2020 Flash Fiction Submissions

I really liked Maria. Not only for her unparalleled cleaning skills, but for the animated chat she provided every Wednesdays, over a big, warm, sugary couple of coffee. Maria was big but agile, had this bushy curly red hair and dark freckles all over her face. I imagine she was pretty years back. I bet her exotic looks had turned some heads through the years. I had no idea how old she was, I’ve never asked, in fact, I’ve never been one to inquire people about anything personal. But Maria liked to talk, and I liked to hear her.

Being that way, I know she has one full grown son, and two teenage daughters. Therefore, I guess she was about forty something and got pregnant really young. I never asked her about that either.

I liked Maria because she was funny, really funny, full of energy and joy. She never looked sad, or afraid of anything. She was never tired, or late for work. Even living far from downtown and knowing that I didn’t care if she was late or not. I didn’t want her to wake up before the break of down to catch a crowded bus and ride for hours to arrive at my apartment, right after I woke up late for work, in the pick of the morning.

I loved how brave Maria was. She wasn’t one to complain about anything, except her good for nothing alcoholic husband.

_ He hits you?

_ Hell no! The one time he tried, I’ve broken three ribs on that scumbag. Look at me, I’m huge! He’s a small old man, can’t handle me!

_ Girl, you’re my hero. But you should throw him out, it’s your house, you pay the bills.

And we’d laugh a lot.

And then March arrived. I watched the news, everyone was scared, people started wearing masks in public and my boss had forbidden us to take the bus to work. It didn’t take long until he closed the office. After all, he was over sixty and had diabetes. I loved working from home, not that as an international manager I had much to do since January, but still, I could find ways to keep myself busy.

I liked being alone. It was quiet, peaceful, I had time to myself. To do what, I wasn’t quite sure yet.

_ Sugar, do you need me to go tomorrow?

_ No Maria! Please, stay home for now, don’t worry about it. I can clean the house myself, and you’ll still be getting paid, of course.

_ Thank you honey, you’re the best. But if you need me, I’ll go, ok? Just call me.

What kind of monster would I be if I had made an obese woman with high blood pressure take a bus travel through the city to come clean my house in middle of a pandemic?

I kept paying Maria to stay home once a week for the next three months, until I lost my job and with that, my monthly check pay. We kept texting thou, she was concerned about me, if I was eating, using masks, staying at the house and all of that. And I was concerned about her bills, and if her other clients had dismissed her services and kept payment. Amazingly, that was the case, most of her clients were able to make some sacrifice on their own finances and Maria could stay home, safe and sound.

There was this guy that use to sit at the sidewalk in front of the supermarket and ask for a Coke every time someone enters the shop. He was always shaved, except for the thick mustache, relatively clean and well dressed, except for the occasionally barefoot, and never asked for money. But he always wanted a Coke, sometimes a chocolate bar, or things like that. I always got him something after my weekly grocery shopping. And every day he gave me a sweet smile from his spot at the sidewalk, seeing me walk by on my way to the gym. But he was never so happy as when I walked the dog and always gave him some time cuddling my furry baby he liked so much.

And then came the day that people were wearing masks in the street and he probably didn’t understand what was that about. We were still at the point that was impossible to find hand sanitizer and masks as the stores little reserves had been sold out on the first panicking days and they hadn’t enough time to refill shelves yet.

Luckly, I still had two intact packages of chirurgic masks I used to spray paint my house furniture. I took one for myself and the other to the supermarket corner.

_ Here, you have to use this ok? Use one each day, next week I’ll bring you another package.

He took the package from my hand with a slightly smile but didn’t tank me or asked me why. I wasn’t sure he knew enough about what was going on, or even if he cared. On the same afternoon, when I was walking the dog, there he was with that big smile he used to flash every time he saw me walking Bobby in his direction, he really liked my dog.

_ Use the mask dude, you have to use it all the time.

_ Yeah, yeah.

Either he bothered to use the masks or not, I returned on the fowling week with a new package. But how surprised I was to found out he wasn’t there as usual. Instead, as the supermarket’s cashier told me, he was taken home by his older son. Well, one more good surprise in the midst of a worldwide panic attack. Perhaps, people are better than I used to think after all.

I never saw that guy again, never heard of him either, but I’m sure he’s fine. He’s with his family, maybe for the first time in I don’t know how many years. I never saw Maria again either, but we keep texting regularly. The most amazing thing? She and some girlfriends got together to open a small homemade meals delivery business at their neighborhood. And they’re going really fine, she’s making more money than ever thought possible. I couldn’t be happier for her.

After I lost my job, life in the big city was just too expensive for me, so for the first time in almost a decade, I found myself going back home for good. If you asked me ten months ago if I had any intention of moving back with mom, I’d laugh right at your face. Now? After more than six months with her, I have to say, not that bad. Actually, not bad at all. I even risk to say that our relationship was never as good as now, not even in my childhood, as far as I remember at least. There’s something about living with you parents as a grownup, how we’re able to understand and appreciate them better. And I’m so grateful to have been given this chance soon enough.

They say the world will soon return to normal, and everything will be fine. I actually hope we never return to what it used to be. We are getting better each day, we’re getting stronger, resilient. We are learning to appreciate life in different forms, and I hope we keep it that way.

The world after the COVID-19 outbreak would never be the same as before. In other words, All of us would undergo many changes even after the virus is gone and we have to adjust to a new lifestyle, different from the old ones. Changes sounds like terrible thing for some people but, if we try to see changes from a different view and with optimism, isn’t changes sounds like a good thing? Behind every incident or disaster happened, there always be something that we, human could learn from. There always be other opportunities to come. I believe that we could find many positive changes after this pandemic is over. Remember that rainbow comes after rain right?

First of all, the most obvious change that this pandemic generate is how self-isolation give time for the nature to heal. Self-quarantine limits almost all of the human activities not only in one part of the country but in a worldwide scale. For at least a month, factories, airplanes and shopping centers were stopped operating. With almost all of the human activities being limited, Nature starts to recover. Scientists and medias were releasing pictures of the light blue sky that wasn’t covered by fumy pollution. Thus, what we could learn from this isolation time is that we should acquire new, more environment friendly habit in the future.

By learning and working from home, millions of people would stop commuting from home to their destinations everyday which decreasing the number of air pollution. Moreover, many people find learning and working from home is actually more effective and comfortable for them. Even though there are heaps of people enjoy this new “from home” culture, on the other hand, there are also millions of people who didn’t enjoy even didn’t get the access to go online. It means that improvements still need to be done. In the future, internet and education ought to reach rural areas so that every child could get the same chances to earn education. Not only educating the children, informing and educating the parents are also important to change the old mindset that education is unnecessary. Educators should make online learning more fun, enjoyable and clear for their students. And for those who couldn’t afford to go online, the ministry of education should consider to provide online learning space in the public library. Meanwhile, companies have to trust their employees more by giving them option to work from home. Checking their progress, giving the employees deadline to do their work and do online meetings could be an option for working from home. By offering more trust and responsibilities, employees could build their inner confidence thinking that their boss or supervisor have trust them too. In the end, what matters most is the outcome of the work.

Following healthier diet and exercising regularly are the other changes that this pandemic cause. People start to change their diet plan to plant-based, rich in nutrients foods and doing regular exercise in order to strengthens their immune system. If the government could keep encouraging, promoting and giving easier access to whole and healthier foods there would be less deadly disease in the future and the residents would be much healthier. We know that consuming excessive amount of meat could lead to various diseases. In addition, live-stock also contributing on producing methane gas that causes climate change. The problem is there aren’t many people out there who are aware about this because this isn’t a hot issue to talk about. This pandemic is the perfect moment to finally bring up this issue and promoting healthier diet and lifestyle for everyone.

Improvements and upgrades in public health care services is likewise an important matter to do. We never know when next pandemic will come and we should prepare ourselves before that. The government should invest more on developing vaccines, medicines and upgrading the health care facilities. Particularly, this health care services shall reach rural areas of the country. Over time, people living in rural areas always had problems curing their disease due to lack of proper health care services. After this pandemic, hopefully the movement to provide equal health services could be done immediately. Raising awareness on keeping each one’s hygiene is also crucial. If we live in a clean and healthy environment, the chances of new a disease arises would be lower.

Seeing from the bright side, this pandemic would open new career opportunities. Although this pandemic causing millions of unemployment, on the other hand companies might want to hire new, younger and more creative employees to exchange the old ones. This virus outbreak force all of us to adjust with a new lifestyle. In the future, there will be demand of more skillful, efficient and flexible workers. Young people and fresh graduates could take advantage from this opportunity. After this pandemic, there will be a lot of activities done online. Therefore, cyber security systems would be very much needed by companies and banks. Furthermore, future working environment would greatly influence by technology. It does need young and more skillful people to be able to adapt and work efficiently in that situation.

Government should start to invest in public facilities renewal. The goal is to create cleaner, healthier and greener environment in order to minimize the birth of various dangerous diseases in the future. Old touchable buttons must be changed to touchless buttons in order to minimize hand contacts that breed bacteria. Hand-washing stations and sanitizers should be provided in public to encourage the movements to keep the hands clean. These upgrades for sure would cost a lot however, the existence of infectious diseases cost way more expensive than creating healthier environment including cleaner and more modern public facilities. Thus, raising the awareness of keeping healthy and cleaner environment for the residents to obliged must be done by the government too. There is no use of public facilities upgrades if the residents do not contributing on taking care of the public facilities.

Above all unfortunate events and problems appeared because of this pandemic, if we remain positive and start thinking forward, there is always a solution to solves the problem. Let’s all of us take a moment to finally reflect and realize the privileged we have before this virus appeared. How much freedom and luxury we have that we took nature for granted. This year is probably rough for some people nevertheless don’t let this virus taken away our happiness. If we attempt to see the good on everything, do realize that this year great opportunities arise and we got a chance to learn something that we have never learnt before. Keep moving forward despites all of the changes happened and never forget to be grateful for everything we have.

Covid-19:- An Awakening

“Nurse Aleezay Haasher Khan (1987-2020),
In memory of a fearless nurse who
was devoted to her patients. A selfless,
generous, and empathetic soul, missed by many. May she rest in peace.”

