After sitting in the bus for over an hour, speeding down the highway
through the European desert, we arrive. We left school at seven AM, and it is
now nine-fifteen. At the gate, we are charged twelve thousand dollars for our
visit, all twenty-seven of us.
Not surprisingly an armed guard, Ernie, accompanies us as we explore the
area. Through the gates, the experience is breathtaking. The ground is
covered in green grass, fresh and fertile with life. One of my students
marvels at its softness, jumping up and down excitedly.
"Class," I begin to dictate, "look around you. This flowing river is much
cleaner than the rivers outside, and there might even be fish in it."
Buzzes and whispers about mutations and extinctions erupt. One of the boys
in my class begins walking about stiffly, then with a twisted expression on his
face, mumbles some gibberish and feigns falling dead to the ground, followed
by laughter from his friends. I only wish they could hold more respect for
the world's situation. It happened to the animals, and it could happen to
us. I resume. "We're going to head down to that villa over there, and there's
time to explore, see the world as it once was. Go inside some
of the houses if you want. Write down about what you see, and
remember, we leave at two!" I command the kids, raising my voice slightly as
they begin to disperse. In the meantime, I meander about, and examine the
scenery. There is a cathedral tower with four spires not
far from here. Admiring its intricate construction, I think that it must be
hundreds of years old. Maybe even millenia. I step nervously over the river, on a plank set across it. A row of
houses is set by the river, and a bridge over the river is visible in the
distance. The houses and the bridge are made of bricks, with no trace of metal
construction. The roofs on the houses are made from soft-looking clay shingles.
I wonder how second millenium people ever survived even a rainstorm in
their fragile dwellings. Trees, flowers, bushes, and all kinds of plant life
surround the constructions, apparently in a loving embrace. It is just as the
textbooks depicted, but with much more vividness and meaning. A wonderful
aromatic scent is emanating from a garden nearby. I cross through a gate,
with no sight of Ernie anywhere. The scent is coming from the flowers! I never
expected that. The other greenery simply doesn't seem to smell as much.
A gust of wind blows, rustling the shrubs, and brings with it an unpleasant
reminder of the world outside: the stink of sulphur, all around. I
instinctively feel in my pocket for my Canlox, cancer-inhibiting pills issued
by the government. They're still there, and I had mine this week. If a
sulphur emergency does occur, especially out in the middle of the desert, I
can take a second one. That's what they're for.
A loud "bloop" sounds behind me, and I come out from the garden. Takeshi,
the playful one in my class, is finding large rocks and heaving them into the
river, interrupting its constant babbling sound. Suzana runs to me to tell me about it, but she is entranced by the garden. I speak to Takeshi.
"Takeshi? Takeshi! Aren't you forgetting the rules of the place?" He freezes on the spot, a rock in hand. A well-behaved boy, but forgetful at times.
"Yes sir, we have to leave everything the way it is."
"Very good, now don't do that anymore. This area is a time capsule." He
runs off to talk to his friends. Ernie returns from somewhere, maintaing his
attitude of composure and surveillance. I feel my face turn red as I try
to walk away from him subtly.
Returning to my nonchalant business of relaxing while my students make
their notes, I remember reading literature from the nineteenth,
twentieth, and twenty-first centuries, written
in times like this. I remember Hemingway's For Whom The
Bell Tolls, set presumably in an area much like this. Oh, that Robert
Jordan and his quest! And Maria... Reading it filled me with a distant
passion, of wishing to be there.
One thing the books had that this place has not is animal life. Only plants are here, and from an
ecological perspective, one would think that they would overgrow
without animals to feed on them. I suppose that's what maintenance staff is
I realize now that I've lost track of my class, my class of twelve-year
olds. I can see none of them. Who knows what they will do here, and the words
"wreaking havoc" are not welcome in my vocabulary at the moment. I hear a
chiming bell coming from the cathedral tower. Nobody lives here, it must be
the kids. A tired kind of dread sweeps over me as I remind myself to record
this in the day's report, and I imagine I may even be charged with defacing a
historic site. Ernie gives me an irritated look, but he shouldn't be
irritated. Now he has something to tell his wife about tonight.