I rush home yet again and this time I take a seat. I cry for hours. Dad comes to the room and knocks at the trapdoor leading to the basement. He asks if I’m okay. I fake a yes. But I’m not okay, I am frustrated. I vetted them all. The bomber and a woman were at the table behind ours. But he didn’t appear to me as a terrorist, I mean, he had a clean haircut and the woman he was with was quite curvy. If indeed Professor Chidi was right, if indeed I’m playing time’s sick game, then what am I meant to do? Give up? Just let Lara float away as mere memory? No. Dad couldn’t save mum from cancer. I’m not going to have the same story. I’m not going to live a life full of regrets. I must try again. I must save Lara.
I power up the time machine.
This time, just as Lara calls my name, two armed robbers enter the restaurant. They take the money in the cashbox. They take our phones and wallets and then they ask for our car keys. Shit! Dad made me promise I’d bring the car back in one piece, now I’m not even sure I’d bring the car at all. The terrorist of my last time travel gives them his car key. The customer sitting alone on my right doesn’t have any. As they turn to me I hope they think that I’m just a nerdy student that possibly can’t own a car and might not even know how to drive one. But one of them keeps looking at me, and soon enough, points a gun at me, threatening to shoot me because I disobeyed. Lara instinctively grabs his hand, tugging vehemently and screaming “leave him alone!” The robber thrusts her away so that she falls to the ground. He turns to her and shoots her in the head. He runs past her lifeless body and out of the restaurant with his accomplice. Lara gave her life up for me. She died to save me when I’m the one trying to save her. Truly, I’m a pawn in time’s game.
I travel a few hundred times after the gunshot incident. Each travel, time makes a masterpiece out of her death. On one travel (I really can’t remember the exact one, I lost count at some point), I had enough time to explain my experiences to her.
“Dan,” she whispered.
“Lara,” I replied, “I love you with my soul, and you have to believe me. This isn’t our first date. Technically, it is, but technically, it isn’t. I’d explain. You died, Lara, and I rushed back to the basement. I solved the last part, I derived the shrinking quotient equation. I traveled in time to save you, Lara. But each time I go back, you die.”
“How many times have you gone back?” she asked
“It doesn’t matter, Lara–”
“Just tell me!” she cried.
“I don’t know, I don’t know… four hundred times.”
“Jesus! Dan, you don’t know what you’re doing. You think you can outsmart time? You’re such a dumbass. You’re the loser, Dan. This is time we’re talking about. Dan, you’re hurting yourself. You have to stop this. If truly I’m going to die, then there’s nothing anyone can do about it.”
The building collapsed. Somehow I survived. She didn’t.
Since that time I stopped telling her about my travelling experiences. She’s too smart for her own good.
I’m at the basement again. I’m holding a bottle of beer. I don’t know what else to do. I’ve tried everything to save her but nothing works. The time traveling is getting into my head, it’s affecting my mind. I don’t think I can survive another leap in time. It’s running me insane. I take another gulp of beer.
I wake up from a short nap. There’s a bang in my head. The beer bottles are empty, six of them. I can’t believe what has become of me. Whoever thought I could hold a bottle of beer to my mouth? Now I’m an alcoholic. If Lara were here she’d be greatly disappointed in me. But this isn’t my fault. She can’t put all the blame on me. She was the one that died that day, and that wasn’t in the plan. We were meant to have our first date and then come back here to complete the last part of this stupid time machine. No one was meant to die, but then she went ahead and died. And now this stupid thing can’t save her. We put most of our time in this. We thought we were going to change the world. Now the only thing that has changed is my sanity. I can’t live like this. The closer I am to death, the better.
I reach for my phone and open the Time Liner app. This time I’m not travelling to the past. I’m travelling into the future. I want to be old. I want to be closer to death. I time the dialler and step in-between the magnetic wheels. I shrink.
I’m on a rocking chair at the porch. I’m old. I can feel it. I’m sad, very sad, hit by waves of regret. I’m dressed in a suit. What have you been up to, Daniel? A funny looking vehicle is coming. It has no tires; magnetic levitation. Hmm… smart. It pulls over by the lawn. The rear door opens by itself. The vehicle is empty. The alarm signals twice. I guess it’s a call for me to come in. I gently help myself up and walk down a couple of steps. I get inside the vehicle and the door closes by itself.
“Good morning, sir.”
I shudder. The greeting came from a speaker in the dashboard. They’ve come a long way; a self-driving vehicle that can dialogue with its passengers. Not bad. The car accelerates.
“Good morning,” I reply.
“How are you today, sir?” it asks.
“Well enough. What’s today’s date?”
“April 14, sir. 2061.”
Wow, that’s a long time into the future.
“How would you want the temperature, sir?”
“Eighteen degrees… how many children do I have?”
“I’m sorry, none, sir.”
I sigh. So I still loved her all this while.
“Where are we?” I ask.
“Lekki Phase 1, sir.”
As we approach Victoria Island, I realise that everything has truly changed; floating cars and bikes, actual skyscrapers, holographic ads, jets everywhere… After a while, we drive through a checkpoint. I recognise this place form 2016, I watched videos about it: The Eko Atlantic City. What a beautiful sight. The vehicle pulls over in front of a building and the door opens. I get down and look up. Now I know what you’ve been up to, Daniel.
The big letters rotate around the body of the building. The building itself is one massive screen. There are two curvy ladies in suit waiting for me at the top of the stairs.
“Good morning, sir,” the girl on the right says.
“Good morning,” I reply.
“There’s good news, sir. The military sent in their review this morning. Time Liner Hawk Eye works wonders. Forty-two terrorist attacks have been intercepted since we updated the military’s diallers, the highest so far. Great work, sir.”
“Thanks,” I say, even if I know little of what she’s talking about.
“Would you be going to your office, sir? Your meeting with the President is in ten minutes.”
“Give me a minute.” They turn and leave.
I need to see how far the old me has come with the time travel machine. I was not expecting this, given the way I left things. The me in 2016 was broken trying to save Lara, now I built a company in her name. Something must have changed at some point. Did I stop trying to save her? No, it can’t be… then why go through all the stress developing the time travel machine? I had given up. Watching her die each time took a toll on me, each death drawing me a step closer to insanity. Then how could I have built all these? Indeed something changed. But nothing changed. I might not have memories of the old me, but I have his feelings. I’m sad and brimming with regret. Trying to save her consumed my life. How many more times did I travel back in time? A hundred? A thousand? Could the old me still be trying to save her? This is no way to live. Professor Chidi was right. I know what to do.
I make my way into the elevator. There are numbers on the touchscreen. I see a ‘-1’. That should be the lab. I touch it. A beam of light ejects and settles on my right eye. The elevator greets me and descends. Its glass door opens to the underground lab. An engineer in a lab coat approaches. He’s grinning and talking about the loop convergence sequence and how wonderful it is. Other engineers come by, and each of them talks about how wonderful the sequence is. They applaud, after which I dismiss them. I need to be in the lab alone. I take a close look at the structures in the lab. Wow! Unbelievable! A nuclear reactor, two really large magnetic wheels, various prototypes, a smaller set of magnetic wheels… I peruse the control board for some seconds. The Time Liner interface is way more user friendly. I impute a year, day, and time, and I dial. I walk to the smaller time machine and stand in the middle.
The year is 2011, the day I filled my JAMB form. I am going to choose a different school as my first choice, maybe University of Lagos, maybe University of Ibadan. I’m going to be far away from Lara as possible. I have been trying all my life to save her. A wise man once told me, “She dies because of your love for her… You’d have to learn to let her go.”