It’s easy for us to think we’re immortal. We look around, we see the ancient
mountains, the eternal sky with planets, the entire universe that seems infinite
and we think we are the same way… when we are born, we struggle to
understand the world, then we think the world is at our feet, with as much time
as we need to make our dreams come true and it’s a lot more difficult for us to
imagine time is not endless - we’re not endless. We know we’re insignificant
creatures compared to the immensity of the universe, but the notion doesn’t get
too much attention in our head. We don’t want to believe our days are in some
way unlimited. We like to see ourselves as invincible, eternal, powerful and
timeless… And the notion of numbered minutes is absent from our minds…
most of the time.
Only when we’ve got something to lose, that’s when the realization of time
starts to take shape among our wishes.
The truth is, I honestly haven’t thought too often about my time – or time in
general - being limited and running out. I wondered how long I would live, what
I would do – but it didn’t matter to me very much. Not before I met River,
anyway. I used to believe I could do anything, be anything and have whatever
time in the world was possible, to achieve whatever I could think of. I never
thought of myself as having a life ticket, so to speak, of numbered days. I
thought days were endless. But the idea of time not being on unlimited supply
for me became clearer after I started spending time with River.
If everything could be as easy as a bike ride, life would not make us
encounter so many questions and dilemmas. If keeping her in my life could have
been as easy as attaching her to my bike, I would have been happy forever…
But life is never that easy.
Having River in my life gave me unexpected happiness, incredible
emotional comfort and unbelievable enthusiasm to live… finding her changed
my perspective on everything… but it also gave me the frightening sense of
having something immeasurably precious to lose: her love, if it was true. Her
presence in my life meant so much that I didn’t dare to think I was completely
entitled to it. I wanted to consider her my dream come true – but I was also
deeply lost in the abyss of wondering how long she might stick around. It wasn’t
that she didn’t seem reliable: I just didn’t see any reason why she would pick me
to be with – and remain around for a longer time.
I knew I didn’t have great advantages over the other boys: most were taller
than me, possibly stronger, more appealing… and I had just come out of a
coma… why would she want to be with me anyway? I knew she would soon
find an interesting guy she could wish to build a better future with… I was
aware that I might not represent her ideal partner. I knew I was not a men’s
health magazine cover. She could have found better than me any moment.
That’s what I was afraid would be the inevitable outcome of our short adventure
After our encounter on the road, we decided to meet again.
She sort of accepted to go out to the beach with me one weekend, which
was almost like a date – and that meant I could consider her my girlfriend. In my
mind, I already did. It made me really happy, so I threw away the thought of not
being good enough for her… I ignored the fear of not deserving her for too long.
I erased the doubts from my mind. I decided to enjoy the present. And I wanted
to believe. I wanted to hope it would last longer than a brief miracle.
I didn’t know what was on her mind and she hadn’t promised me anything.
I suspected she just wanted to live the day and enjoy it as it was… even if her
long term plans would not include me.
So we went to the beach.
We got there among other teenagers who were out to have fun on the sand.
River threw her bag close to the group of many other bags and clothes. People
were taking off their shirts to play volleyball; two dogs were running around,
playing with kids. I didn’t mind the crowd very much, because River had my
full attention. However, she seemed a bit unaffected by the fresh joyful
atmosphere, the salty drops of sprinkling ocean waves or the erratic shouts of the
volleyball group. She seemed rather lost in thoughts. She took off her sandals
and went to the edge of the water, with bare feet, to look beyond the horizon. I
wondered what was troubling her. Something was going on behind those dark
sunglasses and mysterious stare… Her black t-shirt was trembling in the breeze.
When a wave splashed on her feet she leaned forward to roll up her jeans, right
above the knees. I took off my sneakers and went to join her at the edge of the
“Whoa, it’s ice cold!” I noticed as the water touched my toes.
I could feel the cold wave freezing my bones in unexpected dull pain, as it
covered my ankles. I stepped back. River was still in the water.
“It’s not that cold…” she said smiling at me from beyond the sunglasses.
“If you say so… but I think it’s very cold.”
“Let’s go sit down then.”
We went back to our spot on the sand. She was still lost in thoughts. She
was absently staring to the distance.
“What?” I asked her.
