It was just one of those mornings, one of those rare ones, one where she did not wake up out of place. Everything was at the right time and the right place, no confusion, no conflict, a perfect harmony. The dew from the previous night was sparkling on the green leaves as the sky filled itself with the orange morning glow, she even got to hear a bird sing. The perfect day and she ruined it by waking up.
She could have stayed in bed with him, wrapped around each other in silence, embraced in a void where nothing travels, not sound nor thoughts, not even time. She could have stayed, yet she didn’t. It wouldn’t be fair, she told herself, dragging up fantasies and living in fairy tales, it wouldn’t be fair to stories in her head. she walked towards the outhouse, her feet against the coarse ground, she can barely tell the difference between the two now. She could picture his feet, soft and protected against the cushion of the sole of his shoes, living in his luxuries. He will grow old with a million distractions, finding someone to love, someone he will make a home with, make a family and she will be just a fading dot to him, a spot on his eye which he will eventually rub out. His world had that luxury, hers didn’t. She can picture them, the tall buildings her grandfather used to tell her about, millions of tiny lamps lit up at the same time, the world glowing up, demanding attention and in one of those boxes, his face, lit up because he is happy, happy without her. That is the image she will keep in her heart, his life going on, him happy and satisfied. She will hang onto it till her last breath, she will clench her wrist tight and hold on to it, digging her nails into her skin so deep till the moment is absorbed in her blood and is running in her veins. Just the one image though, she tells herself, she cannot have too many of those flowing in her or she won’t be able to lift herself.
The professor’s message came early in the morning and it was clear enough that his work was done, he had perfected his experiment and this would be their last day together. A portable time machine, arrangements of magnets and wires, just iron and copper, that was all it took to shatter her. When the letter came, she didn’t wake him up, she let him have his sleep, let him be restful for happiness or disappointment, whichever comes to him naturally.
“You are up early.” She heard his voice coming from behind her. Without turning back she gestured to him to take the little piece of paper in her hand.
“Is this from the professor? Did he find a way out?” He asked her, confused by the message.
She turned halfway and gave him a side glance, “You should get some breakfast.” And turned to stare ahead.
She could feel his stare shoving into her. She kept walking ahead, searching for a tree or a wall to hide behind. How she wished that the rubble of the old buildings would collect itself and reverse itself into the tall structured one it once was, she could disappear into one of those, lock it up and not go out for a day.
The crops in the field had grown healthy this year, pretty soon it will be time for the group to move somewhere else. A family would move into the house they built, the crops would be harvested, walls replaced and eventually, every trace of their existence would go away. The other night she had thought to ask to stay back on the farm and take care of the place, some people did that, change career paths and settle down. Laying on the bed next to him, she had created a whole life for herself. But the knock on the door broke the spell.
“So this is it huh?” His voice startled her. She did not feel him following her. She took a deep sigh and finally turned around to face him. He quickly ran up to her and wrapped his arms around her. Her face felt wet against his shirt, she did not realize she was crying or for how long she had been crying.
“Hey! It might not even work.”
“Come On.” she chuckled. “Don’t get my hopes up.”
“Maybe I don’t go back.”
She broke from the hug and looked at him with a quizzical look. “Can you though? Stay?” She turned away from him. “You know what happens. The plan, you go back, tell everyone and you change the future.”
“I know. I know.” He put his arms up in frustration. “But are we certain that it can be changed? Maybe you can’t change the future.” He walked close to her and took her hands in his, “Can the professor confirm that the future will change, that anyone would listen to me? First of all, we don’t know the experiment would work, second, what are the rules? Can the future be changed, do we create some parallel universe? And why would anyone listen to me, I will be just some guy in a crowd of billions shouting the same thing every day? Nobody listens and nobody cares. Why would they care about me? Why would they listen to me?”
They both knew they were just excuses. Saving the world was not the reason he had to go back. He did not belong here, at this time. He grew up with a different set of rules, he was not a nomad like her, his family did not give him up and he did not give up on them either. He had to go back, no matter how much they both wanted him to stay. He was the piece that belonged to a different puzzle box, it doesn’t matter how much they colored him to fit in, he would never fit in.
