By Parniyan Bashar
“The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door.” It sounded hollow as it echoed through the large, mechanical room. The knock sounded foreign to him.
Had it really been twenty years already? Of course, he had no real way of knowing how long it had been, since they removed the calendar system decades ago. But still, with what little perception of time he had left, he imagined what life must have been for the rest of them. He imagined them all boarding their respective ships, carrying their belongings, their indifferent and expressionless faces as they dragged their children along with them. He would be lying if he had said that he didn’t want to pack up his things and follow them into the depths of space, but they had told them to stay, and so he did.
Everyday, he would wake up in his chair, alone, to a wall full of screens displaying a plethora of horizontal lines and spikes. He would stare at them and listen to their rhythmic beeping for hours and hours. This was his life without them. He felt no hunger. He felt no thirst. He now felt nothing except the desire to leave. He did not know where he wanted to go, just that he wanted to leave. His desire was not fervent, however. It was a quiet desire, a momentary thought that he would hold onto, until he would remember how they told them to stay, to which he would continue to stare at the screens, his screens.
Twice a day, the computer would pass nutrients into him, without him even having to leave his chair. Once a day, the computer would play an audio recording of a woman saying, “Hello! Just making sure your muscles don’t stiff up,” to which he would shift his arms and legs slightly, rotate his head and continue to look at his screens. He did wonder why they didn’t just display a message on the screens as a reminder, perhaps they didn’t want him to feel lonely. Initially, he did feel lonely, but he had become accustomed to it. The audio recording would rephrase itself everyday, to give a more “human” feel. When they had left, it was hard to stay put, however, they knew what was best for him and as the days went by, it became easier. He had everything to keep him alive, pushing his existence forward.
The knock echoed once more as he looked for the button on his chair to take him to the door. The knock had made him feel whole. It was as if something sparked within him, a sort of adrenaline spike which had almost erupted a smile on his face. The button on the arm rest made a faint click as he went in reverse, gradually backing away from the screen. The room was filled with a glow, blanketing the walls and the machines with a fuzzy, blue haze.
“The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, red lorry yellow lorry, seashells, seashells on the sea shore,” he recited as he wheeled his chair to the door. He made sure to practice everyday, just in case they came back early. He smiled, knowing his efforts to maintain his speech had proven helpful. He did not know what he would say, all he knew was that he was finally going to leave.
He could hear the faint sound of what seemed like talking, a conversation between three people.
The hallway was dimly lit by the light from the screens, the rhythmic beeping only getting louder. His enthusiasm to answer the door had brought a feeling of uncertainty as he descended down the hallway, trying to make out indistinct conversation.
“There’s nothing we can do,” said a voice at the end of the hallway. What did he mean “there’s nothing we can do”? Did the mission fail? Are they coming back home? His heart began to ache. His patience was all for nought. All that time he spent staring at those screens, wasted. He was confused, he was upset, he began to push the wheels on his chair harder, gathering the momentum he needed to bring himself to the door faster.
The hallway became darker, he could feel his heart in his mouth, cold sweats running down his neck. He could hear the conversation clearer now. Two men and a women spoke in a quiet, melancholic tone. They sounded dejected, or at least that’s what they tried to express. The man sounded despondent, yet something about his words sounded rehearsed. The other man and woman listened to this man quietly, accepting his words fully, without hesitation.
“Well, it was meant to come to this, “ said the other man. As he pushed on further to the door, the screens began to change behind him. The incessant beeping grew louder and the spikes and lines ran slower across the screen. He was too far now to notice the change that had finally taken place on the screens, the change he had been waiting for, the change that he was meant to witness. The blue haze that ran across the hallways had become softer and less intense as he neared the door. He began to slow down as he had reached the end.
“I don’t even think I remember my father anymore. I visited a couple of times in the beginning, but he just seemed like a vessel. He was so empty, I couldn’t even recognise him anymore,” said the woman. She sounded familiar, he thought. Then, with a jolt that felt like an electrical current, he remembered that this was the woman who had told him to stay. This was the woman who had told him to be patient and that they would return. He felt a surge of anger rush through him. This woman seemed to have no knowledge of the pain that he had to suffer through and she was the one who told him to stay? Did she even know about the mission or was she a messenger? And even if she was a messenger, what gave her the right to come and inform him that the mission had failed?
The adrenaline rush had worn off as he sat in his chair, unable to process what he had heard. This life of the screens was all he knew now, he had no memories before the screens. He had memorised the mission briefing thoroughly, but there was no mention of a “father”. Maybe it was a new form of government he wasn’t aware of, the head of government being the “father,” he thought.
“You shouldn’t blame yourself, there was nothing you could’ve done. But you would have to make your decision in the next few hours…” the man said as his voice trailed off.
The room now turned white. The man sat in his chair, eyes snapped open, looking around him aggressively. The lab was no more and his screens sat opposite to him, continuing to beep. He squinted as he sat upright, looking around the room for an explanation. He then heard a voice mumbling through what seemed like speakers. His head then violently turned to the ceiling as the voice began to speak. He began to suffocate as the woman’s word became clearer. Tears streamed down his face for the first time in years. The tears were warm against his skin and grew colder as they reached his chin. His neck was stiff. He tried to look in a different direction, but he was paralysed, stuck staring at the ceiling. He tried to scream, but it was of no use. He felt his words caught in his throat. He wanted to leave.
He did not care if they had come back for him, he did not care for them, he just wanted to leave. After a few moments, he began to breathe normally once again and was able to properly hear the woman’s words.
“You were always working all the time so I never really got a chance to see you as a person. It’s not that I’m not grateful for the person you made me, but I don’t really have much to go on, and I hope you understand that,” said the woman as he heard the shifting of clothing. “I guess I’d feel guilty if I didn’t say goodbye, even though, technically, we had already done that”.
The room’s pristine white glow slowly dimmed as he felt his neck becoming looser. His breathing was stifled, yet steady. His agitation began to fade and his attention was fixated on the woman’s words. The beeping grew slower and turned into one long sound. He let go of the handles on the chair and just sat, staring at the ceiling.
“I don’t even know if you can hear me, but… goodbye”.
The room was white. A loud, high pitched, continuous beep filled the four walls.
The mission had ended.