“Step forward -that’s right! Now, grasp this sand -yes, in both hands. That’s right, sir.”
Wondering, he thrusts both hands forward. Sensing the weight against calloused palms it overflows, draining with the pull of gravity to spill upon his shoes, the floor, the table legs.
“That’s right: step forward to the table. Quickly, now! Choose which of these bottles in which to pour your sand.”
Gravity is cruel. It pulls more and more from his hands as he frantically searches for an identifier on the glass bottle fronts. Which is which? How will he know what he is choosing -!?
“Your time is running out and you cannot get more until tomorrow…”
A blue bottle catches his eye; a portly one which reminds him of a fat man. He leans and manages to dump a measure in, to a halfway point. -Not too much, though; what if he chose poorly?
“That’s it. Good. But what of the others? Do you wish to spend all day at that one?”
Probably not, he thinks, and thrusts toward the nearest bottles. A squat red jar, two narrow green-tinted vases, and a pinkish jug each receive a bottom’s full. The red jar’s neighbor, a dubious black container, accidentally receives a bit more than even the first.
The booming tone frazzles his nerves, already high-strung from the continued loss of sifting hand-sand. With not much left, he jerks his cupped palms hither and thither. The table claims much if not most of what’s left. Ten random jars each carry a small dusting. He looks round; no one seems to be watching. Quickly, he gathers table sand and deposits it into a comely emerald urn. He dusts any lingering pieces from his fingers, his heart racing.
“Ah, I see you are done. Let’s see: Fortunately for you, your first choice was sleep. Some poor fool last hour completely neglected that one. Not a bad number in exercising, either. Work has even more than sleep; yes, this black one, here. I’m not sure how you’re going to feel much accomplishment from only a few grains in household upkeep, budgeting, personal hygiene, nor expenses. The fewest grains seem to be, here, in leisure….”
His hopes raised at the news of sleep; deflated somewhat at the exercise. He was just going to ask whether leisure might be a bit higher than budgeting when he notices a shadow frowning over the green urn.
“Hmmm. Odd. You’ve a fair bit in meals, here, but they’re not the best quality. It’s almost as though some other, older bits of grit are in here. …Perhaps the urn wasn’t quite cleaned -or the sand. Well, I’m afraid your nourishment will not be the best sort. At least you’ll have it though, eh? Not like that woman just yesterday…”
He watches in astonishment as arms wave over the table and every bit of sand within the containers rises into the air. They’re colored like the vases or jugs or urns they traveled from and dance in a dusty swirling cloud which follows the circling arms. The cloud condenses within the taskmaster’s shaping hands and resolves into parchment.
“Your day. You’ll see it has everything you chose. Now, take it and exit behind me through the large wooden doors. Move along, move along.”
He stumbles unsteadily out the exit indicated, an exit he swore was not there when he first entered the room with the pouring sand and the table. Between his careworn yet clean fingers he clenches his hard-won paper prize. From the closing door behind him calls the echoing voice again:
“Next! Now, don’t be shy -don’t be shy. Step forward, ma’am, and take your sand…”