The Ambulance-Chaser’s Time Has Come
May 31, 2010
Antoine took out his mobile phone and checked the time. It was four o’Clock. By his watch it was 409,866,217. The clock tower out of the alley and across the street had half-past eight, though he couldn’t remember if that was supposed to be morning or night.
Scratch that, he thought, does this place actually run on diurnal time?
Antoine turned to his iPad and scrolled up a GPS-display: Abidjan. Central Abidjan. Then, without trying to remember why he was in Central Abidjan, he pulled up the Wikipedia front-page and searched for the Central Abidjan Municipal Time-System…
The Free Encyclopedia,
Time-Keeping in Abidjan
-Redirected from “Central Abidjan Municipal Time-System”
Abidjan operates on multiple time-systems, including international retail-time, Ivoirian industrial-time and West-African agricultural-time. Also in private use are international internautical-time and the standard stock-hour. As a metropolis integrated into a modern mixed-economy, Abidjan is divided into administrative zones, known locally as communes, which operate their own time-system on the basis of their economic function.
[Image: Temporal-map of Abidjan]
See also: History of the Flexible-Time Movement
See also: History of Abidjan
In 2014 the Official Chinese Economic Innovation Committee began the first large-scale trial of alternate time-systems based on hyper-localised economic-functions. The entire city of Shanghai was divided into two new time-zones. The vast majority of the city ran on a twenty-eight hour clock known as People’s Prosperity Time (see: History of Standard Industrial-Time), while the area around the mouth of the Huangpu River ran on International Peoples’ Happiness and Relaxation Time (see: History of International Retail-Time).
The twenty-eight hour clock was designed to maximise the work-sleep ratio of manual labourers to the natural-limit at which motor-functions decline precipitously. This allows for a massive increase in labour-productivity, which proponents argue translates into higher wages and increased profitability. While critics contend that this has adverse physiological impacts on labourers, defenders of the system note that standard industrial-time is only a customisation of the natural day. As this itself was determined by arbitrary astronomical phenomena, it is argued, a time-system tailored to the lives of the people living under it may in fact be making them healthier.
By contrast, International Peoples’ Relaxation Time was the first anocturnal clock. Since its inception at midnight on the14th of August 2014, it has been counting upwards in one second increments. This time-system was designed to allow for greater flexibility in the retail-sector, by allowing customers to pay more easily for precisely and no more than the services they use, and employers to pay closely monitored, by-the-second rates to casual employees.
The project was dramatically successful, creating a local economic boom as Shanghai industries gained a significant competitive advantage on the world-market, and tourists flocked to the novel experience of a shopping district that literally never slept. Governments around the world hurried to implement similar schemes in order to stem the flood of service industries relocating their international offices to downtown Shanghai. On New Year’s Eve the whole of the People’s Republic of China went over to the Flexible-Time system (now with the redesignation of traditional time as local agricultural-time, or Bountiful Harvest Prosperity Time). By mid-2015, with the exception of a few countries only marginally integrated into the global economy, the world had almost totally converted to the new system…
… Abidjan differentiated its time-zones in 2019, relatively late as a result of Côte d’Ivoire’s economy being overwhelmingly agricultural. The city remains the only place in Côte d’Ivoire to use differentiated time-zones, with the commercial area around le Plateau, known internationally as the Paris of Africa, being the primary driver behind the system’s adoption. Since the 1st of May 2019, le Plateau and Cocody have been fully integrated into international retail-time. The Adjamé commune, a slum which has spread over the entire north-west of the city, runs on industrial-standard time, though the WTO notes that with little industry actually taking hold in the region, this reform is largely a face-saving measure by a government embarrassed by its long-standing inability to revive local manufacturing. Small market-areas that have been divided off from the larger communes operate on local-agricultural time to cater to the needs of the peasant farmers who for the most part continue to service the people of the city.”
…Increments, though Antoine.
A tone sang out from his iPad and a message appeared. He had 1400 seconds to be at a place called La Vieille Rue. The little tablette told him that it had it on the good authority of an ex-military satellite that he could find the place if he would: walk straight, ten metres, then turn left.
Antoine was walking along an esplanade that couldn’t remember where it was. He dodged shirtless fire-dancers as he adjusted his glasses and tried to read the names of the little cafés that looked like impressionist paintings of a Paris street-scape. As he washed into the pedestrian traffic, he tossed some change to one of the men who was making a spectacle that would have looked more sad than anything, if anyone could remember that it was the middle of the day.