“Nothing. You were right… It’s very cold around here. I’m freezing.”
It was an early spring morning and the breeze was turning our skin blue.
“Would you like my jacket?” I attempted to say.
I wanted to offer her something to help. I didn’t like seeing her tremble in
the black t-shirt and rolled up jeans.
“No, thanks. I’m fine.”
I couldn’t ask her anything more. I kept wondering what she was thinking
of. Why she wasn’t enjoying the time we came to spend there. I wondered if she
felt I wasn’t the person she needed at that moment. We looked at the big dog
running around as kids were throwing sticks for him to fetch. We stared at their
game in silence. For a second, I turned my eyes to look at her and I caught her
glancing at me, observantly and almost inquiringly. It was as if she wanted to
say something that she couldn’t say – as if she wished to read my mind. Then,
she hid her head between her knees for a while, retreating in her thoughts,
falling asleep or refusing to see the world. I stood there in silence, not knowing
what to say, not wanting to disturb her mysterious mood. And the complicity of
silence between us felt like something deeper and sweeter than words. We
agreed to be silent. Our thoughts, undiscovered and unrevealed, were wandering
together, rising above the beach in a dance, swaying like loose kites in the sky,
together in silent mystery and solidarity. It was as if we were sharing so much
more by not saying what each of us could not even begin to express. I almost
felt her heart beating like an emotional wave; I could sense the sorrow of
unspoken words engulfing both of us, the thrill of being so close together,
without moving, without even touching. I wanted to reach out and wrap my
arms around her; I longed to comfort her from the cold and the unexplained
melancholy, as she was trembling in the black t-shirt. But I feared she wouldn’t
let me. She seemed too distantly lost in the mystery of her thoughts. So we both
buried our toes in the sand and stood there in speechless acceptance – and
After a while, she suddenly stood up and searched in her bag for something.
It was a box of chocolates. She opened it, seeming more cheerful and she
extended it to me:
“Here. Have a chocolate.”
I took one.
“Have two”, she insisted.
I took another and stuffed them in my mouth.
“What’s the occasion?” I asked her, chewing the melting chocolate. “Is
your birthday today?”
“Yes… it is.”
I was really surprised and I instantly thought I had missed the chance to do
something especially for her.
I felt I had missed something important again.
“I should have brought you a present. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“When could I have told you? I don’t go around yelling at everyone, hey,
tomorrow is my birthday! ”
“I’m not everyone”, I said seriously.
I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t mean enough to her so that she could
tell me such things about herself. It was true we hadn’t known each other for too
long, but I felt I was less than I wished to be for her.
“Well, it doesn’t matter.”
She discarded it casually, sitting down on the sand again. “Don’t worry too
much. And you? When is your birthday?”
“Why should I tell you? You didn’t tell me about yours.”
“Come on! I’ll get mad if you don’t tell me! I’ll never speak to you again!”
I stared at her and I started to laugh. Her childish threat was turning the
conversation into a game. But I enjoyed it. Her eyes were glaring at me. I
“So, you really want to know when my birthday is?”
“Yes. Tell me.”
Her determined demand made me feel better. So, she actually cared…
“It’s every day, since I woke up from the coma.”
She smiled, but her eyes were still glaring. She threw sand at me, playfully.
“I’m never speaking to you again!”
“Great! Go ahead, keep silent!”
I laughed. I knew she didn’t mean it.
“Look”, I said, “we can go for a walk. See those dunes over there? I’d like
to know what’s beyond them.”
I got up. She stared at me, from the ground.
“I don’t feel like it. You go and tell me what you find.”
I was confused. I didn’t expect her to just want to sit there, on the beach. I
was very curious about what was behind the deserted dunes in the distance. I
wanted to explore. But she seemed rather indifferent about it.
“Why aren’t you coming?”
She was still looking at me, with the same attitude, as if it didn’t matter, as
if it wasn’t that important and something else was hovering above us…
something huge and implacable. But she didn’t want to tell me what. She knew
something I couldn’t guess. And it wasn’t good.
“It’s just sand”, she said after a while.
“Have you been there before?” I asked her anxiously.
I had begun to know for sure that River always chose to speak only a part
of what she knew. The girl had many unrevealed secrets. Her mind was a
mysteriously deep realm that I wanted so much to understand and get close to.