After placing a bouquet of Aleezay’s favourite red tulips on her grave, I begin to leave, the all too familiar pain of loss gnawing at my heart. Three years have passed since she was laid to eternal rest after she lost the battle against Covid-19, but every time I visit her, I am engulfed with grief. However, I also know that if she were here, she would not be happy to see me like this - in fact, she would smile and chide me for my “doom and gloom”, as she would call it, wanting me to continue with my life. After all, today is a very special day…

Driving towards my destination, I observe huge billboards displaying the slogan “Heroes of Covid-19 Day" and flashing images of countless nurses, doctors, and the other medical personnel who had risked their lives to provide services to the public, and it gives me pleasure that the virus has renewed an appreciation for the healthcare workers who were essentially the frontline heroes during that grim time. The same employees who were mocked at their inability to develop a vaccine, and were incessantly told to resign from their posts are now being praised for their efforts. I distinctly recall families of some of the deceased patients storming hospitals to grab dead bodies before they could be sterilized - I can still see the shattered windows, broken oxygen concentrators, and the staff hiding in the director’s office, the same staff that is now hailed as heroes. I wish this realization could have dawned upon us sooner but I am nonetheless pleased that the world has recognized our efforts.

What gives me still greater satisfaction, though, is observing the pedestrians wearing blue surgical masks due to flu season, and the unprecedented number of people getting vaccinated. I can remember the time “before”, as it is now called, which seems several lifetimes ago, when people used to attack vaccination workers and spread conspiracy theories about doctors killing people under the guise of treating them. Due to the concerted awareness campaigns by the government about acquired artificial immunity after the Covid-19 vaccinations were approved of in record time, there are fewer than ever deaths by flu now. Even polio has nearly been eradicated from Pakistan.

As I continue driving lost in deep contemplation, my reverie is broken by the sharp ringing of my mobile phone. “Sir? Where are you? The rest of the Board Members are awaiting your presence.” “I’ll be there in just a moment," I let him know.

The pandemic highlighted the need for us to reform our healthcare system. Therefore the Board - with the blessings of the government - decided to invest in Telehealth services by constructing the first Electronic Intensive Care Unit Facility in the country.

Reaching the facility, I pull my mask up - after all, healthcare workers still have to set an example - swiftly making my way towards the entrance of the unit facility. “Hello, ladies and gentlemen, my apologies for getting late. Shall we begin our final tour then?” They gesture for me to proceed and I unlock the frosted glass doors.

Fluorescent tube lights illuminate the whitewashed corridors, whereas the marble tiles sparkle so that one can almost see their reflection in them. As the members marvellengly gaze at the sight that beholds them, my feet inadvertently halt in front of a wall gallery titled, “In memory of those who laid down their lives in the line of duty”, and although I’ve never seen this wall before because it was recently designed, my eyes immediately find Aleezay’s tired yet determined ones, her face looking resolutely out at me. This was the day when she was admitted to the ICU, however, due to a shortage of ventilators, she could not be provided with one. Seeing someone you love suffer is hard, but I channeled that grief into producing this facility so that no one has to suffer as we did. I know that 200 ventilators aren’t sufficient in times of a crisis, but the fact that for the first time in its history, Pakistan is producing medical equipment locally to make them readily available alleviates my worry. At least we are doing our part in trying to make the world a better, more secure place compared to our past, and that is what truly matters.

“Sir, the team is calling you in the digital room.”

“I’m coming,” I replied, once again distracted from my musings.

In the digital room, we inspect our stock of webcams, monitors, speakers, and other necessary telemedicine devices to facilitate patients remotely. When Aleezay was a nurse at the National Care Hospital, there was already a shortage of nursing staff which further exacerbated during the coronavirus: an influx of infected patients along with a shortage of medical supplies only strained our ability to cater to the patients. Telemedicine provides us with the opportunity to monitor patients remotely and judge whether an inpatient consultancy is actually needed. This way we save up on the number of resources that we are using, and redirect them to those who really are in need of treatment. Had we invested in digital healthcare then, maybe Aleezay would’ve been with us today…

Owing to my profession, I have often been asked what in my opinion was the worst thing during the pandemic, and every time my answer is the same, “A lack of isolation wards.”

The last stop of our tour are the isolation wards - two floors, consisting of 12 rooms each. When Aleezay was admitted to the hospital, the best that could be arranged were curtains to separate every individual infected whilst they remained in the same room. I couldn’t take her home, but neither could I leave her like that. I felt my soul being torn apart whenever I witnessed her in that room, concealed by the curtain, moaning in agony, unable to breathe. I was determined then, that no matter what, we would develop proper isolation wards. These wards are properly sanitized, and ensure that a maximum of only two people can be transferred in each one.

Trying hard to suppress my tears, I congratulate the rest of the Board on achieving a milestone.

As the tour ends, we all exit the facility. While everyone else departs, I stand outside proudly, admiring the scenery around me, inhaling the air that is infused with the scent of lilies, roses - and upon my insistence - tulips on the bright lawn.

“Aleezay Khan facility”: this is the name. I know wherever she is, she must be smiling down at me. That infectious smile of hers, the smile which would warm my heart and relieve me of my worries. That smile made me want to believe in myself, made me resilient and drove me towards my cause - our cause. The smile due to which I had married her.

This is our post-pandemic world, and I hope that wherever Aleezay is, she is smiling down at me.

Today is March 09, 2022. I walk down a narrow city street that is flooded with people. I observe happy children running around in the park, dogs playing fetch with their companions, friends and family shopping in the small businesses that have become more popular than ever and have thrived post Covid. I undeniably smile ear to ear.
It has been approximately two years since the 2020 quarantine began and I think of the contrast between now and then. Our planet as a whole is finally healing from all the death and destruction that transpired. People finally woke up and realized that changes needed to be made. A vaccine was developed and it’s been able to be delivered to all corners of the world in all countries, cities, and communities.
A defense to the virus was what everybody prayed for and that prayer was granted thanks to the brilliant scientists we had working nonstop. We still had to wear masks even after the vaccine rolled out, and we did it because we as human beings wanted to protect each other and ourselves so that the number of cases would diminish over time. We are finally at a point now where masks are no longer necessary.
The environment, my goodness the environment has improved so much! As I breath in the air, it feels clean and pure and not polluted like it had been. Thanks to all the beautiful souls, the wildfires had been all put out and the people who’s homes and essentially their lives had been destroyed by the fires as well as the hurricanes and tropical storms, we all as human being helped them to start anew. We volunteered to do whatever it is we could. Knowing I did everything that I could at the time to help out and knowing that others did what they could, I feel relief.
I call my friend Jane on the phone and we meet for coffee at a quaint locally owned coffee shop. I love contributing to the small business in my city, as they are the backbone of what makes it so great. As a matter of fact, Jane and I actually work at a locally owned restaurant in the city and one that nearly closed up shop for good during the pandemic.
“Hey girl!" Jane yells my way as I enter through the shop door, as though she hadn’t seen me in months when in reality she saw me the day before.
“Long time no see,” I sarcastically quip and I give her a friendly side hug.
“Can you believe it’s been like two years since quarantine?” I nod in near disbelief. We talk about how the world has changed immensely since 2020 and how it feels like a completely different planet from the one we once knew. As I sip my coffee, I glance over at another table and see a magazine with the headline “Meat and Dairy consumption decreased by 60% in the last two years.” I can’t help but smile, as animals are finally becoming liberated from these cruel industries that are not only inhumane to animals, but are also unhealthy, unsanitary, and damaging to the surrounding environment.
I am so glad that people have finally woken up to the horror that’s been going on behind closed doors. I read a statistic that stated that livestock produces 40% more greehouse gas emissions than global transportation. 40%! With the liberation of animals, this statistic isn’t as scary but my goodness the way we were destroying this planet was incredible. Suddenly a pregnant woman enters the shop. She has two other children with her and I begin to think and talk with Jane about how our planet will be for future generations.
“If we keep going in the promising direction we’re going, with sustainability, limiting emissions, burning coal, and also fracking, our children and our children’s children are going to do so well preserving part of what we have now, but it 'll be even better. " Jane nods in agreement with me and then chimes in with her thoughts.
“And it’s not just the physical environment, it’s our social environment too!” Jane‘s referring to the way that people treat each other. In a world that has been systematically racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and xenophobic, it’s incredibally surreal in the best way possible that people are accepting and not discriminatory because nobody should ever treat someone as less than just because of their skin color, religion, sex, or sexual orientation. We are all human and should be treated with the dignity, acceptance, and love we deserve.
Jane and I have to go to work now at Pat’s Pizza Shop, a local joint that is very popular amongst locals and vistors alike. Pat is Jane’s second cousin and grew up being around the business. And Pat hired me, well because l’m Jane’s best friend and was in need of a job. All of the shops, restaurants, and mini marts are like neighbors living in brownstones who give each other cups of sugar when one would be in need of some. It is our communtiy that is strong and linked together. My community is an example of what every community should be, and it is how most communities are now. What Covid-19 has taught us is the importance of community and working together for a common goal.
“Hey Pat, how’s it hanging?" Jane and I greet Pat with endearance and with that half smile he always has plastered on his face, he hands us our aprons embroidered with his name in bold letters. Jane and I actually love working at Pat’s. It’s how we connect with the whole community and encounter our neighbors whom we likely wouldn’t normally. My friendly smile greets everyone from Bob, who owns the gift shop next door, to Alicia who owns the flower shop down the street.
The community is so well connected and we all have a deep love and respect for one another as human beings. As I go about my shift, I can’t help but be filled with joy and giddy. Knowing that the world is a much better and healing place is truly wonderful and I feel a real sense of hope for the first time since the pandemic began.

 Joanne Larcy hurriedly put stamp to box, feeling sweat gathering in her palms as she worked the machine. It had been this way since they had put up the open space laws. She was in a hurry, and the suit she had on was necessary but a hindrance. And because of this, she took it off and replaced it with a ventilation mask and disinfected gloves. She was glad that the government made it a must have for every company to take care if their employees. Even several years since the Covid-19, it seemed the interests of each civilian was taken into account.

