As we get older we often hark back to the past, but have you ever wondered what future generations might strange about our lives today?
‘See you soon. Bye.’
I was off, back to 2018. It was a shame my best friend couldn’t join me, but I could hardly contain my excitement as I prepared for my final exam assessment. We’d agreed on 2018 but she had inadvertently booked for 1918, so I was on my own. Online research is fine, but there’s nothing like experiencing the time period to understand history properly.
The first thing I noticed was how cold it was. London, England in the summer was at least ten degrees lower than I had expected. Within a few seconds my suit had automatically adjusted so it wasn’t a problem. The second thing was the mess and dirt. Everywhere I looked the buildings were covered with grime, even the famous ones I recognised, like Big Ben and Buckingham Palace.
It felt strange walking along the roads and seeing so many people everywhere; bumping and jostling, the touch of strangers made my skin crawl. I had learnt from my studies that even so long ago they had communication devices, so why didn’t they use them? Why risk catching diseases by personal contact instead of staying in their designated pods? It wasn’t as if they were at the reproduction stage; these people were of various ages, although there were very few who looked as if they had reached their centenary.
The other thing of note was the many different colours of the skin tones of the people around me. In my own time there were various hues but we were predominately brown; here there was everything from very pale pink to shiny black. The clothes too looked odd. Some women were completely covered with only their eyes showing, others were wearing so little I’m surprised they didn’t freeze to death. There didn’t appear to be any uniform with temperature control to fit the seasons.
At first I was confused by the buildings with their odd displays of various goods. They seemed too small to be storage depots, so for a while I watched the actions of the people crowding in and out. Eventually I realised they were actual ‘shops.’ Items were carried in bags or piled into metal containers on wheels, then paid for with either pieces of plastic, metal or paper. It was a contrast to our system of automatic ordering, delivery and deduction of the amount due from our credits, and looked very time consuming and inefficient.
I was shocked when a man suddenly accosted me, and my hand automatically reached for my alarm, until I realised it wouldn’t work in this era as the system and technology hadn’t yet been invented, so no RoboPol would rush to my assistance. The man was dirty and smelly, and I flinched as he extended his hand out towards me.
‘Can you spare me some change Miss? I haven’t eaten for days.’
Although my professors had supplied me with the relevant tokens I had no idea of their value, so I just turned away, hoping he wouldn’t follow me. From a safe distance I watched as he slumped back down onto a piece of cloth spread out on the ground. My legs were aching from all the unaccustomed walking, and I was relieved to find a wooden bench to sit down and rest. After a while a young man came and sat next to me. I don’t think I will ever get used to the idea of strangers intruding into my personal space, but here it seemed to be the accepted thing.
‘Beautiful day, isn’t it? Good to see summer’s arrived at last.’
He smiled as he opened a bag, took out some form of food, then quite openly started eating it in front of me. When he finished he threw the wrapping into a bin, then took out some solid papers which I recognised as an old-fashioned book. Noticing me peering over his shoulder he held it towards me.
‘Great book. Have you read it?’
I felt uncomfortable speaking to a stranger without a screen between us, so I stood up without answering. Time was passing and I’d seen enough of this place, so I hit the control for my next scheduled visit. This time it was a lot hotter, more like the temperature at home. I’d never seen a beach so I’d selected a Mediterranean island as my second destination. Again, the first thing that struck me was the smell, but this was different from the aromas of London. My senses were attuned to the neutral air of my pod, but here they were bombarded with something I couldn’t identify.
It felt strange to walk over ground that shifted under my feet, and I was scared it would suck me down into the bowels of the earth. Summoning up my courage I approached the water, but beat a hasty retreat when the feeling of being pulled intensified as it washed over my shoes.
‘Look, Mummy. That lady’s scared of the waves, and she’s still got all her clothes on. What a silly.’
‘Shush, don’t be rude. Come on, let’s go for a swim.’
Although I knew from my studies there were many different languages, it was comforting to have an interpretation of the strange sounds they were making. Another question for my list; how did they communicate without an online interpreter?
I was hungry and needed to find a quiet place to eat the provisions I had brought with me. Although I had seen others doing it, I couldn’t bring myself to feed with people watching. It was almost as bad as conducting your daily waste disposal in public. What a horrible thought. All these problems reminded me of my organisational plan, and I selected my third destination ‘Deserted space.’