“I don’t need to go there”, she answered. “It’s just sand. But you can go and
see if you want.”
As I was standing there hesitantly, she took something else out of her bag.
She placed it on the sand, next to her – and in front of me. It was an hourglass.
Somehow, it glowed strangely in the morning light. It was made of wood, but it
looked like something transparent. The sand inside was of a silver nuance and it
seemed very refined. It started slipping through, grain after grain rushing, sliding,
gathering at the base, faster and faster… I stared at it, fascinated.
“This is time”, she said. “And time is always running out.”
The light around us changed. I had a feeling the entire beach and the dunes
were made of silver sand… as if it was from the surface of the moon. At that
moment, the volleyball players seemed to have disappeared from sight. We were
alone, with the ocean… and the immensity of the glowing, irreversibly slipping
sand. I didn’t like what River was saying about time. I didn’t want to think of
time, while I was with her. I didn’t want to imagine anything that would have an
end, when I was with her. And yet, she had brought that object, to remind me.
It occurred to me that the hourglass was shaped like the infinity sign and
yet it showed the irreversible race of life.
Suddenly, I realized what was strange about the hourglass, apart from its
appearance: the sand gathering at the bottom was instantly vanishing. It was as if
it was sliding into nowhere, filling the beach with its silver glow.
“What’s happening in there?” I asked her. “What kind of trick is that?”
“It’s not a trick. It’s an instrument that shows you how time goes by. The
sand that slips away doesn’t return. That’s how it is with time: it goes on and on
and you can’t stop it or make it return… “
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because we don’t have forever, even if we want to.”
“Don’t say that.”
“It’s true. For example, if you want to see what’s beyond the dunes, you
should go now. You might not get another chance at it. We might not come here
again… Do you understand? Go right now, if you really want to do it.”
I looked to the distance, where the deserted dunes were hiding the
unexplored territory that was alluring my mind. I wanted to find out… to see for
myself what was beyond. River was holding the silver hourglass, while the
refined sand was speeding through, into the base of empty nowhere. She was
watching it absently.
“If the sand is slipping off so fast… and time is irreversibly limited… are
you going to be here for long enough?” I asked her.
“You mean until you get back from your walk to the dunes?”
“No, I mean… until… how long are you going to be with me? How long
are you planning to stay?”
“I’m not planning anything. It’s too soon – and I’m too young for that. I’m
just enjoying myself right now. I’m here at the moment… that’s what you must
I realized I would not get a better answer from her – and I couldn’t. She
was in no position to promise me anything, or give guarantees. I wasn’t even
sure I could consider her anything like my girlfriend, from only one date on the
beach. I wondered if she wanted to be there with me indeed – or not.
I decided she wasn’t convincing enough to make me believe she wanted to
be there. And I wanted to see what was in the distance.
“I’m going to the dunes”, I said. “If you want to wait for me, fine. But if
you prefer to leave, you can just go. Just say good bye and go.”
I said those words a bit upset at the idea that she didn’t care enough to tell
me she would remain in my life – or at least to say she wanted to. I chose to give
her freedom to decide what she really wanted.
And I turned to leave.
I walked for half an hour. The dunes were harder to reach than they had
actually seemed. As I kept advancing, I realized the distance was far greater than
I had initially estimated. I looked back from time to time, only to see the long
beach, stretching away like a lonely desert washed by relentless waves. The
breeze was throwing sand in my eyes and I was certain River had already left. I
was most definitely certain that she wasn’t there anymore. I knew she wouldn’t
wait for me to get back – maybe she would just disappear like the hourglass
silver sand, irreversibly slipping away...
I climbed the first dune, eventually. Beyond it, there was another one: high,
with soft sand where my feet would sink down to my knees with each step. It
was difficult to climb. It would have been easier to swim through it. After
climbing the second dune, I found another… and then another. The area was
beginning to look like a desert indeed. I could hardly see the ocean anymore,
behind me, beyond the rim of dunes. I couldn’t hear the breeze in that place and
the sand seemed more and more overwhelming. After a while, I saw the end of it.
