He sat comfortably on his futon, patiently gazing at his wristwatch, waiting until the moment it would stop ticking.
The watch was his most treasured possession, a gift from his tenth birthday. “Use it wisely, son,” they’d told him, “this is all the time you have in this world.” He had.
The watch gave him confidence. Death was never an obstacle, and so he had never been afraid. Never had he had to worry about infections or carcinogens or poisons because he knew exactly when his death would happen. At 17, he joined a slightly questionable traveling circus, mostly because he wanted to see the world. He saw beautiful landscapes but came to realize that many people (interestingly, usually the more well-off) came to watch the circus hoping something would go wrong.
In his teenage years, there were many times when he would doubt his gift. Why did he have this watch? Who had the power to know when he would die? How? Were there other people in the world in a similar situation? Was he allowed to reveal his secret to the world? He never got any answers, but decided that keeping his gift as a secret would be in his best interests. He imagined horror stories of being dissected in a lab in order to mass produce similar watches for more people and decided that the cost of potential exploitation was not one he was willing to pay.
Eventually, he realized that while he had an amazing advantage no one else had that allowed him to pull death-defying stunts absolutely care-free, he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life on the move. At 23, he rented a suit and went for a job interview in a growing firm in a city of opportunities. Much to his surprise, he was offered the job despite his paltry resume. He had only listed his high school diploma and that he used to make a living sticking his head in the mouth of a lion. “You seem like a knowledgeable young man who’s willing to go all the way,” they’d told him.
At 25, he performed the heroic feat of running into a burning building to save a woman trapped inside. Subsequently, he and this woman got to know each other well. She was beautiful, lovely, with an incredible wit, and was climbing the corporate ladder of a big firm. She was many great things but not a dangerous or strange character. At 27, he married her.
At 32, he left his job. He started a new company with the help of one of his childhood best friends and his wife. They had been skeptical as it was a big risk, but they’d always seen his boldness and risk-taking payoff (of course, they didn’t know that death wasn’t an obstacle, but being bankrupt was), so they reluctantly went through with it. At 34, the company made its first million.
Soon, his life became full of mundane but extraordinary things, like living in a big house with three kids and a dog. That’s not to say he wasn’t living life to the fullest, he was, he just realized that climbing mountains and swimming through oceans wasn’t interesting if he was alone. He became the “cool dad” of the neighborhood; his children’s friends would come over and listen to his stories with fascination.
This did not diminish him as a person. He was happy being more of a family man. Still, on family vacations, he took pleasure in being the only one daring enough to go cliff diving or touch the bottom of an icy lake. Nobody could ever quite understand where his complete lack of fear came from and many thought it odd when he jumped at opportunities like cliff diving even in his fifties. Whenever asked, he would just say that he believed life is short and he wanted to live it to the fullest.
He was extremely grateful for the watch. The watch gave him fearlessness and invincibility. Although someone else would probably have used this knowledge to live a life of extremes, without the watch his unexciting life wouldn’t have been nearly as great. His valor led him to his wife and let him see the world.
And today, at the age of 63, he looked at his watch as it reached its final seconds. He had made his peace with dying years ago. It was a deadline (he always loved that pun). Although at the beginning of his life, there was many a time when he questioned and feared this final due date on everything he would ever do, he now embraced it. He found it empowering. The security in knowing the exact pressure of time had given him a reason to get out of bed every morning and live his days as best as he could. The finiteness of life forced him to appreciate every sunrise that he woke up every day. He was thankful the lifestyle the watch had given him.
Over the past few months, he had planned for his death, selling things he knew no one that mattered to him cared about and donating the proceeds to close family and friends and even various charities, ensuring his legacy as a kind human being. He spent his last day saying goodbye to everyone.
He’d shaken hands with his business partner, the man he had trusted the most for the longest time. Four. He’d hugged all his kids tightly. They thought it was odd as they were quite old now, but he didn’t care. Three. His dog came up the him and licked his hand. Two. He had kissed his wife one last time. One. He closed his eyes and waited for whatever came next.
And then, nothing. Not oblivion, just absolutely nothing. His first realization was that he could still feel his dog licking his hand. Then, he realized, the watch had stopped ticking. He was still very much alive.
For the first time in his life, he was afraid.