CITY, yr. 2267

In Personalhistory, Season 2 by Aaron Parry

You hop off the hover-monorail and onto the misty platform with shoulders slumped and eyes downcast. The doors slide closed behind you and the hover-monorail starts up again, floating along its path and into the distance.

You are alone. Your face finally meets the sunlight. Your silver earrings shimmer in one of autumn’s first sunrises and you breathe in the damp air of the hover-monorail station. You close your eyes and inhale. You exhale in frustration at yourself. You wish you could expel all of the weight that you keep on your shoulders with such a breath, but settle for the short spurt of cloudy mist that floats into the cold air of the morning. You haven’t been sleeping right for weeks. You are tired. You pray that your ancestors will give you strength.

You hear a pair of high shrieks behind you and turn to meet the eyes of two little girls running at full speed. They are each wrapped in matching rain boots that smack against the boardwalk with each step and bògòlanfini blankets with mud print symbols that remind you of early mornings spent helping your uncle with his garments. The excitement of your sisters shows in their smiling, brown faces. A tall, broad-shouldered man trails behind them, wearing a thick beard and his usual work clothes – the orange, red, and yellow uniform of a labourer from the community gardens. He laughs at your sisters’ joy. Your father is happy to see you.

Your sisters hug you ‘round the middle. You are still a lot taller than them, but you can tell that they’ve each grown an inch or so since you last saw them. You don’t know why but realizing this weakens the smile that you’d adopted in the past few moments. You exhale again.

You look up to see your father beaming at you with pride. “Your mama would be so proud of the woman that you’ve become. If Nia was here she’d -”, he cuts off, tears in his eyes. “I know she sees you though. She lives in you – all of your ancestors do. They watch you with love and guidance. Always.” You hug him tighter than you usually do. He doesn’t notice. You exhale. You lean back and force your smile back to its former self to not disappoint your father. He slings your bag over his wide shoulders and begins guiding you all out of the hover-monorail station.

As you stroll down the boardwalk you feel yourself relax a little. Your sisters run in front of you, jumping in glee as if they could hop right on into the greyish-blue sky above. You run your hand along the branches of the pine trees that stand on either side of you. They border the long, winding trails of wooden boards that you walk upon. You feel yourself grounded to this place. You exhale lighter this time.

After a long walk, your tired legs trudge up a long set of stone steps which lead to a house sitting just on top of a hill. The front doors open just as you step in front of them. Your aunties scream with excitement, holding you by the elbows and leaning back to get a better look at you. 

“AHHHH look who’s back!”

“Look at you all grown! It feels like years since you left!”

“Oooooh I love what you’ve done with your hair – I always said you’d look good with braids didn’t I?”

“You must be so hungry, did they feed you on the train?” *sucks teeth* “See I knew they wouldn’t, always tryna save a buck.”

Your uncles clap your shoulders and pat you on the back with their own greetings. You look at this crowd of adults and the many children that are running around the house and wonder how your Auntie Shameera plans to house all of these people. Either way, you are glad to be a part of it. This is your family. This is home.

You carry your bags upstairs with your teenage cousins following closely behind.

“So what’s it like at Maarifa Academy? I wanna go so bad but mom said I gotta wait another year to apply.” One of them says, frustrated.

“You datin’ anybody out there?” another chimes in. “I mean you gotta have some action – you can’t just be workin’ on that science project you always talkin’ about.”

“Auntie Shameera says you’re graduating this year, what you doin’ after?”

This is too much for your brain to handle right now. You look at them with annoyance. “Damn what is this, trivia night?” you shoot at them. “What’s with all the questions? Go bug someone else …”

Most of them hustle away, but your cousin Ayo squeezes into your room before you close the door behind you. 

“You can only stay if you don’t hassle me about things right now, okay?” you say as you begin untying your Jordans.

She sits on the bed and nods in agreement. “You good though?” she says delicately.

You pause. Your mind flashes back to your meeting with the Dean in the last week of August.

“Look, I’m only tellin’ you this ‘cause I know you’re the only one who doesn’t gossip with the others.” You share a look and laugh lightly. “Okay, so the Dean of Maarifa calls me into her office one day, and I think I’m in trouble. I get there, and she’s telling me she just got a magnetogram from ASIM – you know, the  Advanced Scientific Institute of Mars. They say out of like 400 other candidates, they wanna offer me one of the positions at ASIM for next January – like, on Mars. Apparently they liked my project on harnessing lunar energy.”

