By Ayah Khan
As she ticked off another one task off her checklist, her mind tuned to the radio.
“Another successful wind farm has been built. What's next?”
“Who knows another geothermal project?”
The radio laughed and she closed her book.
The car shook and she looked outside. Trees vibrant with energy and lush with sunlight greeted her. She smiled, foggy memories wavering under the happiness the trees excluded. She was a child when such a sight was rare to find in the city. Now they were as common as finding a cloud in the sky.
“How much longer?” she asks, needing to stretch her legs. They’ve been in this car for three hours now and the electric hum emitting from it no longer soothed her. It cooled her skin, but she needs to stretch her legs getting rid of the numbness that has comfortably settled in.
“It’s up ahead,” her driver said, and her heart settled down, beating quietly like a child’s choir trying to impress their parents. Beat beat, her heart went, and once again foggy memories began to tremble under the weight of the new world. To think that once upon a time, cars emitted such noises. Beat beat.
Now a quiet electric hum could be heard indicating the source of energy propelling it forward. Now she wasn’t a scientist, so she has no idea how the electric car works (she should have, she silently thought. It was her job as a journalist to know things).
The hum vanishes quietly, and the car stops.
“Miss Hayal, here we are.”
Hayal stretched, relief blossoming like the lilies growing back in her sister’s garden (more like a forest with how large the garden was). She looks around, her surroundings stealing her breath away. Even with the city encased with green spaces, this place was breath-taking. A small building was in front of her, windows shattered promising pain with its spiked edges. Yet the tune of a bird’s song rang from behind the man-made walls and moss and ivy dangled over the broken windows. A smile broke out on her face as she began walking to it.
Sturdy branches covered the roof and flowers, purple and red blossomed everywhere. She stepped through the doors, creaks riding in tune with the birds and the wind howled gently. Her hair fluttered and the wind grew in force.
Step inside, it seemed to say.
She looked around. Tables covered in daffodils and gillyflowers being overgrown on the ceiling. The smell of sweet chocolate mixed with honey made her hungry. She had been in the car for too long.
But enough of this, she was here for a reason. A purpose. A mission. To tell stories long forgotten.
This place was rumoured to house millions of articles, news clipping and even diary entries! From when the world was not as stable as it is now. She had been tasked with an article; a comparison would be a better term for it. The new generation would never know what before was and someone from the government thought it would be a great idea to teach them their mistakes, so they never make it in the future.
And that's where she came in. To haunt for these records, archives and simply write. Not for the children but for everyone. A small reminder of what was and will never be.
But first she had to find these records!
She walked aimlessly, allowing the bird’s tweets to calm her. She passed through an archway draped in banyan roots and down a corridor. She followed the road ahead and a light blinded her as she stepped into the large hall. The sides of the walls consisted of massive arches supporting wooden platforms, suspended shipping containers, and rope bridges. LEDs and bioluminescent globes provided illumination. The ceiling was painted a dull starry sky with stars drawn as big as buses!
She giggled at the bizarre sight hoping the shipping containers wouldn’t fall off. What type of root was holding it in place? Or better yet how were they handing up there?
Smiling, she quickly looked around spotting her target. Shelves. Rows of them! She ran over them and delicately looked at a shelf.
“Time to start working,” she whispered as she took a ripped, dirty newspaper. “2022? Almost two decades ago.”
FLOOD WARNING ISSUED AFTER AN ATTEMPT FOR MASS EVACUATIONS
Shelters are opening to the north, where the government hopes to keep civilian casualties as low as possible. We spoke to an expert who has advice for those stuck in a flood—
The paper trails off and she pouts. She wanted to see what the expert would say. Not that his advice would be useful with how rare it was for a flood to occur here or anywhere else. Wetland restoration programs as well as floodplains had occurred once the death toll from floods had risen too high. Just yesterday, another wetland was to be expanded in the city. The kids enjoy the blank space oozing nothing but serenity. And with yearly reports empathising how these natural lands can help destress people, everyone was in favour of more natural respiration. She was to interview the woman who was leading the project, but she was given this project. As long as she didn't have to physically talk to kids, she was happy. After all the project centres on children. She'll write everything up and someone else will have to present.
