Short Story – Five minutes of your time

John increased his pace, he couldn’t afford to be late. The mass of humanity that surrounded him didn’t help, but he told himself that soon he wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore. He was meant for greater things (including a chauffeur), if he managed to arrive in time for the meeting of his life

He entered the subway, doing his best to squeeze between the members of the crowd hoping their mediocrity didn’t rub off on him. As he descended the escalator, he was horrified to discover that most of the turnstiles were broken, and a long line of people were queuing to pass.

Grumbling, he went to the shortest line and waited.  Glancing at his expensive watch, he could see there was only half an hour left. It was going to be a close one. After six of the most agonizing minutes of his life there was only one person left in front of him, an old man who was looking in his wallet.  John cursed the old man under his breath. Couldn’t he have had the ticket ready?

The old man moved to one side still looking for his card. It was now or never. John moved towards the turnstile with his ticket ready, pushing past the old man in the process. He heard the old man shouting in his direction, but he didn’t care. He ran towards the train and managed to slip into it in the nick of time. A sigh of relief escaped from his lips as the doors closed.

He exited the train half walking, half running. Every second mattered, but he didn’t want to arrive sweaty. The entrance to the company he worked at – Steward Financial Services, appeared once he turned the last corner. Those big solid letters in gold on top of the doors filled him with pride since he already felt like he owned the place. This was where power was created and soon enough he would be the one creating it.

He entered and nodded to Sam, the security guard, as he passed the security point.

“Hey John, how’s it going?”

“You know, today it’s the big day.”

“Oh right, I forgot. Good luck!”

“I don’t need luck. I make my own.”

He went right to his office with a big smile in his face. People smiled back at him, not knowing he was mostly smiling to himself. Estella, his secretary, was waiting for him.

“Good morning, Estella.”

“Good morning, Albert called, he’s waiting for you in the meeting room.”

“Perfect, wish me luck.”

“I thought you make your own luck?”

“Yes, but only because you’re my lucky charm.”

Estella snickered at him.

“Whatever, good luck, don’t forget about little old me when you get promoted.”

“Not in a million years.”

He entered his office and put his briefcase on the table. Everything was good in life.

Heard someone clearing his throat. “Ahem”. He turned around and saw an old man sitting on his couch. John blinked several times confused.

“How did you get in here?”

“That’s not important. What matters is what you owe me.”

“Excuse me?”

“Do you know who I am?”

“No, and I don’t care. You’re in my office without permission, and I’m calling security.”

The old man sighed.

“So inconsiderate, and after you pushed past me in the subway”

John’s eyes widened as he remembered the old man.

“Now you remember me?”

“Yes, and what do you want? An apology?”

“That would be a good start.”

“Look, today is a very important day to me. My whole career depends on it. I can’t be late.”

“Oh, I see, I understand. Let me ask you something: Is your time more important that everyone else? Because of you I lost five minutes.”

John laughed at the old man.

“Five minutes? And you come all the way here, wasting who knows how much time, only to tell me that?”

“Yes, because those five minutes cost me something important.”

“What?”

“Does it matter?”

“Well yes I…”

John had a sudden realisation

“Wait a second, how did you get here before me?”

“That doesn’t matter either. I usually don’t do these sort of things, but sometimes one must make exceptions. I won’t leave till you give me five minutes of your time. Call security if you want. Let’s see what your co-workers think as I’m dragged out of here kicking and screaming.”

John bit his lip, frustrated. He wanted nothing more than to get this man out of his office. He had a meeting to get to! Now was not the time to cause a scandal.

“Fine. You have your five minutes.”

“Very well then. Let’s shake hands.”

John shook the old man’s hand.

“Now, what do you…” he never got a chance to finish the sentence.

A sudden feeling of vertigo assaulted him and then everything went black. He could only feel himself floating in an empty space. After what felt like an eternity, or maybe it only lasted a second, he regained the feeling of his body. Something was wrong though. He felt tired and sluggish, as if his whole body was stiff. He blinked several times, and saw… himself… standing before him.

“What the hell?”

The voice that came from his mouth wasn’t his, it was the old man’s voice. Panicked, he looked down. His hands were worn and leathery. An old man’s hands.

“What did you do?!”

John fell on the couch with an expression halfway between incredulity and panic.

