The Summer of 2022. That’s the last thing I remember of the before days. Before seasons stopped to be distinctive periods, before winter disappeared forever, before the start of The Great Burning.
I remember it so well, this time. I remember small things about it, like how it was the first year the rosy starlings didn’t visit the city and I remember the big things, like how countries around the world were collapsing in real time. These days I spend most of my time in the bunker, remembering. My sister tells me there’s no point living in the past, it will only cause you heart break. But she misunderstands. I’m not living in the past because I’m nostalgic, or because I want to remember the days when the city would be overtaken by beautiful pink bougainvilleas, and trees would light up with the fertility of spring. That’s not what I am doing. I live in the past because I’m looking for signs, looking for clues that would have told us of what was to come. Looking for evidence that should have warned us, that could have allowed us to fight this future. I look up the skylight and see the now permanent orange-grey sky.
In the Summer of 2022, we were coming out of a two-year long pandemic. Everyone around me was determined to re-create the roaring 20’s. I cannot count the number of Gatsby themed parties I went for, but I do remember never stopping to recall what they had meant to Gatsby. I went to each one, with a new shimmering outfit and a new feathered headdress. Those days everyone I met was somehow involved in the online world— marketing, modelling, advertising, influencing, all fancy words for selling things people didn’t need. But boy did they look good doing it. And that’s what mattered. Aesthetics was everything. Not how much blood, sweat, tears it took behind the camera, only how good you looked in front of it. I remember watching these videos for hours, where they’d take tattered old decrepit houses and – within seconds – aestheticize it with beautiful pastel colors and clean marble tops and dim lighting. It was called a glow up and we did it to everything, to ourselves, our clothes, our food, until it became difficult to differentiate reality from the perfectly curated imagery of the internet. Before the sky became the vicious orange-gray it is today, it had taken on a lovely pinkish hue. I remember reading that it was a sign of an increasingly warming earth and still taking a photo, filtering it to cull out the smokiness, and posting it online. Aesthics was everything.
These days in the bunker, it’s common to hear things like no one saw this coming. “Who could have known” muttered solemnly. Nobody asks why there was a network of underground bunkers spread all around the city, ready for use. It happened almost overnight. One day, there we were doing our jobs, hungover from the weekend, saturating ourselves with content and the next, everyone we knew, everyone with any money, was buying slots to the bunkers and making plans to move indoors. They had kept it a secret, so they could make a killing when the madness finally hit us. Now they say that in a few decades, the surface could get cool enough that we could once again begin to build above ground. They say that one days we can look outside our windows, and it won’t just be endless darkness. But what the fuck do they know?
Back then, we often pondered our own mortality. We laughed about the doomsday clock that was close to striking 12, we recounted each climate disaster with a horrified comment about how the end is near. Maybe we all believed that it wouldn’t really affect us, that somehow it was in the abstract; yes it was happening to humanity, but not to us. The most powerful had assured us that we could fix the climate crisis, that it was possible, that human ingenuity alone driven with the rational incentive of profit could solve this problem. They were sure of it. And maybe we believed them. Maybe we had gotten so addicted to a particular type of story where no matter how bad things got, things always resolved itself in the end, that we forgot that this was real life. As a society when you get too big, when you produce enough cars and clothes and monuments and art and money, you begin to think you are invincible. That you are too big to fail. Nothing could be further away from the truth.
There’s a running joke in the bunker. Someone will get a frantic look on their face and say, “I think I left the geyser/stove on”, or “oh no, I didn’t lock my door”. It’s funny because it’s so ludicrous. But it’s also funny because that’s what it was like. Like leaving your home in a rush, except it was the last time we left it.
One day I was on my way to office. It was peak noon during the peak of the deadliest summer we had seen in over a hundred years. Traffic loomed like a great, big serpent before me, spitting and slithering. The AC of the taxi was alternating hot cold air and no amount of technological advancement could do anything about it. In the view afforded by the windshield, I saw a man get off his scooter, his helmet still on, drops of sweat pooling around his eyes, walk up to the driver of a tempo, pull out his thin flailing body and beat the living daylights out of him. Unprovoked, he took the man and smashed his head on the bonnet of my taxi, again and again, while I had the front seat view. I remember people coming and trying to save him, I remember the blood dripping from the windshield. When the police came, I remember telling them, he did this because of the heat. It was because the heat got to him. They had laughed at me then, but now I can’t stop wondering if that was it. If that was the beginning of this end.