Part 1: Year 2072
The world had grown strange. Things had changed.
But that was how things were— it was only natural that things changed, as time passed.
The world widened (or narrowed, depending on where you were standing at any given moment), it stretched, and grew, and shrank, as time rippled and billowed across the earth, leaving nothing, no one, untouched.
Anahera was of the opinion that time was as physical as any living thing. Its impact was certainly more tangible than dreams and desires, as had been reflected in the decades that had passed.
She sighed as she looked around the tiny house, a construction of metal and plastic and wood— items that her partner, Ihaia, had found, drifting close to the banks of the Waikato River.
Most of the little homes in Aotearoa were built from drift-metal and drift-plastic that they scavenged from the rivers and lakes and especially from the old, dead monoliths that stood, half crumbling, near the centre of Aotearoa. Ihaia, after a long trek, on foot and then by boat, had told her that the monoliths had once been called “skyscrapers” and had been places where their ancestors had gathered to work or live. The dead skyscrapers— once the members of the travel party were brave enough to start scavenging in those forbidding buildings— held a pantheon of resources, Ihaia said. Metal and plastic and wood for building. They had discovered a treasure trove, a glorious, overwhelming supply of items that they could use back in the village near Port Waikato.
And they had found, most importantly to Anahera, stacks and stacks of books and magazines.
Ihaia had brought those back just for her, and her heart had ached for her partner, who had shouldered an extra bag of heavy books, so that she could be happy. Anahera had always loved reading, had devoured any reading material that she could get her hands on. She had let reading distract her from the grey outside, the dark beyond, had let the words and worlds within those books engulf her, reading for hours and hours, until the meagre light of the day dimmed completely, and she looked up, looked around, her vision fuzzy, blurry, as the onset of night-time plucked her from her fantastical reprieve.
Reading had become even more important to her in the last decade. Reading had been one of the few activities she could enjoy since the accident she had had, a few days after her fiftieth birthday.
It had been late in the year— almost December— and Aotearoa had been colder than ever.
Everyone knew that it was wrong. That the weather should have been bright and burning, the sun sparkling off glistening skin, the heat sparking off the cracked solar panels. The water in the oceans and rivers should have been warm, and they should have been preparing for the harvest.
But, Anahera told herself, the world had grown strange.
It had been sixty years earlier, when the nuclear event had occurred, rippling across the earth, the progeny of a devastating war. The burst of toxins and fuels had been the catalyst in a series of events, in a world, on a planet, that was already fragile as it was.
Since then, everything had been upside down. Aotearoa experienced bitter cold when the sun should have been at its peak and experienced near fatal levels of heat when there should have been rain.
And even though the world had almost come to an end, even though millions had died, even though Earth and its inhabitants were suffering, they had all found a way to trudge on.
Anahera had gladly participated in the rebuilding of her community, even though she been an infant when the nuclear event had occurred. She had helped, had given everything of herself, had almost broken herself to help repair Aotearoa.
And then she really had broken herself. It had been a cold, bitterly cold summer, and there had been several deaths in the village. The little buildings, the trees, the ground was covered in frost, and parts of the Waikato River had frozen over.
There had been a shortage of food for weeks, and eventually Anahera had had no choice but to go the river, try and break the ice, take her spear and fish. She had always had a special affinity for water and was one of the few people in the village who was not afraid of the great, dark, often tumultuous body of water.
The ice on the surface of the river had broken— of course it had. And she was not young anymore, having lived for half a century. The fall through the ice had ripped her apart, dragging a bloodcurdling scream from deep inside her, a scream so raw and violent that her throat bled.
She had been rescued, although she could not remember that part, having been unconscious from the loss of blood. People from the village had come running, her whanau, pulling her bodily out of the river by her armpits and rushing her to safety.
She had remained unconscious for some time, drifting from one bright light to the next, as the remainder of her bloody, shattered leg was severed above the knee.
They had drugged her with a combination of traditional medicine, and expired medication that they had scavenged from one of the dead skyscrapers. Later, Ihaia confided, confessed, that he had thought that if the loss of blood did not kill her, the expired medication surely would.
When she woke, Anahera was less than she had been before.
