Rae-ann Smith

Last Minute

       The world is supposed to end today. Lives are lost each second. Earth trembles and shakes and suffers through her last breaths. Storms ravish the land, sinkholes appear as if by magic and the oceans fight each other to squatter on land that belong to none of them. The lucky few, chosen for the escapehumanity’s last, a mix of the best and the brightestwatch helplessly, while I, pre-occupied, hurriedly look through our fleet’s manifest for Gloria, my wife.
       “Where the france is this damn woman?!” I snort out my nostrils at the computer on the Bridge.
       “Captain?” my first mate Jack asks, always at the ready.
       “What?”
       He looks at me intently, anticipating an explanation.
       I suck my teeth, in frustration more than annoyance. “Get a S.P.O.D ready for me. I’m going back to Earth.” I ignore his protests with a wave of my hand and the command, “Stepping off.” I smilegoodbye, and for that split second I see my life, the result of my ambitionhow can I have everything I ever wanted but not have anything I want? “Jack. The Bridge is yours.”
       “But sir…”
       I’m leaving the poor guy in a lurch, I know, but it cannot be helped. I have to find her.

#

       What a time to come home. It used to be so green here but progress changed the colour of the land and when it bemoaned the loss we told it to make do by our indifference. Now, here I am, wheezing and wobbly.
       When I left the planet three years ago to work on the space station, San Fernando stank. People were moving out of the city in droves. It wasn’t just the Usine Landfill anymore, the stench had become palpable, thick and alive. You could see it coming like the rain; a green cloud formed over what was once lush cane fields and made the wind stop. Then the animals left. The butterflies had died out decades before but that wasn’t noteworthy. The fish, the shrimp, the crabs they went in that first decade of the 21st centurythey were just food, we could import more. No, I mean the animals left. The pets. Dogs especially. First, their personality changed. They formed gangs and travelled in these feral packs attacking anything that moved. So, people started killing them and making sport of it. That’s when I met Gloria…. Oh gosh, Gloria. I have to make my way to the house somehow and I’m going to have to run.

#

       “Earthquake!” shouts loud-speakers as I run into the excited roar of a crowd. There are people in the street like stagnant water, shoulder to shoulder, jammed in, up against each other, drinking, dancing.
       “What going on here?” I ask a short, buxom woman gyrating on my leg.
       “We waiting on the world to end!” She shouts, barely audible over the music, then continues dancing. I push past her and she shifts her waist to another more willing partner. She’s not bad looking… maybe… if I had the time.
       It takes me half hour to navigate the crowd. In that time, a black rain falls drenching everyone in its sticky filth and the earth shakes like her foundation came loose. Quarter of the people are catapulted each over the other, never to be seen again. Others lie still on the fractured earth. Some bawl, some pray, some stand silently and watch.
       But the musicit plays on.
       “Why we couldn’t all just go same time? Why I remain here to suffer?” An old man grabs me like I know the answers to his questions. I peel his fingers from my arm and leave there; exhausted, affected and dirty.

