I draw a small, perfect circle with a stub of a white chalk and place my cat, Scimp (whom I had found as a stray here) inside it.
Scimp looks skeptically at me, gracing the air with a quiet mewl but keeps on sitting in her place.
A wash of unidentified sadness is all it needs for me to take my eyes off the white, ominous circle with Scimp inside and walk to the edge. Above, the stars have breathed into the sky in a dust of colors and grains. I feel lost just staring up at them as I always do, like my soul detaches itself from my body and flies up to the world above. Except after racing and twirling in the sky above, it plunges deep down into the world below.
The world underwater which I can never see from up here, the world in mid-sky.
It's been years since the people of the earth were divided, where they were given the choice to live either quite literally underwater, called Marina or in the floating world in the sky called, Ciela. The word "choice" was an overstatement, however. Some were given the choice, others were forced. I, as a citizen of a country that was taken onboard among the last ones, was faced with the latter. I was stationed at Ciela, a huge floating bubble-like world in mid-sky that had its customized oxygen in the air.
And my wife was stationed at the Marina, the twin world of Ciela but only under water.
The world leaders had for long fought hard to have one world where we would take refuge in when everyone realized that our planet is definitely going through changes that we won't be able to survive. But after a lot of debate about where to escape, above or below, someone had finally laid out the cunning plan of having both. There would be lesser accommodation problems, more advantages. The leaders spun this into an idea of "revolutionizing", "futuristic living" and the media ate it up as "the perfect plan". Except it would cost a lot.
And it did. And they are now trying to compensate that with our labour, forced into work in equality in both worlds. Marina and Ciela would have equal number of children – the leaders crooned. But they didn't tell us what kind of mothers separated their children into two polar opposite worlds where they could never meet.
However, amidst Marina and Ciela, was another world as my soul flitted past it. The earth. The middle ground. The world we left behind.
It was barren there. After constant episodes of wildfire, tsunamis and earthquakes, the earth swallowed itself up until there were no trees, no stable ground without a fissure, no air that wasn't heavy with smoke and toxins. And of course, no humans.
My wife and I wrote to each other at first, breezy and hopeful, pretending it was just some work that took us apart for the time being. But two years in, the wounds and dents settled in. Couples from richer, more powerful countries had not been separated, it was just people like us who had to work like this. Not that there was no rule to meet. There was a sparing rule to meet once every year or so but we never made to the cut.
I re-read my wife's latest text that I got a while ago:
"Hi. You know, my brain's quite infested with this amusing thought every time I have some seafood: now that I am living in this curious world of water, I feel like a cannibal every time I have one. Because I feel more like a marine creature and less like a human these days. Haha. Isn't it weird? Anyway, how are you holding up? Spotted any new nebula? I have been briefly missing the sky, really. Here, I'm very much annoyed by the watered-down version of the sky we see. It's just rippling reflections, honestly. Sigh. Take care of yourself and Scimp. Love you."
She sent a picture of herself holding up a plate of shrimp and scrunching her nose at it. Because they live underwater, they are constantly bathed in this blue hue that seeps in no matter how many artificial lights they've installed there. Today, it's bluer. It's like this blue has invaded her too. And that makes my soul return inside me and shrink in agony too.
I take pictures of the sky for my wife since she misses them and glance at Scimp again, who's nestled in deep sleep inside the circle I drew. She doesn't even have a fur on the borders. What a wicked cat – I find myself thinking. The sirens go off and before I can dwell on the circle any longer, I drag myself back to work again.
But at work today, it's different.
There's something else in the air today beside the ever-present sterile scent. Something delicious and not as suffocating like the always-being-diffused disinfectants:
People are huddled here together as they most probably are going through the same thing in their phones. I open mine too and find it.
A small blue dot of the most recent news:
It has been found through concrete evidences that there are still some humans surviving on the land. The Middle Ground – people called.
I gasp. But how? – I wonder. From up here in Ciela, the land looks so haunted, like part of some dystopia and not the other way around. How did they manage to survive there or not be forced into either Marina or Ciela there?
The leaders bring up this news in their speeches, stating that fools do live in this thriving age of intelligence. They try to paint these humans as some outlaws (which they technically are), evil aliens who are serving punishment there and not defying the higher powers.
But I and the rest see it for what it is. The bones of Marina and Ciela were rattled with the news, the powers that be were challenged. This was historical.
And I somehow think of our old life there. Images of a small but cosy house, white walls, sugar quills and large open windows, cobblestoned roads and beautiful green plants that my wife loved, flash through my mind.
I feel more like a marine creature and less like a human these days. But she wasn't.
And neither was I a bird in a sky.
I stare down at the floor. Our floors are quite transparent and you can see everything that's below. The world looks too small from up here and maybe it's my imagination but it seems today a bit more liveable than I last saw. It suddenly occurs to me that those humans on the land are the ones surviving, living even and we are the ones out here who escaped.
Not a marine creature, not an aerial one, we're just humans.
I think of my wife, how she loved our life before; her eyes always full of some sort of emotion all the time. But without the Marina and Ciela where would we have gone?
The answer is quite simple as Scimp suddenly with a loud purr, steps out of her circle. Elaborately she walked out and stood in between the circle and me.
The borderlines have been smudged off.
Maisha Nazifa Kamal has lost track of time and is living in a world where she never existed. Break her reverie at [email protected]