 The companies which came into being after the pandemic had standard contracts but with higher security for employees, especially those with families. Joanne ruminated on these things while putting the last stamp on the final box and forwarding them to the loading truck. Each box was big enough to contain food and supplements to tide a family of six for a week. It was something that the government never failed to do, because it helped the families who had no work income. The measures that were put in place for each city seemed very suited their respective environments very well. Work was many times more efficient than anyone would expect. This was only because the workers were motivated and happy to do the work.

 Joanne walked out the room and saw Dave taking off his safety suit and packing up his things to leave. Appearing in a shirt and jeans, he was in a hurry too, and seeing Joanne, he gave a knowing smile which she returned. Kaz turned up from the reception room, he had a huge grin on his face. They three were the last of the staff in the building. The other's had already left earlier because their shift was over. 

 It was nearly six-thirty in the evening, and one law which never failed to give Joanne some joy was the law that allowed her to leave before seven o' clock. It was for safety reasons but it helped a majority of employees. By the time she emerged out of the terminal, it would be starting.

 The three coworkers quickly scanned their badges as they crossed the gates. They jogged down the sidewalk which had a horde of people also in a rush, with eagerness written on each face. Everyone wanted to see it happen. It was a thing that never got old or tiring to watch.

 Joanne, Dave, and Kaz, got on the bus and found a pole to hold on to. The bus driver was all smiles as he welcomed the eager passengers.

 They set off, and as they went, Dave mentioned that himself and his wife, Hannah got some good news from the fertility doctor. These days, healthcare had become a priority, and thing's like fertility made everyone antsy, so it became less of a costly thing to seek clinical help. The human race was able to bounce back from the pandemic disaster only because of the enacted statutes. Life seemed to get better, and the environment was cleaner than ever.

 Joanne laughed with her colleagues while Kaz told a funny story, and they all glanced at the clock frequently. They wouldn't want to miss this. Joanne thought, what else could a person ask of their government other than a safe home. She sighed deeply when she thought of how far they had come.

 Dave was the first to be dropped off, and he waved enthusiastically before running off to his house to prepare with his family. Kaz was next, he lived with his fiancé. Kaz waved once before running just like Dave. Joanne smiled and waited her turn. When it came, she jumped out and sped off towards her house. Her grandmother was just putting on her necklace as she came in. The house smelled delicious. Joanne dropped a kiss on her grandmother's cheek before going to her room to change. She got ready in a flash, and came downstairs. Joanne held her grandmother's left hand, because her left one held food in a container, and they both walked out into the street which was quiet but filled with smiling faces.

 Everyone was waiting for it to start. Joanne looked at her watch, and it was only a minute until seven o' clock. Her grandmother had a wide smile on her face, and Joanne counted down in a whisper. At the last second, it happened.

 Screams and applause sounded all over. The whole city was lively as the shield descended. It was like a galaxy fell over the city, as the lights came down. Joanne thought, so much better than fireworks. The shield came down everyday at seven o' clock. It let out a purification gas to clean the city. It happened everywhere. And the shield stayed until eight o' clock. 

 Everyone was in their finery because it was time for dinner. Several tables were set up in the park, and a few made it into the street. Everyone came and sat down with a meal prepared by every household placed on the tables. Joanne looked forward to the evenings most, because for one hour, everyone was doing the same thing. They were just eating, and chatting, but this felt like home. Each face contained unrestrained happiness that filled one's heart with honey. Nothing else could feel so good.

Joanne's elder sister and her family came and sat with them. The children ran around the park without a care as the grown up's discussed. Teenager's spent little time on their phones because they had their friends right beside them. The whole park was filled with life. No one seemed to have any worries on their minds. Joanne thought it was unbelievable how much they were able to enjoy. The fullness of life was unexpected, and treasured. The roads were safer, shelter was provided for those who were in need of it. No one wandered on the streets since.

 It all happened because priority was given to civilians who had limitations. The pandemic put a lot of things into perspective. Life wasn't hard, and it wasn't the greatest either, but it was comfortable for everyone at the moment. It had become something much better.

Mitali and Anushka, Mitu and Anu to each other, are college friends. They are both in the second year of their undergraduate course. Their views on multiple issues are diagonally opposite. If one is left the other is right. But even then they are firm friends. In college they used to spend a lot of time in the canteen. So much so, that other friends said that they studied canteen honours. Every day, they would have heated discussions, one trying to convince the other. Other friends joined too. When the coronavirus epidemic started, they were stumped for a little while. Now they have shifted online. Every day, Mitu and Anu would Skype each other and chat.

This is an excerpt from their chat:

Anu: I would like to go back to the good old days. I wonder whether life will ever be the same again. I dread to think what a post covid world would be like.

Mitu: Anu, you are very pessimistic. Before coronavirus do you think life was blissful? If my memory doesn’t fail me, you used to complain about the hectic schedule, the pollution, how overcrowded the buses were. Now you want to go back to those days.

Anu: What do you think will happen once this coronavirus crisis blows over? The world will be in a total mess.

Mitu: I don’t think so. I think as a community we will come out wiser after the event.

Anu: What makes you so optimistic?

Mitu: Look at the history of mankind. Newton was at home for 2 years during an epidemic and after that he came up with the idea of calculus. There are things you learn better in the storm and things you learn better in the calm. Now that we don’t have the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we have the time to ourselves and we can introspect.

Anu: You think you are the second Newton, right?

Mitu: I am not saying that. But whenever humanity has faced challenges, they come up with solutions.

Anu: You are reading too much history. Stop reading history books and listen to the TV. That’s how you will remain updated about the current affairs.

Mitu: That explains it. You have been watching too much TV. They are always presenting sensational news. The murkier the better. You are scouting information on the internet. That’s how you have developed a fatalistic view. Wake up girl and think rationally. Try to take a balanced view.

Anu: Ok. I agree. Coronavirus is the best thing since sliced bread. After the pandemic blows over, it will be paradise.

Mitu: You are missing the point. For example, we have come a long way since the prehistoric times. From being at the mercy of a beast man is now the master of the world. We don’t think that childhood diseases would kill young children because we have vaccines. Once it was a real problem. The world is much less violent than what it was centuries ago. It was not unusual to shoot people at parties. That was the norm in those days.

Anu: The tragedy of the coronavirus is largely man made. You cannot deny that humans have invaded the habitat of bats and other animals. That is why viruses that are endemic in animals are now affecting humans as well.

Mitu: That’s true. Climate activists have always tried to make this point. Now their voice will be heard. The coronavirus has rattled us. Now it will be easy for the government to push the humanitarian agenda.

Anu: Politicians and humanitarians are poles apart. What makes you think that suddenly politicians will turn humanitarian?

Mitu: Well, basically we elect our rulers. People have not voted for public health infrastructure. They felt that if I have an illness, I will go for private treatment. Treatment whether it is private or public has its limitations. The focus should be on prevention. That can only be done by strengthening public health infrastructure.

Anu: And the politicians will do that? They’d feather their own nests.

Mitu: Of course. People will become aware and they will demand it from politicians. Strengthening Public health infrastructure will be on their political manifesto. Otherwise nobody would vote for them. Coronavirus has taught us a bitter lesson. Nobody likes to swallow a bitter pill. But, I do think it was necessary. To shock ourselves out of the lull. We were going in our own merry way destroying forests, not caring about fellow citizens and the like. Corona has challenged us. Humanity will come together and tackle the problem.

Anu: West has the most advanced society. Just see how badly they have been hit. Europe was ravaged by the pandemic. And you think we’ll be coming up with solutions?

Mitu: That is the problem with you, Anu. You always say half bottle empty. I always say half bottle full. It’s the way we look at problems. Why should I look at Europe and not at Africa, New Zealand, China, Taiwan, the Scandinavian countries? They have handled the pandemic reasonably well. We can learn from Africa how resource poor nations can cope. They have handled pandemics in the past, they have the infrastructure and human resources to do so. When people have followed strict measures they have been successful. Countries which have flouted rules, even if they have resources, failed to contain the pandemic.

Anu: Mitu, I think you are being callous. The Coronavirus epidemic is a tragedy on a massive scale. Think about the economy, job losses, mental health issues, lives lost.

Mitu: I agree it is a tragedy. But, that’s not the last word. The last word is resilience. The world will bounce back. You know my father was a refugee. My mother comes from a well-established orthodox family. But look at them now. My father’s family is much closer knit. They went through partition together. It was a humanitarian crisis. But they bonded with each other. They supported each other through the difficult times. In my mother’s family, it is each for his own. Success of human beings rests on collective wisdom. We were moving from a collectivistic society to an individualistic society. The world was expecting a generation of young people addicted to their smartphones. Now the world can expect humans to think and reflect and solve problems.

Anu: So, you think people will wake up one day and say, we were wrong. We will be reformed under the guidance of the great Mitali. We will throw away all the bad habits and turn a new leaf overnight.

Mitu: No, they are all blind like Anu. Anu, haven’t you seen how people came to help others in crisis. They donated money, food, clothing, volunteered their time to help out others in distress. How would you know? You were too busy watching the T.V. and thinking about the catastrophe.

Anu: Now, Mitu, you will never stop. I have to go. Ma is calling me. Dinner has been served.

Mitu: Ok. Good night. Sleep tight. And don’t let the corona bugs bite you.

Anu: Good night. Sweet dreams about the post Corona Utopia!

Kendra looked at the window and a rainbow flag immediately caught her attention. She smiled as many memories flowed in her mind. She had never imagined that the world changed because her world changed all those years ago.

When she was twelve years old, she had noticed that there was something different about her, but she couldn’t really put her finger on what it was. When she turned thirteen, though, it became more than clear what it was, but denial was a more obvious choice back then. She lied to herself so much, that she started to believe those lies. “This doesn’t mean that I’m like that”, “This is normal, right?” and “It’s probably just a phase”, became part of her regular thoughts.

However, her story started a very important chapter and the world didn’t know it yet, but once it did, a new chapter started in history as well. In 2016, everyone in America voted and a new president was elected. Before that, Kendra hadn’t really been interested in politics, but her curiosity woke up when she saw very different opinions about the results on social media. So, she started reading articles and watching the news often.