       I run and I run. I feel a stitch grow near my liver but I do not dare stop. I make good distance before the earth sneezes and sends me toppling head first into a pit. With arms flailing about I manage to grab onto what feels like the protruding root of a long toppled tree. Barely any sunlight pierces the dark hole as I hug the root, trying to find some rest for my dangling legs, praying that I can hold on, that I can get out of here alive.
       “Hellooo…”
       “Help!”
       “Hey! You good?!”
       “For the minute…” Why is this nut asking me if I’m good? I’m hanging on for dear life man!
       “Hold on. I have a hose. I’ll throw it down to you. See if you could catch it.”
       Catch it?! “Say what?”
       “Well I can’t climb down there. So I will try pull you out. But you have to catch the hose.” He says slowly with a strong Tobagonian accent. I can’t place a name or a face to the voice but it floats down wrapped in a warm feeling where many happy memories live.
       “Owww!” The tap at the end of the hose hits me on the head.
       “What happen?!”
       “Nothing!” I just have to grab hold of this thing without plunging to my death. I know my right arm is stronger than my left but the hose is nearer my right. I’m going to have to reach…
       “You ready?”
       “Gimme a minute.”
       “I have all the time in the world.” He replies sarcastically.
       I kiss my teeth, let go and grab the hose in one deft move. Thank You Jesus! “Pull nah man!”
       “A A you ready now.” He says chuckling. Then he inches the hose up and up and up until I near the mouth of the swallow- hole, grab onto its lips and climb out. I roll onto the ground with eyes closed and stop on my back. Air rushes out of my mouth so fast I gasp. Breathing feels so new.
       “Hey?”
       I open my eyes to see my saviour standing silhouetted in the path between the sun and my face.
       “You good?”
       “Thank you! Thanks a million.”
       “Don’t mention it Walker.”
       “Who’s that?” Squinting, trying to make out the dark figure looming over me. “Ram? Is you Ram?” He laughs Ram’s distinct boom laughter; loud, short and a little wheezy. “Ram! What you still doing here?!” I sit up in shock. Ram is a master agriculturalist; a plant whisperer. Once a plant meets him, it needs him. He is a valuable asset to the fleet. Well, he should have been. “Why you not on the ship Ram?”
       “I miss my flight boy.” He says while sitting.
       “What?!”
       “And I did just miss it too… you know. If they did wait ‘bout a two minutes more…”
       “How you so last minute Ram? How you go be late for the escape?” I ask him, in amazement.
       “Walker. What you doing back here?”
       I turnecstatic, if Ram survives Gloria must as welland speak without thinking. “I come for Gloria boy!”
       “You come with a ship? Take me with all-you. Please man. Is like God send you for me!”
       I stand up, ignoring his plea. “I have to go. Thank you Ram.”
       “What you mean I-have-to-go-thank-you-Ram?” His bulging eyes follow me. “That’s it? That’s all? I am coming with you.”
       I can’t look at him. I turn to run off but Ram grabs me and gets up. It shocks me how quick and strong he is. He squeezes the fat knobs he has for fingers into my arm. I try to get out of his grasp but he holds on like his life depended on it.
       Sadly, it probably does.
       I pull and I twist. “Ram… Sorry… It have no room for you.” I barely whisper but my words still cut him.
       “It must have room. It must! It must! How you could come all the way here and I see you and it not have room? It must have room.” He licks his wounds. It increases his strength. “Gloria’s dead. Walker, I will come on the ship with you.”
       “You don’t know how to lie do you?” I sigh, trying to make light of the situation.
       Ram grins with a hope that stains the air between us. “I coming on that ship.”
       “Is not a ship boy. I came in a S.P.O.D…”
       “You could come in a box for all I care as long as we could take it to get out of here.”
       “We can’t.”
       “What? Why the fuck not?”
       “A S.P.O.D only has room for 1 passenger.”
       “Why the fuck would you come here with that?!” He lets go of me, pulls at his hair, scratches his head and paces in confused circles before he throws a right clenched fist at my nose. He throws another before I get time to react but the third blow I block and clock him across the face. He falls. Hard. I reach out, pleading with him to stop. Sitting up, he takes my hand. And when I relax, thinking it’s over, he pulls. Hard. I fall as he rises to his feet. I turn onto my back with anger bubbling in my chest. But in that split second, he throws his body at me and lands on my stomach with a thud. It knocks the wind out of me. I fart too loudly not to have shit myself. Then he straddles me and pounds his fists onto my face; now left and right, then left, then right. But I’m not done. I forget my military fighting skills and bite into his right thigh until he yelps. It loosens his grip as he tries to get my teeth out of his flesh and it gives me enough freedom to bring my knees to my chin and kick into his stomach with all the force I can muster. He goes flying back, back and backwards into the sinkhole.
       “Ram!” I scream, immediately regretting my failure to grab him. I crawl over to the hole’s mouth.“Ram!!” No answer. “Ramsingh!!” Nothing. A tug-o-war rope coils around my heart and as each end pulls it strangles the beating. Ram was my best man. “Oh God.” He just saved my life.

#

       Earth, as though to hurry me along, shifts. I almost lose my footing but I get away before the ground collapses. I run. I run to the house without stopping to indulge the salty tears that wash my bloody bruises.

#

       “Gloria!” I shout as I run up to the front door. I grab the doorknob. The fingerprint scanner reads my prints and it swings open. She didn’t change the locks. “Gloria!” I run through the house calling but there’s no answer. I run upstairs and open doors, shouting her name.
       “What?!”
       I hear a faint shout from outside. I peer through a large, open bedroom window and see Gloria downhill leaning against a shovel, looking toward the house dressed in a white tshirt, shorts that barely cover her bubble butt and too-big gardening boots. She looks younger than when I left herclearly she’s been working out.
       “Gloria!” She looks up toward the window but doesn’t move.
       “What?!”
       But this woman mad?!
       I run down the stairs and out the house straight at her. I grab her hand. She drops the shovel as I pull her, running. “We have to get out of here! Now!” She struggles, pulls her hand out of my grasp and stops. “What is wrong with you? We have to go! Now!”
       “I not going anywhere.” She says calmly, bent over, trying to catch her breath.
       I look at her in complete amazement. She stands upright, takes a deep breath and starts back to where I first grabbed her. “Gloria! Don’t get me vex! Look! We going now!” Heated breath rushes out my flared nostrils, even my ears feel hot. I lunge behind her and grab her arm. She spins and slaps me across my painful face. She put all her weight behind that slap. Her heavy hand lands on my left cheek and throws my face to the right. In quick reaction I raise my free hand to retaliate but I catch myself. I release her from my grip and bring the hand I almost slap her with to my burning cheek. The coldness of my fingers cools the burn but not the anger.

