Dedicated with gratitude to Velia.
That mature man walked desperately through that strange forest, circling everywhere. He thought he had been doing it for hours and hours, wondering where he was. He looked between the trunks of the soaring and lush trees but couldn't know where to go: he had lost all sense of the time he had been wandering aimlessly in that place. He was in a hurry but he didn't how to get out of that path where he thought he could find a shortcut to get to work earlier that morning.
However, what worried him the most was being late to attend to the pending appointments in the office, because that day a series of important meetings would be held to sign some contracts. He kept walking, trying not to stain his expensive suit or elegant shoes, holding with him a heavy black leather-lined briefcase crammed with documents.
Suddenly he found a small lonely girl who roamed freely, barefoot, playing with the dry leaves of the trees on the forest floor: she picked up a bunch of leaves and then threw them very high in the air, watching them fall again while dancing an imaginary melody under the multicolor rain. She had a mane of long reddish hair and very nice features: she laughed happily at how much fun she had alone in the stillness of the path, in the shade of the trees.
When he saw her, the man rushed to ask her for guidance.
—Hey, little girl, do you know how I can get out of this forest? —he asked without even introducing himself, causing the girl to stop playing.
She turned around and looked at him. Although he was a stranger, she smiled at him and then replied politely:
—No, I don't, sir. —And immediately she continued to collect and toss another bundle of leaves into the air to lie down on the ground, letting them fall on his face and dress, causing her a new explosion of laughs.
The man felt a little frustrated by the little girl's response, as well as being annoyed because she kept playing on as if he wasn't there, worried and impatient, carrying his heavy briefcase. However, he tried to contain himself and then tried with another question:
—Do you know what time it is, little girl?
—No, sir, I don't know that either —she replied, still lying on the floor: now she was waving her arms and legs to make an angel on the carpet of yellow and reddish leaves.
By this time, the man began to feel disappointed. He thought that would never be able to leave that place or that he would lose the deals that were waiting for him in the office, in addition to his bonuses for the perfect punctual streak that he had maintained with so much care from the day he was hired until before that morning when he tried to arrive even earlier to prepare his speech for the investors who would go to that prestigious office building in the city... He bitterly regretted his risky decision to try that shortcut. A gray cloud of ideas crowded his head.
—Do you know at least what day it is today, girl?
—Yes! I do know that, sir! —she replied, sitting down first on the floor and then standing up with a single jump. She quickly wiped the leaves off her dress and smoothed her long hair with her hands before approaching to the stranger. Then she said—: Today is already tomorrow.
The man was surprised by the answer and thought he had misheard her response.
—What have you said?
—I said that today is already tomorrow, sir, —she repeated with a smile on the face.
—That can't be possible… Explain yourself —he ordered.
—Didn't you understand me, sir? Today is already tomorrow. It is what you asked me.
—It doesn't make any sense what you're saying, little girl —he replied, confused and impatient.
—Sir, time is more difficult to understand here —the girl explained—. Here is not like in the city...
He frowned: he thought that it was all part of a children's game and that perhaps the girl was trying to mock him... but despite his urgency to leave the forest, he tried to keep his composure as a gentleman.
—Okay... —he said, inhaling deeply and slowly releasing a breath of air to keep the last bit of calm he had left—. Could you tell me, please, what day will it be tomorrow?
—I also do know that. Tomorrow day just was yesterday, sir.
—How can that be even possible?! —He thought that the girl was mocking him...
She looked at him, surprised by his attitude, but then replied:
—Sir, I already told you that in this place time is more... tangled. Here things are all upside down.
—What do you mean upside down, girl? So even the order of days is upside down?
—I guess, sir... —she said. Now she was a little taller and started to acquire the features of puberty: the girl had begun to grow at that precise moment... Then she added—: I suggest you not to break your head trying to understand it.
—How do you say that, young lady?! —he spluttered angrily. One fleeting idea crossed his mind: the first meeting of the day had already started in the office, and his other colleagues would be there... and his boss... All of them were already there while he was still lost in the forest wasting his time. That made him feel even more desperate—. Don't you understand that I need to know what day it is?!
The teenager girl frowned at the man's insistence.
—Why so much urgency about what day is today, sir?
—Because I need to know what day I live on!
—Why? Why don't you just live the day, sir?
—Because I can't... I need to know what day it is!
—Do you really need to know it? Can't you live the days like this and just enjoy them?
—No, young lady. —His voice sounded increasingly sullen—. I don't spend my whole days just playing with dry leaves... I can't live without knowing what time it is or minimally on what day of the week I am. I need to be well placed to plan what I will be doing.
—To plan? —the young girl asked, scratching her hair—. I don't understand what you're saying, sir.
—What? Don't you know what planning means? I never heard such a thing before! Planning is keeping an order of the things you are going to do in the future.
—Oh, I see... And you're always planning everything, right?
—Sure, so I can control my time and take advantage of it —he said proudly, completely sure of his words. But when she heard it, she giggled and that infuriated the man until he almost his face turned red… Then he questioned her sharply—: Are you making fun of me?
—Excuse me, sir —she replied politely, as she continued to grow little by little, growing taller and taller until she became a young woman—. It seems to me that... time controls you. Don't you think so?
—Bah! What do you know about it?! —he exclaimed and then started to laugh cynically at her—. You just found out today what planning means!
She couldn't contain her outrage at the pedantic attitude of that stranger.
