What’s the Time, Mr. Wolf?

“Wait up!” Allen yelled, rushing after me.   

It took Allen, our reputed healthcare firm’s paunchy senior partner, quite some time to catch up. No effing way, the chap’s body, bogged down by rolls of fat and millions of shopping bags, was equipped to traipse the Greek streets for so many hours at a stretch.   

To be honest, I couldn’t stand another whiff of baklava or loukoumi, but the same couldn’t be said about my companion. The greedy pig was still game for another bite of the ekmek kataifi, a ladle of the ambrosial honey or glasses of ouzo, a spiced Greek liqueur.   

“Take in the city, my friend,” he gushed, waving his arms around. “Don’t be such a tight-arsed penny pincher…Remember, you came to the world empty-handed… By the way, in your case, you even came to our firm empty-handed. Isn’t it, Mr. Wolf?” he guffawed.   

I rolled my eyes. The rascal was needling me yet again, hinting at how I joined the company as an intern and climbed my way up by marrying Allen’s dead partner’s daughter. I had even taken his partner’s—and now my wife’s last name—Wolf. After all, her surname opened many doors. The empty-handed remark hit home, even after so many years.   

“Forget me, old chap! It looks like you’ll surely be empty-handed sooner than you think.” I glared at his shopping bags. The shrill ring of my phone interrupted my rebuke. I curled my lip as my wife’s name flashed on the screen and disconnected the line.   

Allen scowled, his gaze fixed on my phone. “I am the master of my money. Unlike others, I don’t have to seek my wife’s permission,” he sniggered.

I pursed my lips and glared at him; the bastard was right. Legally, I had my name everywhere, but my wife still called the shots. I was on a strict budget for the present trip, too.  

Allen turned into a short alley; I followed him to an open-air tavern. The delicate flames of light from ceramic, oil lamps and laiko pop, urban folk music, greeted us. The place had a strange mix of modern decor with rustic elements—kitschy yet tasteful. The appetising smells of fried zucchini, pork, pita and fresh meat trickling from the kitchen tickled my nostrils; my tummy rumbled. But I didn’t want to waste time eating.   

“We need to hurry; we have the meeting tonight,” I reminded Allen as we took our places.   

“I know…” he drawled.   

A silver tabby cat coiled itself around the legs of Allen’s chair and glowered at me long and hard. I held its gaze. We stared for a lengthy, silent moment until the cat bowed out of the staring contest and moved to another table.   

“I am not sure I want to collaborate with them and buy cheap equipment for our laboratories,” Allen said, holding up his finger for the server.   

I winced. The man was a jackass; why travel all the way to Greece if he wasn’t sure? Plus, if one overlooked a slight trickery, the tie-up meant cost reduction and truckloads of profit. What kind of imbecile lets the biggest prize pass them by? Bloody rich moron, born with a fucking Kohinoor in his mouth, not knowing what to do with his money. Just like my wife.   

“Two Heineken, please,” Allen ordered, without checking with me.   

I crossed my arms and looked away. He called for half the menu, without asking me once. My insides fumed. The bastard took me for granted… still treating me like an office boy. I decided to push back. No fucking brat could squander my share of the dough.   

“What’s the problem?” I asked.   

“Cheap appliances can cost people their life, dude,” he replied, his voice sharp.   

What the Hell? I clenched my jaw. People died when they had to. It was all in destiny, right down to the precise moment. Nobody could do a fig about that. However, making profits was in our hands, and like fools, we were letting it slip through our fingers.   

Brrrng! My phone rang again. I looked at the screen, and my face contorted. It was the wife again.   

Why couldn’t she give me a break? As the intern, I had poured all my energies into courting her. How else could I get my hands in her dead father’s coffers or my name on her properties? But after years of marriage, insisting on being addressed as ‘poopsie-kins’ in public or calling me a hundred times a day was unacceptable.    

I put the phone face down; it rang a few times before giving up. I wished it were just as easy to shake off the clingy bitch.   

I searched for the cat as the server crammed our table with dishes. A rumble of purr drew me to the slender, morose-looking old man seated by the window. His rough red tunic and a conical hat, straight out of perhaps a Greek costume drama, glinted in the faint light of the rugged lamps. His dirty old beard seemed tangled and matted, as if it hadn’t been brushed for ages. The feline was wrapped around his feet.   

The old man caught my eye and smiled. I instantly looked down; for all I knew, he was a pesky peddler pawning trinkets to make easy money.   

However, the old man stood right beside me the next moment. When had he crossed the room?   

“I have something for you,” he whispered and fished out an ancient-looking watch from the folds of his tunic.   

I ignored him; these kinds of shoddy curios could only lure Allen. As expected, Allen leaned over. “Let me look at it,” he cried.   

“No, not you. Him,” the old man flicked his crooked chin towards me.   

“Buy it; It looks like an ancient collectable,” Allen prompted. The bastard was practically drooling.   

Collectable, my foot! “I don’t want it,” I said.   

“I’ll buy it,” Allen whined.   