When her teachers allowed students to pick a topic for essays, she loved it, because now that she knew so much about political issues around the world, she liked to demonstrate that young people are capable of having an informed opinion. She entered the debate team that year and her high school won for the first time in years. She was now so informed, that even her friends and family started to understand the world a little better because she couldn’t shut up about politics. Because of this, it was no surprise to anybody when she announced that she wanted to pursue a career in political sciences and it was also not a surprise that once she started college, she excelled in most of her classes.

But her excitement about college toned down a little bit because in 2020, the pandemic came and everyone was forced to what back then was known as Zoom University. Like a lot of bored teenagers back then, she downloaded TikTok and somehow, her algorithm got specific really fast. She saw videos daily in there about political and social problems all around the world, but there was also other content that appeared on her page. LGBTQ+ content appeared constantly on her page and after five years of refusing to accept the truth, it was simply impossible to keep the lie going. Her thoughts were consumed by how many people shared her experiences when it came to sexuality and after spending hours and sometimes entire days, thinking about it, she just looked in the mirror one day and said it out loud: “I’m bisexual”. Tears immediately ran down her cheek and she also laughed as she had never had. At that moment, everything fell into place. In August of that same year, she came out to her family and friends and a lot of them were surprised, but others confessed that they had seen it coming.

After she was finally free of that secret, she got even more involved with politics. On social media, she saw that this pandemic caused an interesting phenomenon. Many young people started to be very interested in politics as well. Even important influencers raised their voices and started conversations among the people who followed and admired them. As the years went by, the younger population in a lot of countries gained power through social media. Their messages were now being massively delivered to the whole world on every form of social media that existed. So, when the time came, she worked on a dissertation that went viral. “ The impact of COVID-19 on youth participation in elections worldwide ”. Her work was really respected in her field, so she got a job quickly and her opinions started to reach many people thanks to social media. So, again, it was no surprise when she became a Congresswoman when she turned thirty-one. And with every professional victory, she always thought that she would’ve never been able to get there if it wasn’t for the events that occurred in 2020.

She became an important figure amongst the ones that were once the “younger generation”. The media talked about her a lot, especially because in the few years of her political career, she had participated in the creation of many important programs and policies of equality, environmental problems, and overall, the well-being of American citizens. And the programs that she helped to create, were also being adopted by other countries. Also, she was in the public eye a lot because she was a part of an iconic relationship, according to many with Phoenix Johnson, a non-binary Congressperson that worked closely with her. Internationally, she also started to be more recognized. A lot of women, POC and LGBTQ+ people who started to position themselves in power positions all around the world admitted that Kendra had been a huge inspiration for them. And again, when she saw her name on the news, she thought that this had never happened if she hadn’t been so bored in 2020 due to COVID-19, that she decided to download an app that showed her that she wasn’t alone.

With all this recognition, a lot of people were thrilled when she announced that she was running for president in the 2040 US Presidential Elections and they were even more thrilled when she won. All over the globe, many people celebrated her victory and called her election a “step forward for humanity”. That year, she gave a speech on her Presidential Inauguration that got 48.5 million views in 36 hours, she got married to Phoenix in one of the most viewed weddings in history (they broadcasted their wedding, because well, they owed their power to social media, after all) and the national and international attention that she had, grew even bigger.

-Are you okay, honey? – Phoenix said, snaping Kendra out of her memories.

She turned her head towards them, smiled, and gave them a quick kiss on their forehead.

-I was just thinking about how we got here.

-Well, it only took a global pandemic, Zoom University, absolute boredom, a visit to the App Store, and a quick download of an app, right? – they answered with a smile.

-It was a little bit more than that, but that’s a really good summary – she said, laughing.

She tapped her foot on the floor of the Cadillac One, nervously. This day was really important to her and she didn’t want to mess it up.

– We’ll be fine – Phoenix said while grabbing her hand.

As soon as they said that, the car stopped and the driver got out to open the door for them. Once they both got out, someone guided them towards their destiny, gave them their respective flags, and a few minutes later, someone introduced them:

-I’m very pleased to present NYC Pride March 2041 Grand Marshals, our very first black and openly bisexual President, Kendra Williams, and our first non-binary First Partner, Phoenix Johnson!

They ran next to the presenter, waving their flags as they heard the crowd explode in cheers. They kissed once they were there, which caused even more applause. As Kendra looked into Phoenix eyes and also at the huge crowd supporting her, and thought:

“2020 sucked, but I guess something good came from it”.

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Dear Universe,

I’m writing you this letter with the hope that you will have an opportunity to read it because it is extremely important. Something completely unexpected happened after the coronavirus pandemic. Something we couldn’t even imagine.

We all set out on the path of philanthropy, spirituality, health, and empathy. In the past, the UN goals seemed so unachievable, for many of us, and now it seems like we need more to set. We believe that we can contribute and we feel that we have changed.
Now I’ll tell you, what happened, in case you haven’t returned from vacation yet. Read my lines carefully. I apologize in advance for the chaos in writing, I’m so excited so the words themselves have taken the place on paper.

Hence, I will start with the state of consciousness that has progressed among people. As I already mentioned, the seventeen UN goals set in 2015 are finally having the spotlight in human acts so maybe the Agenda 2030 will be completed sooner than we thought. Well, we are on the right path to achieve them.

I have always considered the world to be an open library for all those who know what they would like to read and this time the world showed me, I was right.

Let’s start with the goals.

No poverty - A world without poverty, it used to appear as a dream but now, philanthropy has finally reached its peak in everything. The awareness increased among the people and the number of humanitarian organizations is growing. Third-world countries are finally getting the support they have always needed. It seems to me that unity is reaching the top of humanity.

Zero hunger - There was always enough food, you know that. Oftentimes, I was angry at my friends when they throw the food away while on the other side, others, desperately needed it. Now that is no longer the case. Domestic productivity is growing within countries that are rich with soil land and those countries are increasingly supplying food-deficient countries. You know what else, during the pandemic we didn’t have some basic ingredients, and now my friends do not throw away the food anymore. They became aware of the blessing that we have.

Good health and well-being - People have finally started to take care of their physical and mental health and use the power within themselves. The quarantine helped us realize the relation between body and mind. Thanks to that we adopted plenty of healthy habits only by using the power within us and the blessing of natural resources. Nature is all we need.

Quality education - Online communication has finally got its purpose. Knowledge spreads its wings all around the world thanks to so many online opportunities for learning. The availability of information is finally appreciated and used for the best purposes. We’re blessed

Gender equality - This was one of the key issues after all the revolutionary struggles for rights. We know that this is very understandable in theory, but the reality used to dispute this. We have more and more women getting leadership roles, especially in the tourism sector and other important social development organizations. So thankful for that fact.

Clean water - Water is a basic need for living and we all know how important it is. Well, now we’re aware what a blessing it is for people who can pour it from the drinking fountain with one stroke of the hand, while in Africa they need to walk 2 miles to fulfill the same need. Thankful that we have plenty of global projects dealing with this issue now.

Renewable energy - Nature returns to us because we slowly repay all the debts we have. Renewable resources such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat are now used and not abused.

Economic growth - Economic growth- I know that in the beginning, it seemed that the economy was weakening and that growth was falling down. Many people lost their jobs, especially in the field of tourism and hospitality. Thanks to the sustainable development of the need for online education, the economy began to recover, only in the other direction. The circular economy finally got its five minutes of glory. The sustainable way of traveling has opened many opportunities for us. We welcome sustainable tourism.

Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure - There are more and more innovative projects that accelerate industry, innovation, and infrastructure. People bring more creativity into projects that are sustainable.

Reduced inequalities between people - Reduced inequalities between people - This is what has always bothered us all. Differences between humans such as skin color, origin, language, religion, nationality. All of this has now taken on another dimension. The corona finally united us because we were all equally exposed. We still have to do our work regarding awareness but it is getting better.

Sustainable cities and communities - This used to appear like a dream to me and now I see that in my city this dream becomes reality and citizens of megalopolis all around the world are striving to achieve that same sustainable goal.

Responsible consumption and producing - The sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources encouraged many companies to adopt and pursue sustainable practices such as recycling and reusing of the wastes, by support developing countries towards the same aim.

Climate action - We already did a lot and we are going to do more by integrating climate change measures into policies and procedures. United and powerful, more than ever.

Life below water- Sustainability becomes a lifestyle for all areas. Ecosystems are reborn again thanks to the dedication and power of human actions. Life below water becomes equally important such as life on the mainland.

Life on land - This goal is a calling for more attention to endangered species, green economy, and ecosystem services. If somebody hasn’t been aware so far, it will become now.

Peace, justice, and strong institutions - Is it peace on Earth only the goal for the Miss World titleholders? Guess not. Reducing sex trafficking, forced labor, violet crime, and many more used to be global aims and now those are becoming a reality. We enforced laws that work toward a more peaceful society.

Partnerships for the goals - It is easier when we are working together. We pursue cooperation above the competition and public-private partnership for the same aim.

Above all mentioned, thank you for this experience, and for the assigned role of philanthropist.
I hope we haven’t betrayed your trust. We are extremely grateful for this opportunity.
Lesson learned.

