Jola had ignored the garden for months. When she had first moved in, she paid it a little attention, but life quickly put a stop to her horticultural ways. Now the garden was a wilderness. Weeds were spreading far and wide. She picked up her cutlass. She would have to fight her way through.
Like the garden, her life was a tangle. Everything was growing, but it was hard to tell the blooms from the weeds. They were growing together. She had planted good seeds, so as the good book said, she would have to wait. Eventually, a day would come, the day of harvest.
Today wasn’t the day to untangle her life, but the garden was another matter. She cut down the tall weeds and pulled them up from the root. She tended to the good plants and placed good soil around them. She cleared the paths, swept and washed them. As she brought her work to completion, the sky poured a golden light over her efforts. It was a garden again. And it was a promise: that under the tangles, lies the truth.
"Where are you going?" Soji from Accounts asks, we are leaving the office at the same time.
"Not sure, I think I'll just take a walk," I say, "I'm not really hungry, I just feel like some fresh air."
I wander down the road in front of the office. A couple of streets down from the office is a square and at the centre of it is a fountain.
The summer sun reflects off the waters, light is thrown in all directions. I step closer. Then I see them. There are hundreds, thousands of coins beneath the water.
They were probably wishing, all of the people who dropped their coins into the water. They thought, somehow, that this combination of water, currency and light could give them the breakthrough they sought. I pull out my own coin. I hold it above the water. I think for a moment. Will I too devolve my hopes, dreams and prayers to an empty action? Or is there a fountain, a well within me that I can draw from for this moment?
I pull my hand back and place the coin back in my pocket. I stand up and begin the short walk back to the office.
"How was your walk?" Soji asks as we both walk back into the office.
"Enlightening," I say.
I remember a summer from my childhood, in the park with my dad. He had bought a kite for my birthday and it was my first day testing it out. I had so much fun that day. So on my daughter's tenth birthday, only one gift makes sense to give her: a kite.
"How does it work Mummy?" Melody asks.
"You unroll the string and then you run with it," I say.
"I'm gonna check YouTube," she says.
"OK," I say with a laugh.
She pulls out her phone and makes her checks. I see her face scrunch up with concentration. No one else at the park has a kite and I cannot remember the last time I saw one.
I am about to spiral into thoughts about my age, about how features of my childhood are now things that people have to research, then Melody says, "OK. I think I've got it."
Melody unfurls the string of the kite. Then she begins to run, the kite in her outstretched hand behind her. The winds quickly pick up the kite and it dances up into the air. It rises and rises until the string is taught. Melody is holding the handle tightly. She quickly figures out how to manoeuvre the kite. She swerves it about high above her head and the the tails flicker in the sky. I know what she is feeling. Wonder, that a small handle and a piece of string can give you control over something so elevated and elegant.
The winds abate and the kite drifts slowly to the ground. Melody runs to the kite and picks it up, then she runs back towards me.
"Did you see it, Mummy?" Melody asks.
"I saw it, baby," I reply. "That was amazing!"
It was a lucky break for the human race. In less than a year, the air across the globe would have been unbreathable. It was already too hot to go outside when the sun was up; the greenhouse gases were so elevated that only a very minuscule amount of heat was released from the atmosphere. So when the aliens arrived, the whole world rejoiced.
The first sighting of Earth’s visitors was by scientists at the Okutamba Observatory in the Namib desert. They saw an anomaly, a strange moving light, when observing Proxima Centauri, our closest neighbouring solar system. The moving light was barely bigger than a dot when it was first observed. It was moving at a speed that was impossible for any natural celestial object. Within minutes, the minuscule dot was marginally bigger. If it maintained its trajectory, it would arrive at Earth within weeks.
However, after an hour of observation, the anomaly disappeared. The scientists analysed the data for days, but looking to the skies, there was no sign of the phenomenon. One young scientist remained intrigued and undeterred. While her colleagues became occupied with other things, she continued to analyse the observations of the phenomenon. She calculated the most optimal route to Earth and transmitted a signal towards an estimated advanced location every hour.
One morning, she sat at her station at the Observatory, and saw that a message had been transmitted back:
“Well done. We cloaked our ship so as not to cause a panic,” said a strange voice over the transmission. “Please inform your governments, we need to talk.”