The old man shook his head. I was delighted that Allen was spurned for me. I had to humour the old man, I decided. “I can’t give you more than a cent,” I declared.   

“All yours!” The old man announced, left the watch in my palm and edged out.   

Wh-at? My jaw dropped. Perhaps the watch was as worthless as the old geezer, I reflected.   

“Wow, what a bargain,” Allen said; I loved the mixture of jealousy and disbelief in his eyes. “Perhaps I should let you handle the meeting too,” he taunted, pushing a big morsel of raw vegetables in his mouth. “What’s the time by your new watch, Mr. Wolf?”   

I reluctantly slipped on the watch, momentarily taken aback by its shiny dial and regal straps. It didn’t look like the junk I expected it to be.   

“It says ten minutes past five,” I said. “Wait, it shows the date too—25th March.”   

“It’s running ten minutes early, dude. But the d-at-e is co-rr-e-c-t,” Allen struggled to speak.   

In that instant, a bout of cough seized him. He grabbed my shoulder and slammed the full force of his body weight against my torso.   

“—I can’t breathe—” he cried. Suddenly his grip relaxed, and he sank, striking the floor with a heavy thud. I panicked.

“Ambulance! We have an emergency here,” someone screamed. A crowd milled around; someone crouched and started CPR. I held my breath as minutes passed.   

I feared the worst when I peeked at Allen shortly after—he had stopped struggling, and his face had turned blue. An ambulance siren blared nearby. A rumble of footsteps and men dressed in white rushed to Allen. I inched closer. The paramedics worked frantically on him, but nothing changed.   

“Well, I’m sorry, your friend is dead,” the paramedic said, looking up, confirming what I had long suspected. “He was dead long before we got here,” said the other paramedic.   

My gaze flew to the wall clock—it said 6 O’clock; my wristwatch was still stuck at 5.10.

Something wasn’t right.   

My heart pounded, and the nerves in my temple throbbed like live wires. I put my hand in my jacket to grope for a handkerchief; my fingers struck something solid and round.   

I immediately drew the objects out; my mouth gaped. Two sizable gold coins glinting like a splotch of sunlight lay in the hollow of my palm; I clenched my fist and pushed them back into my pocket.   

What was happening? I frowned.   


If I thought Allen’s death was weird, the subsequent events were even more bizarre. Many more strange events followed in the coming days, leaving me questioning the watch and the old man.   

That evening, wrung to the bones, I dragged myself to the hotel. A heavily pregnant woman waddled down the walk before me. As she straightened her shoulders and smoothed her palm over her baby bump, I noticed a little kid trailing after her.   

“What’s the time, Mr.?” She suddenly spun and met my gaze.   

Her question jolted me; I quickly stared into the watch and read the time. The needles that had been stuck at 5.10 showed a different time now; It prompted me to yank out my phone and tally the time—it was accurate down to the last minute.   

She nodded, wrapped her palm over the kid’s wrist, and crossed the road.   

The next few moments were a blur. There was a screech of tires followed by a loud crash and shattering of glass. A cacophony of swearing and yelling mish-mashed with car horns jarred the air. Screaming ladies and agitated men rushed to the spot.   

My blood froze as I blinked through the cloud of dense smoke.   

“A truck lost control and hit an electric pole. Then, it cut across the walkway divider and rammed into the pregnant lady and her child,” I overheard a passerby.   

“The poor things died on the spot,” another lady cried.   

Everything happened in the blink of an eye; one minute, they were looking at me, and the next, they were lying lifeless in the middle of the road. My stomach coiled tight as I felt my jacket getting heavier. I quickly slid into an alley. Six shiny pieces of solid gold had clinked their way into my pocket.   

That night, when I signed the dotted line sealing the collaboration (with Allen gone, I was the deciding authority in the company) and boarded the return flight, I knew I had somehow hit the jackpot.    

Things picked up from then onwards.   

The next time was a week after returning from Greece. I was heading to a distress sale for a set of rural laboratories on the only ramshackle bus to the site. The vehicle was packed to its seams and took its sweet time to dawdle over bumpy, tumbledown roads.   

“What’s the time?” A labourer kept pestering me every other minute. For the first few times, I was patient. But then I lost it. “It’s four-thirty by my watch,” I screamed at the top of my lungs, unintentionally announcing it to the entire bus.    

People frowned.   

“Are you crazy? It’s not even twelve-thirty,” someone yelled from the back. They were right; the watch was running many hours early.   

And then they made it into a sort of game. “What’s the time?” someone or the other hollered every second minute. They burst into laughter when I replied, “Four-thirty.” Besides the reek of stale sweat, excrement and rotting food, that fiasco compelled me to step off the bus midway.   

Later, when I lounged in the guest house, gold coins flooded my pockets and surged to the ground in massive heaps. It was like the God of wealth pouring down rivers of gold from his cornucopia.    

The evening news clarified matters. The bus had slid off the highway and fallen into a deep gorge; there were no survivors. The reported time of the accident was four-thirty.

The incident convinced me of the underlying link between the gold, the time on the watch and the people who asked for the time.   