And now, here she was, a decade later, mostly confined to the little house, unless Ihaia was home, and the only cure to her boredom the books and magazines that her partner brought back with him.
She glanced over the stack of magazines that she finished from the last trip. She had packed them up neatly and secured the pile with string, where they would wait for Taika— the local librarian— who collected every piece of writing to be preserved for future generations.
The magazine on top of the pile caught her eye, and she remembered one article that had plagued her for weeks. She had read and reread it over and over as she tried to understand its contents. The magazine was roughly seventy years old and was called “Cosmopolitan”. The article was titled “Ten Ways to Get Fit for Summer!”
At first Anahera had been almost excited. She had been looking to strengthen what muscles she could. But as she fell deeper into the article, her concern and confusion intensified.
The eating habits recommended were ridiculous at best, and masochistic at worse. These women were eating nothing in order to maintain a body size that seemed impossibly small.
Anahera had never been thin. She was over six feet, as tall as Ihaia, and her brown body was bulky and muscular, and padded with a comforting layer of fat.
No women, no person, in her village was as thin as the women in these magazines.
But she knew that she could not judge the women in that magazine. They had lived a different life. Maybe their relationships with their bodies was a consequence of their time, even if it looked incredibly painful.
It was not their fault.
She sighed, casting the concerning article from her mind, and sat back in her chair.
It was then that the door to her small home swung open, letting in a blast of cold air. She squinted to see a little better, and realised that it was Ihaia, along with two of his brothers. She sat forward, excited for a new selection of reading material, but she could not stop the surge of disappointment when she saw that her partner was only carrying a large box.
Ihaia must have seen the look on her face because he smiled gently, placing the box on the floor and kneeling in front of her.
“Kia ora Ana. Don’t look so sad. I know you wanted some books, but I have something better. It is a gift from the village, from your whanau, for your sixtieth birthday tomorrow.”
His younger brother bent to open the box, reaching inside, struggling to pull out the thing inside.
When he was successful, holding the heavy item aloft in his hand, Anahera gasped, her throat closing, tears welling up in her eyes and also somewhere deep in her chest, as she struggled forward, almost falling into Ihaia’s arms.
It was a leg. A leg constructed, crafted, from metal and twisted plastic, and old, rusted gears, with leather straps at the very top, which Ihaia proceeded to tie around her thigh.
“It will take some getting used to,’ he whispered. ‘But we will all help you.”
Ihaia helped her stand when the leg and all its mechanisms had been properly attached. She was leaning into him, his arms around her, her chin on his shoulder, gazing out through the front door. She was, Anahera realised, seeing the village from a different perspective for the first time in a while.
And she also saw, far in the distance, a hint of blue behind the perpetual heavy, grey clouds. The hint of blue was elusive at first, but then it widened, stretching, grabbing, clearing the path for the sun that was so determinedly following it.
Could the sun be rising in the summer?
Part 2: Year 2122
The expedition to Denmark was ready, and Afamefuna was becoming impatient. He had packed his bags several weeks earlier, had spent his last gold on thick leather gloves for himself, his fathers, and Emili.
Now he waited at the entrance to Kings Cross, where they would board the steam train headed for Copenhagen.
He knew that he was too impatient for his own good— both his fathers were always telling him to slow down, that he was only losing time by wishing for it to speed up. But he could not help it. It seemed that he had been born impatient, though Afa knew that it was a habit he had cultivated in early childhood.
His parents were the kind of men who were always taking their time, everywhere they went. In fact, his earliest memory had been him, waiting, hungry, as one father slow cooked oxtail, while the other cut up vegetables and ground up spices and herbs and cooked the rice— a process that could take almost twelve hours.
The two men who had raised him— and who he loved dearly, desperately— could extoll the virtues of freshly baked bread for hours, could extend any conversation for days before reaching a conclusion, and it drove him crazy.
But he knew that it was a circumstance of their childhood.
His parents, Adebiyi and Chetachi, had grown up on the cusp of the new world, as the old one shed its skin.
They had been exposed to danger and darkness and pain in a way that he would never be able to imagine for as long as he lived. His parents were the children of the generation who had almost killed themselves to fix the world.
