a story of the future
by Linda Traversi
A boy with a condition lives secluded in the outskirts of a newborn city in the mountains. He is desperate for a friend. Until an unexpected encounter with someone rummaging through his unit’s waste system changes everything. Together, they will discover that the abandoned land they are forbidden to enter may just hold the key to creating their future, if they are willing to imagine it. In the face of climate change, will we be able to finally build on our connection with each other and with those who came before us? This short story was written for Streaming Museum and attempts to answer this question.
18 minute read
The boy is staring out the window. It is that time of day when the street below slows down. Once in a while a small vehicle goes by, maybe a taxi, or a quiet bus. And the boy wonders, why do people bother to stand if there are so many empty seats?
He would have to sit down, even during such a smooth ride. It’s because of his condition. That is what his mother calls it. It is not a disease, not an illness; it won’t be progressing, or impacting his life more than it is now. These too are his mother’s words. She spells them out softly, as if he were small, much smaller than he actually is. Don’t worry, nothing is going to change, she reassures him. But to the boy it’s not reassuring at all to know he’s forever stuck in today, in this very moment.
He can’t walk very well, and he certainly cannot run. There was some kind of problem at birth, the oxygen didn’t reach his brain properly, and his left side is weak. His arm and hand are functional, as the doctors say. But his leg and foot not so much. After many sessions of physiotherapy, his muscles are still frail and thin, and his knee sometimes gives out on him. It simply refuses to take another step. So he is forced to pause, to hop on the other leg, like that time at the Gathering Center when he really had to use the toilet facilities. After he did, his mother said they should leave. We just got here, the boy protested, I want to go to the arcade. You can play in our unit, she answered, and off they went. On their way back, she said don’t worry, nothing is going to change. But the boy guessed she was ashamed, or scared maybe, that things were getting worse. And he ended up staying in their game room all afternoon. Alone.
Now she has no time to take him to the Gathering Center, she is always at the lab. She has an important job, though not as important as his father, who’s working night shifts at the base overlooking the Dam. He’ll be back in a few months, if everything goes according to schedule. The boy doesn’t know what this schedule is. He hears such expressions when his parents video call every few days. They don’t say things like, how are you, have you had coffee, what is the temperature outside; they immediately fall deep in conversation about technicalities that he could never understand, or that nobody bothers to explain. But he’s used to it. He’s even used to waiting for his mother until late in the evening, much later than the commuters who have already returned to their units. He’s so used to it, in fact, that he sometimes forgets he is hungry until dinner is on the table.
He’s chewing on his pen now, staring at the reflection of the dusky sun that cuts the windshields in half. He hopes another bus will go by, so again he’ll imagine what the final destination of the standing passengers is. Then he notices something. The partition surrounding their property is quite high, and the boy has trouble making out what the moving object on the other side is. Squinting, he realizes it’s a head skipping along. He then pins his hands on his desk and leans over to get a better look. The head stops. He suddenly wishes hard for it to start moving again. Nobody ever walks by this area, he says to himself. Then the head disappears below the partition and he stretches as much as he can. Maybe it slithered away? Maybe it never really was there?
The boy starts to sprint up to the top floor, but his leg is slow, and it takes him ages, or what seems to be ages to him. As soon as he gets there, he rushes to the window, panting, his nose touching the glass. The head is still there. It’s examining the content of the crates where they leave their waste. The collection concerns paper, glass, fabric, food leftovers, anything else that can be recycled; occasionally plastic, since the Conversion almost completely banned it. He can clearly see two hands now, rummaging inside the largest crate. The head takes out a long wooden stick and wields it as if it were a sword. Then it stands up again, and the boy can see almost the whole body it is attached to. It’s a girl. Her hair is short, shaved to the sides, and he doesn’t know exactly why he’s so sure, but he can tell it’s a girl. He won’t take his eyes off her while she crosses the street and continues to stroll in the same direction as the passing vehicles. She’s carrying the stick in one hand, and brushing the other against the opposite partition, until she finally turns the corner at the end of the street.