Then one night, I had a dream. As a boatman, I ferried the voiceless, faceless souls to the shores of the dead and collected the gold as my fee.   

I woke up with a start.   

I Googled my dream, and sure enough, something popped up. Charon, a Greek mythological figure, carted the deceased to the underworld and received the coins placed on the eyes of the corpses as his payment. I studied the pictures of Charon on the images of ancient black-figure pottery; the angel of death looked strikingly similar to the old man in the pub.   

Had I made a pact with the devil? Why had he chosen me?

I shrugged away the questions the next minute. As long as I got rich, everything was alright. People died when they had to. And there was nothing wrong with making money as people went about their businesses.   

The dream washed away the tiny bit of guilt that troubled me. I intensified my efforts; I surrounded myself with crowds, keeping my eyes glued to the watch. If it remained stuck to a particular time, it implied someone near me was on the brink of their death. Once they asked me the time, my job was done. Then, as they met their maker at the designated hour, my gold got delivered without delays or difficulties.   

The chase of easy wealth led me to slums, battered train carriages running on crumbling railroads and bridges, and even cancer wards at the hospital. The comforting tinkle of the gold coins shaking against each other was like a drug—heady, addictive and enticing.   

The gold piled up at an astounding rate by dint of my exertions. The watch turned my life around; I was in the saddle, both at the company and in my personal life. I didn’t need to mollycoddle my wife for mere money anymore.    

I bought elaborate estates, palatial pads, and even a private island in the world’s most sought-after locations. Luxury cars, top-of-the-line choppers and planes got added to my portfolio. Of course, I revelled in this blessed life in the company of the most magnificent women.

But it was on the sly. I kept my assets and affairs under wraps; I still shared the house with my wife to allay her suspicions. Even after all this, she was an albatross around my neck. Her never-ending questions, incessant phone calls, and possessive behaviour drove me to the edge, and I contemplated hiring a professional hitman to do her away. 

Then, suddenly, it happened. One morning, when she was rambling about something inconsequential, and I was counting the minutes to my next trip to the cancer ward—the watch stopped. I rechecked it; the fortuitous hour was eight o’clock in the night.    

I drew my lips in a tight line to thwart the laughter rippling inside. I wanted to jump and do a jig right there. But I reined in my emotions. The cancer ward could wait; this was way more important.   

I decided I had to be around her all day to give her ample opportunity to ask for the time. No fucking way I would lose out on the bounty on her head.   

“Poopsie-kins, I miss us. Why don’t we spend the whole day together like old times?” I said, inching close to her, my voice saccharine sweet. I pushed a wisp of hair behind her ear and gently rolled my finger on her cheek. She was a gullible, pathetic fool. Putty in my hand.   

“R-really, are you sure?” she stuttered, gobsmacked by the sudden tenderness. I pasted on my finest, never-failing come hither look in my eyes and drew her closer.  

Throughout the morning, I checked the watch innumerable times; it didn’t move even by a micromillimeter. I had no reason to doubt it; it had never lied. But as hours dwindled, I grew impatient. I concluded I needed a strategy; I could be a free man once she asked me the time, and she could conk out however she liked.   

So, when she skipped around arranging candles, pouring wine, and rustling my favourite delicacies, I hid all the clocks and watches in the house. Even her phone. Now, she had no option but to ask me if she wanted to know the time.   

The hag was captivated by all the attention she had been craving for all these months. We had a romantic evening together; I indulged her every whim and sexual fantasy. I endured it all, in my benevolence and partly by imagining myself in the arms of one of my buxom mistresses.   

All the action coaxed her into a deep sleep. Overwrought with glee, anxiety, and uncertainty, I could do nothing but wait; my phone confirmed that there were still many hours until eight o’clock.   

I decided to pass the time by taking a long, luxurious bath, filling the tub with warm water, and topping it with sudsy soaps and fragrant essential oils; I plunged into the delicious cocoon.

I crooned my favourite number, read a few pages of the luxury travel magazine, and drank more wine. Before I knew it, I was fast asleep, dreaming of voluptuous women and cities of gold.   

I woke up with a start.   

I quickly wrapped a towel around myself and threw the bathroom door open. The wind tapped against the glass windows; it was pitch-dark outside. Where was the wife?   

I darted to my walk-in wardrobe, where I had left my beloved watch and my phone.   

“What’s the time?” I said aloud, thinking whether I had missed the crucial hour.   

“Why, it’s eight o’clock, darling,” she said, swivelling to face me.

Cold sweat dripped from my brow; my precious watch was wrapped around her wrist.  

The walls closed around me as my muscles crawled under my skin; my chest tightened. Somewhere a cat purred, and an old man laughed; I fell flat on the floor.    

The last thing I saw was the flash of two gold coins at her feet.   




Baklava, loukoumi, ekmek kataifi- Greek desserts   

What’s the time, Mr. Wolf? – A classic kids’ party game    


Picture credit- Brigitte Werner(Pixabay) 

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  1. Great story. Loved the flow and narration and the execution.

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