The Melancholy of The Maldives
It was a sweltering day of the dry season as Hassan walked home from school. He had visited his school for the last time to get his remaining schoolbooks before leaving. His feet made light splashing sounds as he plodded down the open road. All around him, as far as the eye could see, a thin film of water covered the city. It ran down the streets, it ran into homes, and it drowned gardens and trees that had once stood tall. The empty sky above allowed the intense tropical heat to beat down across Addu City while its few remaining citizens scurried around, packing their bags, grabbing treasured keepsakes and chachkies, and leaving behind their former homes. While Hassan trudged along the road towards his home, he decided to take a detour, to visit all his favorite places on the island for what might be the last time.
Hassan started toward the city center where he used to spend time with his friends when their lives had been carefree. The streets that had so recently been packed with cars and bikes, were empty, except for the water that squatted between them. Pieces of trash, fast food wrappers, and plastic bottles clogged up drains, floating along the edges of the streets, as their trash collection services had left the island about a week ago. The stores and restaurants, which had previously been teeming with life, flashing touristy momentos and fine dining with exorbitant prices, were dull and lifeless. Hassan strolled through the boarded up fronts, walked down the sidewalks that had been filled by the throngs of tourists that came to visit the islands, and felt dismayed. The city center had become uninviting since its pleasant days, its broken, hollow atmosphere brought back too many memories of the prosperous days, the days before the water rose to fill their great city.
Hassan then decided to walk over to one of the many docks and quays where the tall masts of yachts and sailboats had crowded the skies like an artificial forest, dancing as the waves made them sway from side to side. However, when he arrived, he was disappointed to see that the many piers were barren. Anyone who owned a boat had already left the island for their new homes, hoping to avoid the packed in, cramped conditions of the rescue ships. The nearby waters lapped hungrily at the piers, pushing over their tall concrete pillars to soak the deck beneath his feet. Looking out at the creeping waterline, Hassan wondered why the waters had come to their islands. He wondered why the efforts of his friends and family hadn’t been enough to keep their homes safe. He wondered why they had even tried in the first place.
Eventually, Hassan’s path brought him to the beaches that had previously surrounded the island. The golden sands with their bright and colorful beach chairs had disappeared as the water’s steady advance had taken more and more of the island. When the beaches had started to fade, the message had become clear that the islands of the Maldives would be submerged by the end of the yearn, as the rainy season brought even more water to the swollen streets. After that, the water, which had come and gone for hundreds of years, would stay, it would sit around and climb, inch by inch, foot by foot, until everything that Hassan had known would be underneath the waves. Hassan then decided to head home, one of the last rescue ships was coming in the next few hours, and when the ships left, the islands would be empty. While Hassan jogged through the barren streets, he saw people placing bags in the lobbies of apartments, by the porches of houses. Some people cried, some people refused to accept the fact that they were losing the homes that they had grown up in, but the worst people were the ones that chose to stay silent. They knew what was coming, what they had to do, but they didn’t care anymore. Some went about their final duties, hunched over, mindlessly working as their thoughts wandered elsewhere, some stared off into the distance, watching the sun climb in the sky with a shell shocked gaze, seeing nothing.
Hassan’s home was an old structure, a squat building built for purpose instead of style. With the weather of the past few years, the paint on its sides had peeled and bleached, creating a patchwork or dulled yellows and stark whites. The torrential rains had caused the roof to cave in certain places, and he saw the usual bright spots where fresh wood sat, in various stages of darkening from the salty air from the nearby oceans. He could see the familiar cracks in its base that had formed from the scorching dry season and the abusive rainy seasons. Those cracks stood, surrounded by water, sucking it in to eat away at his home as he had seen it done with so many others. When Hassan came to the front of his house, his mom was pulling bags and suitcases outside, he asked her where his dad was and she said he was finishing up his packing inside. Hassan looked at her and he saw that she had been crying again, tear lines streaked down her cheeks, but he could tell that she was trying to hide it so that he didn’t worry. He walked into the house, past empty rooms that had housed many other families. His dad was in their shared room, filling their last bag. When Hassan walked in, his father turned to him
“Hassan, have you packed your bags yet? We need to be going soon or we’ll miss the next round of boats.”
Hassan replied back “No dad, but I don’t have a lot left, I only have one more bag to pack, I’ll finish up quick.”
His father nodded his head gruffly and, taking his bag, walked out of the room to join Hassan’s mother on the crumbling porch.
Hassan then turned to his few remaining things, his mother had already packed up most of his clothes so he didn’t have to pack much. He took off his backpack and grabbed some of his favorite toys, cramming them between his schoolbooks until there wasn’t any room left. Then, Hassan turned from his room, walked down the main hall, past bare walls, empty rooms, and possessions left behind, until he came to the porch, where, while his parents waited sullenly, he closed the front door to the house and left behind his only home.