Everything is back to normal. Cars and buses go by and it’s so peaceful, and orderly, it almost looks like he is in the video game he plays on the system. He stares at the opposite partition. It’s much higher than their own. He doesn’t know when it was put up exactly, or what’s on the other side. The residential area where their unit lies is the last one before a place that is not a place at all, because it serves no purpose. When the floods forced them to retreat to the mountains, they went back to living where some of the very first communities had organized. As the water rose, and the hot air finally melted the ice on the surrounding peaks, their city was born. Shortly after, the epidemic arrived. The survivors gradually moved toward the platforms built around the original plateau, in order to benefit from sterilized environments. This is what he learned in school about the Great Transfer. It has always felt like textbook information, something that had nothing to do with his life. But now the scattered trees he sees in the distance make him uneasy. He has never thought about them, still they are real, and just a few feet away. What if they actually have something to do with his life? How many other things exist that he has no experience of? And who could be living so close to him?
Picture 1. The photographs included in this short story were taken in 2022 at the Parco delle incisioni rupestri di Grosio-Grosotto (Rock Engraving Park of Grosio-Grosotto), in Valtellina, Italian Alps. At the heart of this area stands the Rupe Magna, the biggest engraved Rock in the Alpine Range. More than 5,000 petroglyphs are engraved on its 84-meter-long surface, dating back to the Neolithic Period (4th-3rd millennium B.C.), to the Bronze Age and to the Iron Age (1st millennium B.C.). More than half of the total number of petroglyphs belongs to the category of non-figurative signs such as coppelle (cupmarks) and canaletti (small ditches). Among these, the oldest motifs - mainly geometric and abstract figures such as rectangles, grids, meanders and spirals - date to the late Neolithic and the Copper Age (about 6,000 to 5,000 years ago).
This picture shows a cluster of cupmarks and a spiral at the top right corner. The main interpretation of cupmarks is connected to a sacrificial function, i.e. depositing, offering or prophecy rituals. The meaning of spirals is still subject of debate; they have been linked to funerary rituals or a symbolization of water.
He doesn’t tell his mother any of this. That evening she arrives absorbed in some problem they’re having with a batch of seeds. Besides, she would get suspicious and possibly forbid him from going outside. Not that he ever goes outside. Officially it’s because of the epidemic; even if it has almost been completely eradicated, his mother thinks he shouldn’t challenge his immune system. But the real reason is that he can’t walk very well, and he certainly cannot run. So he follows classes on the system instead of attending school like other children his age. It’s safer. He has always assumed this was for the best. But he’s not so sure anymore. All these questions have started to pop in his head, and he can’t seem to force them back where they came from.
Since he has no one to share his confusion with, he goes on to do what he always does. He attends classes, works on his homework, plays a little in the game room, finishes off the afternoon reading, especially adventure stories, they’re his favorite. And on waste collection days, when the sun starts to set, he makes sure he is at his desk, looking out the window, drawing sometimes, trees and rivers and lands he has never seen.
Sure enough, the girl appears again. One day she fiddles with a couple of glass bottles. She puts them up to the light, then decides they both suit her. Another time, she selects an old wastebasket. She flips it over on the sidewalk and sits on it. This too she likes. Then she leafs through a stack of neatly arranged paper. Now that the paper mill is employed mainly for everyday objects, sheets of paper are an expendable by-product of cellulose pulp. Sometimes the mixture is so patchy that the boy’s mother cannot bring herself to take notes on them. It distracts her, she says. What about you?, she asked a few days ago. Would you like to draw something on these? He shook his head, not because he wouldn’t have liked to - he prefers to feel paper under his palms rather than a screen - but because he thought the girl could make some use of them. His mother said, you are awfully quiet lately, is everything alright? Don’t worry, nothing is going to change, she added. He just shrugged, thinking he has never spoken much. And the stack of paper ended up in one of the recycling boxes outside their partition.
The girl was excited when she found it. She was shaking her head in disbelief and even jumped a little at her luck. Then she left, bouncing up and down, holding the stack to her chest with both arms. And this idea hit him: if she needs paper, then maybe she needs something to write with. He realizes that the only way he could have her find a pen, or a marker, is to put it in one of the crates himself. He is scared and excited. He is positive this is not a good idea, but he cannot think of anything else. So he decides to embark on this mission. He plans out the logistics and the timeline, rehearsing every step from the house to the crate, he even runs a statistics check in order to reduce the risk to an insignificant number. Possibly, zero.