Anticipating the first two visits might prove overwhelming, I had thought a break would give me time to regroup before continuing my voyage of discovery. Unfortunately, when I landed the first thing I saw was the sea again, only this time I was on a small island and water surrounded me on all sides. At least I would have privacy for my private needs. I wasn’t quite alone; no sooner had I settled down than I felt a presence. In the sky above me, hordes of winged creatures were hovering before landing some distance away. It seemed they were more scared of me than I was of them, but I still found their presence disquieting.
I left quickly and arrived at my fourth destination to an amazing sight. The air was clean and fresh, but it was cold, despite the sun rising far above me. I had been outside before but had never experienced the transition so quickly. Although climatology wasn’t my specialised subject, I knew my fellow students would be intrigued when I explained the experience of changes in the weather. It was a peculiar sensation and I couldn’t wait to tell them about it when I arrived home.
Home. I actually felt homesick, but I had a few more places to visit before I could return and write up the report of my adventures. Descending the steep slope I slipped and only just managed to keep on my feet. As I stood there shaken I heard a shout, and the next minute I was flat on my back in the cold, soft ground. A man with puffy clothes and long pieces of wood on his feet lay sprawled nearby.
‘Are you alright?’ he called as he managed to stand up and came over to me. ‘What were you doing walking along the ski slope anyway?’
When I said nothing, he spoke again. ‘Do you understand me? Are you hurt.’
I flinched as he touched my arm, not used to personal contact.
‘OK, don’t worry. I’ll get some help.’
Reaching into his pocket he took out a small gadget and spoke into it. A few minutes later a box on wheels pulled up, and we were both lifted into it. The close contact and touching made me shiver, and one of the two rescuers asked if I was cold as he put a soft piece of cloth round me.
‘I don’t know what language she speaks, but she doesn’t seem to understand us,’ the man with the wooden feet said. I noticed he had taken them off and they were now propped up on a hook to one side. ‘She hasn’t said a word since we bumped into each other.’
The other man put his face close to mine and asked ‘Are you in pain? Where does it hurt?’ As he spoke he touched my arm, then my head as if he was trying to get me to understand his mime. It was too much.
‘Please don’t keep touching me,’ I said in their own language, using my interpreter app. ‘It makes me uncomfortable.’
They all looked surprised then one of them said very slowly, as if I was an idiot, ‘We are taking you to the doctor in the village. He will check you over, just to make sure there is no concussion, or internal injuries. Can you tell us your name?’
Although our tutors encouraged us to mix with people from a previous era so we could gain a proper understanding, we were instructed to engage in conversation as little as possible. We were advised not to give away any information which might arouse suspicion about time periods. I considered just moving on to the next place on my list, but my sudden disappearance would cause unwelcome interest. For the moment I was stuck.
When the vehicle stopped I took a chance, and dived behind a building out of sight. Through a window I could see crowds of people, sitting side by side at a table, and along one wall tiers of more wooden sticks. Despite their proximity the men and women all seemed happy and relaxed. How had this changed so drastically in our time period? Was it because we spent so much time alone, and only communicated through technology? How much had the great plague of 2082 contributed to the fear of intimate contact?
It was definitely something to include in my thesis, but for now I needed to move on. When I arrived at my next stop it was hot and sticky, and the air felt heavy. I had to switch on my personal respirator as I found myself struggling to breathe. Again I found myself close to a crowd of people, but this time they were all dressed in black and walking in a column, two or three abreast. Some were singing but all looked sad. At the front six men were carrying a wooden box on their shoulders, and I watched as they stopped in front of a hole in the ground. A man in white said some words as they lowered the box into the hole, then everyone split into little groups as they walked away. Many had moisture in their eyes as they spoke to one another, then they hugged or kissed before returning to their four-wheels and moving away.
I realised I had been watching a ‘funeral,’ an old-fashioned way of disposing of the bodies of the dead by putting them in the earth. Although I hadn’t been born until after 2082, the thought of leaving bodies to rot and spread disease instead of our clean and healthy disintegration method made me shudder. My trip to yesteryear was coming to an end, and although I had enjoyed it, I couldn’t wait to get back to my own time. My history lesson had brought up some things I hadn’t expected and had given me food for thought.
Would I have liked to live in those times? Overall my answer must be no. It was too dirty, crowded and felt impersonal, despite the frequent bodily contact. In my sanitised pod I had access to my friends, learning, comfort and everything I needed at the touch of a button. The thought of any other type of touching still made me shudder, and yet….
© Voinks October 2017
For details of other books by this author contact http://www.Voinks@hotmail.co.uk