Bounce Nakmara Three-Five-Four turned north and piloted her cradle up the ramp of the grand old university building. Where had Professor Japaljarri said he’d be? Go up the ramp and turn east, then south, then east again down the corridor. Third office to the south. Ah, there it was.
Bounce brought her cradle to a hovering stop north of the door, smoothing down her hair-clay and adjusting the computer around her neck. They had communicated over the internet for months, but this would be Bounce’s first face-to-face meeting with her adviser on Anglophone tribal law.
Officially, of course, there was no such thing as Anglophone law. The Native Eurasians were supposed to be civilized, governed by the same system as everyone else. In fact, Anglophones mostly huddled in their enclave, following customs older than anything from the Southern Hemisphere.
“Hello, Bounce,” said Japaljarri as she piloted her cradle through the door, “where are you coming from?”
“North-north-east about 11 miles.” The Anglophone enclave, in other words.
“Excellent,” said Japaljarri. “Back to the enclave! And how are the Anglophones?”
Bounce had a list of questions for her adviser, mostly words in the Anglophone language, which Japaljarri did his best to answer. Anything he couldn’t, she’d just have to figure out herself. There was no higher authority on English in the world.
They compared notes as the sunlight tracked across the window to the south. “I’m also curious about this leave-taking formula,” said Bounce eventually. She highlighted the phrase shining from the projector on her computer.
“‘See you’?” read Japaljarri. “Yes, it’s a contraction of see you later.”
“Or see you tomorrow, yes,“ said Bounce. “But look at these attestations: See you on Monday. See you on Thursday. I’ve counted seven of these nonsense words — ”
“They’re not nonsense,” said Japaljarri. “The seven days of the week,” he used the English word, “are named after the seven celestial bodies of the Native Eurasian superstitious calendar. The zodiac.”
“Well, the Anglophones don’t know that,” Bounce told him. “I asked them. They just said ‘Wednesday means Wednesday,’ or something equally unhelpful.”
“Well — ”
Bounce raised a hand to stop him. “But here’s the thing I noticed: the days of the week are always in the same order. Monday always comes after Sunday and Tuesday always comes after Monday. After Saturday comes Sunday again.”
“Interesting.” Japaljarri twisted his fingers north of his computer. “You ought to read Napangardi Six-Six-One on the symbolism of The Circle in Sub-Himalayan Eurasia. I have the link somewhere…” He turned to his shelf of codeces on the western wall of his office. “Or was it in hard copy?”
“I still haven’t gotten to the weird part,” said Bounce.
His eyes focused back on her. “Oh?”
“The days of the week map on to actual days,” said Bounce. “Today is Thursday. Two days ago, my host brother left, saying ‘see you Thursday,’ and today he came back. That got me thinking, so I asked him when he left. He answered ‘Tuesday.'” She counted off on her fingers. “Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.”
“He was right!” exclaimed Japaljarri.
Bounce spoke faster. “I asked him more questions. When will the next Sunday be? He said ‘in two days,’ without any pause to calculate. I asked him to tell me when he’d last gone away on business, and he said ‘last Tuesday.’ I asked him when I first came to his house and he said Monday three weeks ago.”
Japaljarri raised his eyebrows. “Maybe the boy just has a very good memory.”
“Except it wasn’t three Mondays ago,” said Bounce. She rocked east and west in her cradle. “I checked and it was four! 31 days, not twenty 24! He was wrong about the actual amount of time, but he was right about the day of the week.”
“Fascinating,” said Japaljarri. “You’re telling me that in order to tell someone when you did or plan to do something in English — even in situations as basic as saying ‘goodbye’ — you have to keep track of this arbitrary seven day cycle?”
“An arbitrary cycle that extends to every surviving West-Eurasian community around the world that I could find, and which goes back to the dawn of time,” said Bounce. “The Anglophones tell me that their God deity created the universe on a Sunday.”
Japaljarri smiled. “Well, they would say that.”
“But even if we’re just going by history, if this week or zodiac system goes back to before the Cult of Jesus, that would make it almost 15 hundred years old.”
“A cycle of seven days,” mused Japaljarri, “kept turning all the time. From the fall of the Roman Empire, to when Jangala Nine discovered the Northern Hemisphere, to now.”
“It makes you wonder,” said Bounce. “This week thing is embedded so deeply in Anglophone language and superstition. What does this mean for the way they think?”
“Yes, I do seem to recall that Anglophones get very lazy every seven days or so.”
“But it could be a good thing, too!” Bounce insisted. “What if we teach English to people recovering from injuries? Will that improve their mental health? ‘I’ll be fully recovered by Monday,‘ or whatever.”
Japaljarri signed agreement. “Yes, they do seem more impervious to discomfort than we are. More in touch with their own bodies. Perhaps this week thing is why.” He shook his head. “But if you’re right, then it will do more good to make them speak Gondwanan all the time. What use is it to know what day of the week it is when you have a computer to remind you of appointments? And their language is literally keeping then out of synch with us.”
Bounce looked down. “So speaking English isn’t a skill, its a handicap.”
“Well,” Japaljarri sighed. “There are linguists who don’t believe that language affects thought at all. They’d tell you that this week thing is just a harmless quirk of expression like the Gondwanan skin names system or, I don’t know, the four directions.”
“How can it be?” said Bounce. “Anyone can tell which way East is, but can you point to a Thursday? Something as big and complex and artificial as the week system must have a profound effect on Anglophone culture.”
“Well then, our responsibility is to report on it,” said Japaljarri. “Tell everyone, let them decide whether the concept of week is a good idea or a bad one, and let them take action one way or the other.”
The professor sighed, looking up and to the east. Perhaps he was thinking of the Russians with their lack of future markers, the Spanish with their rigid system of gender, and all the other dead cultures of the northern hemisphere.
He shook himself. “Well. That’s probably enough for a first meeting. You said you were going east-south-east, Nakmara? How will you get there?”
“Two north/wests and a south,” said Bounce, “then East to the lake, north-northwest along the shore, and a short north-east-south.”
“West-north-east might be faster for the middle part,” said Japaljarri, “at this time of day.”
“Thanks, professor,” said Bounce. And in English, “I will see you…” what was it now? She’d done the calculation while rattling off those directions, “next Tuesday.”
“If today is Thursday…” Japaljarri counted and laughed. “You’re right. What a cute system.” His face fell. “It would be a pity if we lost it.”
(This story is somewhat connected to The World’s Other Side. Don’t worry, the Anglophones are okay in the end.)