Afa knew that there had been a nuclear war, and he also knew that Mother Earth had been failing for about two hundred years before even that.
The nuclear war and its fallout had only been the tipping point of an already stretched thin planet, and it was then that the planet experienced a nuclear winter, and several other horrific incidents that he learned about in History 101.
It had been his grandparents who had looked into the future and had seen that there would be no place for their children, even as they were conceiving and giving birth. So there had been another tipping point, another catalyst, like the nuclear war had been, except this catalyst had sought to balance the scales.
No matter what it took.
Afa knew that they had worked hard. The world had come together in a time when they were suffering.
History 101 had taught him that the people of earth did not like each other. The various plagues, the wars, the greed, it had all shown him that humans did not like each other. They were willing to lie, steal, cheat, maim, and even kill, to get what they wanted, to be the best, the richest, the most powerful.
Humans were power-hungry, and when they were power-hungry, they became desperate.
But a bitter, ugly, excruciating, nuclear winter had changed all that. The remaining population had no choice but to work together. There was no space for theft, for lies, for cheating. There was nothing to steal.
There was no place for murder. There was not enough of humanity left to justify any unnecessary deaths.
Afa knew that most people still did not like each other. But they did, he thought reflectively, respect each other.
He turned when he heard bright, bubbling laughter, a sound he had always associated with summer and sunlight reflecting off still lakes of clear water. He knew that it was ridiculous to compare the sound of someone’s laughter to the rays of the sun, to light, to water. But then, several months ago, he had concluded that it was not that the laughter— her laughter— sounded like sunlight bouncing off water. It was that her laughter dragged him back to the first time he had dove into a lake, swallowing water, coming up for air frantically, gasping, coughing, his thick, coiling hair springy with moisture. The sun had beamed down on the surface of the lake, and it was then that he had seen Emili looking at him curiously, before bursting into laughter.
There she was, walking towards him, followed by his fathers. It always took him a few moments to regain composure whenever he saw her. She had changed her hair again— she wore a platinum blonde wig. And her nails were the brightest pink. She smiled at him from the distance, and he adjusted his glasses, watching as she fell away from his parents and stopped at the little news shop.
His fathers came up to him, and he knew that they could sense his impatience, although seeing Emili had allayed it slightly.
Afa leaned into their hugs, before they walked up to the train conductor to discuss departure details.
He knew that his fathers had been instrumental in the restoration of New London. They were both doctors, although different kinds, and building things was in their natures.
Adebiyi, who was a year older than Chetachi, was a Doctor of Steam Engineering.
It had been impossible, after the nuclear winter, for the world to go back to coal, oil, gas, or nuclear energy.
Adebiyi had been twenty when he completed his first model of a fireless steam train, powered by solar panels, desalinated and cleansed sewage water, and wind energy.
When Kings Cross had been rebuilt, Adebiyi had helped with new designs of the station, which had been destroyed in one of the wars. He had helped construct a station which could accommodate the extra carriage of the train, where the steam would be generated.
Chetachi, on the other hand, was a medical doctor, and also held a PhD in mechanical biology. Afa knew that his father had practiced medicine for many years before his birth. But when Afa had come along, Chetachi had to remain at home, to heal from the birth and breastfeed Afa.
His father had then turned his attention to the growing demand for mechanical limbs, as many of the older population of New London had lost their limbs through illness or accident. His studies into mechanical biology— based off old research he had found on a trip to Aotearoa— had blown open the field of bionic limbs, and Afa knew that Chetachi had helped save hundreds of lives.
Afa turned when he heard Emili coming up behind him. She had been loud from the moment he met her. His girlfriend carried around various jars, filled with collections of rocks and fossils, and she rattled when she walked. Fidget spinners and tiny Furbies hung from the straps of her backpacks.
She smiled broadly at him as they set off to board the train.
“Are you ready?” He asked her, his voice low, although he knew she could hear him above the noise and bustle of the station. Emili always had her hearing aids turned up all the way, because she was incredibly nosy, and had very dubious morals about eavesdropping on conversations.
“Of course I am,’ the sunlight that streamed through the stained-glass windows reflected off the golden dust that powdered her cheeks. ‘Helping to rebuild, restore, the glaciers has been a goal of mine since I knew what a glacier was.
