4.30 is the loneliest time of the day. To be precise, it’s the two loneliest times of the day. Morning and afternoon.

Which is pretty ironic, because 4.30 is one digit away from a scrambled 143 without the decimal point: a constant, final period that transmutes numbers to unyielding, unbending time.

Why is it ironic, you say? And what’s with 143?

Pager codes, baby. Old school I-love-yous, more personal than postal codes, not secret, just three digits shared by everyone, that somehow keep their pristine, sparkling edges. Back in the day when binary code love didn’t include painful Facebook yearning and flirty tweets, before you learned to Instagram your love in a filtered, souped up hyperbole of false-front colours and blurred boundaries, before we learned that emotions were a commodity – we had a different kind of binary code: 143. We had pagers. And sometimes, we were in love.

It would be a strange but unsurprising coincidence if it turned out that the exact number of 143s sent at 4.30 equals 430,000. Close to half a million souls reaching out for their number 1 to complete the equation, at the loneliest time in the clock.

Why is 4.30 the loneliest time?

The 4.30 that happens when everyone is asleep – that’s the less lonely of the 4.30s. Sure, you feel like a (insomna)maniac, a strange somnambulist subspecies, but the thing is, with binary code bromance that defies geographical boundaries, the thing is, at this 4.30, millions of interesting people on the exact opposite side of the globe are wide awake, too. And they’re bored. They’re lonely. And they’re experiencing their 4.30.

The daylight 4.30.

Which is far, far more lonely than your 4.30, which is already being invaded by mad, twittering birds – that’s twitter with a small  T, kiddo – while your fingers chirp on the keyboard. This 4.30, the one that you face in the dark, it’s lonely, but not because you’re alone. You’re not: everyone around you isn’t paying much attention to you because they’re asleep, or trying to be. You’re not actually alone at 4.30 in the morning. It just seems that way.

4.30 in the afternoon is a completely different creature. It’s the last bastion of your concentration for the work-day, five cups of coffee have made you feel barely human, a strange mutant compared to your normal, normative yardsticks: colleagues, friends, that cheerful guy who delivers the mail and never seems to have a bad day (he does, but he’s better at coping than you are).

In this 4.30, which seems to drag on forever, the day has lost its shiny patina, and so have the smiles that accidentally get flung in your direction. In this 4.30, people are getting tired, patience is rationed, and everyone’s starting to think of dinner, the commute home, their dog, their boyfriend, cats on the Internet – they’re thinking of everything, everything but you. You feel completely and utterly ignored, insignificant. Insomnia, you realize, is a better option. You’re surrounded by people, but it doesn’t seem that way at all. You really are alone.

The solution?

I don’t have one. I was never good with numbers, and I can’t solve for the value of x in an equation that doesn’t involve pager codes and/or binary emotions.

Wait. I have an idea. The answer is – it’s not 42 – the answer is 4.31.

It’s 143 scrambled, and even with that prim, unforgiving period keeping the digits apart, it’s the next in the narrative after 4.30.

 

It’s messy love, chunky, clumsy love in disguise: the opposite of the stark zero of 4.30, a slender, carefree 1 rising from that horrid, frozen moment that was 4.30.

 

I fucking miss pager codes.

 

 

Photo: Steven Snodgrass