Pink Toenails

By Mehreen Ahmed

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Then the mountains spoke. Voiced it in chorus, on the ancient land of Turag…

Then the mountains spoke. Voiced it in chorus, on the ancient land of Turag. A world where trees walked, winds cried, rivers sang and the mountains talked. This place, not for humans to reside anymore, but for natural lives and artificial intelligence. Turag, yes, this place, because humans have long been obliterated, like dinosaurs before them. Since then robots have replaced them. The organic world even as we speak, ceased to exist, as autumnal dirge swept through the pine forests of dead wood.

They all witnessed it, the sky, the oceans and the mountains. But their voices couldn’t be heard. In the days of humans, everyone thought they were mute, who neither heard, nor spoke. But humans were wrong. They communicated and witnessed every human history. Humans didn’t see that they saw. Just as well, they saw the end of world. They saw it all coming. There was too much clunky background noise. Humans were really a noisy lot.

Turag, once a lush plateau. Birds frolicked in the rain. Wheat and rice grass grew, and wavered under an autumn sky. Children played around, while mothers bar-b-qued corn over open fire-pits. Smoke nearly choked the neighbouring mountains of the plateau. But the mountains never complained. They smiled and took it all in their stride. They waited patiently for a miracle to happen.

In the meantime, billions of years of civilisation passed. Generations toppled one another. Kings died to make way for the new. Power corrupted Kings. Mighty Kings they might have been, who won battles, killed people on the mountain steppes. The green fields turned scarlet, replacing the many resplendent shades. But wins and expansions were all that mattered to the Kings, one more despotic than the other, often sacrificed the innocent for self-aggrandisement, cared not much at all for justice, whether or not justice was mete out. Then a time came, when nature revolted. Fields stopped producing bumper crops. Rains decided not to dole out bountiful properties of the rainbow. Leaves shrivelled up. Darkness blighted the sun. Blood-moon lit the world. Machines were empowered. This new age of machines initiated a different kind of rage. An annihilation of the humans underway, to take possession of the land. They didn’t need nature to feed them, neither did they care to find beauty in it. Humans, long gone.

“Could men not have predicted this?” asked the blood-moon to the mountains.

“They could very well have, because they were the ones to make these machines. But men ignored it in a haste to chase success,” the mountains answered. The veiled sun conceded.

The mountains said. “Enter our caves and view the paintings there; stories of life foreshadowed on the dim walls. But men paid no heed. Too much background noise; they came from war drums, drunken cheers of vacuous victories, and wanton amusements. Noises which shrouded men’s judgement for everything that came to pass. Fools, they were fools! Those men, whose wisdom failed them. Only the stars knew, how reckless they were. The massive destruction of innocent lives. Timeless settlements and resettlements, of nearly broken bones and spirits of men, women and children. They looked like scattered peas to gods above. Still men endeavored to build communities and strange dwellings to shield themselves from showers, storms, and blustery winds. They chose to ignore the transience of life. They stopped to think that the life-giving, precious air, their lifeline, was sourced from an outer world; that they had no control over. The last breath taken, very well could be on those battlefields. Relentless battles, as if there were no tomorrows. Mortals inhaled this infinite air to harness what little strengths they could, and stored them within their caged shells. A mortal existence, without any rhyme or reason. The immortals while they remained so, tied humans to timeline, and made them mortals.”

“Was this a fair deal?”asked the blood-moon.

“Fair or not, space needed to be created for every newborn. Power blinded men, who fought and killed and thought, they made history. And they did. Made history. But they also fell prey to nature’s greatest conspiracy, there ever was.”

“Tell us more about them. These conspiracies,” the blood-moon said.

“How can this be the real world? That men lived on borrowed gasses for their dear lives, the sprinklings from sunlight? The sun which hid behind you tonight. All this, Ah! This sweet smell of life, the history, the inceptions and the destructions, the indelible stories of men writ on cave walls, what are they, if not illusions? Men fated to live a faded life, while they thought, they lived an unbroken reality, carved out to live forever. But, a dream which was then going to be broken one day. That day, never to wake up again.

“All this a dream?” asked blood-moon.