On the designated day, the sky is overcast and the boy can only guess where the sun is. He sneaks out the back door, crosses the garden, hides for a few seconds behind the small greenhouse, pacing. Then he keeps on walking and limping past the solar panels until he reaches the gate carved into the masonry. He pauses and breathes in the fresh air. It’s warm and gloomy, and smells of new pollen that he can’t quite identify. He presses the sequence of buttons that opens the gate, looks both ways, and casually moves up to the crates, that are in fact wooden boxes with no lid. In a split second he goes for the one dedicated to paper. He takes a big red marker out of his pocket and places it on top of a cardboard container. Then he looks both ways again. This is a safe time of day, but still he is nervous. There’s nobody around. A bus lazily goes by carrying only three people, all standing. They are looking out the window, just as he looks out the window of his room. Maybe you can see more clearly if you stand, he thinks.
So that’s what he does later that evening. He won’t go up to the top floor like he has been doing for the past few weeks. He pushes the desk away from the window and just stands there for what feels like a very long time. As the day is finally ending, the girl appears. He squeezes his hands in two small fists, and gulps down when the girl’s attention is caught by his offering. She takes a step back, holding the marker, surprised, and the boy thinks, I was right, she does need a marker. And then he freezes. Because she’s looking up now, straight into his window, straight into his eyes. He feels the urge to run, and he tries to, but his knee won’t move, it’s a block of cement weighing him down. So he stays perfectly still while the girl stares at him for a minute or so, then goes back to checking the remaining crates. She tilts her head down and starts writing something, the boy is guessing on the cardboard container. Before she walks away, taking only the marker, she glances up again. The boy is in the exact same position. He’s sure she has seen him, but she doesn’t wave, or smile. As soon as she turns the corner, the boy rushes downstairs, across the garden and out of the gate, his knee working again, just pulling minor jerks at his walk. It’s late, his mother could come in from the main entrance. But he is too curious. He needs to find out if his intuition is correct, if the girl actually wrote a message for him.
Picture 2. Human figures are more recent and date back to about 3,000 years ago. They are represented either with raised arms, the so-called orante (praying person), or as a warrior armed with spear and shield. At the eastern end of the rock, the so-called oranti saltici (dancing praying persons) can be found: six warriors organized in three couples, impressively large, 80 centimeters in height and occupying an area of more than 2 and a half meters. Their limbs are orthogonal and opposing, they display male genitalia and are holding short objects, perhaps knives, swords or sticks. It might be a depiction of a dance, a warrior procession or most probably a duel.
In the picture, two of the six oranti saltici. One of the figures was traced with water to increase visibility.
Once he gets to the box, he spots red capital letters on the edge of the cardboard container:
WHAT’S YOUR NAME ?
He reads the questions many times. So many times, in fact, he cannot get these words out of his head. He spends the following days debating with himself: should I answer? What if she wants to meet me? What if once she meets me, she’ll feel sorry for me because I can’t walk very well, and I certainly cannot run?
But the more he thinks about it, the more he knows deep down he won’t back out. This is the closest he has ever got to doing something that doesn’t involve his parents, his doctors or his teachers. In short, adults. So the following time waste collection is due, again he sneaks out to the crates. He brings a scientific journal with him. It’s about indoor and outdoor greenery, there are such publications on the living room table. He writes on the cover, inside a woven straw pot containing a Monstera Deliciosa.
MY NAME IS ADAM. WHAT’S YOUR NAME ?
He is careful not to smudge his marker’s blue ink. She’ll notice blue in all this green, he thought. And he goes back in, to his standing spot in front of his room’s window. The girl arrives skipping lightheartedly as usual, and when she finds the journal, she looks up. She takes the red marker out of the front pocket of her sweatshirt and notes something down. Then she checks the other crates, and finds a piece of cardboard and some plastic wrap. She puts the balled-up wrap on the cardboard, and slips the journal in the middle. She looks at him and keeps walking with her stack until she disappears around the corner.
