Have you ever thought of yourself as a time traveller?
I believe we are all time travellers to some extent or another.
The sand drifts into darkness. The sea beyond crashes invisibly. I stand on the boardwalk of the beach staring into the eyes of a dragon. It’s body is sculpted from sand and smoking, red embered fire spurts from its nostrils. My eyes hurt from the particles in the smoke as I inhale the sulphur fumes, the taste of which dries my tongue.
Without warning, I am transported back in time. I can hear the urgent rapping on the front door of our house where we lived on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu.
“Missus! Touris em i killem long volcano!” Our cook stood there agitated, her wild eyes matching the hysteria I could hear in her voice.”
“Killem mo killem ded?” I asked.
“Killem ded, ” she replied.
The bile burnt as it moved upward to my mouth. No! It can’t be true! whirled silently inside my head as I screamed for my husband to follow us. As we raced down the hill to the resort I was filled in on the detail. My need to get to the other side of the island and give any nursing assistance that might be needed was overpowering. She might not be dead. By this time I had been told that not only one of our tourists but also a guide had died, but still I hoped. Whilst Roger stayed at the resort to organise planes, alert the hospital to be on standby and notify the authorities, off I went in the truck to the volcano.
Normally the steep, hairpin road over the mountain range terrified me but in my mind flashed visions of flesh and gore, the broken bodies superimposed with the vision of the beautiful, dark-haired girl who had left me only three hours earlier. My head was spinning. Had I brought sufficient equipment with me to deal with what I might find? I kept thinking – it can’t be true.
We arrived to find the volcano shrouded in impenetrable blackness, but its smell was unmistakable. Sulphur gas. My eyes burned. My tongue dried. We raced up the side tot he crater’s edge, dodging the huge lava boulders that littered the mountainside. Torchlight guided us to where a small group of men stood, surrounding the two lying on the ground. I pushed through and looked. There was no mistaking the girl and guide were dead. A red hot jagged rock, the size of a soccer ball had hit the guide on the chest before being deflected sideways to the girl who had stood beside him. If only these men weren’t so strong it would have just pushed him backwards. Instead it killed them both instantly.
“Irene, I asked how much sulphur do I put in the mix?”
My husband’s voice, tinged with annoyance returned me to the present with a jolt. I am neither on the beach or upon that mountain in Vanuatu. I am in my office, sitting in front of a large window looking out onto a garden filled with palms, hibiscus and frangipani. Behind me are piles of ironing and books to be read, ignored as I time travelled six years then twenty years previous in response to the waft of sulphur my husband was mixing for the citrus trees drifted into my sanctuary. This was my Proustian moment. His had been stimulated by warm sweet tea and lemon flavoured Petit Madeline biscuits taking him back to happy times with his aunt. Neither of my trips were happy ones but I marvelled that just the merest scent could send me travelling into the past with such ease.
Alongside time travelling as a response to an odour, movement backwards and forwards without the constraints of time and space is something that every person does on a daily basis as w remember and recount events from our past, whether it be minutes earlier, or days, months or years. Questions such as “Do you remember….?” or looking at photographs and even concentrating on a body part, will send me hurtling off on a time travel expedition.
By this point it could be argued that I am not time travelling but rather reviewing the past or imaging memories yet to come. In the time travel of fantasy and science fiction the protagonist interacts with the world to which he or she has been transported such as in the television series Dr Who, which tells the story of time travelling humanoid who travels with the aid of the Tardis, his time machine, which allows him to travel across time and space, protecting the world from evil and changing the course of history.
In remembering, I too am overcoming the dimensions of time and space but do I have any interaction with the places I travel to or are those memories just visions of the past, unchanged from visit to visit. I will examine this in part 2 of Time and Memory.
The full story of what happened as a result of these fumes can be read here.
Finally if you are interested in writing memoir I wrote about dealing with time in memoir for Carrot Ranch. That article can be read here.