Chapter Two

Were you to ask a time-sweeper, they would tell you one surprising thing: time enjoyed is never time wasted. Cleaning up in a large office full of staggering tedium, the time-sweeper will pass straight by the desk of the woman who is reading a holiday catalogue under the desk, poring over photos of tropical beaches. They will pass by the next desk, where a man is enjoyably wondering what his mother-in-law looks like naked, and stop by the desk of the young man who is counting every minute, and loathing the hours.

You may wonder what happens to the wasted time after it has all been cleaned up. Never fear, the time-sweepers are ardent recyclers. It is collected, packed into large containers, moved to Liverpool docks, loaded onto a ship, and taken to India. There, in a dusty industrial estate somewhere near Bombay, it is cleaned, sorted, and graded. The most toxic and poisoned time – the residues of failed peace negotiations, wrongful imprisonments and truly poisonous marriages, is skimmed off and buried in a tank underneath a disused army base. There, it will take two or three centuries to decay, and become harmless again.

The rest of the time – made up of stuff such as dull meetings, missed appointments, delayed buses and bad nights at the theatre, is cleaned and put back onto a ship, where it is taken to the Guangzhou industrial export processing zone. Here it is compressed and stored, awaiting redistribution. Around twenty percent goes direct to the factories of the export processing zone, which has the world's highest productivity rate. A quarter is bought in hard dollars by the Chinese government. Ten percent of the most concentrated stuff is sold to a cryogenics laboratory in California. Another twenty or so percent is discreetly sold to a variety of rich private clients, mostly old, rich men who have married beautiful young women.

However, the time-sweepers are not in it for profit. The money from these deals pays for their operations, including dusters, bin-bags, overalls and shipping. The rest is distributed to good causes. No-one who gets any extra time has to fill in any forms, or ask for a grant. They are all quite unaware that they are in receipt of assistance. One of these beneficiaries is a shabby and overtired scientist in a crumbling public laboratory outside Novosibirsk, who will be the man to find the vaccine for malaria. Another is a prostitute in a Nairobi slum who has fostered seventeen children, and who, despite twenty years in the business, never falls ill. A third is the Indian taxi-driver in a cramped flat in Toronto, who, in between sending money home to a sick wife and children, is writing what will later be acknowledged as the greatest novel of the century.

The End

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