The End of Suffering - Part 1
This is a short story I wrote for the 2nd year course Dystopias. It will be posted in two parts.
The End of Suffering
What good is a name, when you have no one there to call you by it? The girl carried a name that shall soon be forgotten: Akhila. A relic from an ancient time, a memory of days where humans ruled the earth. The Storytellers had carved the human tale into her memory: She could visualize the glory of their civilizations in her mind. Despite never having seen the jungles of giant stone and metal towers. Neither had she witnessed how humans learned to fly like birds, learned to play god, and make the planet theirs. Not much is left of the grandeur, wisdom, and technology. Now the children of men scattered through the dirt like cockroaches. Not many living beings have survived the big blaze and the fires that came with it. Akhila was born post-blaze, and the burnt emptiness is all she knows.
She woke up. Time had become an abstract concept that carried no meaning, days flew into each other without notable differences. Her shaking fingers confirmed the blade sitting next to her resting place. Dirt and scars adorned the frail frame, which she achingly forced up from the pile of cloth. For four, long, hungry, and uncertain days she wandered across scorched soil. Sun roasting her already burnt skin, tired feet stumbled across ashes.
Her tribe had consisted of proud survivors, who had achieved to grow food-giving plants. Their life was one of hardship, as the earth had not yet recovered from the catastrophic heat blow it experienced. Most species had gone extinct, and the soil offered no nutrients. Rain was a phenomenon Akhila had only heard of in stories. Every few moons a new unknown parasite made the people sick. This time disease had fallen over their crops: mold. A blue fur infested their scarce food, making them unpalatable and causing the plants to die.
Four days since the last of her tribe succumbed to the inevitable slow hunger death. Images of skeleton-like figures crawling through their cave accompanied her day and night. The last scenes of mother becoming delirious and refusing to drink water shadowed over her; they forecasted her end and reminded her that there was no escaping the painful death. The fact that she had not died yet, was another of many miracles that characterized her life. Childbearing was rare these days, understandable considering the lack of nutrition.
She pushed forward, knowing she wouldn't last much longer without food and water. Every step required immense willpower. Every step seemed to lead nowhere. The landscape: as repetitive as it was monochrome. Black rocks, black tree stumps, dust, and everything had the same dark grey hue. From time to time she could recognize little artifacts of the antecedent civilization, scattered in the dirt: a broken ceramic bowl, a glass bottle, or even parts of cars (metallic structures with wheels that were used for transportation). When she was a couple of years younger she collected every item she found and begged the elders to tell her stories about them. Slowly she lost fascination for the old world. Her ancestors' mistakes are the reason for her suffering. Ultimately, all their little machines could not save them from themselves.
Akhila took a break and sought shade beside the remains of a former shelter. Someone had built this post-blaze, which gave her hope to be near a human settlement. Her eyelids dropped heavy, and her head rested exhausted on the bundle of linen. No long till a rustle startled her from the drowse; pounding heart, a trembling hand drew the knife. The hesitation lasted only a quarter second, then she jumped forward, for whatever it was, it meant either threat or food. Speed was of utmost importance. She flipped some rubble and exposed a tiny brown creature. The creature, more surprised than herself, found a sudden death at the tip of her steel. She devoured its twitching corpse in less than a minute. It might have been a rat, it might have been something else, its name carried no importance.
A burst of energy shot through her body, electrifying the heart, which in turn sent nutrient-rich blood through every vessel. She pushed forward. She would not give the universe the satisfaction of perishing here and now – her ancestors would have died for nothing. Over a couple of hundred years, the survivors have been adapting to the heat, bringing forth exceptional human beings like Akhila: her body water and energy-efficient, her skin cooling without the need to sweat out precious hydration.
She was just thinking about her mother and how much she missed her when she saw something in the distance. A green mass filled the horizon. A forest? A jungle? She made out the proud silhouettes of actual trees, not dry sticks withering away amongst stone. At first, she thought the heat was playing tricks on her, the closer she got the less she trusted her own sanity. Without a doubt, just a few kilometers in front of her, an ocean of green expanded itself before her eyes. Her pace increased, as she raced towards the oasis. What forces were at play here?
She heard birds, not one, but many, chirping in unison. She discovered shades of green that she had never witnessed before. There was no clear barrier between life and death, between green and grey, instead, they transitioned into each other smoothly. Tiny plants sprouted out of the grounds, then: lichen-covered rocks. The first steps on the grass were cautious, filled with the dread that everything would disappear. Staggering like a toddler walking for the first time, but not trusting their legs to hold them. A flower was smelt, a young tree touched. water from a nearby spring was tasted and discovered to be sweet and gentle.
Then she raised her gaze from the ground, and Akhila was confronted with clouds. All her life, whenever her eyes wandered to the sky, she was used to finding a hauntingly empty blue sky. If clouds appeared, they would be sparse, measly, smoke-like swaths, soon to be blown away by a gust of wind. But these clouds were big, heavy, dark, and filled with life. As these giants filled the sky Akhila sensed a change in the air- the all too familiar dry air was pushed away by air that cooled the skin, every inhale was moist, every breath whispered hope. In awe of the beauty and life, Akhila started to cry and the clouds cried with her. For the first time in her life, she felt rain. The water cleansed her body, and with the dirt, it washed away the fear that had overshadowed the girl since her birth.
Every blade of grass was a promise of life, every flower petal spoke tales of endurance, balance, and possibilities. Akhila listened: she soaked in the wonders of life. In ecstasy, she slowly ventured into the thickness, and the empty lands disappeared behind curtains of green.
To be continued.