop.

As he turned over and tried to sit up, pain shot through his entire body. He felt wetness on his face and knew he was bleeding.

He looked down at his right ankle. It was bloodied and twisted into an odd angle.

He grimaced in pain as he looked ahead. He could see the small rock that stuck out of the ground not too far away. In his haste, he had tripped right over it. Now, his flight was temporarily suspended.

He could hear footsteps pounding closer and closer. Maxwell did not know what to concentrate on – his injuries or the approaching footsteps. His best option would have been to get up and continue running, but in his present state, that was a dream that he could not afford to have.

He swallowed and began to pant hard as he lay there, helpless and incapacitated.

Then he saw her.

“Grandma!”

She was now looming over him like the shadow of a tall tree. “So you thought you could run away?”

He could see the deep lines that ran across her old face, like ridges on a plantation. He imagined how old she must be for such lines to have been made on her skin. It never ceased to amaze him that such an old woman could still be agile, active, and quite fast on her legs.

“No, Grandma. I wasn’t running away,” Maxwell protested. “I was frightened.”

“Frightened indeed,” his grandmother spat. “You and your flimsy excuses.” She did not seem the least concerned by his twisted ankle or the blood on his face.

“It’s not an excuse, Grandma. Honestly, I was frightened.”

“And that’s why you broke those plates you were washing?”

“It was an accident, I swear! I’m sorry!”

“You lie. You always lie, you wicked little brat,” she said dipping her hand into the pocket of the overalls she was wearing.

“No, Grandma, don’t. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”

“Your pleas won’t replace the broken plates, fool,” she replied as she raised her hand. He could see the buckle of the leather belt as it gleamed in the sun. “First, I’m going to give you a good spanking. Then I’ll take you back home and skin you alive.”

Maxwell was still sobbing as she brought down the belt. As its thick leather hit him, he let out a high-pitched scream.

He was still screaming as he fell out of bed and landed on the floor.

Another nightmare, he thought.

He was covered in sweat and his hands were shaking. He held the side of the bed and tried to get up, an action that caused pain to shoot through his body.

Maxwell swore. His right ankle had never healed from the fall that day, many years ago when he was still living with his grandma.

He managed to get up and limp towards the table. He sat down on the chair and tried to calm his nerves.

The nightmare was nothing new. He had been having them for as long as he could remember. Who could blame him?

His grandmother had been very wicked towards him. He had suffered emotional, verbal, and physical abuse when he lived with her. Now, as an adult, he still bore the scars of her abuse.

Scars, Maxwell thought.

He allowed his eyes to roam his body until his gaze finally settled on his right ankle. The injury had never quite healed, which was why he still moved around with a noticeable limp. He had his grandmother to thank for his present disability. She not only made life miserable for him by causing him so much suffering and pain, but she had also made sure that he was never properly treated.

How could he get treatment when she chose to believe that he was simply lying about the pain and rather than get him the badly-needed medical attention, his grandmother ignored him and the limp became permanent.

Maxwell sighed. He wiped his eyes and gazed at the wall clock. It was already past eight. His exam starts at ten. Even though his university was only thirty minutes away, he could not trust the traffic. He knew that it would be better if he headed for school right away. Once there, he could revise in the library before his test.

After a light breakfast, Maxwell locked up his apartment, and got on the bus.

As he chose his seat and sat down, his mind was clear and he felt ready for the day. He did not expect anything out of the ordinary in any way. He had woken up, gotten ready, and was now on a bus heading for school.

Today is just another day like all the others, he thought.

He glanced around the bus and saw the usual sort of passengers. There was nothing out of the ordinary about them. He could see a few well-dressed bankers in their black suits, men and women alike. Elsewhere, there were teenagers chatting away. There was also a couple in front of him, and an old lady sitting on her own by the window.

If only he knew that there was nothing ordinary about that bus or that trip.

At that moment, Maxwell thought everything was going to be alright. Little did he know that his expectations were completely wrong.

Things were not going to work out the way he thought they would.

Not long after he had boarded the bus, some of the passengers suddenly stood up and pointed guns at them. There were three of them, a woman and two men.

Maxwell gasped in disbelief.

“All of you, hand over your wallets and bags right now!” the woman shouted. She was dressed in black trouser suit with a white shirt underneath her blazer, just like her male counterparts.

They weren’t bankers after all, Maxwell realized.

They looked like bankers, not armed robbers. No wonder no one had suspected them.

All the passengers were frightened. They all complied, handing over their belongings to the armed robbers, who were moving around with black sacks and brandishing their automatic guns in a menacing manner. The robbers moved from one passenger to another, frisking them and dispossessing them of any money or valuable items, which were quickly stuffed into the sacks.

When the robbers had gone through the entire bus, they began to shoot into the air in a random manner. It was obvious what they were trying to do: they were trying to create terror in the minds and hearts of the passengers. They wanted the passengers to be too frightened and too shaken to stop them. Pandemonium and loud screaming ensued as passengers struggled to hide and take cover for their safety. The assailants released more gunfire for maximum effect, aiming for the windows and the roof of the bus.