“I bet Idris would not like it if it got out, he was the one stealing the doughnuts,” she said smiling, thinking about how she would blackmail her fellow co-worker. She would not work with kids. Idris will simply have to do it.
She put the newspaper down and picked up a mouldy pink book. It was small like a hamster, and she opened it.
UMBRELLAS HAVE MANY USES
“That's an interesting title,” Hayal said to herself, excitement bubbling in her skin. She hasn’t felt this excited since she got to travel to the Arctic to report on the habitat alongside scientists who were figuring out new ways to aid the native animals. She remembered a baby penguin waddling behind one of the scientists she was interviewing and couldn't stop laughing.
The scientist had looked back to figure out what captured her attention and sighed, shaking his head, “Tiny Bob does not leave us alone. I think he thinks Jimmy over there is his mother.”
“I am too young to parent a penguin!” a man shouted. She pursued Jimmy but now that she focused clearly, the penguin had been following the man.
“Poor man. Already tied down with a baby,” a woman said behind her.
“I’m not your mum!” Jimmy had shouted. “This is what I get for helping!”
She giggled that day. Poor Jimmy, the parent. He was one of the scientists here, a biologist, collecting samples of the permafrost to see if its carbon storage was still stable and no longer toxic from all the past emissions released. The ice she had been standing on was burned away. She had seen photos from before, ice being turned to water and a fog surrounding the place. Many animals had died from the toxic gases, and she was sure there were many vets there that day to see if the residents were alright. It had been years since those days of air carrying around illness but there was fear of side effects that could pop up years after inhaling the air. Occasional visits to Tiny Bob won’t hurt anyone. Least of course your name was Jimmy.
“Umbrella, umbrella. Where will you take me?” Hayal asked as she began to read the first paragraph.
Did you know that an umbrella had many uses besides stopping you from getting soaking wet? It has lots of potential to be a weapon. I wouldn't mind using it to fence, it would be better than what happened two days ago.
I lost my home.
I didn't lose my mum so that's great, I guess. But I used my umbrella to help her. Not fencing imaginary monsters. But to save her from a real thing. That thing being water. So much water.
I don't remember but I'm sure we got a warning on the TV. I was in a hurry to catch my bus! And then, then, then, I was back home, soaking wet.
I really wished I had an umbrella not knowing how desperately I would need it.
I ran home, not noticing the puddles on the stairs or the water leaking from the ceiling. It should have been a warning. I went home, opened the door and was about to shout. I shouted alright. Not Mum! No. I shouted as I saw my mum unconscious. I went to her shaking and screaming, begging her to wake up. She had and when she saw me her eyes lit up. I was going to learn how an umbrella could save you. She had quickly told me a flood had come through and that we had to leave, to come here to the shelters. There had been an earthquake, the building, the floor shook while the lights above me broke and fell to the floor. I held on to my mother before a sound came tumbling through my bones. I shivered. And I blanked out. I was told I was in shock as water began to rise and through every crack and crevice of the building, the water pushed and seeped through. Bikes went smashing into the sides of the building, and cars broke.
A real flood was happening. Three times in one day apparently. Rescue got to us before the third did. But I was there for the second one. Water was rising and it had reached my elbows.
My ears were ringing, and I was trying. I was trying to look for an umbrella. Not to stop me from getting soaking wet. But mum had told me it would help. And I wanted to help.
This summer of superstorms produced a lot of umbrellas, and most of them were as cheap and flimsy as paper cocktail decorations but as more rain poured, winds moved, they became sturdier. In fact, it could be used as a float in high amounts of water.
Streaming floodwater kept coming to me as I searched for an umbrella. We would need it to leave the building before we got trapped. The rest is a blur, a nightmare I don't want to remember but an umbrella saved us.
Hayal closed the dairy. Floods were not an issue now. With the changing climate, they have influenced flood rates. But now with a stable climate, it wasn't an issue. It may never be an issue again. Flood walls had been made as well as converting land to expand rivers to help contain their water storage were some techniques used. Not to mention stabilising the temperatures via control of greenhouse gases were in play.
She was glad that her present and her future were not as eventful as the owner of the dairy. Climate change has impacted a lot but now the air was clean, no one was going to drop due to elevated temperatures and everyone had access to some form of clean energy.