Adam runs downstairs, limping and wondering where she wrote her message. On an egg carton, she scribbled:
MY NAME IS EVELINE. CAN I TAKE THE JOURNAL ?
Eveline. Eveline Eveline Eveline, Adam repeats to himself, and then he frowns. As he comes back in through the gate, he thinks, I don’t understand, she already took the journal. Maybe she would return it if I asked her to? She must have guessed it wasn’t meant for recycling. And the questions start flowing again, why would she want a scientific journal? Which school does she attend? Where is she taking all this stuff from the boxes? The mystery consumes and thrills him, and he doesn’t notice his mother in the doorway.
— Where were you? — She says in a neutral voice, but Adam knows she’s alarmed.
— In the garden, — he lies.
— Come inside.
Eveline left minutes ago, there’s no way his mother could have seen her. But what if she had? Would she disapprove? Would she lock him up in his room? Would she need all the answers he needs?
— What is it? — His mother says as he ducks to avoid her touching his shoulder. — Don’t worry-
— Nothing is going to change. I know.
His mother’s mouth stays open for a few seconds, but Adam can’t see it, he’s already turned his back to her, staggering up the stairs.
Picture 3. The Rupe Magna displays 431 oranti, the majority of which are isolated. However, there are a number of instances where figures seem to be arranged in a scene, most likely representing collective celebrations, religious or initiation ceremonies, or perhaps dances.
The picture shows two anthropomorphic figures dating back to the early Iron Age. The one on the right appears to have a spiral come out of his arm; however, it has been determined that this is a case of overlapping. Considering its level of consumption, the spiral is believed to have been engraved during one of the earliest phases of activity.
Summer finally comes along. School ends, and for the first time Adam has something to look forward to. He’s not expecting wild weeks ahead, just more interesting than playing games alone and reading all day. Although reading is always interesting. He even uses books to communicate with Eveline now. That is, to exchange sentences in the waste sorting. It’s like a portal, that set of crates, through it he can reach another world.
He learns that she is almost twelve, and lives at the far end of the one-way street, in one of the complex buildings facing the partition that keeps the city separate from the abandoned land. The plateau on the other side is actually a strip, narrow and depressed, it turns into a beehive of lakes during rain season, that’s what Eveline writes on a piece of candy wrapper: «beehive of lakes». She goes around it every other day, through a passage in the partition. It takes a long time to skirt but she enjoys it, especially on sunny afternoons. And in case he was wondering, she likes her hair short because it’s easier when adults think she is a boy. Children immediately guess she’s a girl, but most of the time they don’t care.
Picture 4. A rare case of female representation. The cupmarks surrounding the orante appear to be indicating breasts and female genitalia. An alternative interpretation is that of a female giving birth, the cupmark between its lower limbs depicting a newborn.
Adam answers that in Around the World in Eighty Days traveling to the other side of the world takes a lot more than an afternoon; besides, Phileas Fogg doesn’t have the chance of getting familiar with any of the places he visits. And in Pippi Longstocking, Pippi does whatever she wants, regardless of what is considered appropriate for girls. In the end, play is just play. But what he really would like to say is: Do you have friends in the complex buildings? What games do you play with them? Why do you come by to pick into the waste boxes?
But these questions require long explanations, and there isn’t much space on random leaflets and milk cartons. Or maybe he’s afraid to ask. Eveline seems to like the characters he mentions; she even smiles up to his window when he brings up Pinocchio and his wish to become someone else. So he decides he can get her some stories. It’s not difficult to choose from their library, the books they own are old editions his parents managed to salvage. He leaves Alice in Wonderland in one of the crates with a note inside, written in the usual blue marker:
I CAN GIVE YOU MORE, IF YOU WANT.
She is in awe when she finds it. She holds it as if it were a precious treasure, as if it could break if she didn’t take good enough care of it. But then, she skips the following waste collection, and the one after that. Adam starts to think it was a terrible, terrible idea to give her the book. Maybe she’s offended for some reason, maybe she hated it. He misses Eveline, and waiting for her to arrive in the evening; he misses coming up with smart remarks to impress her. It would be wonderful if she thought I was smart, he tells himself. Instead of noting that I can’t walk very well, and I certainly cannot run.