       Gloria, seeing the monster in my eyes, steps backward without averting her gaze.
       “Augee…? What you doing here?” She inches closer to me.
       “Steups.” Although it’s a sound of annoyance and contempt, I reply calmly. “Don’t ask me no stupid question.” It’s been a while since she called me Augee.

       She reaches out and guides my hand off my face, then removes her gloves before gently caressing the area between my left jaw and neck. She blows onto my cheek. Anger flies out of me through every hair follicle, turbulence assembles in the pit of my stomach and charms fresh air to lift me but it’s not enough to topple me over. The kissthe moment her lips touch my skindoes that. I fall head over heels and lose all sense.

       “I thought about you this morning. You ran across my mind…”
       “Gloria, the world is going to shit.”
       “I remember you loved homemade bread…” It was like she was in another world; distant, but nearby. “But you used to turn up your nose at mine for some reason. Hmmm… I have one in the house if you hungry. Wholewheat. I trying to eat healthy.” She ends with a giggle before moving past me toward the house. I turn and catch the last jiggle and shimmy that defines her natural but sensual walk, then she disappears inside. With eyes closed I take a few breaths, resolve to grab her“She will cuss”and get to the S.P.O.D. “Oh God, please let it be there.”
       I storm through the back door and she pounces, planting her warm lips on mine. Maybe it’s the pain but my heart begins to beat off key as my knees buckle. I try to ignore them and lift my wife into the air like she’s a feather. But she’s not. We fall awkwardly to the ground laughing. Lying under me, she divides her stare between my eyes and lips, locks her legs around my waist, arms latch atop my shoulders, around my neck and inches my head closer to hers. When our lips touch, it makes up every argument, every falling out.

#

       I cannot recall closing my eyes to sleep but I wake up in a daze, stupid drunk with joy. I turn on my side feeling for my wife but she’s not there and it jolts me back to reality: the world is about to end and I’m taking a nap!
       “Gloria!”
       “Hmmm.” Startled, I turn to the other side sharply and see her looking down at me with a small plate and mug of steam. “I made you a sandwich and some tea,” she volunteers, then carefully kneels on the floor before sitting.
       “Forget that. Where’s my uniform? We…”
       “It’s filthy. I threw it out. I put a jeans and t-shirt there for you.” She tilts her chin in the direction of the couch before placing the plate and cup on the wooden floor.
       “You…? What?” How long was I sleeping?
       “You passed out when I was cleaning your bruises.” She responds as though she can hear my thoughts. But that’s impossible.
       “Go put on some pants.” I jump up and grab the ones she put out for me. “And your sneakers.” I remember these pants. “We have to go. Now.”
       “I told you already I’m not going anywhere.”
       Exasperation, from the pit of my stomach, rises like hot air, puffing out my chest. “Look woman I done talk! We are leaving! You really trying to get me blasted vex…” I continue, speaking more to myself, to the world, than to Gloria. “Shit! I was feeling good not even a minute ago…”
       “August I am not one of your sailor people.” She butts in defiantly. “You cannot tell me what to do.”
       And then it erupts; an upsurge more volatile than the storms that begat the beginning of the end. Thunder and lightning are tame comparisons to Gloria and I in this argument. Veins pop on foreheads, fingers wag in faces, words are thrown like stones at mangoes on a laden tree, voices grow louder and louder and rumble more than any earthquake or crashing tsunami until the house sways and groans. I stop and collapse onto the couch when what I really want to do, is grab Gloria and run. So, I let her win and admit in defeat, “We’re not going back together.”
       She doesn’t notice.
       I rock my head backas her argument enters a time machine, travelling through past hurts and betrayalsclose my eyes and count my breaths before repeating, “We’re not going back together.”
       “What?” She laughs more to herself than out loud; a laugh that reveals her you-are-a-piece-of-work-just-incredulous opinion of me. “So you change your mind?”
       “The S.P.O.D only has room for one.” The look on her face is revealing; I know I have her. I turn to face her as she sits next to me. “I was going to put you on it.”
       Oh yes, she’s mine now.
       “And what about you?” Her stare meets my own as it slices through the worry in her eyes.
       “It was for you not me.”
       “Ok. Okay!” She shouts, jumps up and runs upstairs. Then down the steps tumbles one side of a shoe, closely followed by the other. She stumbles after them pulling on a pair of pants, offering that we go together. “I could sit on your lap as we fly to the moon!”
       “We’ll run out of air before we get there!” I declare, springing to my feet, caught up in her exuberance.
       “Well then we look for that ‘cause we were both planning on dying apparently.” She has the cutest giggle but when it erupts into a full laugh, as it does now, the hook of the happy sound reels me in and I laugh too, sometimes without even knowing why.
       “I rather argue and fight everyday than live a quiet life without you.”
       “Don’t get sappy on me I already said I will go. Or… we could just stay here until the end and I could find some work for you to do?”
       “For me? Unlike you I went to work this morning.”
       She laughs, pulling on the last side of her automatic lacing sneakers. “Let’s go if we going.” Then looks around at the house she’s lived in her entire life with a sadness so pervasive, I feel it. I lived here once too but unlike her, I left. I will drag her out – I swear – kicking and screaming if I have to. 
       “Let’s go Gloria.” I say with less empathy than I should have. “There’s no guarantee the S.P.O.D is still there.”

