0 Color Burn Diana Spatariu Ifa0kgersom Unsplash

Before & After

Sarah readjusts her mask, careful not to disrupt the airflow coming from the long plastic tube hooked up to her portable oxygen container. She takes a deep inhale of oxygen and her lungs feel brand new with the fresh, O2. The afternoon air is in its usual state of dirt and haze and she is drenched in sweat. However, she feels grateful that she has saved up enough money to buy herself three metal containers of oxygen. That’ll last her for two months at least, she thought to herself. She has been walking for over an hour from her apartment to Suria KLCC’s old fountain in search of safe drinking water. Ever since the use of conventional transportation has been banned, walking is her only option. Trains stopped working years ago. Using carbon-based fuel is legally prohibited and vehicles that are powered by solar energy are hard to get by. Not to mention they are ridiculously steep. 

She looks up to the tall twin towers that shimmer beautifully as the scorching sun blares its fiery heat. Over three decades ago, the twin towers were built to flaunt that we were a modern, futuristic society. Today, the towers are nothing but a tall, dark obelisk with sparse, weak, flickering lights that mark the presence of the Great Flood survivors. Too many towns have been swallowed up by the disastrous flood a year ago, forcing people to find refuge elsewhere. From the outside, she could hear faint noises coming from the inside, threading them into indecipherable murmurs that evaporate into the thin air. She used to come here often with her friends to their favorite bookshop and would always stop by for Japanese food. Times have changed and ever since the climate turned unbearably hot and unpredictable as stormy floods swallowed town by town. No one can enjoy such a luxury like shopping anymore. Surviving is more important. 

She turns around and starts digging her way through the cracked and tiled bottom of the fountain. She is determined to find even a drop of water here. Sometimes, she feels lucky that she only has herself to take care of. Her parents died years ago during a terrible heatwave and only a few months ago, her elder sister suffered from dehydration. By the time Sarah returned to the apartment with a small bottle of water that she had scoured, it was too late. Her sight suddenly becomes blurred, and tears splash on the dry tiles. She tries to hold back her tears but she finds herself getting angrier at herself, her current situation, and the world.  

She knows there is nothing she could do to make a difference to her present life or to mother nature. She takes a glance at the dry and barren field across the fountain. Memories of having a picnic at the park with her small family come rushing to her mind and tears start to stream down her face. Her loved ones are gone and she was left with only fading memories of them. The former meadow of green grass and tall trees is now a devastatingly gray sight, with no shades of green anywhere. 

She forces herself back to her task at hand and is about to dig the fountain deeper with her small spade with all her might when the filthy, sooty air finds its way through her mask. She gasps for air, her head starting to spin. Quickly, she readjusts her breathing mask. Dizzy, she lays her back on the rough concrete and inhales the oxygen, feeling the breath of life flowing inside her body. Sarah is only in her mid-thirties but her lungs have aged terribly. Her eyes gaze on the once light blue sky, only seeing grayish clouds moving at a glacial pace amidst the stained sky. After years of raging forest burnings and using carbon fuel excessively, the colorless air finally found its demise and is replaced by this foul nightmare that envelops the whole country. 

She reminisces about the time when the green environment was still alive and the air was crisp. Everyday en route to her classes in university in the early mornings, she felt the sun kissing her skin subtly. The smell of fresh dewy grass circled in the air as she strolled to class, passing by bright red ixora and hibiscus flowers planted among the green bushes. 

But it was 2020, the age of modernity and advanced technology. Mixed with the cool natural air were the suffocating blasts of fumes coming out of speeding vehicles on the roads and the noisy sound of car engines. Within minutes of the warm sunshine, the atmosphere gradually became hotter and she quickly drew out her umbrella to protect herself from the blazing heat of the searing sun. The tranquillity of the environment she was enjoying quickly faded away into the picture of nature’s imminent death. Everyone was busy minding their own business, including herself, that the deterioration of mother nature seemed insignificant. Working adults needed to work hard to make ends meet; to ensure bills and taxes were paid. Students had deadlines and mountains of assignments to finish to graduate. We lived in a society where only possession of money warranted a comfortable life. We still do. 

She remembers taking a course in her English department on environmental issues a year before she graduated. They had to watch a documentary on climate change for a research paper and as she thinks about the clips from the documentary, it feels unbearable to grasp that the horrific scenes the environmentalists and scientists had predicted years ago have become a reality. Floods, rising temperatures, and the constant grimy haze from Kalimantan that blanketed much of Malaysia for months and months have resulted in horrible change for the country. People are losing lives and homes every day. Nothing is the same anymore.

It’s 2037 now. Sarah wishes she had done better in caring about the environment. Never in her life would she have thought that the disastrous scenes from the documentary she watched years ago would come true. Remorse engulfs her whole as she continues to lay on the rough ground alone.

Written by Siti Aishah (@punyolive on Instagram)

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