And having your dad actually take me seriously, having your dad actually realise that my research on rock formations is worth something— how could I say no?”
The icebergs and glaciers of the North Pole had melted completely almost a decade before the nuclear winter. As the world began cooling, several parts of the planet’s oceans had frozen solid. It had been Chetachi who had suggested using this to their advantage, and together with his husband, built a machine that would generate ice blocks as tall as buildings.
When Afa looked around, he saw that the train was finally full. He felt his gnawing, rustling impatience fade away. They would not be leaving just yet, but this part of their train rides always comforted him.
It had become a tradition, of sorts, for there to be a group of different religious leaders, traveling with every long-distance journey on the steam train.
For the next thirty minutes the passengers of the King Chetachi would be quiet, as one religious leader after the other stepped up next to the conductor and said a quiet prayer.
Afa was not religious in his daily life. He barely thought about prayer or Gods or Goddesses or the Universe. He did not think it mattered all that much, not when he was on Earth, doing actual work to restore the planet.
But he was religious in the moments before they all embarked on a train journey somewhere far away. Not because he believed that any number of Gods or Goddesses were in the train with them.
But because he was surrounded by a group of people who had suffered in ways that could not be quantified, who had lost and lost and lost, but who still had hope that— after everything— there was something, someone, out in there in the great, dark, endless beyond, who might keep them safe as they travelled.
Part 3: Year 2199
It was the last days of December, and the sun was high in the sky. It was pleasantly warm, soothing against the brittle, cold salt water of the ocean.
They were at the beach, had been since before sunrise, because Willem wanted to do some fishing. Liz had rolled her eyes at her husband, who was convinced there would be an abundance of fish in the same waters they swam in.
But she went along good naturedly, if only to make her husband happy. He did so much to make her happy after all.
Her mind went back to the garden, their garden, something that Willem had surprised her with a few months back.
They had moved into their house right after their marriage ceremony. Their house was on the same property as both their parents’ homes, but Willem’s father, Chris, had built a beautiful wall of bamboo and discarded wood which gave them the privacy they needed.
Liz had had no issue living on the same property as her parents. That was how things worked now. Families lived together, cooked together, ate together, raised children and livestock together.
It was like that in most parts of Cape Town, and the rest of the Union of Africa. And it was a practice that was becoming more and more common among the rest of the world.
Liz knew that the world had been different almost two hundred years ago. She had learned about it while completing her Universal Knowledge Degree and had majored in history and geography.
Every family, back then, had their own piece of ground or property which they rarely actually owned— if they were privileged enough to have a home at all. Parents and children and other relatives lived apart from each other. No one grew their own food but could buy it en masse at shiny buildings that housed vegetables and fruit and meat in gigantic freezers, in exchange for payment in the form of paper or plastic.
Many people were homeless, living in unbearable conditions. Animals were treated cruelly, their lives confined to dirty, soiled cages.
Liz had even read an article where a man, who was regarded as a King amongst his peers, had forced adults and even children, to work for him, for hours and hours, until they dropped from exhaustion or hunger, or soiled themselves.
The article had nagged at her for days, and she had read and reread it, trying to make sense of it, trying to understand how the world— her world— could have ever become like that.
That world, that unimaginable version of her current, beautiful reality, seemed scary.
But she knew that even though the Earth and its inhabitants had mostly healed, there were some scars from the old world that would remain forever. Scars that Liz was dealing with now.
Liz had been in love with Willem for the longest time. They had met in the town they lived in, had ended up going to the International University together, and had eventually moved in together.
She had always wanted children, and when she met Willem, when she graduated, when they got married, and were both working, they tried and tried and tried.
After a while, when nothing happened, they both went to a doctor.
Willem had been fine. He had been healthy.
Liz had not been.
Forced sterilisation. Those were the words that had almost ended her life. Even thinking about her experience in the doctor’s office made her shudder.
The sterilisation had not happened to her, personally. It was something, handed down, from mother to son, to daughter, to son. The ugly, horrible violation had been dealt against one of her ancestors, a helpless woman, a long time ago.