By the time the firing had stopped, the bus was full of smoke and broken glass.

There was commotion and movement towards the back. It was the robbers. They had opened the back door and jumped out the bus. Maxwell and the other passengers watched as the three assailants ran away with all their valuables and belongings. They were getting away!

Maxwell was still reeling from what had just happened when he saw her. She was an old woman, lying on the floor. He did not need to see the blood that was seeping out of her abdomen to know that she was gravely injured after being hit by a stray bullet.

Maxwell gasped. Without thinking of his own safety, he jumped to his feet.

He ran to the old woman. Once by her side, he knelt down and held her hand. It felt cold to his touch.

Maxwell was concerned. He caught sight of the copious amount of blood on the floor.

If she has already lost so much blood and her hands are already this cold, could it mean that she is already dead? he wondered.

Her eyes flickered open. Maxwell looked up at the other passengers. “Help, we need an ambulance! This woman is injured. Someone call 911, please!”

There was no response.

Maxwell turned around. He could feel anger rise in his throat like a volcano that wanted to erupt. “Help, please help.”

The old woman coughed. “I’m not going to make it.”

“No, don’t say that! Just breathe slowly. The paramedics will be here soon.”

She held his hands with hers. “Take this,” she said as she placed something into his hands.

Maxwell was confused as he gazed at his hands. It was a blood-stained box. He opened it and saw a silver wristwatch inside it. He looked at the old woman. “I don’t understand. Why are you giving this to me?”

“Take it as a gift. You have a good heart. I can see it. You want to help people.”

“Anyone would do the same.”

“No, not everyone. Keep the wristwatch and use it to do good.”

“Do good? How?”

“Use it to do good, it will help you make things right.”

Before Maxwell could ask another question, she sighed and fell still. Maxwell was holding her in his arms by the time the paramedics and police arrived. The police interviewed Maxwell and other passengers.

He told them what happened during the robbery. He also described the assailants as much as he could, but he didn’t say anything about the wristwatch that the old woman gave him.

By the time he got to school, it was already past eleven. The test was already underway and the lecturer refused to allow him in because he was late.

Maxwell left, frustrated. He limped to one of the courtyards outside and sat down.

He remembered the wristwatch and took it out of his pocket.

This was all he had gained after being caught up in a tragic bus robbery, he mused.

A wristwatch?

What was he going to do with it?

He remembered that the old woman had mentioned something about using it to do good.

Do good? What kind of good?

As he stared at the wristwatch, he could not help wishing that things had not turned out the way they did. He wished that he had not been late for his test. That would mean he would not have taken that particular ill-fated bus on the way to school.

But if that were to happen, then he would have to wish that the armed robbery had not happened in the first place.

Maxwell shook his head. What was he doing? he wondered. All this wishing was not going to solve his immediate problem. He had missed his test and that was that.

He checked the wristwatch and noticed that it was not working.

Maxwell swore.

What nonsense is this, he thought to himself.

The old woman’s wristwatch is broken!

He couldn’t believe the kind of bad luck he was having that day.

She had given him a broken wristwatch.

He shook his head in bewilderment and annoyance.

He was angry and exhausted.

What a bad day it had been for him, full of a series of misfortunes in every aspect.

What an awful day, he thought.

He gazed at the silver wristwatch once again. Out of curiosity, he turned the dial in the opposite direction. As he did so, everything around him suddenly became a blur. He could not recognize anything around him. All the buildings and people just seemed to have disappeared.

Alarmed, Maxwell let go of the dial of the wristwatch and stood up. He discovered that he was no longer in the courtyard of his school. Rather, he was now standing outside the lecture theatre.

“Maxwell, aren’t you coming in for the test?”

Maxwell was taken aback. He turned to see his lecturer urging him to come in and sit down.

Maxwell was still in shock as he limped into the room and took a seat. By the time the test was over, Maxwell still couldn’t believe what had happened. How could he have sat the test just now, when earlier he was too late for it?

Then it hit him.

He took out the wristwatch from his pocket and peered at it. Slowly, he realized what had happened: somehow, when he had turned the dial, it had taken him back in time.

But he was still not sure.

The only way to find out would be to go back in time and prevent the armed robbery attack.

Then he caught sight of his twisted right ankle. As he did so, Maxwell smiled at himself.

No, he reasoned. A better way to confirm the true power of the wristwatch would be to go back much further into the past, when he was a little kid.

And that would mean he would be able to stop himself from getting injured in that fatal accident back at his grandmother’s house.

Maxwell smiled and nodded to himself. It’s a good idea; a perfect plan that would change so many things for him in the present.

But as he looked at the wristwatch in his hands, he could not help but remember the old woman who had gifted it to him. A feeling of remorse washed over him like waves on a beach somewhere in the tropics.