When she does come back, and Adam drops the pen he was holding tight in his hand when her bouncing head appears, she has the book. She doesn’t rummage through the crates, won’t pick up anything; she just looks up and smiles. Then she delicately places the book in the first crate, and leaves. Adam immediately hurries downstairs, his heart pounding in his chest, into his throat and inside his mouth, he’d spit it out if it meant he could go faster. Inside, scribbled on a used napkin, there’s a message. It says:
I HAVE TO SHOW YOU SOMETHING.
WEDNESDAY AT 3:00 P.M.
Adam cannot move. He is on cloud nine and at the same time scared to pieces.
— Adam! — His mom screams at the top of her lungs.
He jumps, startled. His mind goes blank and for a few seconds he can’t even remember if that’s actually his name.
— Come inside, — his mother urges. He recognizes her voice now, it’s frantically high-pitched.
His knee is not responding. He forces it to bend, but it won’t. So he puts back the napkin, hides the book in his pants, and hops back through the gate. It closes abruptly behind him, activated from inside the unit. He glances up and his mother is still punching buttons in the doorway.
— What if you get hurt? What if a car runs you over? What if someone tries to kidnap you?
Adam is not answering, shocked and confused and terrified. Because it is true that he can’t walk very well, and he certainly cannot run; but it is also true that a human being who is not his mother wants to show him something, as if his opinion mattered. He purses his lips and resolves to be quiet, even when the book falls to his feet as he’s hopping towards the stairs.
— Don’t you read on the system? — she says. She picks up Alice in Wonderland, but before she gets the chance to open it, Adam snatches it from her.
— I was reading in the garden and heard a noise, so I went outside to check.
— He tries to sound convincing.
— Tell me what’s going on… We used to tell each other everything, — she pleads.
He glares at her. She’s the one who used to tell him everything, not the other way around. And now she’s too busy even for their one-sided conversations. He starts limping up the stairs.
— I do everything for you, we do everything for you!
He ignores her, and when he reaches his room, and closes the door, and leans on it with his back, he lets out all the bundled up air in his chest.
They did save their future, including the useless one of a cripple like him. His parents are working to make sure the planet is still inhabitable, still beautiful with its endless oceans and plants and wildlife, and new delicate balances of oxygen and carbon dioxide; and tides and eclipses and movements around the sun. But what if they are missing the bigger picture? What if they are not truly paying attention to the coming generations who are supposed to live here? He puts the book on his desk and thinks that there are things that adults simply don’t understand. That must be why Eveline doesn’t even want to share that she’s a girl with them. Then he sits down. Wednesday is just two days away. And he suddenly wonders: what does Eveline want to show me?
Picture 5. Next to geometric forms and anthropomorphic figures, animals such as caprids, boars, horses and snakes also appear.
The picture shows an example of caprid, either an ibex or chamois. Researchers expect to find more petroglyphs below the ground, since it is likely the engravers worked at eye level.
For the next forty-eight hours, Adam can’t sleep, he can’t eat and he can’t think. He wants to disappear from the face of the Earth, and he also wishes that time would go by even faster. His mother is watching him closely now, but only in the evening, at the dinner table, where he barely touches any food; so she’s distracted by his calorie intake and doesn’t sound particularly invested in the patronizing speeches she’s trying to convince him with. Of what, he is not sure. And maybe she isn’t either.
On Wednesday afternoon, he is at the far end of the garden, waiting. It’s almost three o’clock. He is still considering not showing up. Eveline would never even know he was there, if he keeps quiet enough. If he could choose, he would go back to before, the reassuring before when she already existed to him, but wasn’t asking to meet. Then he thinks about his mother, about her nonsense. Things change, that’s what they do, and nothing can stop them. Besides, his knee seems to work fine today, incredibly fine, as if sleep deprivation and fasting was just the medicine it needed. As he is testing it, bending and lifting, jumping even, he hears steps on the other side of the partition. They’re getting closer. His heart is beating so loud he’s afraid it will muffle everything else. He focuses, trying to listen. Eveline is shuffling some paper, maybe leaning over the crate. A few vehicles go by. Then there’s shuffling again, and his heart pounding.
