Time is a Ring

Laura Mautone
12.04.2015
 
Time is a Ring
To Nara, D. and S.


“What is time?” Nara asked her mother.

They were walking through a forest and Nara was hugging the trees. She chose those with bigger trunks: first she’d put her ear up to the porous surface of the bark and listen to them, as if they had something to say, then she’d ask her mother to help her hug them. She was exceptionally sensitive to nature and to people. She was six years old, had deep black eyes and long dark hair – and could feel when people were in need of a hug.

Her mother replied, “Time is necessary to articulate the rhythm of life. Now it’s daytime; in a few hours, the sun will go down and night will fall on these plants as well.”

“So in three thousand hours it’ll be summer, and Papa will arrive,” replied Nara, jumping like a grasshopper.

“Three thousand? Not exactly... days are composed of 24 hours. Now it’s spring... we should do a calculation...”

“But in two weeks Papa will come from India,” interrupted her daughter.

“No, not in two weeks. Two months, Nara…” continued her mother, “... if all goes well, if they give him a visa... For now need to set your perception of time straight: what a day, a month, a year is... you know?” the mother went on, mainly in order to change the subject. But Nara was already racing to hug a new tree.

Once home, after dinner, the mother had thought about Nara’s question again and decided to do two things: firstly, to do everything in order for her daughter to see her father again and, secondly, to teach her what time is.

After all, that was the reason why she had brought her to India last year to meet her grandmother in the village where she had met Nara’s father, and where she had lived for six months. After being separated for nearly five years, she had begun talking to him again via Skype. They were still as close as when Nara was conceived. Before going to bed she had thought again about the past: when Nara was born, when she had been alone in those first difficult months, without anyone to lean on. She had concluded that time is like a ring: it always returns to its beginning.

The following morning she decided to teach her daughter how to measure time. The daughter had begun to count, to recognize the letters of the alphabet and to read signs written in German, English and Italian. She was a very curious child; her mother encouraged her and laughed at her improbable pronunciations. She had taken a strip of white paper, on which she had glued 12 squares, each divided in turn into four parts and had drawn seven squares in each quadrant. Then she wrote the names of the months in the three languages around the sides of each square. Then she had laminated the strip of paper.

“Look Nara,” she said, “these are the months: each month is divided into four weeks and each week has seven days... see the little squares?"

“Yes. And what are these dots up there?”

“It’s a bit difficult to explain. February sometimes has more than 28 days and there are months with 30 days and with 31 days...”

The girl, meanwhile, had taken the strip of paper and joined together the two edges.

“Here Nara, see? After December, January comes again... it’s like a ring.”

“So, after how many rings will Papa arrive?” added Nara.

The mother tried to divert the conversation again. It hurt too much to talk about it.

It had been a few weeks, and still she hadn’t received any news from Nara’s father. She heard from him every three days, but every time there was some sort of difficulty. Once it was that the travel agency needed money for documents; another time the consulate said that it would take too long to send the forms to fill out; another time still it was the relatives, who had obtained a mortgage.

Sometimes it seemed that everything was at odds against them getting closer together. The timing of bureaucracy never goes accordingly to with the timing of feelings. They had wanted to live together in Italy, even though there were many problems: the language, for example. Nara’s father would have had to learn the language quickly and then get a job. In addition, living together after such a long time wouldn’t be easy... but it was their bet and they wanted to win.

The months were slipping by, and there was no progress. Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, like links in a chain.

Mother and daughter often went for a walk together in the woods. One afternoon they heard an insistent noise caused by an electric saw. They followed the sound and came to a small clearing. They saw a series of stacked logs, which formed something resembling a huge ladder, and the woodsmen who had cut the trees. Nara wanted to stop and look. She closed her ears, as if he could not bear the moans of the falling trees.

“Mama, why are they cutting the trees? They’re suffering. Can’t you hear them crying?” said the little girl.

“They are cutting them because they’re sick. See that red mark on the bark? That shows which trees are weak... some suffer, but... if they stayed in the woods it would be dangerous," replied her mother.

Then Nara walked over to the trunks that were already stacked up, and looked for the red mark.

“What are these circles?” she said, indicating the diameter of a tree trunk. “Mama, why are some larger and others smaller?” pressed the girl.

“Each circle corresponds to a year of the tree’s life, Nara. There are younger trees and older trees. In fact, there’s a science that studies how to tell the age of trees and has a difficult name: it is called dendrochronology. It derives from the Greek words for tree, time and study,” said the mother.

But Nara had already begun to climb the pile of wood, tirelessly counting how many logs there were while her mother watched apprehensively. Then she suddenly stopped, and her eyes lit up.

She ran to her mother and said: The rings of the trees are like our ring of time, Mama. Each ring is a year... “

“Yes,” replied her mother. The little girl hugged her and said, “When papa comes we have to bring him here. I want to show him the rings of time.”

“Of course,” replied the mother, looking straight into Nara’s dark eyes.

“Don’t suffer like the trees, mama. He’s in our hearts, just like we are in his,” concluded the little girl. The mother nodded and held her, choking back tears.

The time of waiting and the time of returning were still to come, but the girl had understood something about the passing of time: That same time that still separated her from her father and her destiny. That same time that sometimes, like a ring, presses the heart painfully, not allowing it to beat, but that perhaps would soon loosen like a noose.

Translated from Italian by Cassandra Han
 
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