He could not help but feel strong emotions for the poor old woman. He had to help her.

Maxwell gritted his teeth as he felt his jaw tighten.

If only she hadn’t been shot.

If only those armed robbers hadn’t been on that bus.

If only…

He shook his head and looked at the wristwatch again. Suddenly, he realized what he needed to do. If the wristwatch was as good as it appeared to be, if it was really capable of turning back time – then the most altruistic thing he could do at that moment was to go back and rescue the old woman.

And the only way he’d ever be able to accomplish such a task was to use the wristwatch to go back in time.

Convinced that he was going to be able to go back in time, Maxwell took a deep breath and turned the dial of the wristwatch again.

Maxwell experienced the same blur as he had earlier. By the time it was over, he found himself at an unfamiliar bus stop somewhere in town. There were several people waiting in line for the next bus. But she wasn’t one of them. Maxwell was not deterred. He searched around the vicinity until he saw her. She was heading towards the stop he was at. Maxwell walked up to her. “Excuse me, ma’am. May I speak to you for a moment?”

The old woman frowned and looked up at him. “Me? What about, son?”

“It’s very important, ma’am. Can you spare me some of your time please?”

“I would love to, but I’m going to be late for my bus.”

Maxwell glanced back at the queue boarding the bus. “Are you planning on taking that bus?”

“Yes, why?”

Maxwell quickly told her about everything – the armed robbery that would take place, the shootings and injuries that would occur, as well as her being amongst the fatalities.

When he was through, he watched her expression. At first, she did not seem to display any emotions as she glanced from him to the bus. Eventually, she smiled at him. “Thank you very much for saving my life, Maxwell.”

He was taken aback. “You know my name?”

She nodded. “Of course I do. I knew you were going to do the right thing. That’s why I gave you the wristwatch in the first place, for you to use it to do good. And that’s what you have just done.”

Maxwell smiled. “You are welcome, ma’am. So what are you going to do now?”

She shrugged. “Well, it’s a beautiful day for a walk.”

Maxwell felt elated as he watched the old woman walk away. He stood there watching her, just to make sure that she did not suddenly change her mind and take the bus again. By the time she had disappeared out of view, the bus had shut its doors and was driving off.

He sighed. Then a smile broke out across his face. He felt really good that he had stopped the old woman from boarding the bus and getting killed.

He recalled what she had told him. He had used the wristwatch to do good.

He smiled again, with the old woman saved, he felt that now he can concentrate on his next task: he was going to go back in time to when he was still young and living with his wicked grandmother. He was going to return to that day when he broke the dishes and had to run away into the corn fields. Maxwell knew, if he could prevent the events of that day from happening, then he wouldn’t need to run away – so he would have never tripped and dislocated his right ankle. In other words, he could prevent himself from ever getting the limp he now had.

All he had to do was return to that fateful day.

He dipped his hand into his pocket. In surprise, he withdrew his hand hurriedly. His pocket was empty. There was no wristwatch there. He searched his other pocket. But still he could not find anything. There was no wristwatch anywhere. Alarmed, Maxwell looked around, thinking that he might have dropped it somewhere.

But no matter how far he searched, he could not spot the wristwatch anywhere. It was as if the wristwatch had suddenly disappeared. He could feel a range of emotions running through him as he wondered what could have happened. He was afraid, confused, angry, and bewildered all at once. He was sweating and his palms were wet, while his heart was beating rapidly.

Then it hit him: the wristwatch had disappeared because he had rescued the old woman from being shot by the armed robbers on the bus. Since she wasn’t shot, the old woman had never given him the wristwatch in the first place.

It was as if a train had hit Maxwell. He slapped his forehead and shouted obscenities at the top of his lungs. He felt frightened at the sudden realization. If he didn’t get that wristwatch back, then he was a goner.

It was now very obvious that all he had to do was simply find the old woman and retrieve the wristwatch from her.

He turned to look at the road she had gone down. Without thinking, he began to limp in the same direction.

As he hobbled along, Maxwell’s mind was in disarray. He was desperate and worried. He knew that there was nothing else to do to change his situation other than to get back that wristwatch.

While he hoped that the old woman would understand and let him have the wristwatch, he also knew if she refused, there was no way he was going to allow her to keep it for herself.

He was determined to get it from her, even if it meant that he might have to use force.

Or maybe he was just going to have to steal it. Whatever the case, he simply had to get back that wristwatch. If worse came to worse, he might even have to kill her, take the watch, fix his limp, then save her on another day.

But that was only if he could find her in the first place.

He continued to limp down the road she had taken.

As he limped, a myriad of emotions ran through his mind like a tornado on a path of destruction. He felt fearful, sad, and desperate.

He couldn’t help how he was feeling.

The fear in his heart increased with every step he limped.

He was apprehensive and fearful.

He had to get back that wristwatch.

At all costs.

 

THE END

Lamees Alhassar