The walk from the farm to the building was quiet. It was as if the world around could sense it too, the wind did not ruffle any leaves and the birds did not care to sit on a branch. Nature knew to be quiet that day, mourning their story.
Hand in hand they approached their destiny. The professor was all smiles when they reached him.
“It’s cliched but, EUREKA!” The professor shouted.
“Subtle.” He grinned. “How did you figure it out anyway?” He asked while looking around the apparatus.
“This.” The professor said while throwing a book at him. “ All the answers we need. I found it in one of the abandoned libraries, thought it might come handy someday. It is a pity someone would just abandon books like this, we can learn so much about the 21st century just by reading them.” The professor kept on rambling while going around the amphitheater.
The dome was one of the few big structures that survived the century. They were lucky that this village was not too much affected by disasters. The soil survived which meant that only a couple of batches of crops were ruined, and the houses were pretty intact so they didn’t have to set up tents and spend their nights trying to twist in a sleeping bag. Although, moving to any place above the net survival rate was always risky, mostly the places were completely abandoned which meant days of field clean up, both wild flora and fauna and constant fear of when the old walls will give in and crumble on their heads. Or there would already be a community settled, in that scenario, they just move to the next project. Apparently, the smaller the population, the more closed off people become. They don’t accept outsiders nor their ideas. It’s things like these which make her glad that he will be going back, he did not have to go through the abandonment, the disappointment of this world and he would not have to go on surviving this attempt at utopia after destroying the one they already had.
She still couldn’t look into his eyes. He placed his hand under her chin and lifted it, “It’s okay,”
It felt more like a question than a statement, so she nodded.
“We don’t have to do it right now.” The professor said from behind them. “Take a day off, go have a picnic, say goodbye to each other, properly. I will still be here tomorrow.”
“No.” She walked away from him towards the setup. Pretending to examine it. “ We shouldn’t keep him long. There is a letter from The Center, they have summoned him, hearing is in a week, they want to question him, keep an eye on him. Inspection officials could show up any day. You know how they are, they don’t want any locals or rebels disturbing the flow.”
“Oh!” The professor sounded sad, he wanted them to have more time together, in his excitement he forgot the heartbreak he will be responsible for. “ Well tonight then, we will do it tonight, after dinner.”
They both nodded. “Now go!” said the professor gesturing them to get away from him. They both gave a little chuckle and started walking towards the door.
It took them five minutes to decide what direction to take after leaving the professor. The age-old question, what would you do if today was your last day alive?, everybody had some answer prepared, something to impress the person in front of them, something even to just joke about, but when the day comes, nobody wants to do the things they said, nobody can decide what they want to do, she could not decide, neither could he. They could go to the hilltop and make shapes out of clouds or go to the lake and watch ducks float away on the water. She could show him all the places around that he didn’t get to see, but they are just abandoned relics now, they were much more beautiful in his time.
“Let’s go to the railway station.” He said breaking her chain of thought. “Jog up old memories.” He smirked.
Just another abandoned symbol of an era, an earthquake had blocked all the tracks passing the station and fixing it was the least of anyone’s worries, also nobody went there because it was too far from the safe zone, funny how they were yet to establish a proper lifestyle and had already got gangs trying to rip them off. She only encountered them once but pretty soon realized as long as you have something to trade your safety with, they will let you go wherever you want.
The place was quiet except for the sound of wind-fighting off the scraps of rusted tin. It was a horrific reminder to the way things were it was also one of the few places she found peace at, a place to sort out her insides. A place where they first met. He was wearing the same jacket that he wrote that day, however now it was covered in dust and torn from several places.
She remembers it like it was yesterday, he thought he was a vampire, said his skin was burning from the sun and his memory was gone, she just laughed and took him with her. They had met his kind a few times, quarantined from birth and drugged beyond tolerance and rationality, it was a wonder he escaped his parents considering the tight control they kept, saving up themselves for when the government would make everything all right again, just like old days.