The young scientist informed the Namibian government. They did not believe her, that is until several spacecraft appeared over the Namib desert. Calls were made, and soon all world leaders were gathered around the table.
Apparently, the aliens had been watching us for decades, waiting for us to pass certain tests. We never passed the tests, but the climate situation had become so dire that they felt compelled to intervene.
As the talks advanced, one thing became clear, the aliens were incredibly kind and benevolent. They were rendering much-needed assistance to Earth in its hour of need. But moreover, they were in their very nature, considerate, altruistic and self-sacrificing. Visually, they looked just like us, but with shades of skin ranging across the whole colour spectrum. They said that they came from a planet similar to ours in many ways, just a lot bigger. They were willing to offer a whole continent for Earth’s population to relocate to.
“We can take most of your lifeforms,” their ambassador said. “But we have a directive, a rule that forbids us from completely evacuating your planet.”
The politicians looked around in confusion.
“We are obliged to leave approximately one per cent of the population in place,” said the ambassador. “To tend to the planet, and give it a fighting chance at recovery.”
“Do you need us to provide lists?” one of the Presidents asked. “We can use census data to determine who should be prioritised.”
“No, that won’t be necessary,” the ambassador said. “We will make the necessary determinations.”
“How exactly will you decide?” asked a prime minister.
“We will seek to act in the best interest of your planet,” explained the ambassador. “ Whilst also, considering who will best integrate into our society.”
Within days, more spaceships began to appear across Africa and eventually across the globe. The aliens began to share evacuation instructions. Those selected for evacuation would see a band of light appear around their wrist, ankle or torso.
The world waited. The spaceships hovered above every region. The world leaders grew restless and worried.
“We need to ensure that the most important people will be evacuated,” they said in a secret meeting.
“Let’s draw up a list and insist that the aliens prioritise our selections.”
One might have hoped that the government would have developed a fair and thorough process for compiling the priority list. However, after their families, friends and a number of individuals who had provided hefty donations were added to the list, they were stumped for criteria to add any more and had little incentive to do so.
“That will be enough,” they said to themselves.“As long as these people are evacuated we don’t really mind who the other 98% are.”
The world leaders called another meeting with aliens.
“We want you to prioritise the people on this list for evacuation.”
“We will consider your petition,” the ambassador responded.
On evacuation day, the light bands began to appear on people all over the world. At the allotted time, they found themselves surrounded by an orb of light and floating up towards the spaceships. Once the floating ended, those without the light bands were gathered, gazing upwards.
When the final spaceship departed, calls began to be made. The remaining 1% attempted to figure out who had been left behind. One by one, it became apparent that every world leader was still on-world. They were all on a group video call when the alien ambassador appeared.
“We demand an explanation,” one president said angrily. “You left behind some of the most important people.”
“Leaders who would prioritise their own well-being, over that of the people they are supposed to serve, are the least likely to adapt well to our society,” explained the ambassador. “Thank you. Your list made it very easy to decide who should be left behind.”
There were many rumours about the old woman who lived in the big house at the top of the hill. Most of the rumours centred around her absence of any discernible source of income alongside her very apparent wealth. Each day she strolled from her house, into the food district. She bought a cup of tea at the cafe, some flowers from the florist and then she walked back up the hill, not to be seen again till the evening. In the evenings, she walked to one of the many restaurants in the area. She always ate alone.
Yet, it was not her mysterious, solitary practices that primarily caught people’s attention. It was her clothing. To say that the old woman dressed as if she was on a runway was an understatement. She dressed as if she was royalty, and each day was a fabulous occasion. There was something enchanting about the volumes of fabric she surrounded herself with in order to perform the simple task of ordering a cup of masala chai.
From time to time, a car would drive up to the house and the driver would whisk the old lady away, along with several suitcases. Everywhere seemed less alive in her absence. A sombre stillness fell over the places she frequented. It was as if the air itself missed her. When she returned, she brought colour and energy back with her. Even if she came back in the dead of night, there was something in the morning air and the rising sun that revealed her return. No one had to say that she was back. Everyone could feel it.