Sincerely Yours,

Humans

“You said everything’s gonna be alright.” I said as I was standing next to her grave, “I could not trust you at that time. Your face was pale. Your breath was weak. But again, you were right.” Who would guess this catastrophe would help people realize they have been doing things wrong for so long. It was a slap in the face, which is awakening like the scent of the coffee. They smelled the coffee and started to change. I was so happy about this change. I miss mom every day, but I cannot complain that dad is exclusively there for me now.
It was not easy for him at all. Our big flat was like a ghost house. After you passed, dad covered every piece of furniture with some sheets. He did not care about my favorite spot and put an annoying polyester sheet over it. He never vacuumed our home. It gave our house a mystic and abandoned vibe. I sometimes thought that he was also dead but wandering around like a troublesome ghost. I never realized it before, but he has a terrible long face. I tried to brighten him up with my stupid acts, but he ignored me as if I were the ghost one. He had swollen eye pockets. We were sleeping in your bed together… Except for we could not sleep at all. He was awake the whole time, and his abrupt rotations woke me up all the time. I got angry and wanted to return to my polyester spot, but he held me and cried. He cried for days and days. He was going to bed not to sleep but to cry. Our insomniac days finished only after we moved out, thanks to an announcement from his job. He needed this chance because he was turning into a zombie.
CEOs and business people realized that they do not need huge skyscrapers. Daddy’s company came up with this idea first. They demolished their skyscraper and gave away all the construction materials to their employees who do not own a house. We purchased land far from the city, and they moved all the materials for us to build our home. We have a huge garden, which never ends however fast I run, and a tiny house, but it is more than enough for us. Our neighbors are mostly daddy’s colleagues, and we attend so many parties. Dad works from his tiny home office.
As for the shopping, he cultivates all do food from our garden and mini greenhouse. The soil is so fertile that he exchanges some of the fruits with his neighbors. For instance, we give Williams some tangerines, and in return, they share some dairy products with us. The sad part is there is no more trash that I can play. However, it did not take long for me to find compensation. Mom, I should come clean about something. I know that if you hear it, you would scold me. I noticed that all the people here named their poop “compost” and I kind of like this composting thing. I play with it when dad is busy. He somehow realizes it after a while and gives me a harsh bath. Anyway, sorry, not sorry, mom.
When he wants to go to the city, he prefers carpooling. Their car is almost like public transportation. That is why he often does not take me together. You would not leave me behind Mommy, would you?
Do you know what else he does? When I want to go for a walk, he makes me walk on a unusual treadmill that looks like a hamster wheel. As I walk and run on it, some machines produce electricity. If this is not child labor, I do not know what is.
Shocking news, all the wildlife is wandering around freely now. We stopped invading their natural environment, and thanks to that, my little sister does not beg to go to the zoo each weekend. Here, the zoo comes to us. I know you are a little bit worried about our security. Nevertheless, there is nothing to worry about – my father owns a tranquilizer gun. He is allowed to use it when he feels threatened by a wild animal. The tranquilizer guns were discovered a long time ago, but no one thought about using them instead of usual firearms up until we started to live close to the wildlife. They improved the quality, and now many states forbid firearms and promote nonlethal tranquilizers. Cops are also supposed to use these knockout guns. Daddy is quite happy about it. You would be glad to learn that your chocolate man does not shiver as he is pulled over by the police anymore.
Dad is always like that… Do you remember when you call him by his first name, he would panic and would be ready to surrender for any little mistake he did or did not? You can rest in peace because your daughter continues your legacy of being daddy’s favorite. He loves her the most and also is terribly scared to make her upset. Everyone knows that she is your clone, and she likes to copy you by calling her father by his first name. I think it is absolutely rude, but I cannot get angry at her since she looks like you more and more each and every day. Your scent and your smile are almost identical. I snuggle with her anytime I miss you. She thinks that I am doing it because I love her. Well, I love her but not that much.
Moreover, no more school shootings occur, as you can tell. Well, as I heard, there were some instances where some children put the whole class to sleep. Can you imagine? I am sure my sister is also fantasizing about it.
My sister wants to be a documentarist. Well, nowadays it is trendy among kids. She spends hours watching animals doing their thing. I am afraid she has developed a new kind of addiction. Sometimes I join her. Once, we noticed a woodpecker. Mom, that animal is crazy, period. I tried to count how many times it pecks the bole, but I lost it after three. It must be insane. If not, it must get insane after that many pecks. Even thinking about it gives me a headache.
I would never guess that there would be a time that I would enjoy and tell you so many fancy details about our life after you passed. Things we consider bad might be a blessing in disguise. You were right as you always were. Everything is going all right. I am so happy that I show my gratitude to my father by licking his face and protecting him from the cold by leaving all my fur on him. Wuff, wuff!

82 years

“Chirp, chirp. Chirp, chirp.” Beautiful harmonies of birds singing drifted through the air reaching my ears. I sighed. It was a wonderful day today, like every other day, but today…felt special. There was something about today. My eyes roamed across the majestic wonderland, full of trees, bushes of all kind. There was a little flower garden right beside me, filled with the most fascinating and exotic flowers that I had ever laid eyes on in my long life. They ranged from all colors, from orchid to lemon yellow. Every time my eyes landed on them, I would be hooked, so mesmerized that I never wanted to look away. It wasn’t just the beauty of the park that brought me here every Sunday, it was the energy. The life. There was a mixture of white and black men and women, children, all together. In harmony. That invisible segregation had disappeared years ago and it was a beautiful sight to behold. I never thought I would see the day where it was uncommon to be racist or for there to be segregation. People from all over had found peace. They worked together, played together, and lived together. A couple of feet in front of me, a young girl was swinging on the polished, pristine swing, smiling back at her mother as she pushed her on the swing. Her father was right in front of her, with his arms opened wide, to protect her, to stop her from falling. It wasn’t just children here in the park. It was families. Altogether, a sight that lit a smile on my old, wrinkly face.

It was odd to think that all of this, came out of chaos. 82 years. It had been 82 years since Covid-19 struck the world, shaking the ground beneath our feet. I was a sophomore in high school during that time, in China. I could picture it so vividly in my mind after all these years. I guess it’s true, we never forget the moments that define us, that make us who we are. The thing is, Covid-19 didn’t just make me who I am, but it redefined the world. For the better. I remember everyone being so scared to leave the house, so frightened. Honestly, I didn’t even process it for a few months, but I remember reading all the news about it. About the death toll, how easy it was to catch. I remember the shivers that ran up my spine in that hotel room, I had been so anxious, even more than my parents. It still shocks me today, that out of that chaos came something so wonderful that would last forever. It truly was a blessing.

82 years ago, when Covid-19 struck, it changed the scales. So many countries were hit hard, with not enough resources to overcome and fight it. So, other countries, who saw their struggle, came to their aid. They donated masks, equipment, even doctors to other countries so that we all could pull through, and we did. Many people lost their life due to the virus, many families would never be complete again, but for the first time, there was harmony. Countries coming to one another’s aid, people helping each other without an ulterior motive. Unity. It brought unity. That was the first step, that made all of this today possible. Without Covid-19 we would all still be so apart. It brought not only people from different ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds together but families too. It made us all realize the importance of family and just how precious those people are.

My family and I have always been close, but we never spent that much time together. Not because we didn’t want to, but because we were in our own worlds. Then quarantine happened, and it bought us together. My dad couldn’t go to the office and me and my brother couldn’t go to school. So, we were all in the same building 24/7. We started playing games, nearly every day, for hours on an end. Finally, when quarantine ended and things got back to normal we kept all of those habits. They had embedded themselves into us and that made us so much closer to one another.

You know, it’s quite shocking to think that I wouldn’t even be alive if it wasn’t for Covid. I laughed. I always laughed whenever this thought came into mind. Covid-19 made people change their habits, it made them more careful, it made them care for their health a lot more. It certainly made me change many of my habits so that I could be safe. Nobody wanted a situation like Covid again, so every country is still taking precautions. Whenever anybody travels they need to fill out a health form, get a virus test done, even if you are traveling domestically. This tactic reduced viruses so much, that it completely wiped out the flu. With so many threats gone, life expectancy shot out of the roof. Which is why I’m still around, taking in the sun, and watching the gift of chaos.

Gently closing my eyes, I tilted my head back into the sun’s warm caress. It gently stroked my wrinkles and lips, filling me with warmth. I came here every week because it was proof. Proof of all of the amazement that came out of something so frightening. It was a reminder that even in the darkest moments there is a light. There is always hope, you just can’t give up. Slowly, I stood up, using my cane as a support. One step at a time, I hobbled across the park, and with one last look behind my shoulder I made my way home. It reminded me of something my dad always used to say, “In every cloud, in every dark room, there is always light. A silver lining. Follow it, and you’ll be just fine.” He was right. 82 years later, there was still harmony, all because of Covid. So, thank you Covid-19.

I tried to make it double spaced but it wasn’t working when I pasted it, sorry! Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to share my work and the word count is 1002 words including the title “82 years.” Just to confirm that’s its alright please let me know. Thank you.

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First came the birds

My face pressed against our gigantic window, I clouded the glass pane with every exhalation. I didn’t hear Giselle working out her way in the kitchen. I stared until I heard her chiming from behind,

“Planning to catch and burn the clouds again Mo?”

My voice reverberating slightly on the glass, “It has begun.”

There was a minor clank of dropping of the pot in sink and soon her head was hovering on my right. She exhaled a single cloud imprint on the glass. I checked Gis’ gaping mouth from my peripheral vision.

“Who ordered a hundred plague doctors now?” I whispered.

There was a regular city hubbub in our street below. Something fluttered by our window, hitting it. We jumped back but retreated almost immediately, to scrunch up our noses against the window again.

There were wings, feathers everywhere. I could’ve mistaken that for the stale snow. We saw a school of about a dozen of tiny pale yellow chicken trotting in a queue behind a heavy goose. The heavy goose halted at the crossroads to let the chattering trio of two flamingos and a white peacock sway across the road without any pause. The black and white pigeons scattered everywhere but never clucked together in a herd. They scampered diagonally, towards nowhere in particular, until they turned about jerkily to continue going to nowhere. The pigeons often bumped into each other but they made a point to arc around the gang of peacock-flamingos. I later noticed that almost all of the pigeons were carrying flags fashioned out of multitudes of masks. There were transparent surgical masks, all-white masks, printed chic masks; they all hung from the wing or lay entangled with the feet or ribboned to their backs. A war had been laid against the masks. Whereas a knot of tits, sparrows, patridges strolled on the asphalt sharing a whole baguette clutched in their beaks. While the doves, larks and seagulls lined the window sills and the roof ends. But only the seagulls were in the possession of the croissants who wolfed it down in a single swallow. An eagle was flying uncharacteristically low in our street, its feet clutching onto a navy blue beret. Squarely, a hornbill flew to the eagle in an attempt to seize the beret but the eagle, with one clean kick, sent the hornbill flying onto the café awning and proceeded to glide without much turbulence. Even though, each bench was taken up by a kind of Corvid but never more than a single crow or magpie could occupy the same bench for long; one of them had to hop off. One magpie even adorned an Eiffel tower keychain around its neck. The rhinestones sparkled every once in a while and the magpie titled its head to peck at the stones, like it had just won a medal. Above, a swarm of parrots encircled the ridge of the carousel situated in the middle of our street square. While below, the swans had plonked their fur bellies into the hollows of the rides in the shapes of mini cars, buses or teacups. Every other second, in no particular order, a swan would jump up onto its bright yellow feet and flutter its wings to power the rides forward. The rides would spin around and the swans twitched their necks from side to side, not being able to fix their vision anywhere. Four swans lay seated in the carousel of six rides. And, a toucan flew gaily from the horizon and settled itself in our basil pot, fixed right outside our window.

