- Ahmed Al-Mahdi
Ahmed Al-Mahdi is an Egyptian author, translator and literary critic; specialized in Fantasy, Science Fiction and Children’s Literature. He has five published novels to date, a young-adults fantasy “Reem” and a post-apocalyptic SF novel “Malaaz: The City of Resurrection”, both with Alkanzy publishers in Egypt. The Black Winter (prequel to…
Tariq awoke early as always, 6.00am sharp. Never a minute earlier or later, since the day he’d been born. The only problem was that it was a dreamless sleep. Once he closed his eyes, he’d open them again to realize that he’d slept for many hours. However, he knew that mankind in the past, when they’d laid down and closed their eyes, their mind would drift away into dreams for a time that seemed to the sleeper like hours, days, or months. There were no limits to time in dreams. Some of the elder people who had lived in these days when people could dream would tell tales about the dreams in the past. Some listened with fascination, while others considered them fairytales.
Tariq knew that his parents had been awakened at the exact same time, and were getting ready to go to work. The whole process was automated, to keep everything spot on;from waking the inhabitants of the house to preparing their food and changing their clothes; an electronic system that kept everything moving with the precision of a Swiss watch.
He’s listened one day, marveling at these tales. He was weary of this automated life, and he wished to escape this reality and have, if only once, a wild out of the ordinary experience.
The problem was also troubling the government. As dreams disappeared, people woke up tired and frustrated, their faces gloomy all day long. It wasn’t the depression that bothered the government so much as the fact that people worked away, zestless, affecting their productive capacity.
Tariq left his house to the paved, organized streets. All the houses were the same shape, color and size.Electronic signs lighting up every nook and cranny while the flying trains floated in midair, moving through their specified magnetic paths,carying people away to their destinations. On a holographic screen covering a large part of the sky, a scientist was talking about a way to compensate for dreams by means of industrial medicines that give the person the same feeling of joy. But Tariq felt that he would fail like his predecessors. They’d all come out and claim that they’d found the solution, only to fail in the end.
Tariq was a 12-year-old boy who went to the same school as all the kids of his district. When he reached 18, the government would choose a suitable job for him and when he reached 22….
He stopped thinking about his pre-determined life, and stepped onto the platform of the train station that was slowly rising up in the air to reach the flying train. He sat among a row of identically-dressed students, all with the same emotionless expression on their faces. Then came the voice of the automatic train’s pilot announcing that were getting ready to take off to fly through the sky. He used the word sky figuratively. They couldn’t see the sky directly, hidden behind all the holographic screens and billboards, just as everything in his world disappeared behind a rigid electronic object.
When the train came to a halt in front of the platform, the students came out and lined up waiting to be lowered down to enter the school. As soon as the platform touched the ground, Tariq did something he couldn’t imagine he’d ever do in a million years. He didn’t even think about it; he started running. He didn’t know why he was running, what was he running from? He felt as if he was running away from his reality and his whole world. Immediately, the red warning light went on, leaving his fellow students confused. The policemen began chasing the running boy on their flying bikes.
Although the police were prepared to face any emergency, the idea of a child escaping from his school was as alien to them as it was to Tariq himself. He ran through the meticulously paved streets as the holograms stared at him like a row of living creatures watching him through those electronic eyes.
He could hear the police sirens behind him, the electronic warnings filling the air. The people in the streets were frozen in their positions by the sight of this bizarre scene. Tariq strayed through several strange streets he had never set foot in before. He soon found himself in front of an old fence, unlike the standard fences surrounding all the buildings in his world. He climbed the fence in an attempt to escape from the eyes of the police, and quickly jumped to the other side.
Tariq found himself in a deserted park, trees scattered here and there, growing randomly after years of neglect. This was the old district park, which had been shut down by the government in preparation for its complete demolition. There was no place for hiking in a practical clockwork world, and it had remained deserted ever since.
Tariq felt some satisfaction at the sight of these trees as disorderly as they were. Perhaps this randomness was what his soul had been yearning for all along, sick of the exaggerated strictness of the system, and he found himself delighted by the smell of wet grass in the morning. But, most of all, he was impressed by the sight of the blue sky through the foliage.
Suddenly the gates to the park opened violently and the policemen entered to capture the running boy. They certainly knew of his presence in this place, thanks to the surveillance system. Thus, they took him back to his schoolwhile he was protesting and yelling. He knew that he would be punished but he did not care; the scene of the old park had awakened in his soul many things he’d wanted all along without even knowing it.
All day at school he had to slave away on menial tasks, hard work usually done by machines. He went home tired and exhausted, and soon he fell asleep. But this night he had a dream … A dream of the old park and the trees and its sweet smells. When he woke up the next morning, he shouted: “I dreamed. I dreamed!”
He would tell his family, his friends, anyone his eyes fell upon to go to the old park, to know what they had all been missing. He wanted to see trees everywhere in his district, to see the houses in different shapes and sizes and colors, to remove the holograms that hid the sky, to smash the clock that ran it all!