— Adam, where are you… — she says this to herself, most probably facing the street. It’s a hoarse, scratchy voice. A voice he could never hide from. He dials the code to open the gate. Then he sheepishly peers out.
— You’re late, — she says. Not hello, not nice to meet you, not hey, I was curious what kind of face you’d have with no glass between us.
— I can’t walk very well, and I certainly cannot run, — he blurts out. — I mean, if this thing you have to show me is far, I don’t know if…
She looks down to his left leg and foot, he is pointing at them. Then she tilts her head as if she were saying, whatever.
— Thanks for the book, — she answers, ignoring him. — I get bored of reading on the system. But pages are cool. It took me some time to get to the end of it, and I couldn’t concentrate on anything else until I finished. Does that happen to you?
He nods, and joins her as she starts walking. It seems like the right thing to do, to walk next to her on the sidewalk. His knee interrupts the flow here and there, but to his surprise he has no problem in keeping her pace. They are strolling towards the end of the street now, and his heart is pounding again. He’s never been this far by himself. Then he thinks he is not by himself. He’s with Eveline.
— Hey, Adam.
— Sorry… you were saying?
— I was saying that Alice meets some crazy characters in her adventure. Maybe she’s a bit crazy herself.
— Is that bad? — he asks.
— Well, I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to be crazy if you want to fit in, — and she kicks a pebble out of her way, onto the asphalt. Then she cautiously looks up.
— What if “crazy” just means something that people don’t expect?
Eveline’s mouth is a little open now. Adam can feel her pondering next to him, and he shivers. They walk together and there is no sun cutting them in half, it’s too high up above them.
— Your unit is huge, — she says after a while.
— Is yours smaller?
— We’re crammed in a tiny place, — she answers, lowering her eyes. — That’s why I like to stay outside. My parents don’t want me to go into the abandoned land, but they’re always working, so… — and she shrugs.
— My parents are never home either. Hey, you said you were going around the abandoned land, not into it.
— Technically, I wrote that, — she answers. The corner is right in front of them, and Adam holds his breath as they turn it. The street looks just the same. Far ahead, the complex buildings sparkle in the daylight. — I wasn’t sure if you were a spy, — she goes on, smiling. — Come on, — and slips into an opening in the partition.
Adam pauses. What if it’s full of wild animals? Or worse, the home to another deadly virus? But then Eveline’s head peeks out again. Come on, she says. So he squeezes in too.
At first glance he can’t take everything in. The small clearing where she is standing stretches out for a few feet, then becomes a steep slope. In front of them, trees and plants and underbrush he has only seen on the system unfold, rising and falling, almost as if they were breathing. Hundreds of birds must be hiding in the foliage, their chirping is so loud it makes his eardrums pulse. But what most captures him is the chaos of it all. This interconnected organism grows and thrives unhindered by human control, and the wonder of what nature can create overwhelms him.
Then he feels something pulling at his shirt, and he’s startled, as if he has just been jerked out of a dream.
— Come on, — Eveline says.
— It’s like in Journey to the Center of the Earth, — he replies softly.
— You’re not discovering anything, you know, — says Eveline matter-of-factly, and starts to slide down the slope.
— So people come here? — Adam asks, and he’s on the very edge, unsure if he should go forward.
— Maybe they will — Eveline has to shout now, she’s cupping her mouth with her hands because she is too far away. Adam is not sure what she means, but decides he can’t stop now. He puts his left foot sideways, keeping his weight on his right one, just like Eveline did. Then he leans back, and gravity pulls him to the bottom of the slope.
— I can slide! — he exclaims, his eyes wide.
— Yeah, you can. But if you couldn’t, or didn’t want to, we would have found another way, — she adds. — That’s what I’d like, a place where everyone can feel like themselves.
He opens his mouth to ask a question, many questions in fact, but then he spots the signs: simple sticks holding paper sheets fastened on cardboard, and carefully wrapped in plastic. Red hand-drawn arrows are pointing towards a tunnel of leaves.
— So the ink won’t run when it rains, — Eveline explains, as if she could read his mind.