His parents came with him, their bags making quiet ripples as they pulled them through the waterlogged streets. As they walked from their home, the skyscrapers and apartments of the city began to give way to smaller buildings, some already starting to fall apart from neglect. Over time the road became wider, the confines of the city gave rise to larger houses, luxurious yards and tropical retreats, all of them empty. While they walked, more and more people began to join Hassan’s family in their journey. Some of them wore suits, others wore rags, most were laden with bags while a few brought nothing at all, but in that moment, they were all the same. As their somber party continued on, the city starting to fade behind them, Hassan noticed that his feet had started to hurt, but he didn’t want to take a break, he didn’t want to end up looking back towards his previous life because he knew that the longer he looked back, the harder it would be for him to leave it behind.
Soon, they came to the vast fields beyond their city, great expanses of the technology that had powered his city, that his country was so proud of. To his left, a great glass sea gleamed like a thousand suns, its nearly endless expanse reflecting the sun’s rays into a rainbow of colors. Rows upon rows of solar panels stretched farther than his eyes could see, their large black maws drinking in the blinding sunlight above to provide power to the island. To his right stood a forest, taller than the masts of ships at the docks, the slender metal poles of a field of wind turbines stretched towards the heavens, barely touching the clouds, they looked as if they were made to cut through the sky with their enormous blades. However, as Hassan passed by, staring in awe at the giants before them, he saw that their many blades were still. The lengthy shadows they cast stood unmoving, refusing to move with the wind because they had been shut down, their power no longer needed by the empty city on the lonely isle.
While the group trudged between the fields of energy, Hassan thought back to the first news that Addu City was going underwater. The newsman had said that despite the country’s efforts to help the environment, their islands wouldn’t be able to manage their coming rainy season. He briefly explained that global warming had caused the oceans to rise, slowly advancing along the coastline, but that, in a few months, warming induced climate change would generate the worst rainy season in history, drowning the island in a monumental deluge that would finally sweep Addu City beneath the waves. Hassan had noticed that his parents had become sullen when they heard the fateful news, so he didn’t ask them any questions that night. However, the next day, when Hassan went to school, he asked his science teacher why global warming was causing the oceans to rise. She told him that, while Addu City was using clean energy, a lot of people in other countries were burning fossil fuels from deep in the earth, creating carbon dioxide and other heat trapping gasses that filled the air, making the planet warmer. She then explained that, with a warmer planet, the ice at the poles near the top and bottom of the planet melted faster, adding more water to the oceans, which caused them to rise. When Hassan asked her why people didn’t simply use renewable energy instead of burning fossil fuels, she told him that, while certain places like the Maldives used only renewable energy because they were at risk to the effects of climate change, other people either didn’t have enough money or simply didn’t care about making the efforts to switch to renewable energy because they didn’t feel the same impact. Hassan thought it was unfair that the decisions of other people were the reason why he had to leave his home. He thought that Addu City and the Maldives had done a lot to help the planet, but it was wrong, their decisions had barely any impact because they hadn’t spread the message, to make more people aware of their situation.
As the sun was starting to set far to the west, the ragged group reached the boats to take them off of the island. A crowd of people had already arrived, making sure to arrive early in the day for the fear that they might accidentally be left behind in the dying city. From afar, the boats already looked like they were out of room, but Hassan and his family joined one of the shorter lines and waited as it slowly crawled towards the ship.
The sky was turning a bruised purple and stars were starting to peek through the darkening curtain when Hassan’s family reached the bridge to the boat. A surly man in a uniform stopped them and asked for their papers to board. Hassan’s mother pulled some documents from one of their few bags and passed it to the guard, who inspected them briefly before letting them across the bridge. Hassan got into the boat and squeezed his way through the masses of people as they crushed him from all sides. Hasasn tried to go down into the bottom of the boat, but the mass of bodies made it so hot and sticky that he chose to sit outside, near the back of the boat where his parents had found room.
He didn’t know how long he stood there with his family, waiting for the boats to leave. It could have been minutes or it could have been hours under that darkened, starry, sky, but time seemed to stand still. Somehow, the boats continued to fill as more and more people left the island behind. The crowd at the edge of the docks slowly thinned until only a few people remained to board the boat Hassan was on. By then the other boats had already departed, setting off for larger islands where families would be shipped off to new homes, new countries, new lives.
Finally, the docks were empty and the overcrowded boat set off into the open waters of the ocean. Hassan looked back one last time at Addu City as the boat chugged away. No lights were on in the formerly gleaming city, but the black outlines of its many skyscrapers and structures stood out like a hole cut into the starry night sky. Hassan stood on the back of the boat with a crowd of people, watching the city shrink on the horizon. Suddenly, he didn’t know why, but a tear crept out from his eye, it dribbled down his cheek to his chin as he quietly shuddered, trying to hold in his sobs as he grieved for his previous life, for the unfairness of the world, for his country’s wasted efforts to save the planet when other people didn’t seem to care. Soon enough, he was wracked with sobs as the city disappeared over the horizon, and by then, similar cries could be heard across the boat as more people nearby let their penned-up tears flow, and while Hassan wept, a nearby vent on the ship stretched into the sky, belching an ugly stream of thick black smoke.
Oliver Loree is a rising sophomore at Pace Academy, GA.