The kitchen was rather small, so the huge dining table (which my parents had given me when they still had hopes that I would start a big family) was temporarily banished to the farthest corner of the room, pressed up against the wall and the cupboard. I had always preferred the small bar table, so the dining table just stood there, lonely and unfulfilled, waiting for the right moment. Eventually, it got buried under all kinds of magazines, boxes, postcards and other little things I didn’t dare throw away, out of sentimental attachment. So I wasn’t even surprised to find a small pile of sand next to the table one day. I just assumed it had come out of one of the boxes piled on the tabletop and I swept it away. A month later, when it reappeared in exactly the same place, I decided to reorganize my nostalgia corner. As I squatted between the piles of things to “throw away” and “keep forever,” I spotted a narrow stream of sand-like crystals, as thin as a human hair, leading up and up and eventually disappearing somewhere above me. It shimmered in the sunlight every now and then. I stared at it for a while, dumbstruck. Then I put my hand right under the stream of crystals and watched the pile grow in my palm. All of a sudden, I realized that the world had turned silent. I flipped my palm over and crystals started slipping down to the floor again and the sounds returned.
It was a fascinating game. It seemed that every time I interrupted the flow of sand everything stood still. From that spot in the room, I couldn’t look out of the window, but I heard not a sound from the street or from inside. I checked my phone. Time Had Stopped! The whole world had stopped and that entire moment had been crystalized, concentrated into one tiny object of no particular temperature, color, or weight, falling right into my hands. It was overwhelming. For no apparent reason, I had been granted the power of controlling time and could witness not only the current instant, but the past itself, solidified and physically present in the room. Time started to fill the house. The pile grew and so did my excitement. I started coming back from work earlier. Every day, I rushed to the kitchen to examine the crystals, thrilled by the significance of the experience. I spent hours staring at the falling stream. The present moment, beautiful and irreversible, was just a toy in my hands and I was the one who decided when to hold onto and when to release it.
One day, I came home late and went to the kitchen more out of habit than conscious intent. I just stood there, doing and noticing nothing, absorbed by my thoughts. Slowly, I realized that the moment when I had seen the man I loved for the last time in my life was lying somewhere on the kitchen floor. Numbly, I approached the pile of sand and grabbed some crystals in my fist. Probably, somewhere in my hand I was holding a moment when we stood together, shoulders pressed against each other, and said nothing. Next to it, I probably held a moment when I saw his red scarf waving back at me as he walked away along the crowded street. I could scarcely believe it had really happened. My mind kept suggesting improbable circumstances under which we would meet again. Suddenly, I had an idea. I unclasped my fingers and rashly thrust them under the sand flow. I wanted to stop time, stop the moment from slipping away, stop him from disappearing out of my life. While time stood still, I could imagine an alternative past. I imagined hundreds of them, some starting that evening, others a long time ago. In those dreams, I did everything I hadn’t dare to do back then and I made him do what I had always wanted him to do. I kept on dreaming, even when both my hands were full and I could no longer stop the crystals from falling. I woke up in the kitchen the next morning, my hair and clothes covered by a thin layer of sand. I didn’t go to work that day. Unable to cope with what had happened the day before, I chose to succumb to daydreams. It was just too irresistible, even though it was accompanied by a bitter awareness of reality. I gradually stopped going outside. I didn’t answer calls. I quit my job – well, actually, I just stopped going to the office.
Two months later, I noticed that my feet were starting to sink into the sand and I could no longer open the lower cupboards. My daily routine (when I wasn’t daydreaming) shrank to coping with the increasing sand level in my house. I kept moving everything I could reach higher and higher to try to keep my life “normal,” but I had to make choices. First, I gave up rehanging photos and paintings. Next, I abandoned the sofa and armchairs. The large wardrobe remained visible for quite a while, but it was impossible to open it. After a year, I gave up the kitchen, and started surviving on canned food and noodles.
One day, I found myself in a desert, surrounded by four walls. For the first time, I felt frightened. I could see the sea of sand surrounding me, already extending upwards to several feet above the floor, burying my life goals beneath it. I don’t know how much time I spent there. I felt embarrassed at myself. I had screwed up. I searched frantically for my phone, but when I finally found it, I saw that the last call had been four years ago. My phone dropped down, but made no sound. My legs started shaking and I fell onto my knees. I was afraid people would discover what I had done to my life. I feared that the house would collapse under the pressure of the sand, that the sand, after accumulating for so many years, would burst out of the now ruined house, along with what was left of me, spectacularly announcing my useless existence to the world. In the haziness of my thoughts people passed by me as I lay under the ruins, pointing fingers at me and laughing.
Like a dying snail retracted into its shell, I spent my days hidden in my house, sitting in a slanted chair, its rear legs sunk into the sand, staring at a single point in space, seeing nothing but my daydreams. Even blended with nightmares as they sometimes were, those dreams were my only escape from an unbearable reality. One night, half awake, I felt deep remorse about my pointless, unnoticed, wasted existence. It was very quiet. I could not tell whether time was standing still or not. I suddenly felt an overwhelming and all-consuming panic which pulled me out of the chair and dragged me to the window. My legs were weak and my feet sank deep into the sand. I fell down a couple of times. I realized that I was crying. I kept crawling towards the window, without a plan in mind. By the time I reached it, I was feeble and exhausted. Struggling with stiff fingers, I managed to crack open the window and look outside. There was a cool night breeze. I felt as if my life were normal, as if I could simply go for a walk if I wanted to. Then I looked back into the room and fear filled my heart again. Gathering up every last remaining grain of strength, I could only scream “Remember me” through the open window.
The night city remained silent.