He is too astonished to speak. He just follows Eveline on the path, flat and wide, barely stammering. Greenery is enveloping them, the full, moist scent of this living creature reaching deep into his stomach. Another clearing opens up in front of them. Eveline is already stomping towards the giant rock that runs at its far end, the mountains hovering above, as if they were protecting it. Adam immediately senses this is somehow the center of this wild, magical place. He walks in awe toward the rock, it’s almost blue in the light, and that’s exactly what Eveline says:
— It’s blue, isn’t it? You’d expect stone to be grey, but I guess Earth can be whatever it wants.
She shrugs, crouching down to look at something, while Adam is captured by the whitish veins scarring the rock here and there.
Picture 6. The Rupe Magna is a phyllite, i.e. a fine-grained metamorphic rock, and was most probably considered sacred because of its blue hue, quite rare in nature. Almost all the figures were engraved by direct tapping with a sharpened quarzite stone.
In the picture, quartzite veins emerging along the rock.
Eveline pulls at him again, this time at his shorts, and he bends over. He cannot believe his eyes. The lower part of the rock is covered in marks. Spirals, circles, animals, human figures.
— I think this is a horse, — says Eveline tracing one of the four-legged engravings with her finger. — And this is a girl.
Adam stares at the raised arms, what look like raised arms, with two dots, one on each side, and a dot below it. Below her.
— How do you know it’s a girl?
— I just know.
— Were these made by the first communities? The ones that lived here at the beginning of time? — asks Adam in disbelief.
— Of our time. Yeah, I think so, — Eveline answers.
Adam shivers all over, he feels he could study the surface of the rock for years, and still never stop learning from it. Then Eveline says:
— I have to show you something else.
She gets up and starts heading towards a group of trees. Adam follows her, pinching his arm as they get closer to be sure he’s awake. He makes out a large piece of fabric hanging from a cluster of branches. Under it, there’s their old wastebasket. It is now a stool, set along a couple of twisted roots surfacing from the ground.
— You did this yourself? — Adam asks. — What about all these seats… who are you expecting?
— Other kids, sooner or later. I know many of them live in the complex, even if I never see them. Their parents are always at work too, and I guess they follow the rules and stay in.
— I thought you made friends at school.
— Not really. We just sit next to each other during class hours. We don’t interact on the system either, since many have limited access. And we’re afraid of meeting up. Weren’t you afraid of meeting me in person?
— Yeah, because of the virus, — he answers, and looks at his feet, because this is not entirely true. To be honest, it’s not the truth at all. Then he thinks of how he hadn’t even considered someone his age didn’t have access to the system. Or to books.
— I put the journal there — Eveline says.
Adam follows her gaze. The scientific journal with the Monstera Deliciosa on the cover, it’s on one of the roots. He reads his own handwriting that now seems a hundred years old: «My name is Adam. What’s your name?»
— Maybe we could plan a game area over there — and she points at something.
— Yeah, we. — Adam is still standing. He thinks of the commuters on the bus who won’t sit so they can see what’s out the window. He bites his lip and turns around, trying to focus on the landscape. — Since you like crazy stories, I thought you would like to join a crazy project.
And he listens to her ideas that mix with his, all his questions are now turning into marble tracks, soccer fields, chess tables, climbing walls, dirt hills in the form of a dragon, we could plant some Monstera Deliciosa to make spikes on its back, and slide on its neck down to its head, during rain season it would seem the dragon is drinking from one of the lakes. Or we could organize some kind of reading by the rock, it’s so smooth it looks like a whale coming up from the water, and share cool stuff about our ancestors, try to figure out if they were trying to tell us something. Because maybe they were just like us. Maybe we are just like them.
Picture 7 & 8. The Rupe Magna was modeled in the shape of a “whale’s back” during the last ice age. Glacial action consists of a slow and constant flow of ice dragging a large amount of debris.
The pictures show the view from the west side (left) and from the east side (right) of the Park.
— You know this land isn’t really abandoned, — Eveline says at some point, — it has just been abandoned by us. That’s what I meant by «you’re not discovering anything».
— You’re right, — Adam says, — we’re not the only ones here. It’s that we’re trained to think everything has to have a certain function, and be planned and get approval from I don’t even know who. My parents work for the lab, — he explains.
