I grew up in a world of ticks and tocks. My father made clocks, my mother sold them, and I would watch and listen, knowing that I would one day sell the clocks and eventually make them. As a kid, my life was fairly uneventful, many would even call it quite boring. Every day I would awake and go through the city with my parents, through the cacophony of the whirring and clanging of machines, mostly the widgets and bots, doing all sorts of tasks their owners couldn't be bothered to. I never found myself very fond of all the noise, which many found quite odd, those people often said such noises inspired them. I didn't understand such nonsense. For me, the clock shop was the only place I could concentrate and think. Instead of having to listen to the noise of the city, I only had to listen to the tick… tock of the timekeepers that surrounded me.
The utter quietness of our shop often prompted those not used to it to attempt to start conversations to fill the void. I remember once, an older man with a brown mustache entered the shop wearing a blue jacket with a frilly white shirt below it, high-quality brown pants, and a matching blue top hat donned with gold goggles--for decoration rather than function--walk into the store and get paralyzed, as if he had never been surrounded by the utter quietness or the tick… tocks of the surrounding merchandise. The first thing he said to my mother at the counter was, “Lovely weather we’re having.” It was raining.
My father was one of the only clockmakers in the entire city, most don't have the patience for such work. This prompted many visitors of all sorts to enter. It certainly kept the business alive and going strong as those living in both luxury and poverty needed to know what the time was to make sure they could get to meetings, make deadlines, and keep track of work shifts.
In our city, the divide between these two classes was clear: while everyone either owned or created things (at least that’s what the government would report), your social status was determined by what you did with those things. If you simply owned things, went out shopping, and had the ability to focus on further progressing the hectic gizmos that filled our city, that meant you lived in luxury. If you made your things using funds from the government, only to sell all of them to those who could own things, barely able to make ends meet after the government took their share of the profits, then that meant you were in the lower class. Outside of that, it was very rare—at least according to government statistics—to find anyone who didn't at least posses things to sell, nor was there much middle ground where you were able to both own a little and sell a little. Despite that, my family was a rare case that fell into this gray area. My father sold most of what he made, but was able to keep one or two of his works each year. Being in both a gray area and one of the only stores that sold such an essential part of life in the city me to consistently be in one of the few rooms where the upper and lower classes would mingle.
More often than not, it is clear who belongs to which class just by the clothes they wear and how well kept they are, or, at least, that’s the indicator I use. When someone in their worn clothes with messy hair, oil-stained skin, and plain, worn goggles walks in while someone with a suit, top hat, freshly-ironed pants, and shiny black shoes is examining our items, I know to listen, as something interesting is more likely to happen here and now than any other time or place in the city.
Most of the time, the two just make an awkward glance at each other and try to stay separate as much as possible, as of ignoring each other. Though, more often than not, you see the effort made more by the upperclassmen than the relative peasant. What I watch for is the rare occasion a conversation gets going between the two. Usually, if the two get to talking, the sentences they exchange are short and simple.
“What are you here for?” the lower class person would say.
“A wrist watch. I keep finding myself late to meetings involving official business,” the other replies.
“So you work for the government?” the first would clarify.
The second nods and both parties go silent again,as if further interaction was forbidden. Such exchanges occur nearly every day within our shop. The uneasiness of these situations was only amplified by the tick… tock… that came in the pauses of silence.
It always intrigued me that there was such an uneasiness between the two parties, like they had a reason to be scared of the other or dislike them. I always thought the city ran like clockwork, or a complex machine, each person having their own place in making sure that everything went smoothly. In general, I tended to think that people were at least contempt with their life and how they fit into the clockwork, though the interactions I saw each day seemed to imply there was some sort of greater tension. My father would always tell me that in order for a clock to keep time, each piece needed to be exact and properly functioning. If these conversations were anything to go by, the clockwork was on the verge of falling apart. I can still pinpoint the moment it happened.
There were two people in the store, and neither had noticed me, my mother was in the back of the shop looking for a specific model of watch the wealthier of the two had requested. One was a well known government official, who stopped into our shop about once a year to get a new wrist watch, and the other was living in the slums of the city as a botsmith, someone who made and programmed the gizmos the upper-class used for construction and as servants. He had clearly scrounged up what he could to replace a clock he used to keep track of the deadlines for his shipments.
“I just don't get how you guys can sit in a position of power and ignore the fact that you take so much of our profits that we can't even afford to support a family,” the first commented.
“Excuse me?” the official replied in an offended tone.
“I make enough off of any one shipment to buy my own airship, but by the time you guys come in and steal my profit, I can barely afford half a loaf of bread a month!”
“Well, don't forget we pay for your materials and workshop. Such costs need compensation,” the official reasoned.
“How much does it actually cost you? I can't believe that you guys would take thousands away to compensate the cost of barely enough materials to complete my shipments and a tiny workshop I have to share with eight others. How much does it really cost? A couple hundred? You screw us over so you can stay in power.”
“How dare you accuse me of such things! Without us, you would be on the streets starving to death!”
“Without you, I would be a millionaire! Even when we ask you for any kind of additional aid, often just extra food to compensate for how much profit you take and to keep us from being hungry, you do nothing!”
“We do nothing because you don't need that extra support. You all aren't dying, for heaven’s sake!”
“Yes, but we have a right to aspire to be more than just a lowly botsmith!”
“Without good botsmiths like you, how would our city expand? You need to think of how much you do for the city.”
“Be honest, how expendable am I? How many others are there who do the same thing? If I died, would anyone in your government even notice?!”
The peasant didn't wait for an answer, he stormed out of the shop. My mother came out with the watch the official was asking about and he purchased it a few minutes later, showing no sign or care or emotion about the exchange or the peasant. I sat there, listening to the clocks.
Tick… tock… tick… tock...