The professor’s face lit up as the machine whirred into life, but I knew it wouldn’t last.
Nobody knows what the past really looks like, because it only really exists in photographs and recordings and memories that are privy to emotions, nostalgia and other insidious elements like pop songs. The past thinks it’s the present just as much as the future does. The other thing they have in common is that they’re both a lot, well, bigger in person. You watch the Moon landing while listening to an Elvis record, you’re in outer space and Vegas simultaneously. Magic. Takes a little longer to get from A to B when your only mode of transport’s your own two legs, and that’s only if you’re lucky enough to still have legs after the jump.
I came back, but it wasn’t the same. I returned to the day, the hour, the moment I left. But I wasn’t me any more. I was no longer of my time. I belonged to no generation, had no great war, felt no changes because I’d been through too many. I was a part of every moment but owner of none; a historical witness with no need to testify.
If you ever travel to an age that is not your own – especially if you travel to more than one – and return to when you came one day, do yourself a favour and count the days you are gone. That sounds strange, doesn’t it? Without the context of consecutive days or a calendar, you’d think it wouldn’t matter.
The day I left and the day I came back were years apart. How many, I couldn’t tell you. I didn’t count. But I’m back now, and all these people have presents and candles and a cake for me. The prof thought I’d only be gone a few minutes – and to them, I was – but you don’t ‘test’ history by poking your head through the door and having a nosey. You become part of the fabric. I lived through floods, droughts, extinctions, massacres, inventions, wars, reigns and civilizations…all in the time it took my family to put up a party banner.
It was my birthday when I left. I’ll never know when my next one is.