Their paths may have never crossed if they did not each become consumed by the time vacuum. What is the time vacuum? The manufacturers call them smartphones. A device supposedly made to make life easier, originally marketed as a multi-purpose life tool. It turned out it could be much more nefarious when people got their hands on it. The devices began consuming huge blocks of time, attention, and energy. When Chance Ultimo bumped into Maggie Stonewilder on a bustling street, neither of them had any idea that they were about to walk right into another human.
“Ouch!” said Maggie.
“Excuse me Miss” replied Chance.
With embarrassment, Chance and Maggie each gathered their composure and gazed at the unknown object they had stumbled into. As their eyes met, both of them thought how long it had been since they had seen another person’s eyes this close. Neither looked away for a few seconds that seemed like much longer.
As they stepped back and empty space filled an acceptable gap between their bodies Chance took the lead.
“Sorry about that, I was just checking some email, wasn’t paying attention.” Exclaimed Chance with a tone of self-admonishment. As he noticed more and more aspects of this strangers beauty. His thoughts drifted to how lucky he is to bump into such a gorgeous woman. Is she single? He pondered.
“Clearly I wasn’t paying attention either!” Maggie noted cheerfully. “So busy I’m not even sure what I was looking at.” Her tone shifted to curiosity as if she was wondering how important it was, whatever she was undertaking before they collided. If she had ever known or cared to remember, Maggie completely forgot what she was focused so intensely on after noticing this attractive stranger in her midst. She noticed how strong he seemed, and wondered what kind of man he was.
“Maggie, nice to meet you.”
“Are you sure it was nice? I was walking pretty fast, are you okay?” he asked with genuine concern.
“Pshhh I used to play football in the backyard with my brothers, that wasn’t bad.” She grinned mischievously.
Chance perked his eyebrows up, with a look of admiration and surprise.
“I really have to get going, my boss is waiting on me,” Maggie said as she suddenly looked back down at her phone and her beautiful eyes glazed over, reflecting the bright light of the screen.
“Oh, of course, me too. I’m on my way to an event, I’ll be late now. It was nice to leave the trance I’ve been in for a moment, though.” Chance smiled warmly and hoped she would look back again one more time.
Heavily sighing Maggie glanced up briefly and nodded. “Trance. Yeah! that’s a good way to put it. I wish I had more time to chat, but work is calling. It’s my boss I’ve got to take this.” Her eyes flashed longing and desire for a second, as they met Chance’s one more time. Then she turned and walked away briskly, her voice fading with vague apologies to her boss, and a conciliatory tone. She quickly peered back over her shoulder but caught only the back of Chance as he glided down the sidewalk amid the bustle.
Days passed, and both Maggie and Chance felt different. Neither one of them was quite as focused at work, and both their bosses commented on how they seemed like they were in a trance. Were they? Or had they awoken from one? Neither could be sure.
Chance looked to his device and opened his calendar. Full. Nothing in the next couple weeks but work and sleep. Only enough time outside of his job to eat, sleep, and workout. That strange moment with Maggie had stirred something inside him. He was looking at his calendar and questioning everything. Where was all his time? Even if he had taken the extra second to get Maggie’s number, when would they be able to see each other? A buzzing notification jarred him from his wonderings, and he was summoned to an urgent business matter.
Maggie could not get the thought out of her head. A trance. That is what her life felt like lately. When Chance said that, she knew she needed to change something. But what? And how? Her boss needed her, and she had so much work to take care of. More than she could handle, but she never let others figure that out. Her phone was essential to her work. She caught herself again staring down at the brightly lit screen but had no idea what she was doing or why. How long had she been zoned out on that screen? How much time did she lose like this? In a moment of frustration, she cast her device violently aside, and the screen shattered.
“Your insurance does not cover deliberate device destruction.” Said a monotone and emotionless voice. Maggie looked at the clerk at the device store, and their face was equally bland.
“But, I didn’t mean to break it, I just tossed it when I was mad.” Maggie pleaded. Why did she tell him the truth? Couldn’t she have just put aside her honest streak and said she’d dropped it? Now how was she going to replace a brand new phone?
“You are liable for the full price of this device if you want to replace it ma’am.” The automaton decreed.
Did she want to replace it? During the 24 hours without it, she seemed to have all this time back in her hands. Her boss was more impatient with her, but she felt better. As she thought deeply the store clerk awkwardly stared at her.
In that moment, she heard a familiar voice speak nearby. “Hey, this is a company phone I need to return. No, I think I’m not going to get another one right now.”
Maggie turned to see Chance at a nearby counter talking to her clerks doppelganger. Another dispassionate and robotic individual with a hollow gaze. Her heart beat faster, and she walked over to say hi.
“Hey Chance.” She tapped him on the shoulder lightly.
“Maggie! Wow what luck. What are you doing here?” He asked.
“Broke my screen, but my insurance doesn’t cover it so I’m deciding if I want to replace it.” She said, annoyed.
“Are you going to? I’m actually giving up mine. Well I have to, it was a work phone. And I no longer work for that company.” Chance said, as he beamed a big smile.
Maggie realized that was the first big, genuine smile she had seen on anybody anytime recently.
“Why?” She asked with a knowing complicity.
“I want my time back. It got sucked into that device and that job like some kind of time vacuum. I really had to figure out what I wanted. I wanted to find my time again.” He said, realizing as he heard the words that he was certain he made the right decision.
Maggie looked at him and her decision was made. “I’m not going to pay to get a new replacement. The broken screen makes it harder to get entranced by it.” She said with a rush of relief. “I want my time back too.”
This is the 55th installment of Writing Wednesday, an a-typical parable. Typically I write essays and philosophize, but to stretch myself I decided to write a story.
Let me know what you think.
Originally published at medium.com