I travel through time in music.
By music, with music, through music – whichever sounds most appropriate to you. That’s how I travel. You know how you hear a song, and it resonates with your heart and head so well that whenever you hear it, it takes you back to that moment in time. Well, that’s me – literally. I do go back to that moment in time and if I have the music with me, I can pause it and in so doing pause time for myself, only me.
I figured this out when I was five.
With how much I love music, it is no shocker that it is how I get by. I know many people will say the same, that music is everything to them but they don’t mean to the degree that I mean it. Truly. I collect music, all sorts of music. I’m not picky. My dream job would be to be a DJ, but we can’t have that, a DJ disappearing with no trace leaving their jockey unmanned.
Because of my ability to time-travel, I always have background music playing in my head – just like the movies. When you meet me, I am that tall girl in the back with headsets on and a jumper tied to my waist (I may jump back into a cold era). Even when you talk to me, I’ll drop one earphone and keep listening to music through the other.
It doesn’t matter to me if it is a dull constant drumming, you never know when a piece of music you last heard years ago will come to you strongly. And it has to come to me strongly for me to go through the portals it opens for me. So I am always listening to music because I never know when I’ll need to revisit a particular memory. Memory is a funny thing, so a moment that doesn’t stand out today may give me no sleep years from now and I will have to go back to figure out how everything fell together.
You probably want to know if I jump back in time at will. Sometimes, especially now that I am older and have a better handle at it. Or better yet, I can create my own portals. This was Doctor Saawa’s idea. (Silly thing to note here, Saawa in my local language means time.) Once a moment starts to show promise of being important I change my playlist to my ‘jump back playlist’. It is filled with songs and instrumentals guaranteed to evoke all sorts of emotions in me. You can be certain that there is a lot of Ed Sheeran and The Script on that list. That means one song can open up a thousand portals and I get to choose with one I want to walk through.
The portals appear with the date and time so I always know when I’m going. Also it doesn’t have to be my timeline but that of someone I know. Suffice it to say, I’m a loner. I can count the people I know on my two hands. By ‘know’, I don’t mean have a name and basic details or I would be stalking all my favourite celebrities. I should have met them in person and known them a little deeply.
And what happens to me in the present when I'm time-jumping? I'm sure you'd like to know. Time moves differently when you go back in the past compared to its run in the present. An hour in the past could be ten minutes in the present. I wish I could go into all the details that happen when I walk through time but that’s not what we are here to discuss today.
Dr Saawa was murdered sometime last night.
His office was ransacked but I’m not sure what thing of grave importance was taken. I intend to find out who did it. As enough TV shows have proved, when I jump back in time I can’t or shouldn’t change what I see. I can only observe. So no matter what I do, Dr Saawa is going to die anyway but I can find out who does it and what is stolen.
The police don’t think he was murdered, they think it was suicide. And somehow the facts they have add up. Having spent all his time trying to figure me out, he had no other patients and no source of income. The bills and debts were piling up and with every other thing going on he had reached his breaking point. I didn’t know this though, otherwise I would have helped. The way he died also points to suicide.
One thing I’m sure of is he was murdered. He was my doctor and confidant, trying to help me figure out this time-travel-music-related business. We were close to a breakthrough. We had pushed almost every limit we could think of and he was going to release his research to a bigger company for probably extra money. We could see the light at the end of this tunnel. But other people knew about this and could have sought to further their own selfish interests.
“So will you help me?” I finish off to Dr Saawa’s estranged son, Mwana. We are sitting in his office and ‘Suzanna’ by Sauti Sol is blaring from the one earphone in my ear. His office is a little shabby square room. The paint is peeling off, the wall cabinet is falling apart and from time to time as we talk, I see insects rush by into the corner. At one point, I think I see a rat. His waste basket by the door is overflowing; I sight a days-old pizza box with some pizza in it covered by ants. And there is no word for the odour in the room. Yet, he looks outrageously presentable; clean shaven, neat short hair and well-ironed clothes with a tie in place.
He taps a finger on his chin and sips from his mug. He had offered me tea but no one would judge me for declining if they saw this room.
‘How do I know you really can travel through time?’ Fair enough question. Of course any sane person would ask for proof.
‘Well unfortunately, even though I return to a time where you exist, you will never be able to see me. I haven’t met a person who can see me when I go back in time.’
‘Perhaps this because you didn’t exist in that time. Ever tried to move ahead in time?’ I understand that this is a lot for him to take in in one sitting but you’d think if someone mentioned your parent was dead that’s where all the focus would be.
I sigh before I answer, because I need his help and it wouldn’t do to alienate him so early in the story. I pull a tight smile and say, ‘Mwana. I travel in music. It has to be present for me to make a jump. Also, the future is never set in stone. Choices can affect when I end up. The past is set in stone. It can’t be altered but we can learn from it. That’s what I want to do. Go back and learn something about your father’s murder.’
‘How did you meet my father anyway?’ He says standing up.
‘If I tell you that, will you help me?’
‘Depends. You have to prove you can do what you claim to. I may look like my father but I’m not him. I’m not just going to take you at your word. I won’t waste away like he did chasing something he probably wasn’t certain of.’ He says this with all the arrogance and loathing he carries with him.
I pull out my phone and get to the music app. I rush to the ‘jump-back playlist’ and ask him to pick a song he remembers hearing of recent, within two weeks is good enough. I know I have just met him, but with the way Doctor Saawa used to talk about his son, I feel he is the brother I should have had. And this time-travel business is now reduced to feelings for me.