Gis looked at me, biting her inner lip,

“At least we’re never running out of the chicken stock.”

My phone buzzed and lit up,

‘Mumma(3): Saw them piling dead bodies on the roadside’.

While texting back I mumbled,

“Cook the dinner on the high flame and the beaks will chatter, I assure you.”

Gis snorted barely as she trudged back to the sink. I looked out of the window to comprehend the dynamic hubbub. Just then I saw our good old neighbour, living opposite to us on the second floor, struggle and push against his balcony door. He kicked his door and a slight clatter of bottles fell at his feet, making the seagulls croak and flutter away. He took a big swig from his beer bottle as he unzipped his jeans with his trembling hand. Soon, he was pissing down onto the street, swinging from side to side. The birds passing by scattered away from the shimmering stream of yellow. A stork stopped dead in its tracks and looked up to hoot at the man. The man let out a scream of laughter, emptying the remaining contents of his bottle below.

Beige-r (Beige barks once)

Some while ago, I had stood right in front of the transparent pyramids, looking at the sheer number of people. People who had transformed into a sea of bodies waving and lashing onto one another. I raised my arm waiving away the opportunity to be swept away by them. A taxi stopped in front of me. I had smiled at the driver when about a couple of people jostled me aside to open the taxi door and thrust themselves in. The driver sheepishly smiled back me as he ducked his head and rolled up his window. I stepped back with the screwed brows, as the car reignited. My annoyance gave away to wonder when I looked up. It was then I noticed a cloud, a single cluster of light mustard cloud hovering right above the roof of the car. The cloud was so light in density, as if it were made up of steam that it took me a long stare to confirm its existence. I hardly bent forward to knock at the window and raise their attention to it but the car had sped away by then. I saw the car travel the entire distance to the red light in the corner where it halted. And the mustard cloud floating along and to stop at the lights as well. I recalled that when I was young, I wondered how a hovering fly shared the atmosphere with the inside of a running car instead of the general outside atmosphere. I checked around to see if anyone else had spotted the anomalously low, luminous cloud taking the ride; but to no avail. The cloud was constantly dynamic, moving in itself, letting the light tyndall through the gaps. The tourists in the car had rolled down their windows to let their arm out and the cigarette lay clenched between their forefinger and middle-finger. The clear white smoke from the cigarette butt swirled vertically to rejoin its tributary with the bigger cloud looming above. The lights turned green and they both left.

Time had hardly passed when I had gotten out of my compartment in Bir-Hakeim. I slowed my pace when I spotted a tuft of cloud enveloped around a begging man sitting on the floor. This time the cloud was denser, darker, beige in colour. It whirled around the man as if a loyal dog wagging its tail. The man struggled in the bouts of his cough to keep his plastic cup upright. The opaque cloud rumbled low, making it difficult for me to see the man. The man’s arm fell to the ground and the pennies tinkled outside, he doubled over to support himself as he coughed violently. A current of brown fumes coiled around his ribs. I paused only briefly to help the man when a sharp lightening thundered from the cloud my way. I hastened my pace at once as I walked away, my neck still craned behind to glimpse at the man who progressively disappeared in the cloud. The cloud didn’t bark again.

Thank you for this opportunity to submit our visions of the future! Brighter days are on their way. Please find below my story “Passing the Test,” complete at 900 words.

“Maria, time for school!”

The girl bounds across the kitchen with her backpack already over her shoulders. Her uniform is clean and neat. She smiles, still proud of the two gaps where baby teeth have fallen out. “I’m ready!”

Her mother pats her head. “Good girl. I’m going to put our samples in the post today. Where’s yours?”

Maria shrinks into her backpack. Her smile fades. She says softly, “Can you do it for me?”

“No, I can’t do it for you,” her mother says. She laughs. “It’s not so bad, just a cotton swab around your mouth. When I was your age, they had to get a good sample by sticking the swab all the way up your nose! Your uncle says it would tickle your brain!”

Her mother laughs again, but Maria doesn’t. She trembles at how barbaric old medicine was.

“Here it is!” her mother says from the kitchen. She had found the plastic package behind the flour jar where Maria had hidden it, apparently not well enough.

Maria clamps her lips closed.

“Now what is wrong with you?” her mother asks. “You’ve done this before.”

“But I don’t want to!” she replied. When Maria realizes how wide her mouth had gotten, she clamps it tight again.

“And why not? It’s important that we do. The postman takes our samples to the testers, who see if we’re sick. Everybody needs to do it every week.”

Maria shakes her head fast enough to make her black hair hit her face. “If they catch me being sick, they’ll put me in quarantine!”

Her mother opens the plastic bag with slow fingers. Her dark eyes are full of thought. “Well, that’s true. If we catch something contagious, this is how we can know and protect other people from getting it, too.”

“I don’t want to be put in quarantine,” Maria mumbled.

“Of course not! Who would? But it’s not so bad, and you can still see your friends on your tablet. You know about the time when just about everybody in the world had to go into quarantine. We were okay, but it wasn’t fun since it went on and on with people not getting tested in time.”

“Georgie says that when they catch you being contagious, they come to your house in spacesuits and put you in a big plastic bag and take you do a jail where you have to sit locked up for weeks and months!”

Her mother’s dark eyes go narrow, and her mouth purses. “That’s not what quarantine is.”

“Yuh-huh! She saw it on the news!”

Her mother’s face relaxes. She understands now. “I think Georgie is thinking of a different kind of quarantine, like for people with very dangerous diseases.”

“But isn’t that why we take the samples? To find our diseases?”

Her mother rolls her head from side to side. “Some diseases, yes, but not all of them. It’s just looking for the ones that can get spread around a lot. Most people catch them and will be fine, but some people will get very sick. Like if granmama or papi caught it, they could be very, very sick. Shouldn’t we do what we can to help them?”

Maria nods. Her head moves slowly, but her mind is racing. She doesn’t want her grandparents or anyone else to get sick, but of course she doesn’t want to be caught in a quarantine herself. “Can’t they just stay inside?”

“That is one idea,” her mother says. “But it means that they have to stay inside all the time. It was like that when I was a little girl. People would pick up germs all over the place from people spreading them around. It was especially bad in winter, which they called ‘colds and flu season.’ But, really, it was all year. Everybody got sick a lot.”

Maria squints. “Everybody?”

Her mother patted her head again. “Just about everybody. People would stay home from school and work for days at a time. Older people would try to not ever go out. Isn’t it better being able see people and learn in class instead of getting sick?”

“Duh! I don’t want to get sick! You have to stay in bed all day, and you can only eat chicken soup, and sometimes you throw up!”

“There you go! Since the disease needs to spread to people, we send in our tests, and then we know who is sick very quickly whenever a disease gets out there. A few people can stay home until they are well again.” Her mother stops to sigh, a happy sigh with a smile. “It’s not like when we all had to stay home because we didn’t know who could be sick next. The tests help us find out.”

Maria asks, her voice just a whisper, “So we don’t have to get locked up?

“No, Georgie is a little mixed up about that. We’ll see if we can talk to her about it.” Her mother pulls the little cotton swab from the package. “Are you ready to do your part?”

Maria gives one firm nod and then leans her head back, letting her mouth gape open. The cotton swab feels tickly but much better than a drippy nose, an aching head, a sore throat, and a racking cough. Or, so she understands. She’s never had a cold.

By: Gianela Trejo Fernandez

-Auch!

-Oh, sorry, we are done. - said the nurse as she took out the syringe off my arm. – You will probably feel a little dizzy but it is completely normal and there is no need to wear your mask anymore, have a good one.

I thanked the nurse and left the clinic, I felt weird walking down the street, a lot of signs of grand re-opening were put in every store and restaurant, I haven’t been outside since summer of 2019. My back pocket vibrated, it was a call from my best friend, Alexandra, I picked up and hear a lot of excited yelling.

-OMG! Where are you? Did you get vaccinated already? Babe, I’m going to your house right now!!- I laughed, oh God, how I missed her.

-I´m by Patricio´s house, we were supposed to meet there, right?

-Come to my mom´s restaurant first please, she wants to give you something and also, I don’t wanna go by myself- she hanged up and didn’t let me answer but I was so used to that.

Luckily, the restaurant was three blocks away, it only took me five minutes to get there, walking by I saw a lot of people hugging and kissing, kids yelling and playing, and no masks on. It feels really strange, a week ago I was still locked in my room looking through the window, I could only see birds flying and empty parks, now everyone is going back to their previous lives so fast, you could feel the happiness in the air, it was contagious just like the virus once was. A really strong hug took me out of my thoughts, my first instinct was to pull away, I haven’t received one in a long time, but then I remembered, I can hug, that action embrace me completely and I burst out crying and I reacted, hugging Alexandra back, I remembered her smell, and how comforting she was. We stayed like that until a click of a camera made us separate, her mom took a picture of us and was also crying, I went to hug her as well, she and my mom were best friends.

-Oh my goodness, Maya, you have grown so much, and your hair? I love the bangs- she said with a smile on her face.

-Thank you, I cut them myself- my best friend was holding my hand. It is crazy, before, the sense of touching was a liberty we took for granted, after spending quarantine disinfecting everything and having zero physical contact with anyone, my heart was fulfilled with hankering.

-It looks amazing! – said Alexandra, I saw her eyes and she was still crying, being with her after what seemed decades was so unreal. We did FaceTime every chance we could but being with her in real life didn´t compare to that at all.

-Oh! Before you girls go. I have something for you, Maya, wait here. - Alexandra´s mom disappeared through the kitchen doors.

