Before the Past – by Daniel Sala
Before the past we had a world, it was not great, just good. At the time of the ruining I was a child, as was my sister and elder brother, my parents were good people, our relatives and friends were good, most were. We worked, studied, learnt, improved, played, loved, hated, fought, made peace, it was a world.
We studied arithmetic, sciences, history, language, art, we did sports; my brother was about to study medicine. Mother was a vehicle designer, and bitter energy was never taken seriously beyond profit, father worked in urban planning. At week-ends we’d visit the countryside, go to the cinema, play in the parks, have picnics and parties with neighbours and friends.It was a normal world.
The news kept saying we were using all our resources, soon there wouldn’t be fuel, we had to find a real alternative because we were poisoning ourselves and the Earth; the reports kept coming that we needed to change food production, there wasn’t enough for everybody, it was becaming ever more unhealthy, unnatural, animals grew three times as fast as nature intended, pumped full of medicines and chemicals, crops became weak, the soil contaminated with products we used to counter-balance these problems. We were good people, busy with life, we were looking for solutions, but father always complained tomorrow never comes until it hits you in the face, and the grasping were sucking the planet and the people dry, thinking only of themselves and the here and now.
I remember the day when I think it began, the ruining. Energy was rationed, people were not allowed to use power during the day at home; less and less people could use cars between rocketing prices and dwindling resources. Air travel was outlawed except for the elite, leaders and the military. I used to complain about why we had less food at meals, I didn’t understand. Father talked to mother and my brother angrily about projects to build private self-contained, self-sustaining cities for the few and those they’d need to run them, saying we were being abandoned, but it all went over my head.
One day father came home early, frightened, telling us to help prepare bags for a lovely journey, he made it fun, but my brother seemed to understand what was happening. My sister wanted to take her bunny soft toy, father snapped she couldn’t as it was too big and unnecessary, she cried, he cuddled her and gently explained we had limited space as we were going on a long walk, and bunny would be there when we got back. I asked him why we were packing things we wouldn’t need for a walk, and he said not to worry, and to help pack the plates and cutlery in one of the bags.
We left home laden like soldiers, I was frightened, there were a few other families and people on their own also leaving the city, but no matter how much I asked, my parents wouldn’t tell me what was happening, and just kept saying it was a fun camping trip for everyone. We walked for what seemed like an eternity.
We stopped in a field at dusk, father and mother set up the tent, we played, my brother made a campfire. Dinner was what mother had cleared from the larder shelves, my sister and I complained we were hungry, and mother promised we would have a good breakfast but looked worriedly at father. We went to bed, father told us stories to help us sleep, making it all a fun adventure, talking of things we could do camping, but his eyes looked sad. I slept badly, noises outside woke me up, my sister kept crying, it just didn’t seem like other camping trips. My brother stayed awake, keeping an eye out for animals or people while father hunted rabbits to eat.
The next morning was strange, breakfast was roasted rabbit, water from a pond, we kept complaining that we wanted cereal, and mother tried to make it all seem like a fun, a new experience. We had to continue walking that day, but not as fast as the day before, we were heading for some mountains. When I asked when we would go home, father put his hand on my shoulder and said we might never go home, that we had to be strong, life was testing us, and we would win, but I started crying, which made my little sister cry too, and our parents had to calm us down, so they lied and promised we’d go home in a few days.
The reality was that the city had run out of money, every city had run out of money, everything was all but shut down, factories couldn’t produce, supermarkets were empty, people were no longer nice and began to do bad things to find food or fuel, and father and mother had discussed what to do for weeks before deciding it was too dangerous to stay there any more. We were spared the worst, people killed each other for packets of crisps, when all that ran out others ran to the country, some stayed and did terrible things because of hunger.
We lived this way, hiding from others, avoiding people when we saw them, it was too dangerous to risk finding out if they were friendly or bad, eating whatever we found, drinking water from rivers and ponds. Farmers were frightened and would try to shoot you while their ammunition lasted, or until they were raided by bad people desperate to eat. Mother brushed her and my sister’s hair until the brush finally broke, father’s comb didn’t last long between three male heads, our clothes slowly got horrible because we washed them in rivers. Once the toothbrushes wore out we no longer cleaned our teeth.
We subsisted. Slowly the tent got holes in it, in the end we threw it away, from then on we tried to shelter in caves when we found them. One day mother became ill, she got worse, and a few days later she died, I think it was something she ate or drank. Father was grieving for such a long time, but put on a brave face.
We spent winter in a cave on a hill, keeping the fire going all the time, we began to make clothes from the animals we killed for food to keep warm as the cave was bitterly cold when the wind blew in. Father and brother looked like cavemen, but then now I think about it, that’s what we were. This was our life for a couple of years, until a gang of men and a couple of women stole our cave, they nearly killed father, but we escaped, it was a shame, the cave had become a home almost. Father needed a doctor, he had a big cut at the back of his head, but all my brother could do was dress the wound with the sleeve of a shirt. Father died a few weeks later of a fever, we buried him, it was horrible, we were alone, I was twelve, my sister was eight, our eldest brother eighteen.
We found another cave after a month’s search, it was big and dark, we made torch lamps, beds out of branches and straw, fashioned a stove from stones, ate animals we caught, learnt which plants we could eat without becoming ill, we lived like animals. We spoke less, having so little use for vocabulary that as the years passed we forgot, there was little opportunity to talk of cinemas, kickball, cars, except as memories. I remember washing my face in a stream one day and seeing my reflection and my brother’s, we really did look like cavemen we had seen in books at school, it was shocking.
Years went by, the few who survived all this had babies who grew into a world we once thought we had left behind millennia ago. The less we spoke and had the chance to write, the more we forgot it all. Conversation was often reduced to names of animals, plants, the weather, immediate necessities. People painted pictures of animals you could hunt and dangerous ones you had to be on the alert for in an area in the caves. We fashioned tools from stones, bones, sticks. Generations passed, it seems so hard to believe, cities we had once lived in were abandoned, when the cannibals ran out of people to eat they ran to the country too, the cities became overgrown, consumed by nature again, they were swallowed back up by the Earth, we even forgot that they had existed. We invented new fireside tales of our origins and makers, new words, the stars were a mystery; people formed clans, began organising their world, slowly cultivating crops again, building mud huts, establishing hierarchies, slowly villages became towns, which in turn became cities. What you call the past had started again.
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