So, the sand isn’t endless, I thought to myself. Looking ahead, I noticed a pine
forest, going to the horizon. I paused on the last dune of sand and sat there for a
When I wanted to get up and get back, the sand from the dunes started to
slip away. It was sliding down into the ocean and taking me with it. I could feel
something like glass beneath the silver tide of sand slipping downhill. I looked
up to the sky and it seemed to be confined in a vault of glass too. I tried to grab
onto something, as I was slipping down, but I couldn’t reach anything. Time –
or silver sand was dragging me away into the ocean. The steep slope made me
think of the hourglass. In a second of panic, as I was trying to reason with the
situation, it occurred to me that I could have been trapped in a huge hourglass
and the entire beach was just the sand of time, running away into nowhere, into
emptiness… into the water. Instead of falling in the waves, when I got to the
bottom of the hill, I slid on slippery glass and found myself rolling on the ice of
the skating rink.
The beach had disappeared. The ocean had disappeared too. I was grabbing
onto something: the wooden ledge of the skating area. I felt dizzy and looked
around. There were a few kids sliding on ice. There were a few people watching
from the sides, probably their parents. And I was standing on the blue heavy
skates that I knew so well…
I noticed River Flow at a distance, leaning on the ledge too. I skated
towards her immediately. She was just standing there, with the dark sunglasses
on. She wasn’t moving, just waiting, immobile and expressionless. But when I
got closer, I noticed tears sliding down her face.
“River… are you crying?”
I reached out my hand and took off her dark sunglasses. She let me do it
without protesting. She turned her eyes to me, clear deep windows of her soul –
and for the first time, she wasn’t hiding anything. Big tears kept rolling down
her cheeks. I touched her face and my fingers got wet. She took a step back,
“No!”, I said. “Why??”
She looked down and didn’t answer. At our feet, waves of deep blue water
were splashing and foaming beneath the ice of the skating rink. I wondered if
the ocean was raging under the ice, waiting to get out and drown us, drown
everything away. I looked at River. At that moment, I knew I loved her more
than I had thought possible.
She just watched the waves beneath the ice and didn’t say anything.
Meanwhile, some kid grabbed my jeans.
“Sir, can you please return to our training schedule?”
I stared at the kid, bewildered. What training schedule?
I looked back at River. She had a resigned attitude. Something about her
sorrow had been replaced by a deeper understanding of the implacable things
that we could not decide about.
I shook my head. I realized I was wearing a trainer’s blue coat. I
remembered the ten years of becoming a trainer… it was a part of my life. It was
something that belonged to me. And yet it separated me from her irrevocably –
and I couldn’t do anything about it. I recalled ten years without her, lost in a
blink of an eye…
I stared at River.
“Please tell me this is just a dream and I will wake up to be a teenager
again… Please tell me that ten years aren’t already gone!”
“You look good in blue”, River replied with a melancholic voice, wiping
the tears away from her face and trying to smile at me, as if she wanted to help
me confront the truth of where I was. “Better go take care of those kids, they’re
waiting for you…”
And she started towards the exit of the skating rink. I didn’t want to let her
disappear like that – not again… not after everything that had happened.
Watching her go was tearing my soul apart. The pain was too much to bear. I
couldn’t breathe. I felt I would soon start crying too, but I clenched my teeth.
The tension was stifling. I couldn’t go on without her. Life would be just bleak
and empty in her absence, like those ten years of waiting to find a lost illusion.
“Where are you going now? Where can I find you?” I asked after her,
feeling a desperate need to get some answers. “Can’t we just go back to the
other parallel world? Is there a way we can return to the other time, the other
I kept speaking, but she didn’t answer.
She didn’t turn around and I felt I couldn’t follow her – my feet seemed
stuck to the cold ice, encased in the heavy skates like in cement. I just stood
there and watched her go. It was killing me, but I couldn’t move.
Then I gathered my strength and skated in anger towards the glass window,
knocking my fists on it.
“Let me out! This is just an hourglass, let me out of here! It’s not fair! I
want to go back!”
I was determined to smash the glass window, so I took some distance, then
rushed into it in full speed, but when I slammed into the wall I knocked my head
on the screen and blacked out. As I was laying down on the cold surface and the
image was slowly blurring, fading away, I could see grains of silver sand
slipping by on ice, disappearing into the depth of the skating rink, like a game of
marbles, scattered by a child on the floor.