She hoped her life would remain uneventful.
She puts the diary down and keeps looking. What other things can she uncover about the past?
Elise sighed, wanting to play with the pink mask in her pocket. As the car moved, nerves jumped inside her and excitement bloomed like the lilies that forced a storm of sneezes out of her. Taking medications every time, she went up to her father’s farm, she wanted to curse the world. The one thing she had an allergy from was the only thing that can be found on the farm. She stretched her arms trying to get rid of the numbness that began to sit comfortably as if a water lily was lazily floating on a lake.
She was going back to London after all the years spent in Jordan staring intently at the Dead Sea and teaching children in schools with beautiful gardens. She still has a stain on her old yellow dress from when the children decided to play snowball but instead of snow used soil. She was just glad that the solar panel that sat soaking the sun wasn’t harmed. Shivers travelled her spine with force and her body itched as if she was surrounded by lilies. All the teachers had gotten a lecture from when a student threw a ball crashing one of the solar panels. The kids had fun when electricity went off for about thirty minutes. They never did listen since she was sure she’d told the kids and the other teachers that there were multiple solar panels generating power for them.
She wondered if London was the same too. She heard additional training would be provided. Would it be for handling solar panels? But did the sun even grace London with its light?
“A dumb question,” she murmured feeling the sun burn its gaze on her cheek. She felt as if the sun was disappointed in her but that was her imagination. She needed to focus and calm herself down.
“Excuse me?” the driver asked, staring at her from the window.
“Oh! It’s nothing,” Elise quickly replied, adjusting the glasses on her face. She was blind since the outside of the car humming with power was eclipsed by bright light.
It really has been a long time since she came back here.
Things have changed.
They passed over Dorset on their way there and her dull memories of a residential trip for geography resurfaced. The cold winds and hills that were once covered with short grass had now been filled up with flowers of all colours. She saw a windmill in the corner! The beach was always windy. That's what made London, London.
And the weather was so unpredictable, it was always best to have an umbrella on hand.
Hail, thunder, and lightning, and tornadoes, occasionally punctuated by oppressive, muggy stillness that made you want to quit life, were common things. A light hail was all she could remember from the trip; she was too preoccupied laughing at a friend who had the dumbest ideas to pay attention to anything else (she should have since the trip was for their coursework).
But she did remember the coldness that blanketed them at night. Maybe it was the sea? Or maybe it was Old Harries Rock (a lonely stack away from the beach) trying to scare them away? She scoffed at that. Drowsiness from long car rides made her chattier. She smiled at that. One of her students had sat next to her on a coach when they were on a trip to a museum and had spoken for hours and hours about the air purifiers and she snapped back that she wasn’t that old to have lived when purifiers were needed. The student stared at her blankly exposing her hello kitty mask she kept as a lucky charm in her bag. And thus, a long conversation had begun with Elise simply saying that she doesn’t have the answers to all the questions.
It wasn't a lie though.
She didn't know how air purifiers worked. She’d seen them. They were part of all building regulations since the outside smog drowned any oxygen trying to be stolen by living lungs.
Colours blurred and the car spat electric energy that wouldn’t harm a fly. At one point she thought her mask, a light pink, would be the only colour she would see.
There was nothing but grey in sight. She could discern pale skin when she raised her hand close to her eyes before the fog completely enveloped her. She remembered running since she would have fifteen minutes before she would start coughing. She adjusted her mask and her legs pushed her forward trying to get to the restaurant. She remembered for a split second, how she missed the jungle of noises from the traffic but not car was in sight. Air tried to choke her, but her mask was 85% effective to any particulates swimming in the air. It did leave marks on her face but that was a small price to pay.
She breathed in and out panicky as she closed the restaurant door behind her. The air purifiers installed in the room's corners worked overtime to cleanse her lungs. In and out. In and out. Trying to remain calm to stop the onset of coughing, she swallowed the air and vision, covered in green spots, quickly sat down. At her dorm, she used a cheap air purifier sheet over a fan. She loathed remembering her days at her university's dorms. There was always an issue every week. Posters reminding them to clean their air purifiers or adverts on the latest mask always decorated the dorm’s corridors. Hospital overcrowding with students and the dorm’s group chat reporting the next student who had fallen ill.