“I asked for five minutes of your time, and that’s exactly what you gave me.”

John opened and closed his mouth several times, unsure what to do. The situation was beyond bizarre. Stuff like this didn’t happen in the real world. Maybe it was just a bad dream. He slapped himself in the face, but it wasn’t a dream. Now his face hurt.

“Hey, take good care of my body or else I won’t be gentle with yours.”

“Give me my body back.”

“You will have it back in five minutes, as we agreed. Now if you’ll excuse me, I want to make the most out of this.”

“I won’t let you do it.”

“Try to stop me.”

The old man in John’s body exited the room. John stood up with difficulty. The old body felt as if he had logs attached to each limb. There was no way he would be able to physically stop him, but he refused to give up. This was his day, and nobody was going to ruin it. John stepped out of the office, after his body

The scene outside his office froze him in place. The old man was kissing his secretary, and it wasn’t a casual kiss. Estella looked as surprised as John. The old man stopped with a bigger smile than before.

“I always wanted to do that.”

Estella slapped him.

“What the hell? You told me it was over! HR are gonna hear about this.”

John’s heart went right to his throat. This was a nightmare. He couldn’t let Estella do that, not today. He hurried up and stood right next to her.

“Excuse me, miss…”

Estella, furious, looked over. Her expression softened a bit.

“I’m sorry you had to see that sir.”

“No, it’s…”

“Well, I have things to do, bye.”

The old man walked away, leaving John with an angry Estella.

“Where the hell do you think, you’re going? We aren’t finished!”

It was too late, the old man disappeared through a corner.

“That bastard. Let’s see how he acts after I call HR.”

John couldn’t let that happen. He wasn’t in his body, but he still had his intellect.

“Wait miss.”

Estella’s hand was inches away from the phone. She stared at John with an exasperated expression.

“I’m sorry sir, but I need to make this call. If you could wait a bit I would appreciate it.”

“I’m…”

What was he going to say? That he was John? No, he had to be clever. He needed something, anything.

“I’m his father”

Estella raised an eyebrow confused.

“His father? He never talks about his family, what are you doing here?”

Estella blinked several times.

“Now that I think about it. When did you enter in the office? I don’t remember letting you in, or do I? I know I let someone pass but…”

She sat in her chair with an empty stare, but then she shook her head again.

“It doesn’t matter. What he did was inexcusable.”

“I agree miss, and I would like to apologize on his behalf.”

“You’re not the one who needs to apologize, he is.”

“I understand, but he’s not himself, he…”

What was he going to say? Estella stared at him impatient. He needed an excuse and he needed it now.

“My brother died, he left my son a considerable amount of money and he’s ecstatic. In fact, he told me that the first thing he wanted to do was to tell you how much he loves you. He probably got caught in the moment. I’ll tell him to apologise, of course, it was inappropriate, but could you perhaps find it in your heart to forgive a fool in love?”

He gave her his most charming smile. Estelle tapped the table with her hand while she thought about.

“Tell that idiot that after he apologises he’s going to accompany me to a couple of very expensive shops and then he’s also going to invite me to a very expensive restaurant, is that clear?”

“Absolutely, now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to chase that fool.”

John couldn’t believe it worked. It was going to hurt his wallet, but at least human resources wouldn’t be a problem. He ran after his body, or at least he tried, this old body moved as fast as a turtle. He was grudgingly gaining a new respect for the elderly, it wasn’t easy going through life with such a decrepit body.

Moving down the corridor, John checked each office. From a distance, he began to hear raised voices. Turning a corner, he was confronted by John’s rival, Arthur, and the old man in the midst of a heated confrontation. Arthur was pointing at the old man.

“Who the hell do you think you are? You can’t talk to me like that, I don’t care if you’ve been promoted, or not, you can’t go around pretending you’re better than all of us.”

“Not all, Arthur, just you. I beat you fair and square, which means I don’t have to take any more of your bullshit. In fact, I’m doing everybody here a favour. You’re a pain in the ass, and it’s a goddamn time someone told you that.”