—And do you think it is possible to control time, sir? —she asked raising her voice—. Do you think you can twist it or straighten it? Tell me.
—No. I didn't mean that. You don’t understand me... I didn't mean it can be controlled like that.
—Well, look how funny! Because time cannot be controlled in any way! —she exclaimed, with a challenging attitude and very typical of her age, without fear at the reaction of that man.
—You still don't understand me, young lady: I'm talking about how to divide time to take advantage of it and…
—I don't understand that either, sir, —she interrupted without hesitation—. How can you speak of cutting time if it is always continuous? Can you cut off the water in a river?
The man looked at her in surprise because of her insolence.
—No, no, no... —he said already tired about the conversation—. You are taking my words too literally!
—And you don't understand me either, sir. —She was also quite exalted—. There is no metaphor for time! Time is literal... otherwise it is not time anymore!
Then the man in the suit didn't know what to answer and he shut up: he was puzzled by that mysterious woman's answers.
He took a deep breath and sat carefully on the forest floor covered with dry leaves, and started to think about everything that was going on. The situation was so weird... and every statement by that girl, teenager and now woman made him feel so confused. He took a long look around: he looked up at the tall trees on both sides of the winding way through the forest, seeing the sunshine sneaking through the tops of the trees and warmly illuminating the trail. He also saw a small dry leaf fell off from a very tall branch, plunging slowly to the ground, swaying rhythmically in the air and spinning like a tiny ballet dancer in a yellow dress with peaceful movements until it reached the ground, at the bare feet of that woman in front of him, who looked almost his same age.
He felt weird. A new torrent of doubts flowed through his mind, as if they were pushing to every direction possible at the same time: like some kind of faucet that had been left open all his life to fill his head with worries, which he had not even noticed until before that moment when he had finally given himself a break. He wanted to ask about so many and many things... but he remained silent a little longer.
Then, after a while he dared to speak again:
—How do you manage to live like this? —he asked to the mature woman before him, looking at her from the ground.
—What do you mean? —she answered, way more relaxed. Faint wrinkles were beginning to appear on her face.
—I'm asking you how can you live like this?
—Like this? —she said, returning the question back to him with a friendly and playful smile.
The man felt that she was once again teasing him, but he refrained from raising his voice and stroked his hair with both hands.
—How do you do it? How do you manage to live without knowing what day it is or how much time you spend doing this or that? Please, tell me... I, I really want to know how do you do that...
The lady looked at him with genuine tenderness. She waited a few seconds before answering and then said:
—Well, I just do it. I live like this. That is it. I stopped worrying about all the matters of time because it's something I've never been able to do much about.
—Explain yourself, please —he asked, full of doubts but with a different face—. It's just that... I feel confused. But I need to understand it.
—Look: you can only live and do things with the time you have while you are alive, you know? There was a time when I also used to worry about the passing hours... but a long time ago I stopped worrying about the day, the week or anything specific. Days and nights come and go, come and go... and then they just come back. In the end, I know that time always flows, even if it sometimes seems tangled, —she said quietly, as she continued to grow older and older and her eyes showed the brilliance of wisdom and the complete security of experience.
—Your words surprise me...
—It doesn't matter how many plans you make: time always beats you. Today turns into tomorrow before you know it and tomorrow turns into a yesterday sooner than blink of an eye —she explained with his much more mature voice, although slightly weaker, and his reddish hair began to dye white in front of that incredulous subject who now was much younger than her—. At least I think so, sir. Maybe it's a matter of perspective.
—Is that another metaphor?
—No. Don't be stubborn, —she said with a laugh and a friendly smile—. I already told you that time is always literal. You will soon realize that here and there, in this forest and in the city time is uncontrollable.
He nodded. He paused before saying anything else. He looked back at the tops of the trees and the stillness made him feel calm. Then his face also lit up with a smile. He got up from the floor, took his briefcase, wiped off the dirt and the dried leaves that had stuck to his suit; then he politely said goodbye to the sympathetic old woman he met that day on the silent trail in the middle of the forest, and he continued his journey, while the old lady bent down to pick up a dry leaf with her scrawny and wrinkled hand, an then she threw it into the air, laughing again full of youth.
And the man kept walking, this time without running. It didn't take long for him to find the rest of the shortcut through the trees again: he realized that he had to go slowly to don't to lose sight of it. As he left the forest and returned to the streets of the city, he realized that life was still going at it's usual fast pace: people, cars... everyone was still in a hurry. The hustle was the same as always: time kept running... but not him. He continued walking down the sidewalk with a calm stride, feeling the warm morning air on his hair.
When he finally arrived at the office building, he entered through the luxurious revolving door: some of the other employees, also dressed in their elegant suits and holding some papers in hand, stopped in the middle of the corridor when they saw him arrive. In the reception room, a young secretary holding a phone to his ear and writing notes in a notebook she also stopped surprised because it was the first time she had arrived before him. The man looked at an old and expensive clock hung on the wall behind the receptionist: the tiny hands of the clock marked almost the usual time.
He smiled and murmured:
—I'm on time.
Author's note: I started writing this story in September 2017 due to a mental debate about my university classes: at that time the little story was left unfinished. In March 2019, after a task from my teacher Velia Herrera —I dedicate this story for her with gratitude—the story could be finished. I added some details in August 2019. The present version is the most extensive so far, was edited and translated in early April 2020.
Merci pour la lecture!