As he approached the terraces he saw that the façades of the cafés actually were made to look like impressionist paintings. Brick and sandstone veneers pixelated like the texture palette from a PS2-game in his 20/20 gaze, and he could make out no letters on the pictures of signs hanging above him.
He looked at the iPad again. Turn right.
Antoine walked. He stopped looking around. He brushed against a woman jogging to the sounds she heard coming from her cell phone. He marched lock-step with touring Japanese students. He was disguised amongst German backpackers arguing over a map.
Stop. Look to your left.
A middle-aged woman sat alone at a table wearing a black satin-blouse whose collar frilled extravagantly around her tightly reserved posture. She looked as though she had made a deliberate effort to dress with a light air, but her subconscious had undermined her with its fixation on the colour black. Without checking the photograph in his notes, Antoine sat down opposite her.
“Madame Dufries?” he asked quietly.
“Monsieur Opango?” she replied, hesitating over his name in the way he had grown used to from the demand-side.
“Yes madame,” he began, “you wanted to talk about the agreement.”
At this she lowered her head and paused. Antoine waited motionless for her to gather herself.
“Annette is very sick,” she managed.
“I see,” he spoke at that slow-speed that exists for reassuring people when they’re around death. “How soon will she need the operation?”
“Within twenty days,” she almost whispered, “but it’s not just that. Her body has weakened from the previous treatments. She needs a new heart now as well.”
That was going to be an issue. Hearts were at a premium on the market, and he had already sold the donor’s to a private clinic in Moscow. The Dufries were the principal party in the contract, so legally they had a first claim on any items in the transaction, but at this late stage they would be obliged to pay compensation to the third party and a premium to cover the extra work this meant for the agent.
Strange though, he thought, that the heart doesn’t get paid in all this.
Regardless, it’s difficult to explain this sort of thing when there’s a failing body hanging in the air.
“A heart can be acquired, Madame Dufries,” Antoine began, “but there will be an added expense at this stage.”
“I understand.” The sound escaped, clipped by clenched teeth. The words she said were scratched by the words she kept hidden behind those white, regular rows. Parasite. Vulture. Exploit.
“I can draw up a contract this afternoon,” Antoine continued, without trying to address these things he knew he could not change. “I’ll have it delivered to your hotel in 14,000 seconds. I’m sorry to say it, but the charge will be very high, somewhere in the region of €15,000.”
“You say that like it matters.”
Antoine was silent for a moment, and then began to make his leave.
“What time is it back in that world?” she asked, as Antoine was on the point of walking away. “I’m supposed to call her at 14h00 industrial.”
“Where is she?” he asked as he scrolled up his universal clock on his iPad.
“Lyons,” she told him. “She dropped out of school when she was seventeen to go live in some commune in a shipping container on a disused lot. I saw the place once. Can you imagine?” she laughed weakly, “those hippies must have blocked up the whole highway for a day driving that thing from an actual port.”
“It’s 13h44 in Lyon,” Antoine answered. “If you catch a cab from the end of the street there,” he pointed to a place where men milled around their chaotically parked, invariably discontinued-model Mitsubishis, “you can get to your hotel within 600. The hotels here all have skype on the room-computers.”
“Or I could stay here a little while longer and watch the lagoon,” she echoed faintly. She stared over the water, eyes unfocused, the light on the waves like antique pixels.
Increments, thought Antoine. He left the woman on the terrace and began to walk towards industrial-time.
Somebody had either built a basketball court in a skate-park, or a skate-park around a basketball-hoop.
A girl sat with her feet dangling over the highest ramp, drinking from a foam cup. When she saw Antoine she waved and motioned him to come up. She began to unscrew the thermos beside her and pour whatever was inside into the steel lid-cup, as Antoine took a long run-up onto her concrete wall.
You have arrived at your destination.
“Coffee,” she announced handing him the steaming lid.
“Thank you, Adanna,” said Antoine as he hurriedly put down his things beside him and took the cup. The motion of the black waves he held made his body suddenly realise how high up he was, and for a moment he was visibly steadying himself from vertigo.
She fell back as she laughed at him. Antoine noticed how she managed to hold her cup perfectly level as she did. She shot back up and slapped him on his back as she shouted, “relax, old man.”
“Old man, huh?” he said, now totally transfixed by terror.
“So what’s new?” she chirped.
The thought of open-heart surgery dragged his mind back from the beetling brink.
For a moment Antoine couldn’t get it out of his head that what he was doing was funny. It’s hilarious, he thought, it’s ridiculous, completely unreal. But why can’t I laugh?
