The queue stretched around the block but Norman was next up. He mused on the irony of it all: here he was queuing to ask the Time-Giver for more time, and he’d just spent four precious hours doing it.
A woman came out through the dull-grey metal door, beaming a new-lease-of-life smile. She gave Norman the thumbs up.
“Oh, well done, you!”
Norman was pleased for her. The four hours had given him a chance to get to know her quite well (the man behind him in the queue was a taciturn chap, so Cynthia had had all of his attention).
A widow now, she’d spent most of her adult life working for charities while bringing up a lovely family—three daughters, she’d shown him photos. Now nearing her 60th and the Cut-Off Point, she’d told Norman about her dream: to travel, to see all the places she hadn’t had time to during her years of sacrifice.
There was a barrier separating the queue from those leaving, but as Cynthia walked away, she turned and flashed Norman a wide smile again. Norman wished now that he’d asked her for her contact details; it seemed a shame that such a handsome woman should be without company on her Post-COP adventure.
From the other side of the door, Norman heard a loud “Next!” It was his turn.
The room was painted the same dull grey as the door, the walls blank with no windows. In front of the wall opposite the door was a grey metal desk, and behind the desk sat the Time-Giver.
Norman stood at the door, suddenly very nervous. He didn’t know whether he should advance, wait for permission, or what. The Time-Giver made up his mind for him.
“Come on, come on. I haven’t got all day!”
Norman hurried over and stood next to the chair that was in front of the desk. Once again uncertain of whether he should sit, he wavered.
Norman sat and fidgeted a little until he was comfortable. The Time-Giver was reading through a file lying open on the desk. He was a pale, balding man with translucent skin and a number of liver spots, and old by national standards—much older than the statutory COP, certainly. Norman imagined that being in the position he was, he could simply give himself all the extra time he wanted. What a job that would be!
The old man continued to peruse the file. Norman took out his timepiece and glanced at it: three months more or less, and counting down. And now he’d spent almost five hours on this administrative chore. He willed the old man to start the interview, and he did.
“Denborafalta. Norman Denborafalta. With the emphasis on the ‘fal’.”
The Time-Giver turned a page to consult something.
“It’s Basque. My great-great-grandparents …”
The old man looked up now and fixed Norman with his rheumy eyes.
“What do you want, Mr Denboraflatter?”
The correction died in Norman’s throat under the Time-Giver’s withering gaze.
Norman shrugged his shoulders. What a stupid question, really! What else would he be here for? A pint of milk? A massage?
“Well … time. More time.”
How could the old man seem so surprised?
“And on what basis do you request more time from the Time-Giver.”
Four hours in the queue and Norman hadn’t thought to prepare a response to this obvious question. He kicked himself mentally.
“Well, I have only three months left before COP, you see. And … well …” Inspiration came to the rescue. “I’ve just met someone—the lady that was in here before me—who I think I should … get to know better. We could be very good together, I think.”
That was all he had. He smiled weakly at the Time-Giver, throwing himself on his mercy.
“I don’t think so, Mr Denboraflatter.”
The smile froze on Norman’s lips. He’d assumed this would be a formality.
“But … but …”
The old man closed the file and gave Norman a look that told him the interview was over.
Norman got to his feet but sat down again almost immediately. He was annoyed now and petulant.
“I’m sorry but I demand an explanation. The lady I was talking about got an extra five years! How is it that I don’t get any at all?! It’s not fair!”
The Time-Giver sighed, his apparent weariness suggesting that he was used to outbursts like this. He re-opened the file and riffled through the pages until he found the one he wanted.
“Norman Andoni Denboraflatter. Born 2055. School results: below average. Occupation post-education: voluntarily unemployed. Community-contribution score: zero. Percentages of time spent: sleeping—42%; televizz—27%; social compu-media—17%; beach—8% … I think you get the picture.”
“Those figures can’t be right!” Norman spluttered. “But anyway, even if they were … I like those things. Where’s the crime?!”
“No crime. Just not a very strong case for extension, I’m sure you’ll agree.”
Norman looked at the floor and shook his head.
“But I’m going to be more productive, I promise! And then there’s Cynthia—that lady …”
“Well …”—the Time-Giver turned to another page in the file, then looked at his own time-piece—“… you have 2 months, 28 days, 13 hours, 26 minutes and … 46, 45, 44 …”
Norman got to his feet and glared at the old man, wanting to snap his neck, the arrogant old fool.
“If I were you,” the Time-Giver softened, “I’d spend the time wisely. Go and see that lady. Do things.”
He closed the file again and placed it in his out-tray, taking another from his in-tray and opening it.
“Goodbye, Mr Denboraflatter.”
“It’s … oh, never mind.”
Norman’s anger subsided; what could he do? He shuffled out through the grey door, hearing a loud “Next!” behind him.
As he moved away he looked up; an arrow-head of Canada geese glided across the blue spring sky, on the way to some important business or other. Norman’s shuffle became a walk, then a trot, then a shaky run, in the same direction as the birds.
And in the same direction as Cynthia.