The first time Billy-o saw a clock he was baffled.
He understood numbers of course. And he understood counting. Billy-o’s grandmother had counted all kinds of things as she made soups for them in their large, stone-clad kitchen.
“Thirty-three stirs of the onions and carrots, Billy-o” she’d say, “eighty-seven stirs of the stock. Clean the windows downstairs.”
Counting was easy.
Life was full.
So the first time Billy-o saw a clock he was baffled because the numbers didn’t count properly. Everything ought to be 1, 2, 3 up to 10, 11, 12 and so on. 100 came after 99.
Billy-o had learned this from his Grandmother who had learned it someplace else, she said.
On the clock, however, the numbers didn’t count up properly. It didn’t even get to 60.
At first, Billy-o thought he hadn’t woken properly. His eyes were still heavy, and the pains in his head might be making his eyes play tricks on him.
He asked the people who came to see him and they explained what a clock was.
It still didn’t make sense. He quickly learned the concept of counting 57, 58, 59, 00 but he couldn’t understood why.
The people explained it again as they washed and shaved him.
Although he still didn’t really understand why, Billy-o came to associate certain numbers with certain events. Back home he had never needed to know “when” to do jobs. He had never needed to know “when” to put the children to bed or make dinner for his grandmother.
The why of time made no sense.
But “soon”, Billy-o understood the clock. He understood that the people woke him at a set time, changed his sheets at a set time and turned the lights out at a set time.
And then, as he began to take pleasure in counting the people in and out, and the sunrises in and out, and the meals in and out, Billy-o finally learned how long he had left to live.