Err-hrrm came the prompt from beside him.
“The buyers need a heart as well,” he told her.
“Okay,” she nodded vigorously. “Yes. I understand. They can have it. I’ll be dead anyway. Next question.”
“Your heart was already sold to a Russian hospital,” he explained without laughing. “They have the right to buy it back, but they’ll have to pay them compensation, as well as a fee for processing all this.”
“And you’re telling me this because?” she asked. “You’re the agent, right? This is your problem.”
“It’s not a problem.” He reached into his pocket, took out an envelope and handed it to her. “I inflated the price. They’re too sad and rich; they’ll never notice the difference.”
She looked into the envelope and counted the money.
“No,” she began. “No, no, no, no, no!
“I can’t take this,” she exclaimed. “That’s sick, you’re stealing from people because they’re grieving. That’s sick!”
As happened so often in his work, Antoine said nothing. He stayed perfectly still as Adanna tried to make him take the money back. She tried to scare him into taking it by pushing him towards the edge, but now Antoine was focused on his job, and that settled him like a fort.
“You’re a fucking asshole,” she shouted. “What’s going to happen when they find out? Gaol, you prick. They’ll put my parents in gaol until they pay off whatever ridiculous fines you get me. Then where the fuck do you think Oby and Onieka will wind up? You remember them? The kids who I don’t want winding up with their heads cracked against a gutter, which is the whole damn reason I hired you in the first place, you twit.”
Antoine was staring off firmly into the cement-lagoon around them as she spoke. Without turning to her he said, “Your family will be fine. They have nothing to do with the contract. If anything happens I’m the only one who’s liable. I’ll get a fine, which I can pay, and I’ll have to pay back the family. But all of the money you get from me is yours, and anything that happens after that is my loss and my loss only.”
“They’ll still know I was in on it,” she snarled at him. “As they bury me, that’s what they’ll be muttering under their breath. There isn’t much to remember in my life, and I am not having ‘robbed a cancer ward’ in my obituary.”
“Where’s your family?” Antoine snapped back, turning to her.
“They’re at home, sleeping. It’s the middle of the industrial night here.”
“And how well do they sleep after their long, productive days?” he growled.
He took a breath and calmed back down again. “You don’t have to like it. There’s nothing to like here, not any part of it. It would be wrong if you did.”
They were silent for a moment.
“Let me walk you home,” he offered. “It’s not safe for you to be on your own in your condition.”
She didn’t say no, and they walked the two blocks down to her home. She never spoke to him again, something else that happened a lot in his work.
It was forty seven o’Clock. It was 800,000,000. It was yesterday.
Antoine closed his eyes and let the clocks roll around him.
Turn right. Board bus. Sit down.
This is not your destination.
Antoine got off the bus when the Tom-Tom-app in his iPad told him. He looked around and thought: I’m in an airport terminal.
He scrolled up his diary on his iPad and asked it: “why am I in an airport?”
Turn left. Go straight 100 hundred metres. Get boarding pass.
He looked up at the clock above the counter as he waited for the attendant to process him. International airports run on the old kind of time, he remembered. Customs and immigration are always the last bastion against the forces of trust.
He read the destination on the ticket: Kinshasa.
I’m going home, he thought.
He turned off the iPad and proceeded directly to gate 15. He raised his arms as the security guards searched for keys and loose change. He gladly extended his limbs as the full-body scanner determined whether he was going to explode or not. He removed his shoes with joy. He was going home.
He sat down in his pre-in-flight-entertainment era, economy class seat and closed his eyes. In eight hours, in 28,800 seconds, today…
… He entered his apartment. It was pitch-dark out, but his son and wife were sitting at the kitchen table having breakfast and watching reruns of Sesame Street.
“Daddy,” the sound shrieked around the room.
“Quiet, Paul,” his mother hushed him. “Daddy needs to rest when he comes home.”
Antoine saw that she had left a glass and his half-finished bottle of rum on the table for him. This is what I do for a living, he thought.
“It’s okay,” he said, smiling as put the things away.
“Work went well today?” his wife asked, a note of scepticism in her voice.
“Work never goes well,” he assured her. “But it goes away eventually.”
Paul had run off to the bedroom to get whatever he wanted to show Antoine now that he was back.
“I have no idea what I did today,” he explained. “But whatever it was it can’t last. Nothing like that can last. And so now that that day has gone by we won’t ever have to repeat it again. He certainly won’t,” Paul had run back into the room. “That’s enough to be optimistic about.”