You’d think after you have listened to a song a thousand times, it would lose its hold on you. That doesn’t work for me.
He picks ‘Happier’ by Ed Sheeran.
I play it.
Then I’m thrown into his apartment, the living room which is no better than his office. Mwana doesn’t listen to this song a lot so it’s easy to pick a portal. I pick the most recent, from five days ago. The song is blaring from the TV in the living room which explains my point of entry. I expect to find a heartbroken Mwana drinking himself silly while he lies on the floor but I’m surprised. He’s in the kitchen preparing a meal as he sings along. It’s a good thing he decided to be a doctor like his father and not a musician. I help myself through his apartment, trying to find evidence that I have indeed stepped into his past though he can’t see me.
I don’t need music to stay in a timeline. I just need it to throw me back and to pause time. I also don’t stay in the past too long. The most I’ve spent is an hour, which is why I must have music playing constantly to continue the string. Jump out and jump back in without missing a thing in the past.
As I’m going through his study, I hear a knock on the door. I get out and follow Mwana as he opens it. It’s Doctor Saawa. I feel the tears rush out (the past feels as real to me as the present when I jump). He went out of his way for me and now he’ll never know what that meant to me or how much I appreciated him.
‘Oh it’s you.’ First, Mwana is a liar. He said he hadn’t seen his father in years.
‘Eh, boy, can’t you ever clean up after yourself,’ Doctor Saawa complains as he kicks aside a pile of rubbish.
‘I’m not boy. And if you don’t want to be here, I won’t beg you to stay.’ He goes back to his cooking.
‘I need your help. I think my life is in danger. You remember that project I told you I was working on, I think someone else got to find out and now they are after me…and her. I’m leaving you a copy of the research I’ve done so far. Contact her when anything happens to me and keep her safe.’
Mwana sighs and slices his vegetables with more force than necessary, ‘Again with that time-travel nonsense! I thought you were more knowledgeable than that. You are in debt, Saawa. Drowning crushing debt.’
‘It’s dad to you.’ And Mwana rolls his eyes, ‘But I’ll leave these here anyway. She doesn’t deserve any of this, remember that.’
Doctor Saawa walks out and once Mwana is sure he is gone, he picks his phone and makes a call.
‘I have the research and I think I know how to get rid of him and get the girl…’
And I'm back in the present.
How did my one hour run out so fast? And why did I never stop to suspect that Mwana could be behind all this? Would you do that to your father?
I return to the present to find my body tied up to a chair. I deserve that. Why would I just jump back in time without making sure my present was secure! As though I haven’t been victim to this so many times before so as to have learnt something concrete from it. Why did I trust Mwana just because he was related to Doctor Saawa? Part of me should have known they were estranged for a reason.
Mwana walks up to me with another man. This other man is the picture of what they call ‘mad scientist’. My music is far from me, of course he would take it from me, and I can’t pause anything to try and find a way.
‘See what we have here.’ The mad scientist says and both of them laugh out loud.
‘She stupidly thought I would help her. Can you imagine that? You are not very bright but you will become very useful. My fool of a father knew what you could do and didn’t want you to alter time. Well, we don’t care. All we want is to further our agenda.’
‘Oh yes,’ the mad one says. At this point they are both mad but I don’t know the other’s name. ‘We’ll run our tests and see how we can duplicate that and improve it. So that our projects don’t need music like she does but just a word or a thought to trigger them. We’d own the world. Mwana, we’d own the world.’ He says gleefully as though I am not around.
‘She says she can’t jump ahead in time.’
‘We don’t need the future. Don’t you know that he who controls history controls the story in the present? It serves us better that she jumps back in time. But we can continue her tests. You never know, she may find she can jump ahead.’ And they both laugh that evil laugh.
All my life I’ve been hooked to music I hear, not music I make. A thought starts to form, what would happen if I create my own music? Sure, I don’t have any training but I know enough about music. And all this just needs to happen in my head. Does it need to be my favourite song or any song will do? Or does it have to be a new thing.
I start to snap my fingers softly to a rhythm I make up as I go along. I close my eyes and concentrate on hearing it like real music. The emotion is already in place, I’m scared for my life. I hear their voices quiet down. Are they watching me? Are they guessing what I’m attempting to do? Does a part of them worry that I may be successful?
I hum along with the snap. I focus my breathing to hear my racing heart. Perhaps I can add that to my symphony. I imagine myself in concert. Maybe this way I can fool my head into thinking it’s the kind of music it is used to.
I tap my feet to the tune. Now I am really into it. I’m more than convinced that I can pull it off. I keep at it as I time my break, which should serve as my pause. But my head has to believe that it is a pause and not the end. I start to sway as far as I can in these binds.
And I pause it all…even my heart stops a beat. I open my eyes to find that I really have paused time. I never cease to amaze myself.
I continue to sway as I pull at the binds. I look around for something that could help and I see a pair of scissors at the other end. I throw myself and the chair down, bruising a cheek, and drag all the way to the table. I knock the table hard till everything falls off. I pull my hands to the front and hurt them a little in the process. I work the scissors till am free.
I wonder what to do with the mad scientist and Mwana. It crosses my mind to set this little hang-out of theirs on fire. But I don’t think I’m that evil. I tie them up and gag their mouths, switch off the lights and take their phones with me. I hope, for their sake, someone else knows about their hangout and I run out. I make plans to change my identity for the fifth time in two years.