It arrived with a second class stamp in the top right corner of the envelope. The edges were curled and it had my name and address handwritten in the centre. It was slightly battered from its journey that ended on my doormat. I walked back through the hallway and dropped it on the dining room table, continued making eggs in the kitchen. After straining and dropping them poached on my toast I walked back through and sat at the table, placing my plate down onto the chequered cloth. The sun was cascading through the window in crisp deltas of light. My knife chinked as the food disappeared and I pushed the remains, a piece of crust and a smear of yolk, to the side of my plate.
I stared at the letter. I didn’t recognise the writing style, and was not from a familiar hand. After flipping it over once or twice I dug my thumb under the paper fold and tore along the top edge. I retrieved a single piece of paper from inside. I unfolded the top third of the sheet. Below my address and name, both handwritten, a message in large printed text:
‘Your Time Back’
Three words in large, italic letters at the top of the sheet. I opened it from the three segments it was folded into. Underneath it read ‘or your money back’, in smaller print. It was immediately obvious that there was smaller print still, but I didn’t pursue it. I raised an eyebrow and slid the letter back into its envelope. I put it down, took my washing up to the sink and got ready to leave the house. The letter never crossed my mind once during the whole of my day at the office.
Arriving home at six thirty I hung my jacket, dropped my bag under the stairs and changed into more comfortable clothes. I made dinner as the sky drained itself of daylight, and sat down to eat at around Eight o’ clock. Hungry from a day at the office, I demolished my pasta quickly. Sitting and letting my food digest I peered out of the window at the blackening night. A few stars were starting to pierce through the layers of dark sky from somewhere deep in space. Before long my gaze returned to the room and to the letter that was still on the table from the morning. I reached out and picked it up, shook a few crumbs from its surface, and looked at it again. Only then did it dawn on me the ludicrous nature of the offer. I decided there and then to read further. Phrases leapt out at me from the body of the text as I scanned it over. ‘We promise to get you your life back. Reclaim years of wasted time and unspent moments. For a fee of £500 we can provide you with the time of your life. Subscribe today.’
Sneering to myself as I progressed down the page, I continued reading. It seemed to be a business venture that explicitly promised, without any obvious irony or dry humour, your youth back. Reading further it seemed to imply that by reading a series of booklets, delivered in instalments, you could reacquire days gone by. I laughed at the concept. Someone was actually making profit out of this scheme, reeling in the susceptible and the desperate, tapping into ageist consumerism in a ruthless and cynical way. Time equals money. There was a small image at the bottom of the page, a silhouette of an Albatross. It was obviously a company logo. I tried
to forget the ridiculous scheme and walked around the house and watered the plants and washed the dishes, but I could not escape the loop of the thinking that the letter had provoked. I engaged a critical perspective and thought that maybe some investigative efforts could unravel and expose the organisation as charlatans. I was a journalist after all.
Something needs to be done about this, I said to myself finally, it’s about time someone put an end to these cynical schemes. After filling in my personal details on the back of the letter and attaching a cheque for the required sum, I felt a sense of ease wash over me. I was in control and I was going to find out what was at the heart of this corrupt venture. I folded the sheet into a fresh envelope and left it on the table for when I left the next morning, ready to be posted.
I had almost forgotten about my endeavour by the time I got the response six weeks later. Weeks had dozed by in an aimless sprawl of work and bad television. I recognised the handwriting immediately as I saw the second envelope, larger than the first, lying again on the doormat. This time I opened it straight away and sat down in the comfortable chair in the living room, ready to find out what it was all about. Opening the pack I unravelled another letter and a small booklet. The booklet had the words ‘Your Prescription: Part One’ across its centre. I placed it down on the arm of the chair and opened up the new letter. I quickly read over it. It mentioned the words escapism, youth, vitality, and talked about “total immersion”. It used the language of spirituality, while the barcode and fee ensured it was demanding the commitment of commerce. Holding it in my hands I felt it was a worthy experiment to engage with, to set my powers of investigation to. I’ll unravel this malicious shitpile of a venture if it kills me.
I hated the corporate inclusion of philosophy, and detested the callous agility of late capitalism with its remorseless pursuit of all things sacred. I knew I had to engage though, had to give it some kind of recognition and acceptance to continue with my critical endeavour. If I stuck to my guns I could bring the whole thing down, expose its filthy tricks and exploitative games. My resolve was strong. I reread the first part in bed that night and tried to get to sleep while thinking about the content of the booklet. Whether it was aspiring to a sensation of youth, psychological regression, or actual physical transformation was unclear. After an hour or so of running over things in my mind with a determination that was not conducive to the hour of day, I finally managed to get to sleep.
Two weeks later the next booklet arrived. I called in sick at work, telling my boss I had a fever, and devoured the thing in a single sitting. This time it focused on yoga techniques, physical stretches and exercises. This, it said, was making the body supple enough to engage and initiate the processes that were involved with the ‘reacquisition of time’.
At the end of the booklet there was a large section that gave the reader warning about the following section. ‘You have prepared the mind and you have prepared the body,’ it said, ‘and the first two steps are of huge importance. But,’ it continued, ‘be aware that this is your final chance to pursue your life in its natural course. The following stages do not agree with everyone and is committed to at your own risk.’
I practised the yoga moves for the rest of the afternoon and in the spare evenings for the rest of the week. Gradually my muscles became more and more supple and before long I could perform the Bharadvajasana and the Virasana without much difficulty. I started moving on to positions like the Parsva Bakasana before completing the attached form in the requested black ink, committing myself to the rest of the development.
I had a little laugh to myself as I thought of the research that I had put to one side to pursue this venture. I knew though that practical experience was ten times more valuable than theory and study. My lecturers said so at college. Journalism is a direct pursuit that you have to involve yourself in entirely.
In the following weeks more booklets came, all of them insisting they were the final installment. All of them ending mid sentence, leaving me gasping for more.
I thought about quitting.
I couldn’t stop now.
A serious period of activity followed where I became extremely adept at putting my body into intricate positions at short notice. My legs folded themselves into unpredictable shapes at the bat of an eyelid. Before too long the hours started to bend, days became amorphous surroundings for my body and mind to occupy. There was a desire escalating in my mind to forego work and indulge only in the pursuits of the letter and its instructions. I sacrificed assignments as well as social engagements to further my study.
In the library I practiced a stretch near the enquiries desk and partook in a moment of meditation by the photocopier. I went to the cinema and read the latest booklet in a whisper while the trailers rolled. After some whole hearted attempts I accepted it wasn’t working, didn’t seem to produce the effect of an overlap into my old self.
After some scrutiny I realised the other part of my life had diminished so severely that it was barely identifiable. Vanished into a haze of pamphlets and muscle stretches. In a panic I rang work and tried to explain my investigation to my manager.
Who? He replied when I told him my name. I hung up the receiver before he did.
I sat down and cried as I realised what I had done.
I was Fully committed now. It was obvious too that there was nothing to fall back on, no contingency. I read over the latest instalment, the latest fix of psycho-immersive babble. It was no more or less refined than the earlier ones.
‘Forget everything that inhibits you and focus on the future.’
Slightly further down, it read ‘all eventualities are possible if you want them to be’. I stared at the now familiar image of the Albatross logo. I was ready to write and ask for my money back when the present vanished.