Of course, he did not belong to that community, he did not belong to any community of the new world. It took her a full week and him two hours to realize that they were not from the same time. Somehow one branch of the tree had bent down to merge with its root. They didn’t know-how and after a while, they didn’t care.
“Now what?” She asked him.
“Nothing, we do nothing.” He smiled at her and sat down beside one of the walls. He gestured her to sit next to her.
“So, going back. Do you think it will matter?”
“It should, you can’t change your past, but the future is always uncertain.”
“So I go back and tell everyone and you grow up with space houses and Jet packs.”
“If you can save some fuel, then maybe.”
He chuckled. They sat in silence for a while, her head on his chest, listening to his heartbeat and him tracing her fingerprints in memory.
Nothing about it made sense, the beginning, the middle and the end. Their lives were ruled and consumed by the randomness of this one event, they spent weeks trying to understand and here they were, still oblivious. And was coming to an end.
They were at a waterfall, she had not been to this one before, in fact, she had never been to a waterfall before. People didn’t go in untreated water unless they wanted to kill themselves or just ruin the rest of their lives. He took her hand and led her to the highest rock, she kept trying to stop him, tried to warn him about the risk of going in the water, but he wouldn’t listen. She giggled when she felt the tingling in her toes as she stepped in the water, “You don’t giggle much. You should do that more.”, he said sitting down on the rock. He wasn’t wrong, she wondered why was that, it was not like she had it especially rough. They all grew up together, facing the same hardships, some fell in love and started a family while some went on their way, exploring other worlds and some stayed, building up the new world together, still they never forgot to smile so why did she? She was lost in thought when she felt the touch of his hands and she was bought back to the physical world from nonexistence just like the fingers do not exist unless they are pressed against something, he was her surface.
“Hey wake up! It’s dark already.”
She opened her eyes slowly, it took her a while to make out his figure in the dark until he lit up the candle. “We should be going. Professor would be waiting for us.” He was gathering up their stuff in the light of the torch. The rebels would be arriving any time to set up camp and even though wildlife was rare, it was never a good time to run into something with sharp teeth. He turned to her and came close, he placed the torch close to her so that the only thing illuminated in the vast black space was their faces and he wiped a tear from her cheek. Lately, she had been spending a lot of nights crying, the dark would trigger this storm inside her too strong to hold back. It would always leak out eventually.
When their lips finally separated, their faces were drenched and eyesight was fluid. She pressed her head against his and stood there, there were stones in their shoes and wet sand in their pockets, no matter how much they shook it off they couldn’t move.
“Just give me a minute.” The professor said to them while he went to work on his apparatus. She did not want to look at him and couldn’t look at her either, they both stood next to each other, holding each other’s hand, staring at the man running around in front of them with promises of rift and repair.
“Well, say your goodbyes now.” The professor took him by his shoulders and walked him to a spot marked ‘X’ on the floor. “I won’t bore you with details, but just stand there and in a few minutes you should be at your home running to hug your mother.”
He smiled looking at her. They spent last night talking, they spent the last six months talking, narrating every story they lived and describing every scar they got, this day, their last day together and they barely said a hundred words between them. Maybe it was the word 'goodbye’ or every word that came before and after that, but there was nothing to say to each other which would make them happy and so they just didn’t.
“Let me know when you get home.” She said with a smile on her face. He nodded back.
She closed her eyes and imagined them in the waterfall again, playing in the water, kissing as the drops ran down on the side of their faces. No worries and… A thunder-like sound broke her thought and then in a blink of an eye, he was gone. He was a distant memory now and she was too far for him to reach. She was left standing there staring at a wall, trying to conjure him in between the space. “Do you think he made it?” She asked the air which was left where he was standing.
“Maybe you should read this.” the professor handed her a book, she could recognize the cover, something the professor showed them earlier, dug up from the professor’s dusty collection. “Thank you, but I am not really in the mood.” she replied dismissing the offer.
“Please. The first page.” The professor nudged the book towards her.
“Fine.” She took the book in anger and opened it in frustration, “What about it?” she asked as her eyes cruised through the page, and there in bold letters, stood the words she wanted to hear at the moment. 'As my father would say everyday growing up, “I made it home.”’