-So, why are you still wearing your mask? - it wasn´t until that moment I realized my mask was still on my face, I got used to wearing it, I considered another layer of my skin.

-I don’t know, I just received the vaccine, is it safe?

-Duh, of course, it is- Alexandra then proceeds to remove my mask and throwing it in the trash, I felt some type of way, like if I was emotionally attached to that piece of fabric. My breathing stopped being automatic and panic started getting to me, what if it´s not safe? - Hey, are you ok? - she asked, as I was going to answer. Lisa, her mom, came back.

-Before I and your mom graduated, she gave this to me. - she handed me a letter that looked old and fragile. -I want you to read it when you feel ready, okay? - I noticed she was about to cry again, my mom passing was hard on everyone, I still miss her every day.

-I will, thank you. - we hugged one more time and I kept the letter on my backpack. After that, Alexandra and I headed to Patricio´s house, while we were walking, I got this feeling that I forgot existed, you know, we were both silent but there with each other, I felt free and safe again, as if it the last year was a distant memory, as if the virus never happened, everything was normal again which was weird but then I realized I had this smile on my face, I don’t remember smiling like this in a long time, I only did a month before my mom died. And in a way, I felt she was here, taking care of me. We arrived at our friend’s house, we ringed the bell, and hear footsteps rushing to the door, there he was, one of my closest and dearest friends. Patricio hugged us both and started crying.

-Girls, I missed you so much, oh god, why are you so tall? - we laughed and brushed away our tears. We walked into the house, and greet everyone there. All my friends were there, I hugged each one of them, and every time I did my heart fulfilled even more. We sat in the living room and chatted about anything for hours, we laughed, cried and we just were there, together. And the word that best describes today is unreal, the thought of having a reunion like this was something that kept me awake at night, remembering how good it feels to be with your loved ones, and how much I needed it.

We decided it was enough of us being inside a house, so we went to a park nearby, we played like little kids again, running after each other and going down the slides. When it was time to go, we hugged once again knowing that we will see each other soon, knowing that we had the freedom and safety to go out again.

When I arrived home, I read the letter Lisa gave me:

“I cannot believe we graduated, well, I knew I was going to, but you? Girl, I’m in shock. Lol, jk. You know I love you. Ok so I do not want to make this cheesy, but promise me we will still be together. Our daughters have to be best friends, otherwise, I will sue you, I swear to god. On a more serious note, I am so proud of you, I love you and I know that no matter what life throws at you, you will rise whether I’m here to see it or not, I will miss you but I always keep you in my heart, so you better do the same. And, please do not cry, 'cause if you do, I will do it as well.

xoxo, Joanna.”

I knew I was going to be alright, the virus is gone, but I’m not, I’m still here and I will make you proud, mom.

A different world after the pandemic

Undoubtedly, Covid-19 pandemic has changed our life drastically. A year ago, our life was nothing compared to the “nightmare” that we are living today, we could enjoy life at its fullest-even though we were not completely aware of that and we were just watching the world go by in front of our eyes. We were able to go out with our friends to eat, go to the movies, go to the beach to breathe fresh air, and all of this without the necessity to wear a face mask, to use hand sanitizer every time, or to have a deep fear of contracting this frightening virus. Doesn’t it sound amazing?

However, if this pandemic wouldn’t ever happen, we wouldn’t have learned a lot of things. From my point of view, this pandemic has helped me to get to know myself better, to understand that there are many troubles in life and that is up to us to overcome them. I also have developed my creativity which was almost nil, at the same time I had also become a more spiritual person, started practicing meditation and yoga. I was able to experience a new mindset orientated in self-love, inner work, and a high self-esteem.

In general, it was such an amazing learning experience and somehow for most people it has implied a different perspective of what life is, it has helped me to realize how significant is to appreciate every single little moment of joy, to be kind and emphatic not only with my loved ones, or close friends but with everybody else. So, another important thing that I have deeply acknowledged is the fact that is within us to make a change in this world, because indeed we are the only ones who have caused this chaos, for years we have abused of our natural resources and including myself, I can remember that I used to think that I would change our world just by doing things like throw the trash in a pin but it implies more than that, it is a new lifestyle, a culture of being reciprocate with our Mother Nature by changing the way we eat, wear, how we retribute our environment. Without any doubt 2020 was a hard year for most people, although it has also represented an enormous growth.

On January 2nd of 2021, suddenly, everything seemed to change for good. Through many experiments, and failing attempts of the Government, I could see through the news an international announcement, in which the main topic was being covered was the cure of the chaotic virus, that day, my family and I were all very happy and emotional to tears, because a light of hope had appeared in the middle of an almost endless uncertainty. That memorable day was just unforgettable, people were more connected than ever, they were hugging and laughing, making plans and showing how grateful they were, it was like a new beginning, a new opportunity to be better, definitely the world after COVID-19 was completely unlikely to return to the world that was before.

On the 3th of June 2021, 6 months after the announcement, everything seemed to have come to life. A friend of mine named Diana whose father was about to die, now they are enjoying their favorite meal at the same restaurant they used to go before it all started. There is no longer the shade of those moments in which we were saying that life was a disgrace, people could hug each other now, appreciate life at its fullest, recover all of the lost time that we spent in front of a tv, a laptop or a phone, wishing to be around our friends or loved ones.

After a few months, people could finally go out of their places without getting worried of the virus. Parks, cinemas and beaches were full of people. I could finally hang out with my friends at the park near my house, take my dogs out daily, go to university, throw parties, etc. It all seemed so strange at first, it was kind of like a “dream”.

Apart from that, one of the first things that I noticed was that people were more emphatic with others, people were more able to express their feelings through their clothes, behaviors, ideologies, etc. Although they were people like my neighbors named John and Carlos whose manners were unacceptable, there were less likely to find people with those ideas in the year of 2021. People were more predisposed to open not only their minds but their hearts. I was so impressed to have got to see a huge change in society.

On the other hand, the Government did not skimp on investing in health professionals or those in charge of the future of the country such as teachers and professors. And not only that, the Government recognizes these key elements and consider them as the heroes of 2020. Likewise, mental health professionals played an important role in being able to cope with the times of pandemic, because the levels of anxiety, depression in some way increased, which is why they were also given due recognition, since they were in charge to grant new life opportunities to many people through their help and professional counselling.

Also, new friendly policies appeared, first there was that of preservation of the environment and animals which were more rigorously implemented, since people were aware of the importance of maintaining the environment healthy. The promotion of this new policy was all around social media and Tv, many protesters were willing to keep contributing and claimed that it was one of the first steps to recover the Earth from climate change and contamination.

Furthermore, those people (mainly the new generation considered as Gen Z) who defended women’s rights, the LGTBIQ community, defenders of indigenous people, animalist groups and movements like Black Lives Matter or in general all the groups who seek for a tolerant and a more humanitarian world took huge presence among many countries.

Everything seemed to take shape in a world which was not perfect but was changing successfully and for the good of society and their individuals, as time went by the world seemed a better place to live in, one safer, healthier, more aware of their actions and overall, more emphatic and tolerant. Without any doubt the world is definitely no longer the same as before the pandemic, people had learnt from their mistakes. Regarding me, I am living my best life even though we may have many problems, there are always reasons to be happy and to have hope in the future. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and the fact that we had overcome a pandemic is a clear example of that.

By: Vanessa Conso

There’s no best sensation in the world that feeling the wind in your face again. It isn’t the first time I got out since I got the vaccine, but it is the first time I do it without my mask on and it feels totally different. After so many months in isolation and extreme measures, it feels good going back to normal. Well, I know it’s not the same normality as the one we lived in February of 2020, but it’s progress. I still see some of my neighbors wearing their masks. They are being cautious. I know. Some of them haven’t been vaccinated yet, but I’m sure they will son.

With all these new measures given by the government, it’s just a matter of time for the coach to call us to practice again. It isn’t the same working out with them through a screen, than doing it in the court with the whole team. The good thing is that I will get to go back to the university. I finished my major last year and, honestly, I lost hope of going back. Thank God the vaccine arrived and at the best time.

My whole family was vaccinated, so definitely, our family lunches are back. And there’s exactly where we are heading right now. My grandma loved hosting these meals at her house for a long time. Today’s not the exception. The music is so loud in our car while my parents talk and my brother and I sing to the songs we are listening to. I missed seeing the beach and feel the smell of the sea on our way to my grandparents’ house. I will finally hug them and kiss them like i used to do. I will see my aunts and Julieta, my 5-year-old cousin. I love and miss that kid so much. I saw her during quarantine (I know it was wrong, but we couldn’t help it), but this time it’ll be different. We won’t be wearing ours masks and I will kiss her.

We finally arrived. My grandpa opened the door. He looks thinner. He used to be such an active man for his age before the pandemic. He used to love going to work and come back after 10 hours to his wife and daughter. Isolation depressed him. He looked at me and we hugged so hard. I haven’t hugged him for months. God, I missed him so much. We hugged for a while and then he did the same with the rest of my family and invited us inside. As soon as we got in, we smelled our grandmother’s famous “Arroz con pollo”. She was so concentrated cooking that she didn’t even notice that we arrived. I gave her a big kiss and we hugged very hard. She and I cried a little. We couldn’t help it. Then the rest of the family arrived and all we could see were hugs and lots of tears.

After hanging out in the living room, we finally went to the dinning room to eat lunch. Each of us sat in our usual place. My dad and grandpa, at each end, next to each of them were my mom and grandma, my brother and I were next to my mom, my aunts sat next to my grandma and we had to bring 2 extra chairs from the kitchen for my uncle and my cousin.

I’m not going to lie, lunch was absolutely amazing. I missed my grandmother’s cooking. My mom cooks as well as my grandma, but nothing compares to hers. After lunch, my brother and I helped cleaning and washing the dishes (as we used to do), so we can go to the living room to keep talking. Some of the conversation topics are politics, economics and sports. I’m not an expert in those topics, but I really like to learn, and i really enjoy talking to my grandpa, dad and uncle. But I only stay with them for a while.

