I stare intently at the five digital timers lined up in a straight row in front of me – each of them counting down the minutes and seconds to the next required action. I brace myself, alert and ready, the moment one of the timers reaches the 30 seconds mark. 10 seconds now, and I lean forward, my fingers positioned above 2 critical buttons I am about to press. 5 seconds, and I swallow. Anytime now.
DEE, DEE, DEE
The shrill alarm goes off from the timer, especially jarring in the quiet room. It is almost immediately silenced by my coworker. A split second later, I depress the buttons, and my voice fills the corridors and rooms through the microphones.
You have 2 minutes left
I lift my fingers from the buttons and all is silent once more. I bring my gaze back to the timers, the remaining ones still ticking down the time. The bell is up next. I posit the device in front of the microphones and I stare at the timers again.
The timer runs down to zero and is silenced. I lift the bell from the table with my right hand, and depress the buttons with 2 fingers on my left hand. With controlled flicks of my right wrist, I swing the bell.
CLANG, CLANG, CLANG, CLANG
I still my right hand, and my fingers leave the microphone buttons. The stillness of cold air replaces the echo of the bell in my ears. My eyes immediately seek out the timers again.
With varying minutes between the countdown timers, we synchronise our breaks, mental or physical, in between the required actions specified by the timers. This cycle repeats itself throughout the day.
My colleagues and I, 3 of us from different departments, are roped in for a special event. A weekend that marks an important milestone for a group of young people about to realise their calling in life.
We comprise the timekeeping team; and I am assigned the role of the chief timekeeper.
We keep a tight check on the, well, time; broadcast crucial cues to move people along, and inch these young people closer to freedom. To these young people crossing the final hurdle, adrenaline gushing through the blood, time loses its significance. They are also safe in the knowledge someone will be watching time for them, leaving them to ply their trade.
Closeted in a tiny room, hidden from view and forgotten (for most of the day), I feel time’s claustrophobic presence. Every second and minute seems longer – the significance of time passing becomes critical. I watch time pass literally and hear bells the whole day; after 2 days of intense time-watching, imprisoned by my duty, I am ready to scream. But I know my responsibility – nothing glamourous, just pragmatic.
At the end of each (exciting) day, congratulations abound for the key organisers on a job well done, an event well run. I get none of that but it is not unexpected; I am just glad to be let out of the prison I have spent the last 12 hours in, and escape home, having executed my duty to the best of my ability.
All the best to you all – please promise you will always do your best for the welfare, mine included, of the people you pledged upon, that many years ago …