#

       There’s no ground for metres in front of us; like an incubus raped the front yard and left a gaping hole. I stand on the front porch, holding Gloria’s hand, immovable; in shock at how quickly and quietly the world can shift.
       “Let’s just go back…” I don’t wait for her to finish, I grab her hand and run through the house to and out of the back door. We make it out just before the house croaks and tumbles into oblivion.
       There’s no turning back now.

#

       The route to the Uriah Butler Highway, where I parked the S.P.O.D, twists with danger and panic. I remember years gone when Gloria and I walked this way to the shops. Steamwhich once escaped through the coloured concrete, even during the day–diffused and tinted the warm, golden light of the tropical sun. Now, everything burns with a raging, unquenchable fire that we cannot get around.
       So, we try going under.
       I locate the hatch to C3’s tunnels but cautious that the inferno may have fused the steel door to its hinges, I touch its keypad with my t-shirt gloved over my hand. I quickly side step the small explosion, pull Gloria and run. How can we get above this blaze? As the panicked question tumbles across my brain and bounces from ear to ear, Gloria stops to catch her breath.
“August… I can’t… I just… can’t… do this…”
       The man-made pristine beauty of city architecture versus the chaos and wild abandon of tropical plants always appealed to me. Gloria though is opposite. Her prediction that the world will either take back her spaces or we will destroy them in an effort to tame them is coming true. I fight against it to survive it but she, she’s always known that mankind’s stupidity would lead to this. In her head, we’ve already lost; we lost a long time ago.
       “…This not making sense…”
       “We can’t stay here Glori…”
       “We don’t have a choice…” She interrupts.
       I’m too resolute to argue. I grab her and run.
       “August!” She yells. “AUGUST STOP!”
       “Gloria we…”
       “LOOK!” She points to a Ferrari Kite. The 7 seater vehicle is too lightweight for space travel but it may be able to get us to the S.P.O.D on the other side of the blaze.
       When we approach, worried people jitter around it, while a novice looks under the hood, trying to get the doors open.
       Not any and everybody can fly a Kite; luckily I can.
       “Hey buddy…” Every-man-jack brandishes a weapon at our heads. “Whoa whoa… We just want a ride and I know how to fly this thing… I can help… Promise.”
       Just then, the roar of the approaching fire pelts flames in our direction. In desperation I lunge for the engine, find the fail safe and pop the doors open. Easy. Everyone but Gloria and I jump in. I ask her to help me look for the hidden keyboard to initiate the override so the computer won’t shut down the vehicle. Not so easy. The LED countdown appears on the underside of the hood, the computer starts its shutdown sequence.
       “Hey what’s this?!” The novice shouts from inside.
       “Gimme five minutes.”
       “Two minutes thirty seconds.” The cruel computer voice announces in reply.
       “Fuck you.”
       “Augee… is this it?”
       “Yes!” I shout looking into the engine and not at her. I turn to grab my wife by the shoulders and kiss her excitedly but the novice is standing next to her with a gun at her head. He couldn’t be more than 19; a skinny kid with a nose too big for his face, wearing greasy PetrotrinTrinidad’s state-owned oil companyoveralls. “I could fix it! Promise! No need for this. I
could fix it.” I plead before typing, reading and responding to the Kite’s MS DOS at breakneck speed. Until,
       “Hello Captain Walker. Where are we off to today?”
       “Well we don’t need you anymore…”
       “You can’t fly this without me and I’m not flying it without her.”
       “Captain Walker, please state your destination.”
       “It’s not going anywhere unless I tell it to. So… let’s just forget all this…” Slowly, he lowers his weapon.
       “Richie boy what you doing?! Let’s go!” An anxious female passenger inside the Kite shouts. She doesn’t know Richie is looking for his death out here.
       “We can all get out of here Richie is it?… Together.” I edge him on.
       “Ok.” Richie replies. “Let’s go. Put your hands up where I can see them. No funny business…”
       “Captain Walker, please state your destination.”
       Gloria and I enter the vehicle ahead of Richie who has the gun at our backs. I slide into the pilot seat and Richie rides shut gun. Gloria and another female passenger sit on the floor.
       “Captain Walker. There are 2 unauthorised passengers in the vehicle. Please ask them to exit the vehicle.” And the left side door opens.
       I look at Richie, who glares at me fully understanding the implication; two people must get out or the Kite isn’t going to move. With the fire imminent, I expose the dashboard keyboard without admitting I don’t know how to fix this. I type and think and try not to show any panic, but the heartless voice repeating: “Captain Walker. There are 2 unauthorised passengers in the vehicle. Please ask them to exit the vehicle” makes it impossible.
       Suddenly it changes. “Captain Walker. There is 1 unauthorised passenger in the vehicle. Please ask him or her to exit the vehicle.”
       I turn sharply. “Gloria!” I drop the keyboard in my haste to exit but Richie blocks the way, pointing his gun at my head. I turn my whole body toward the doorway where the love of my life is standing telling me to leave her.
       “Augee go. You go. You’re needed.” She smiles sheepishly at my loss for words. “My life is here. It have nothing up there for me.”
       In response and quick succession, I hold onto Richie’s gun barrel with my left hand, push it away and strike the boy under his chin with a right uppercut. He flies back into the seat. The other passengers cower as I run past them and leap out of the vehicle shouting, “Autopilot! City Terminus!” The doors close and the Kite lifts into the air. On impulse, I draw Gloria into my arms, hoist her up to grab onto the Kite’s skids, then jump up to do the same. Here we balance, holding fast, as it rises up and out and over our burning world.