Julieta brought so many things so we can play with and not get bored. She could be 4 years old, but she is a very smart little girl and looks so much older. Before take out her dolls, she told me and my mom everything she learned in her classes and how excited and happy she is that she is finally going back to school to make new Friends. The truth is that I totally get her. I am still a little sad I couldn’t spend my last year of major in the university. I kno I will be back for practice, but the feeling will be different. Anyway, I’m over that part of my life and all we have to do now is enjoy every single moment.

We started painting the drawings she printed in her house. She had everthing, a park full of children, animals in the forest and even Disney princesses. While were at it, she told me how much she missed us (my parents, my brother and I) and how she is right now being with us. She can’t wait for the moment to finally have a sleepover with me in my house. The truth is I can’t wait either. I love spending time with her, despite being exhausting. I always wanted a younger sister, so I’m very happy and grateful for having a cousin just like Julieta. Everytime we do sleepovers, we always bake something. Last time, we baked a vanilla cake. I did most of the work, of course, but she helps a lot and that makes her feel good. She told me that this time wants to bake brownies. She saw that on a Youtube video and now she wants to do it.

Time went by so fast, that it was time to go back home. My grandparents cried a little and so did we. But this time we know it won’t be the last we see each other. We are going to hang out so much more now. We are all vaccinated, so we don’t have nothing to worry about anymore. One of my aunts and Julieta are gonna stay for a little longer because they live closet o my grandpartes’. But for us, is time to go.

On our way back home I started thinking. All we lived today, with my family, made me realize how lucky I am to have them. Before the virus I always knew I had the chance to go visit them anytime I wanted. And I didn’t always go. I think is because I somehow thought they were always going to be there, but the truth is they won’t. Some of my friends have lost their grandparents and some other family members because of the virus and they didn’t have the chance to say goodbye. That made me think that I have to appreciate them even more. Tell them I love them, not only with words, but with actions. I know that we only have one life and we have to enjoy it to the fullest. But so do they (my grandparents). And what they want the most is spend time with us, their family. To be honest, I want that too. Now I have a second chance and I promise not to waste it.

Thank you everyone for your entries.
The 2020 Flash Fiction Challenge is now closed. Winners will be announced on the forum and website on the 1st December.
In the meantime, let’s keep the conversation going - come on over to the Creative Inspiration thread and share other pieces of your work on the theme of inspiring positive change.
And keep your eye on the forum or sign up to our newsletter for future creative challenges.

Roshnii

This story was submitted by email but, for technical reasons, the author was not able to share it here on the forum.

Embrace by Simone Botha

The prophet’s hand shook as he extended a trembling finger, his gaze riveted directly on Robin’s dubious expression. The end is coming! he rasped, his supposedly divine assertion meant to liquidate all doubt. Floods and fire! Destruction! Prepare for earth’s demise!

“Yeah, sure,” Robin scoffed, scooping up the TV remote and flipping through the other channels. “Sorry, Hollywood, change ain’t that dramatic.”

Settling on a morning news report instead, she got to her feet, groaning slightly at the stiffness in her legs. The near-perfect weather had almost demanded a run, but even clear skies and crisply clean air couldn’t veto her over-exertion.

The clock above Robin’s kitchen spurred her into her morning routine: a mug and a porcelain bowl clattered onto the countertop, promptly joined by still-hot coffee and yogurt-drowned muesli. In other news, the economic collapse of Coca-Cola has opened doors for smaller manufacturers to boost their business, the anchorman blared as Robin nibbled her breakfast. Many local-based entrepreneurs are celebrating what they see as a step towards a post-capitalist economy.

Robin shook her head. For all its shifting foundations, the world was keeping it’s posture remarkably well.

She could almost hear her cynicality snorting. Maybe it’s because those shifts are building the foundations rather than weakening them.

A loud ring snapped her from her thoughts. Work, read the caller ID. As she swiped to answer the incoming summons, she lowered the volume on the newscast, cutting short the anchorman’s eager: A drastic improvement in the Amazon reforestation campai–

“Hello!” she lilted, pushing a hand through her ebony cornrows. “Robin Thompson speaking. How can I help?”

“Ms Thompson, hello,” the voice – a young man, by the sound of it – addressed her cheerily. “You’re coming in to work today, yes?”

Robin glanced at her watch, a frown creasing her brow. I’m not late. “Yes, it’s a Tuesday. Why?”

“Of course, sorry!” Robin beamed at her caller’s awkward laugh. He’s probably the new secretary, she reasoned. We’ve hired multitudes of new faces since the company split. “Mrs Miller was just wondering if you could pick up some documents from the post office on your way in. They don’t courier anymore.”

Of course they don’t. “Yeah, I’ll drop by quick,” she acceded. “Expect me around nine.”

“Thank you!” She could hear the secretary’s smile through the call. Sweet.

Gulping down the last of her coffee and yogurt, Robin snatched her purse and backpack before slipping into her sneakers on her way out the door. Her mud-stained trainers clashed violently with the starched blouse and dress pants she wore, but the half-hour walk to work wouldn’t be kind to her soles if she attempted the journey in her two-inch work heels.

“Hey, Robin!” Her neighbour raised a friendly hand in greeting as Robin passed her by, and Robin flashed her a good-natured smile. She stole another glance at her watch. There’s always time for some friendly conversation.

“Hey, Sarah,” she replied, leaning against the white picket fence bordering her neighbour’s lawn. “How’s the baby doing?”

“He’s great, thanks,” Sarah sighed, wiping a blonde wisp of hair behind her ear. Oh, the pleasure of being able to converse once more! “He just finished teething, so we’re finally getting some sleep again. How about you? Are you heading to work?”

“Yeah, we’re finalizing the company split today,” Robin informed. “Transferring our district’s food production into local management takes a remarkable amount of paperwork.”

Sarah’s eyebrows peaked. “I can imagine! Well, I’d better head off – I’ve started with Jeremy’s homeschooling, and I’ve still got some admin to sort out there. Good luck!”

“You too!” Robin smiled as she fell into stride once more, stepping from the sidewalk into the broadly paved main road. Several other commuters nodded politely as they strolled past her, and the sound of friendly chatter filled the otherwise quiet streets. A certain camaraderie had blossomed within humanity. The atmosphere brought a smile to Robin’s face. I guess after months of people being forced apart, we realized we need each other more than we thought we did.

“Sorry!” The tring of a cyclist’s bell warned her of his intentions, as he wove through the steady flow of pedestrians in order to cross the street. Robin raised her eyebrows. Since the collapse of the gasoline industry and the subsequent foreclosure of many large oil and coal corporations, cars had fallen into near disuse, while the prices of bicycles had skyrocketed. Seeing a Momsen on your way to work now was the equivalent of seeing a Lamborghini parked in the Walmart parking lot pre-pandemic.

Pre-pandemic. There was her that cynical shoulder-voice again. If someone ‘pre-pandemic’ were to hear those words, they’d imagine a world transformed beyond recognition. Why did we think radical change had to come coupled with the complete destruction of past society?

A flock of parakeets alighted in a tree growing dead-centre in the main road, and Robin shook her head.

We didn’t need an apocalypse to get our act together. We just needed a mindset reset, and that didn’t require the formation of a dystopia. Two and a half years of consequence was all it took for the world to renew its way of thinking – or rather, to act upon what it already knew was necessary.

The post office drew up on Robin’s left, and she stepped nimbly through the stream of people occupying the street lanes around her. Shooting a smile at the mail-clerk as she stepped into the building, she readied herself for another bout of cordial smalltalk.

“Hello,” she greeted warmly. “I’m here to pick up some things for FoodSource Ltd.”

“Oh, yes!” the clerk turned to the packing shelf lined with reams of manilla envelopes behind her. “Those documents came this morning. We had a cyclist bring them in.”

“Wonderful,” Robin muttered as she accepted the girthy package. The timestamp in its upper corner indicated it had been posted only hours before. “It’s amazing how efficient our systems still are,” she mused, “even without all the tech we absolutely swore by before.”

Eyes widening, the clerk nodded her agreement passionately. “It just goes to show,” she pointed out, slipping a Receival form across the countertop. “Humanity really can adapt to the challenges life chucks at us! What was it President Howards said the other day? ‘Change was inevitable, the only question --’”

“‘-- is the grace with which we accept it’,” Robin chorused. “A wise man. It was so genius of him to use the economic crisis of the pandemic to implement the changes we all knew were necessary. I mean, he took absolute chaos and turned it 180-degrees – from economic collapse to the decentralisation of government and industry! It’s brilliant!”

The clerk clapped her hands in acknowledgement.“I know! My son was into all this tree-hugging stuff before Lockdown happened, and he couldn’t be happier now that industries have handed over production to smaller firms. I mean, just look at how well the atmosphere is doing! I’m telling you, humanity’s resilience to pull together is magical – change my mind.”

“I certainly won’t!” Robin laughed, signing the page in front of her and sliding it back to the clerk. “Let’s just hope our new paradigm sticks!”

“I’m sure it will!” The clerk’s cheerful grin bore the candid optimism that had engulfed the world of late, and Robin found herself, too, embracing it. Waving as she stepped through the office door, she raised a hand in farewell, amalgamating once more with her fellow believers in the street.

Thanks to everyone who participated in this year’s Flash Fiction Challenge.

Special congratulations to our first prize winner, Tony Dunnell and our two runners up, Nydia Dara and Ciena Valenzuela-Peterson!

You can read the winning stories and the judge’s feedback on the three finalists here: https://systemschangealliance.org/2020-flash-fiction-winners/ Please comment with your own constructive thoughts on their work.

Let’s stay connected
This was the first writing challenge from Systems Change Alliance but there will be more.
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Keep using this forum to interact with other writers inspired by positive change. Share your relevant work on this thread and support others by commenting and liking their posts.

Hello everyone!

I am replying to this thread to let you all know about our new Post Growth challenge, in partnership with Steady State Machester and the Manchester Meteor.

The challenge is to help us find the best way to spread the message about the post-growth alternative. You can submit short texts, infographics, comics, short videos… or maybe you’ve an even better idea for how to present it– the choice is yours.

Submissions are open until the 28th of February. The best entries will receive prizes and will be publicized through several international networks, so if you want to put your creative work out there, this might be a good opportunity!

Find out how to participate here.