By Sair Shaikh
The Last Man on Earth sat alone in his room when there was a knock on the door. Being no stranger to the tricks of the wind, the Last Man sat coughing up blood into a snowy white tissue. He balled the tissue up and threw it down to join the dozens of others that littered the ground, forming an intricately woven tapestry of inky red scarlet hues against a backdrop of untainted snowy whites. A perfect metaphor for our history on this planet, thought the Last Man, all our magnificent weapons and wars; all our dazzling cities, filled to the brim with pretend grandeur; our science and our art; the cacophony of civilization itself. All of it reduced to splotches of red against the gaping void of white, teetering on the edge of oblivion, lost, fading, forgotten.
Shaking the thought from his head, the Last Man on Earth took one glance at the skies outside. Just a smidge greyer than yesterday, he noted as he began to write the last book humans will ever write, a book titled “The Story of Us” – an effort to document all that will be lost once the tumor in his chest grew too large for his lungs to support him. There was another knock on the door.
At least I won’t have to hunt today, sighed the Last Man as he stood up and gazed around the room. All around him, his four walls stood damp and crumbling. A few more bricks had come loose today, letting even more sunlight in. Spotty green moss plastered the walls where the concrete had given way, with wild vines crawling along the walls and ceiling in a pattern not entirely unlike the pattern of blue oxygen-deprived veins crawling down his torso and limbs. Nature always has a way of taking back what’s hers, he mused.
He got up, took his hunting rifle off the wall, locked and loaded an armor piercing round and pointing the barrel straight ahead, opened wide the door.
No one there.
Well, guess I’ll have to hunt later today, the Last Man sighed as he moved to close the door, when something wet brushed past his leg.
He looked down and saw a pup with curly silver fur and black spots on his skin take a few steps into the room before it stumbled and fell, whining in pain.
The man looked outside at the ground underfoot and noticed a trail of blood soaking into the muddy soil, nourishing and feeding it, but gaining no sustenance for its own. He kneeled down to cradle the pup in his arms, with a sense of wonder and pity: how on earth had he survived this parasitic world for so long?
The Last Man on Earth settled the pup on his dusty kitchen counter-top, long since out of use, and took a look at the pup’s leg wound. Just a metal barb wedged into his front paw, a mere flesh wound, the last man noticed and gave a half-hearted chuckle. He couldn’t remember when he’d last seen a fixable wound. He brought out his old rusty toolbox from the other side of the room, and was driven out of breath.
A cruel reminder that he, and by extension the whole species, had an expiry date looming close.
The Last Man held firm the pup’s leg, and asked him to count along.
3… 2… 1…
The pup gave a soft high-pitched yelp, reminding the Last Man of a toddler’s cry. A cry of innocent pain, of emotion in its most basic, unobstructed, pure form. He poured some alcohol to disinfect the wound, and started bandaging it with a clean roll of bandage. The pup lay there, whimpering his cry of fixable pain. As the man rolled the bandage around the pup’s leg one last time and fixed it with a knot, his expression betrayed an oil and water mixture of fear and hope. He feared how on earth would this pup live, once he himself was dead, but found courage in the fact that the pup had survived this long at all.
The man lifted the pup off the countertop and placed him on the linoleum floor below and turned to repack his toolbox back, hoping it wasn’t needed again, when he heard a joyful bark. He turned around to find the pup on the other side of the room, a trail of muddy paw prints clumped in pairs of three following him there. He felt his cheek muscles harden, contorting his mouth into a smirk, a movement he had long forgotten. A fresh batch of warm tears rolled down his face. Oh, how can something so small and fragile have such undefeated will to live!
Wiping the tears off his face, the man went back to his foam and leather armchair to continue writing. “Our story begins and ends in much the same way. Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers. And here at the end of our line (and at the end of this book), I live in much the same way. I hunt deer and rabbits and gather edible berries by daylight, just as my ancestors did. They hunted alongside domesticated wolves; today I found a beautiful wild pup that just doesn’t quit. And thus, as my lungs collapse, our story ends”. He wrote, as he coughed blood once again into a snowy white tissue. Once again, he balled the tissue up, and threw it down on the floor to join the dozens of others in their tapestry of red and white. Except
what he saw gave him reason to pause.
Amidst the hues of scarlet reds and snowy whites were interlaced muddy browns. Paw prints. The pup had made its contribution to the tapestry of life, as if to say “I’m here. I exist. And I’ll be here existing even after you’re gone.” And in that moment the Last Man on Earth had an epiphany.
The Last Man on Earth realized that his story wasn’t the story of humans in their cities and empires, but rather the story of all life on this planet. And that even though he was the last sentence in a beautiful, at time foolish, but nevertheless truly remarkable chapter named Homo Sapiens, it wasn’t the last chapter in this book of life. This book wasn’t his to finish. The story of life, his story, our story didn’t end here. Nature had come back to claim what was hers. But nature’s control is also temporary. And as long as life endures and evolves, even though we humans might be gone, there is yet hope.
Perhaps a few million years from now, there would once again be another species capable of building complex civilizations. Perhaps they’ll have their own scientists and artisans. Perhaps they’ll have their own storytellers to tell their story. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll have their own archeologists to discover and piece together our wonderful history too!
He tore out the page he had just written, and chucked it away to join the tapestry underfoot. He set his pen to paper once again and wrote: “As the story of my species come to an end, many other stories are yet to unfold. One such story belongs to a friend I met today: a silver pup with black spots on his skin. I think I’ll name him “Asha” – the Sanskrit word for hope. Asha will continue this story, once I am dead. He may not hold a pen, or put coherent words on paper. But his paw prints speak more of the common humanity in all of us, that my words ever can. And thus, I end this book here with this:” The Last Man got up, took the book over to Asha, and helped her mark her muddy footprint on the page.