It began with a boy band.
Cojonez, the teen sensations who made Mayan maidens swoon with their renditions of other people’s ballads, and especially with their song about human sacrifices being tossed into the volcano (“Flying Without Wings”) wanted to “give something back to their fans”, in other words find some sort of merchandise that said fans would pay a lot of money for.
They went to see young local artist Hotwotlbotl and got him to do a calendar for the coming year, 250 BC, with a picture of one of them on each page. By March they had all sold out, so they asked him to start on 249 BC (no, I don’t know either). Then, well aware that the popularity of boy bands can be fleeting they got him to do the next five years as well.
They had woken a sleeping dragon. Hotwotlbotl had been the kind of kid who, when asked to write his address, would write “Hotwotlbotl, Hut 4, Aztec Temple Road, Maya, Mexico, South America, Earth, The Universe, Space”. Having discovered a project like this one he was never going to let it go.
When he’d finished the five years he started, of his own accord, on the following one. Then the next, and the next. Without trains to spot, stamps to collect or blogs to fill this became his hobby. As years passed (backwards) it became his obsession.
Because he was an artist he drew random pictures into some of the boxes, having no idea of the effect that this would have in centuries to come. A cloud drawn on July 28, 1914, the day of the outbreak of the First World War, was said to predict the cloud that the world would be under. Yet a cloud drawn on May 29, 1953, the day Hillary climbed Everest, was claimed to predict that on that day man would rise above the clouds. A cloud drawn on September 12, 1931, a day on which absolutely nothing important happened, was said to mean that somewhere in the world it was going to rain.
On April 15, 1912, the day the Titanic sank, he had drawn a hedgehog. Scholars tend to keep quiet about that one.
He filled two thousand years in just ten, rather like you feel if you go on holiday to a theme-park. He was too busy for human contact, apart from a girl called Ithixa, who used to call every couple of days to make sure he had remembered to eat. Ithixa had been in his class at school, and was also a quiet and scholarly soul. She had loved Hotwotlbotl ever since the day he sat beside her at a school outing and had enthralled her as he recited the periodic elements table. Over the years she had tried to get him to go out with her, but he was always too busy with his calendar. Then February 29, 244 arrived. She asked him on a date, and because it was a leap year he couldn’t refuse.
As he left his hut he put a big X on the next day he had to fill in, to remind himself how far he’d got. He could rub it out later.
They went for some hot chocolotl and talked and talked, about astronomy, about physics and about a relatively new science, archaelogy. At the end of the evening he looked at her, really looked for the very first time, and said “I never realised how beautiful you’ve become.”
She smiled. “And not only that,” she said, “I can list all the prime numbers from 1 to 2671.”
The next morning he woke up, in love with Ithixa and in bed with her too. “Look at the time,” he said, scrambling up. “I have to work on my calendar.”
“Seriously,” she said. “it’s time to give it up.”
“Get a life. With me.”
He looked down at her, and suddenly felt the ghosts of flowers unpicked, of sunsets unadmired, of lady mud-wrestling contests unwatched.
“I’ve wasted so many years,” he said. “What was I thinking?” He picked up the now huge tome and hurled it out into the garden. She clapped, and he got back into bed.
“It’s a shame in a way,” he said. “I only had eleven days left to finish the year I was working on.”
“Who cares?” she said. “It’s not the end of the world.”