— Yeah, I heard the bigger units are for the lab execs. You are kept separate from the rest of us, we could corrupt you.
— Corrupt us?
Eveline shrugs, as if it didn’t matter. Adam shrugs back, because it doesn’t.
— Listen, — he says, — we should put ramps all over, so everyone can come, and not feel ashamed or… excluded. Even in areas where you’re supposed to be alone, we can plan a twin area for a friend, you know, if the person is neurodivergent for example, or if they just want to be sad with somebody else.
— You can be born in a rich or poor family, belong to one religion or another, be young or old, a girl, a boy, something else entirely, or — and Eveline stretches out her arm in front of him, as if to say, my skin is darker than yours. Adam tilts his head, and then ignores her, just like she did when he told her he can’t walk very well, and he certainly cannot run. Because he really doesn’t care.
They talk and talk, and brainstorm and laugh and it feels like he could stay in this strip of land forever. But then Adam realizes it’s late. Incredibly late. They head back, through the tunnel of leaves and the secret passage in the concrete, while Adam is still pitching ideas to Eveline, and Eveline is still pitching ideas to him. His knee wobbles at times, and he just pauses, waiting for it to decide to go home.
As they turn the corner, the sun is already gone, its pale halo quickly fading on the horizon. Adam notices the street is not empty as it usually is. There is a small group of people in the distance, and it takes him a few moments to realize it’s his mother outside of the gate, her hands on her hips, discussing with the gardener and two other ladies, maybe neighbors, he’s not sure. Eveline is quiet as they get closer, and his knee stiffens. He may have to hop. When his mother finally looks in their direction, she puts her hand over her mouth. Then she sprints towards them.
— Don’t you ever disappear like that again! — She hisses.
Adam tries to step forward, but he stumbles, letting out a frustrated sigh. But then he remembers that he can slide.
— This is Eveline, — he says.
His mother is too upset to acknowledge her.
— Where were you? Are you okay? You know you don’t have permission to leave the unit, what if something happened to you!
— Something did happen to me, — he hears himself say, and it doesn’t even sound like his own voice. His mother is wiping tears of relief with the back of her hand, and looks at him. Eveline smiles a shy smile.
He thinks of what he can say and what he should save for later, because he is truly grateful to his mother, if it weren’t for scientists like her they wouldn’t even be here now. But he wants to stop staring out the window and do his part. It’s their world too, and being together, enjoying each other’s company is as vital as keeping safe. And there must be a way to also be with nature, and not simply in it. To go back where it all started, and maybe get it right this time. He hops a little, and wishes hard that the partitions closing up on them on both sides of the street would disappear.
His mother is still waiting, her arms folded on her chest, as he’s rehearsing all this in his head. If he chooses the right words, she won’t think he’s crazy. In the end, crazy is just something that people don’t expect.
He might just be able to explain himself.
Eveline is holding his hand now.
I am here sitting on the riverbank of river Lamone, in Villanova di Bagnacavallo, Ravenna. In May 2023, this area of Emilia-Romagna region was affected by devastating floods that left many without a home, and some even lost their lives. The picture was taken by photographer Laura Santini who lives just below this same riverbank, which collapsed causing irreparable damage to crops, buildings and means of transportation. Thank you Laura, for playing such an active role in the reconstruction of our community.
I would also like to thank the staff of the Rock Engraving Park of Grosio-Grosotto for their kind support, as well as the State Authority for Archaeological Heritage of Lombardy for allowing me to include the pictures of the Park in this story. For further details about the Rupe Magna, please visit the website: parcoincisionigrosio.it/en
About author Linda Traversi
Linda Traversi is a writer and translator based in Ravenna, Italy. She is author of the novels La panchina delle cose difficili (The bench of difficult things) and Il riparatore di sogni (The dream repairman) published by Einaudi Ragazzi, both addressing the need to embrace and accept ourselves as well as others.
As part of middle and high school reading programs, Traversi meets with adolescents to discuss what makes us human, and how our future lies in creating a community that respects the world we live in.
Her writing has appeared in Brick, A literary Journal and a number of Italian literary magazines and collections. She is a graduate of Alma Mater Studiorum University of Bologna.