Fever burned red while cool relief never came. A fan or an air purifier were not able to do much for sick students intoxicated by the air. Their breaths are reminiscent of the deepest parts of a lagoon. Constant notifications were her only source of light at night since there was curfew on the electricity usage. Fossil fuels were gone, so power rations were put in place. But was that effective or have any value? She wouldn't know since she was too busy watching the notifications pile up on her phone, illuminating geometric patterns of yellow and blue on her cracked floor wondering when she’d be called in to do the mandatory first aid class.
She breathed in and out calmly as the gentle air of the car, light and sweet pulled her heart to serenity, forgetting her university days. Not one living creature could taste the pollution now. It had a sour taste, metallic and alien as it sat on her lips. Now it was sweet like bubble-gum. Her mask, a faded pink now, sat in her pocket.
Why did she keep it?
She certainly didn't need it anymore.
Not when the WHO’s warnings and recommendations were taken seriously. Wide deindustrialisation had taken place when lung cancer was the number 1 killer. Now those abandoned factories were being repurposed. In Jordan, one of the factories was turned into a museum since there was no clear way of getting rid of the building. It became a floral museum where they had allowed nature to grow and expand. Volunteers would supply nutrients to the soil and water since Jordan was more suitable for a desert habitat. It did surprise her when she saw a rose, red bright red in Jordan. Desert was the prominent habitat and Jordan didn’t shy away from it. She had seen many conservation programs being put in place.
It made her wonder. Did Dorset have any programmes?
During their pit stop, she had seen people talking about sustainability courses and the opening of another recycling centre. Curiosity sparked her and she hoped the changes in London would shock her.
Overcrowded cities had at one point looked like obstacle courses. Was London less crowded or was the noise back?
She researched London before her plane trip, and she really didn't want to dwell too long down the rabbit hole of questions and answers. She’d rather see the changes. But from what she had seen, trains had been expanded since there was more space. Yet the metropolitan line was completely abandoned. Many people used them for amazing photography showcasing how vines had overtaken the train lines. Graffiti was painted on the walls covered in spider webs and a few foxes had lived there. A new charity had formed to protect the foxes and ensure the abandoned train stations were used to house them. She had recently seen an Instagram story on a friend’s account of the charity asking for volunteers to help set up a marathon to fundraise money for reshaping some stations so that their roofs were opened to allow more sunlight in for the foxes as well as building some sheds for them for cover of any rain.
As the biodiesel engine revved, memories of the restaurant faded, and she glanced at the driver and the steering wheel. Her glasses glistened, bathing in the sun, the lenses shimmering with gold leaf flakes. It really was something out of a sci-fi film. Controllers flashing a pale green, steering wheel barely moved as electricity hummed under her.
She had seen some changes in London before leaving. The Science Museum had changed with its floor becoming transparent marble. Visitors can see the wires and hum of electricity moving connected to the hydro generator near the river Thames.
“Everything here is powered by the river. Water is allowing for the lights to work, switch on and off when we want,” a guide had said as she looked in wonder.
Was Hydro power still a thing?
Water was a thing that terrified her.
Lightning flashed, illuminating her brown eyes as she found trouble balancing herself trying to get her car as rain poured and her mask loosened. She was in between Brighton and London, on a road stopping to buy food when an alert went out for the upcoming storm. She had tried to keep steady, but the road was slippery. The rain hammered down; her heart sank as she hugged her raincoat. Terror seized her as she felt water reaching her knees and she had barely managed to get inside her car locking the doors. Bang. She’d have to deal with the damages of the car another day.
Fear had shattered any happiness she’d gotten from being invited to a friend’s wedding. Although the fear was gone when she reached the road and area, she had been trapped for hours, and had been turned into a floodplain. A flat area stretching for miles reaching the river where there was also a flood fringe to help with overflow.
“We’re here,” the driver said, switching the electricity off.
Elise left behind the past (she’ll have to look for another lucky charm if she was to dispose of the faded pink mask) and got out of the car. Tall buildings greeted her, and she smiled as she spotted the green roofs and parks with Birch trees covering the entrance into London. London may have changed more than she thought.