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A Conversation in Time

“Hello,” I said.

“Hello,” he replied.

“I’d like to talk to you,” I said.

“I am not supposed to talk to people I don’t know.”

“No. I know that. But, in a way, you do know me. Have you read A Christmas Carol yet?”

“Yes.”

I would have thought it very difficult to have said one word so cautiously but he said this very cautiously, looking uncertainly towards the top of the road where I could see Peter and Aleck, two childhood friends, and another boy I didn’t remember.

“Look,” I said, “I really do want to talk to you. It’s a bit private but why don’t we ask Peter and Aleck to hang around so that nothing can go wrong. We could sit on the bench by the bus stop where everyone can see us. I am sure that would be OK.”

He was still uncertain but he said ‘All right’ and we walked to where Peter and Aleck were kicking a ball about. We didn’t really walk together. He kept a good distance between us – nearly in the middle of the road while I was close to the hedge. Of course, there was no footpath but traffic was light in those days and, indeed, no motor vehicle passed us. Mr Jackson’s horse-drawn milk float outside the Shaws was the only wheeled vehicle. Mr Jackson didn’t recognise me, of course. Peter was fatter than I remembered and I had forgotten that Aleck wore glasses. The other boy had gone.

He spoke without preamble, “This man wants to talk to me. He says it’s all right and we can sit on the form where people can see us but I think you’d better be nearby just in case.”

I remembered that ‘bench’ was a word I had picked up from my wife. My family had always used the word ‘form’ to describe a seat by the road.

We moved towards the bench – er, form – Peter and Aleck walking protectively one on each side of him. They looked less anxious than he did – more curious than afraid.

We sat down. Peter and Aleck didn’t continue their play but stood a few yards away, hands in their pockets, gazing at us without expression. It was a bit unnerving. For a moment neither of us said anything. He was clearly waiting for me to begin. I remembered how shy I had been as a boy and, indeed, I was rather surprised that he had come with me. I still didn’t remember anything of the sort having happened to me.

I said, “You said you’ve read Christmas Carol. Well, you can think of me as a sort of Ghost of Christmas Future.”

He looked blank.

I said, “I know you won’t believe me but you read Dan Dare stories in Eagle and this isn’t really any more surprising than that.”

“Dan Dare isn’t real.”

“No. Of course not. But you pretend he is and you play Dan Dare games.” I rushed on before he could interrupt with the protest I could see in his eyes. “Just think of me as a sort of cross between Dan Dare and the Ghost of Christmas Future. Or better still, just listen to me for a minute. I haven’t got very long.”

I had rehearsed this many times since I had known that I would meet him but, suddenly, everything that I had practised seemed all wrong and, abandoning my script, I plunged on regardless.

“Listen,” I said desperately, “I’ve come from the future specially to talk to you. I’m from fifty years in the future. I want to tell you what’s going to happen and how you can be a real success. You can do nearly anything if you work hard and try your best. You’re going to go to a very good school. You won’t be any good at games but if you try your best and work hard in class you’ll be able to get good GCEs and go to university. You’ll find it hard to concentrate but you must force yourself. You can do it if you really try.”

I have never seen anyone look more bemused. Already, I knew I had blown it. I hadn’t said anything that my mother wouldn’t say a hundred or a thousand times in the future. Probably I had never even heard of GCEs when I was ten – perhaps I hadn’t even heard of university. He hadn’t been sitting close to me but, now, he edged away even farther and, for a moment, I thought he was going to fall off the end of the bench ... form.

He stood up. “I think I should be going now,” he said politely. “Good bye.”

“No. Please. Stay a bit longer. I want to tell you about ... ”

But he was, already, almost out of ear-shot. Certainly, he was no longer listening. Peter threw the ball to him and he dropped it. Of course. I knew exactly how he felt. I watched them out of sight.

I had missed my chance. From my vantage point in time, I could see the three of them. I knew he had already forgotten me. It had puzzled me ever since the visit had been arranged but, at last, I understood why my visit, all that time ago, had not had more impact on my life.

 
Word Count: 890
 
 
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