Instead of stopping passers-by and asking ‘excuse me, do you know what time it is?’ my brother thought it was hilarious to stop passers-by and ask ‘excuse me, do you know what time is?’ ‘All I have to do is remove the word ‘it’ from the sentence’, he laughingly used to point out. It was half a joke, half an experiment. He kept a record of the replies he got in a journal. His favourite answer to receive was also the most common. This answer was: ‘I’m not sure’. With this answer, the passer-by had set themselves up for my brother’s killer blow. ‘I’m not sure’, a passer-by would say and my brother would roar at them ‘why do you wear a watch then, you big eejit?’
There was one occasion when an elderly gentleman entertained my brother’s question and attempted to answer it. ‘Time is the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future, regarded as a whole’, said the man. My brother stared at him and said nothing for a moment. Then he spoke. ‘Don’t be so fucking naïve’, he told the old man before going on to explain that ‘time is a trap’. The old man departed, perturbed. ‘What did you mean by time is a trap?’ I asked my brother. ‘Ah, it’s just something Dickie Davies said on the telly’, he replied before going indoors to catch that day’s sports results.
Passers-by rarely took issue with my brother accosting them. I think it was because he was such an intense looking kid. It wasn’t that you’d be in fear of physical violence from the guy. It was more a feeling that he could cast a spell on you, a hex or something. There was something in his eyes that hinted at incomprehensible knowing, even though he was only eleven years old at the time. Whatever time is.