#

       Gloria’s eyes look like a window’s glass during a light rain; the drizzle pools at the base then overflows, running out onto her cheeks. I hug the skid and shout for her to follow suit. She does. Awkwardly. But she does. I see her struggling, so I wrap my legs around her. I feel her shiver and pray we make it to the other side; to the Uriah Butler Highway, smack-dab between C3 and the City Terminus, where I parked the S.P.O.D. But when we get high enough, all I see is ocean rushing in, fires blazing and land tumbling over rotisserie style. No City Terminus. No Highway. No S.P.O.D.
       “Can you imagine you and me on one spaceship?” Gloria asks then blows a short chuckle out her nose. The world Gloria lives in must be nice; it’s so separate from reality. I smile and I nod.
       “Liar.” She retorts. So, I kiss her. Softly. Gently. She whispers, “I love you” tracing the words with her lips against mine, before letting go. My legs hold onto her so she doesn’t fall but she slips. And slips some more. I groan from the exertion but I will never let go. “It’s over babe.” She says, her last goodbye before she raises her arms and slides away.
       “Nooooo!” I scream and let go simultaneously. I don’t notice my death waiting, only Gloria as she freefalls into the pure rage below. Why did I abandon herso beautiful yet so fragile? Why did I wait until the last minute to try to get her back?

END

Rae-ann Smith is a teacher, filmmaker, writer and photographer. She has won a Merit Certificate and 3rd Bronze Medal in Photography from the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s National Visual Arts Festival. She earned Honourable Mention in The 2009 CANTEEN Awards in Poetry and Fiction, screened at The 2011 Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, The 2011 San Diego Christian Film Festival, The 2011 Africa International Film Festival, The 2012 San Diego Black Film Festival, The 5th Samsung Women’s International Film Festival (SWIFF) in Chennai, India, The 2012 No More Violence Against Women Film Festival (India) as well as The 2012 International Film Festival for Peace, Inspiration, Equality in Indonesia. She also has photographs in VOLUME TWO // ISSUE ONE of TRACK//FOUR Journal. And she was shortlisted for the 2016 Small Axe Literary Competition. She is currently the Programme Coordinator for the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Film Production at the Caribbean School of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) The University of the West Indies Mona Campus.

Filmography: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3132061/
Portfolio: https://uplift-group.com/portfolio/
Teaching portfolio: http://raeannsmith.webnode.com/