(A Short Story)
May 16, 2020
We agreed to meet at the park instead of going back to the tiny apartment we shared while the world was ending. It was easier this way. Saying goodbye the other way meant someone would have to stay behind and close a door, while the other had to leave and stay outside. It’s not something either of us wanted to do. As eager as we might have been to move on, we didn’t want to hurt each other. So much was already ending, so much had already ended without an opportunity of a goodbye. This we would try to do as painless as possible. So, we pushed our last conversation till the very last day of our lives on this planet, just to make sure that no one stayed behind and felt abandoned.
It felt less like a breakup and more like a natural consequence given our unnatural circumstances. We didn’t agree on it, didn’t even talk about it, but we both knew it. Below the lack of passion was the life we built while the world crumbled around us, and now, as all humans and animals were being shepherd across the universe, here on a broken earth would forever lay the possibility of that life, and how perfect it was to say I love you thinking we wouldn’t survive the night, how needed it was to have someone to touch for the last time.
It started with the climate deteriorating, but we didn’t pay attention to that. Then came the massive fires around the world. During the final phase a virus spread, and last, while we thought life would go back to normal somehow, it happened. Like if earth was destroying itself, parts of the planet withered and turned inhabitable, no oxygen, nothing. No one could explain it, but everybody ran, until there was no longer space for all of us gathering in the same places. That’s when scientists and the government revealed there was a way to live outside the earth. They’ve known for a long time and were only now sharing it. We were so happy of not having to stay and die, that nobody questioned them, nobody expressed rage at all the power some people held against the majority of us. We just packed and waited for them to tell us which ship we were supposed to board and leave planet earth forever.
Our groups were the last ones on earth, but we wouldn’t be going to the same place. He chose an asteroid so far from mine that it was safe to assume we would never see each other again. Here I was, sitting on a park bench, looking around and wondering if whatever happened next would ever allow me to walk through a park and sit on benches again. If however outside was like could ever feel like home. If I could find orange buildings there, and live in one. If my neighbor would be grumpy, but babysit my cat whenever I asked her.
Here I was hoping to deal with traffic, trying to hold on to the most annoying tasks that also made life so mundane. The man in whose arms I thought I would die was soon to say goodbye forever, and here I was, begging for mundane. Because that was us right there. We could die together, but not live together. The need of having something to hold on to while we waited for the end. An in between or a “while we await”.
There was so much silence around. How to explain the feeling of knowing you are amongst 100 people left in the world? I remember working till late at the office. How everything echoed against the walls – but still I felt life around – and walking by every desk was like walking by an empty bedroom whose owner would be back in a matter of hours because they lived there, belonged there, and had a mark in the place. What this park and the world have turned to was the opposite of that. Streets, buildings, countries… empty. Abandoned. This nothingness was heart wrenching.
The world was a giant bedroom, but his owner would never come back, and in a matter of hours it would remain empty and no one would even witness this solitude. I wished with all my heart that the destruction stopped. Not even so we could make it back, but because it hurt to think that after everyone was gone, it would keep deteriorating and fade. Like a lonely star that no one knew and just watched from afar.
People would miss it. I knew that the minute the fear wore off, we would all start crying for our home. Crying for how we spent the majority of school studying its history, its geography, every animal and habitat, every continent and its culture. Learning its languages and about the amazing and horrible people that existed before us. All of this just to pack and leave it behind. I wasn’t ready. I would never be ready, and even now, after having signed up for the last trip, I felt it was too soon.
I needed more time. To think about all the places I would never visit, how I spent my adult life saving money to see the world just to spend it on basic needs while the world fell minute by minute. All the countries I wanted to see and now would never. I hoped with all my heart that with us gone, the withering would stop. So that even if I could never make it to Italy, I could at least feel the comfort of knowing that Italy would still be here. That all of it was not for nothing. That we didn’t just spend thousands of years here just to disappear like if it was all a crazy long dream. If we were the dinosaurs of our life span, I hoped earth would remain for the ones to come after us. I hoped there would be someone to come after us.
He was here. I didn’t feel him coming. He walked up to the bench slowly. I took the opportunity to watch him as he did. The man whose arms were home for so long. I almost regretted having come, but I wouldn’t have known how to explain that I didn’t want forever, but couldn’t deal with goodbye either. He reached the bench and smiled, and I saw it. I remembered why of all the men in that bar, I wanted him that night, why of all the exes with whom I shared a deeper story, I chose him while the world ended. Why it still hurt to know he chose to run so far away from me.
We didn’t say much. Where our families went, when they left, at what time our ships were departing. Nothing. His ship would leave first. We were supposed to go to the same place to depart. There was an awkward silence for a moment. The question hanging there. If we would go together. Our last trip before the final trip. He looked at me. I looked away. He was a gentleman, but my last ride should be about love, not about easy comfort. If it wasn’t like that between us, I would ride alone, and make it about my love for the earth and how I would keep hoping for its miraculous recovery.
He kissed me on the cheek and took something from his pocket. An earring I lost a while ago. He went back to the apartment and found it. I felt a tug in my heart, and a numb in my throat. It was real. Not perfect, not passionate. Not a love story to be told for ages to come, not even something I would reminisce about with friends.
But it was real. It happened and we mattered enough to each other that he knew I couldn’t stand to even lose an earring after having lost so much already. We mattered enough that now I knew he wanted love too, and he would go far enough from me so we didn’t seek each other out when sadness, boredom, or fear stroked us again. Far enough to try and find someone to live with instead of someone to die with. I hugged him tight and set him free. I hoped that just like with earth, even if we never saw each other again, he would find happiness and everything he wanted.
I sat back on the bench once he was gone. He looked back twice before getting in one of the two remaining busses. I smiled every time he did. Around me the silence remained; the last officials started to walk towards the last working bus. We still had a few more minutes, but everyone had either had enough and needed to get going, or maybe felt that if they didn’t stand up now, they’ll stay in here forever. That’s how I felt.
I would soon follow them; I would soon leave everything for good. But for a few more minutes, I would just stay here seated. I wanted to be, for a little bit longer, the last girl sitting on the bench of a park, and think about the last breakup to ever happen on earth. Before I was off to an adventure I never asked for, I would think about how feeling the earring in my pocket made me feel mundane and complete, about this love gesture, about how we turned out to be the last love story on earth.
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