This morning I was sitting reading a book eating a bagel in the cafe on the way to work, like I do most days, when somebody asked me the time. I checked my watch and answered him without thinking. Then he asked me the date and year. I looked up. "December 20th, 2003," I said to the thin, slightly wrinkled sixty-year-old man who'd asked me the question. He was stirring a cup of tea.
"Thanks very much," said the man, walking past me and sitting down at the table immediately behind me. I noticed that there was a younger man following him, looked like he was in his late teens, who sat at the same table. He was slurping a Coke. I immediately thought that they might be father and son or something. Somewhere between that and teacher and pupil.
"Much better," the man remarked as they sat down.
"Yeah," replied the kid, taking a slurp of his drink and savouring it. "Coke tastes a whole lot better in 2003 than it does in our time," he said. "Probably because it's not been recycled x times."
"The place does change a lot," replied the older man. "I'd almost forgotten what it was like without the dust. So much cleaner."
"What Bond movie were they up to now?"
The gent laughed. "Strange question! Let me think. There's the hundredth anniversary coming up next year, so call it one movie every two years..."
"About nineteen or twenty," said the kid. "That'll be one of the Brosnans."
I blink. Hang about. "Our time"?
"There are some things that you can never forget, no matter how hard you try," said the gent. "Fresh air that's not filled with harmful chemicals and nanites. Clothing that's not made of artifical polymers but proper spun cotton or wool. Hard cash! Having actual money in your hands, I never thought I'd miss that. You know, I often wish I could come back here to live permanently."
Fif- sixty years... This has to be some kind of joke...
"Yeah, you said," said the youth. "I thought about it too. But there are some things about it I could never stand. 2D televisions. Or their laughable excuses for computers. And the internet, pre-moderation. Before the Metabase came in. And then you've got the medical and hygienic aspects to contend with. No nanonic immune system. You'd be breathing germs every day of your life, almost completely unprotected. And even if you could cope with all that, what about the war? Would you choose to live here, knowing what was coming? Knowing what you'd have to live through all over again? I know I wouldn't."
"No. I guess not. But that is, of course, the purpose of our visit. We'd better get going or we'll be late for our appointment."
They got up and left, not paying me any attention at all. I turned around and watched them walk away, while trying to get my head around what just happened.
I can imagine that they probably rounded the corner and then burst out with laughter. It would be a very slick joke to play, after all. Making someone think you were from another time... Practical jokers or something. Maybe even a hidden camera show. I dunno. Another surreal day in the life.
But there was something ringing in my head, something about Bond movies.