John was confused. He had always wanted to say that to Arthur, but how did the old man know? Did he have access to his memories? Could he do the same? John tried digging in his mind for any memories of the old man, but he could feel a wall around them. He looked at the old man and Arthur arguing. John wasn’t a saint or the nicest guy, but compared to Arthur he might as well be one. That guy was the very definition of a self-entitled asshole and creep. But he couldn’t risk it, not today. He approached them.

“Eh, excuse me…”

They turned to him. The old man gave him a mocking smile, while Arthur looked at him with contempt.

“Can’t you see we’re busy?”

“But I…”

“I said beat it old man!”

Then Arthur ignored him and went back to his argument. John was shocked, he had never felt so humiliated in his life. Nobody ever talked to him like that, as if he was nothing. Was this how the old man felt every day? Ignored and pushed aside?

“That was very rude of you, Arthur. I’m sure we can make some time for this man. In fact, I’ll let you attend him while I go talk with Simon.”

“Oh, don’t you dare turn your back on me you…”

Arthur grabbed the old man’s shoulder. The old man gave him a quick look then grabbed his arm, twisted it, and kicked Arthur in the crotch. Arthur fell with a cry of pain.

“The ground suits you better Arthur. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”

He winked at John.

“Your body sure is fit.”

Then he left. People were looking from their offices to see what happened. Some gasped when they saw Arthur on the ground, while others smiled. It looked painful, and John felt bad for him. Although only for a moment, Arthur was a complete bastard after all. He turned to see the old man heading straight to his boss’ office.

He moved as fast as his old body allowed him, and reached the old man in time to grab him by the arm, just before he was about to enter the office.

“Please, you have to stop this.”

“Why? I haven’t done anything you didn’t want to.”

“Look, I’m really sorry for what I did. It was rude from me, I was a complete jerk. I had no right to make you lose your time, I could have waited.”

The old man stared at him with such intensity that John felt as though his very soul was pierced.

“You could indeed, but you didn’t and that’s because deep down you believe your time is more valuable than anyone else’s. You have much to offer to the world, but you only think about what the world can offer to you.”

John tried to hold his stare but he couldn’t and lowered his head. The words of the old man resonated inside him, but wasn’t the punishment supposed to be proportionate to the crime?

“How’s this fair?”

“Five minutes for five minutes, it’s fair.”

“You’re ruining my life!”

“No, I’m forcing you to be honest. Honesty can have negative consequences, but it’s better in the long term, and before the last-minute finishes I’ve got one more thing to do.”

With that the old man turned and went straight into Simon’s office, closing the door behind him. John sat outside, not sure what to do. The old man was right, but he deserved his new post damn it, he had worked so hard for it. Just when he was about to follow him, two security officers went inside the office. John followed them in an effort to minimize the damage.

Inside, he saw the old man standing in front of Simon with his arms crossed. His boss looked at him thoughtfully. The two security officers stepped forward to grab John but his boss raised his hand.

“Wait a moment.”

Then he pointed his finger at John.

“John, what you have told me has given me a lot to think about, but that doesn’t excuse what you did. Arthur is an asshole, but we’re not savages here. You are suspended with immediate effect. The board will discuss your situation and you will be contacted when we reach a decision.”

It was then that he looked at John.

“And who are you?”

John was about to open his mouth when a familiar feeling of vertigo assaulted him. He felt dizzy and confused. He found himself floating in nothingness again. Time lost its meaning, a second became an eternity and eternity became a second. Then he regained his feeling of place. He looked down and realized that he was back in his body again, but then he remembered the situation he was in. The old man, now back in his body, spoke.

“Oh, don’t pay attention to me. I’m just leaving, have a nice day.”

With that the old man smiled at John and left.

“Sir, I…”

His boss raised his hand.

“No more talking, John. Gentlemen, please escort him outside the premises.”

The security guards positioned themselves to either side of John. He sighed, and followed them outside. His co-workers looked at him and whispered. John wondered about what they were saying. Did they admire him? Were they happy he was leaving? It didn’t matter, his life might as well be over.

As he made his way back home, he saw something out of the corner of his eye. There was a young man pushing past a woman with a baby. The woman shouted at the young man as he ran away. He just gave her a disinterested look.

Something clicked inside of John, and he had a momentary flash of inspiration. He helped the woman and then followed the young man. He reached him and grabbed his shoulder. The young man turned and John spoke.

“Can I have five minutes of your time?”

 

 

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