“That’s why humans have left us today, only to be invaded by a new generation. Machines, another wave of invaders took possession. They were ruthless too. Because humans built them in their own image, who didn’t need any air to survive. Men built them in their image, so after the death of this organic race, machines could carry human legacy to posterity.

Blood-moon listened awhile, then added.

“Hardwired into a far stronger bind of vulgar ambition; more logic, than emotion. They destroyed men because they were the noisiest of the lot. Foolish men, they thought they were making machines, to be served by them. Alas! But the irony remained that machines did the job for us. They silenced men and left us, nature in peace. However, the absence of human drama made for a boring existence. Like the lonely moons over the barren planets.”

“Why? Is there a paradox, here?” The mountains asked. “Life existed for millions of years. Yes, they were fated to destroy themselves in the end. Now that all have gone. And we, the mountains, the sun and the moon have been left to our own devices to share treats amongst us. I miss them, mankind. I miss them. They were mad. Creatures of high passion, and intelligence, who loved, killed and created extraordinary things. Who allowed themselves to be frenzy, crazy, no?” the mountains replied.

“Ah! But they didn’t think that far ahead. They were too limited in their imagination for predictions. That their passions exultant, looped them up into this paradox. That this paradox would also lead to the destruction of the human race. By far, their intelligence caused this downfall,”said blood-moon.“Did they have a choice?

“Here’s a question; indeed, did humans have a choice, regardless of divine intervention? Or was this a part of a cosmic project? One that shaped a destiny, and written this history. What was it? All this, a human choosing, in the end?” the mountains thought.

“Well, you and I seemed to have outlive humans, and continue to outlive them unless, Mr. Lightening struck you down today, or we, the sun and I got completely eclipsed by each other. Our orbits collided to write us off into oblivion,” concluded blood-moon.

“There’s your answer, then,” the mountains said. “The forces out there, with their random acts of discretion, could tweak anything. You may not sit on your silver throne forever just as humans didn’t. Just this, that this illusion of an existence, those humans couldn’t understand,” concluded the mountains.

“Hmmm, I don’t really know,” said blood-moon.

“Neither do we,” the mountains chorused.

While they had this conversation, a dust storm picked up on the far side of the plateau. A russet gust of winds rolled in and darkened the mountains, clogged up its crevices and valleys. It covered the blood-moon too, rendering a sad world to further gloom. This wasn’t the end surely? The mountains thought. They had difficulty breathing; the air had ceased. The trees stopped walking to get their bearings back; the rivers stopped singing. They broke out into hiccups and coughs. These tumults in the surroundings, shook the peace. No human hand at play, to create this havoc. The machines ran amok, and kept losing their vital parts. There were no one to fix them. Machines could doctor one another, but they didn’t get that opportunity. Because, even they couldn’t predict this. A human failing of flawed design, to be certain.

An impending disaster loomed. Another kind of warfare started within nature itself. The winds clashed with the rising tide. Mountains, stood guard, to stop the storm from going any further. But the lightenings then befell the mountain tips. Series of volcanic eruptions, and melted glaciers paved the way to pandemonium. The overflowed lava wedded the falling lightenings, and danced in spiralled tango. Complete chaos beset the land of Turag. In the wake of a present danger, the blood-moon shot out of sight. The storms, the lightenings, left history in awe. Then a heat wave surged. Turag was hot again. Turag hotting up! The lava ran in a rivulet towards the swelling seas. The oceans submerged the mountains. The plateau of Turag, now under water, saw another breathing world beneath the oceans. Once again there was life. Mermaids swam unhindered. A clear sun ruled and gave it a second chance.

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Mehreen Ahmed

is an internationally acclaimed author. Her book The Pacifist was selected as Drunken Druid's Editors' Choice for June 2018, while her book Jacaranda Blues was selected for The Best of Novels for 2017: Family Novels of the Year by Novel Writing Festival. Her flash fiction "The Portrait" was chosen to be broadcast by Immortal Works' Flash Fiction Friday in 2018. She has published with Literary Yard, Furtive Dalliance, Cambridge University Press, Routledge and many others. Her works have also been nominated for prestigious awards.