It had changed her genes completely. That ancestor of hers had eventually found a way to carry a baby through artificial insemination, and it seemed that the child had inherited some of those broken, violated genes.
The genes, that inheritance, had made its way through Liz’s ancestral line. Sometimes it skipped a few generations, but it always found a way to rear its ugly head.
It had found her.
She had received the news about her broken body several months ago, and while it had been devastating at the time, she had, she thought, learned to live with it. She had been speaking to a therapist on a weekly basis, she had focused on settling into her new house, had focused on building a life.
The garden outside their house, a garden that housed fruit and vegetables and trees, and a home for their rabbits and tortoise, had been a gift from Willem, who had worked hard to do anything he could to make his wife smile.
Now Liz took great joy from working in the garden, from sowing, planting, and harvesting— a process that she supposed would be as close to creating new life as she could get.
After Willem had finally given up on fishing for the day, Liz bought a fish and chips parcel from the street vendor, smothered it with salt and vinegar, before they packed up and went home.
Soon it was time to prepare for the end of year festivities, and then the New Year’s Day town service, and the Second New Year celebration which had been happening in Cape Town almost without fail, since 1907.
She spent countless days with her mother and mother-in-law, picking the best vegetables and fruits, and getting the best cuts of meat— they were cooking for the entire town— before going to help Willem prepare the float. He would be performing with the Kaapse Klopse this year and his childlike excitement made her heart grow and grow.
Their town bustled with noise and excitement and joy as preparations became more urgent. It became even busier still when steam trains and airships docked in the port, bringing visitors and luxuries from all over the world.
The giant windmills that powered Cape Town hummed slightly, a continuous low drone as the South Easter blew in from the ocean.
Liz set off to collect her medication from the local pharmacy on New Year’s Eve. She found simple pleasure in walking, so did not take the tram. As she walked, she allowed her mind to wander.
Her final year thesis had surrounded the development of infrastructure in the Union of Africa, and how governmental misadministration impacted transportation systems. Now, as she walked, she realised that this had once been a national road, filled with shiny vehicles, built from toxic metals and plastic.
There had been no commercial, privately owned vehicles in the Union for years. Most people walked or took the tram or airbus. Those who had disabilities had access to an airbus that ran five times a day.
It was dark by the time Liz had collected her medication, after waiting in a queue because she had come on the day that the weekly methadone dose was allocated to those in the community who needed it. She had chatted to some of her neighbours and bought a collection of sweets and chocolate before heading home.
She knew that something was different at her home when she stopped at the front gate, although she could not identify it. It was only hours away from a new year— had everyone’s excitement spilled over, infecting the grass and trees and plants and even the sky?
Liz smiled, inhaling the sweet, rich, jasmine-scented air. It was a nice thought— her people were happy enough that their joy bounced off buildings.
She headed for the backdoor of her parent’s house that opened into the kitchen but stopped on the little stoep outside the kitchen.
There was laughter and conversation and the noise of bubbling, boiling pots, and a tea kettle whistling. And above all else, there was the sound of a child, laughing and shrieking with delight.
Her heart was pounding, thudding painfully in her throat, as she opened the door that stood ajar.
And there, waiting for her, were her parents and Willem. And her husband was holding a child, a little girl, who could not be older than a few months, who was impossibly round, her thighs and arms chubby, her cheeks round and dimpled. Her skin was brown, like Liz’s and Willem’s, and her hair was dark and curly like Liz’s.
“What is this? Who is she?” Her voice was hoarse.
“Her mother died a few weeks ago, and she has no father. Ntando at the children’s centre reached out to me, and we finalised the adoption yesterday. Her name is Eve.”
Liz rushed forward, the bags in her hands falling, and she knew that she was not breathing properly, her thoughts incoherent, her heart swollen, growing, growing, as her husband handed the girl— their daughter— to her.
Her daughter, Eve, reached for her instinctively, nestling her head in the crook of her neck.
“I know it is slightly premature,’ Willem’s father said, ‘But I’d like to wish you both a Happy New Year.”
“Hear, hear!” Everyone lifted glasses that her mother had been filling with champagne.
“Happy 2200 Liz. Here’s to the future. Here’s to Eve!”
Merci pour la lecture!
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