“You what? That’s great! Damn cuz congrats!” She says in excitement. “That’s big. Why you hidin’ this?”

“‘Cause I dunno if I’m gonna take it. I know what you’re ‘bout to say and I already know what an honour it is to get this opportunity. I’ve already had enough people say they’re proud of me, they only sayin’ it though ‘cause they think I’m gonna accept.”

“Why wouldn’t you though?

“Mars is the site of the most state-of-the-art astronomy research, I know that. It’s right up my alley. I never dreamed I’d ever be able to go there though. Everyone sees it as a one-way trip to paradise – a way to get off a planet they think is slowly becoming inhabitable and instead live in a luxurious city on Mars. But that’s just it, it’s a one way trip, Ayo. The surgery that lets you breathe Mars is literally irreversible. Once I’m there, I can’t come back.”

Ayo lets this revelation wash over her. “Have you talked to anyone about this?”

“Nah. I already know what my dad would say. You know how he always says that I’m ‘destined for excellence’ – that I have to do things that will make my ancestors proud. ‘Forge your own path’, ‘make you mark in this world or another’ and all that. Maybe this is the path I’m supposed to be on. I dunno. It feels like being ordinary isn’t what’s gonna define our legacy, you know?”

Your cousin looks at you with a sweet smugness. “I think you know who I was askin’ about. Go talk to her.”

You exhale. You hate it when she’s right. You leave Ayo and drag yourself down to the kitchen, where your Auntie Shameera is midway between peeling sweet potatoes and yelling at your cousin to stop messing around. She spots you out of the corner of her eye and can already tell that something’s up. She tilts her head down slightly to look at you above her glasses and gestures for you to come to her.

“You okay, sweetie? What’s troublin’ you?”

You suddenly regret your decision and try to divert her suspicions. “Nothing, just a few assignments I still gotta get done when I’m back at Maarifa.” You are good, but she knows you like the back of her hand.

“Who you tryna fool? Ain’t I been raising you since you were seven years old?”

You search for words. You know your Auntie is always understanding, but you simultaneously fear that you will only receive words of encouragement to guide you towards facing your fears and taking on this opportunity. She might talk of your great great grandmother who travelled to Canada on her own. If your Uncle Willie overheard, he would revel in how brave your great grandfather was when he left home to work on the prestigious hover-monorails. And no generational wisdom was complete without mentioning your grandma Laila, the hardest working woman in the family. This is the legacy that you see behind you. Tears suddenly well up in your eyes. 

“Ohh come here child,” your Auntie reaches out and holds you around your shoulders. “You don’t even need to say a word right now.” She leans back and looks at you with all of the love and motherly nurturing a pair of eyes could hold. Something dawns on her. “Tell ya what. I been sittin’ on somethin’ for a while that I think will help.” 

“What you have in mind?” you ask.

She gestures with her finger for you to follow her out of your kitchen. You trail your Auntie Shameera as she heads down the staircase leading to the basement. The air is even cooler down here and smells earthy.

The basement is a dark clutter of crates and old boxes holding a random assortment of items. Your Auntie Shameera reaches into one of the sealed boxes and pulls out something that looks like a jewellery box. 

“I been waitin’ some time to show you this. I never thought I’d be the one doing this. Only seems right that your mama woulda been the one to give it to you, but I think I can stand-in right now.” You smile gently. She has been standing in as a mother for most of your life.

She lifts the box’s lid to reveal a shiny, metallic bracelet with inscriptions etched into it. 

“Jewellery?” you ask, confused.

“No no,” she waves away your silliness, “it’s far more than that.” Your Auntie Shameera lifts the bracelet and fastens it on your wrist. “This is an IGC, an InterGenerational Communicator – you heard of these in your history class, right? They memorize the paths of its wearer so that future wearers can experience their ancestor’s lives for themselves.”

“I thought the government dismantled all of them. Weren’t they discontinued like a hundred years ago?”

“Yes, but we thought we’d save ours. It’s a heavy item to bear, but it contains valuable knowledge from our ancestors.”

You feel a rush of hope run through you. “Did mama ever use it? Will I get to -”

She cuts you off before you continue. “I’m sorry, baby. Your mama never wore it. Didn’t hold too many good memories for her.”

You are disappointed, and a bit confused by what your Auntie has just said.

She continues with her explanation. “You must speak into the IGC to use it – say the name of the ancestor you wish to hear from. She looks at you sincerely. “It’s your choice to use it, but I think it will help. Come get me if you need anything.” She hugs you again before she retreats upstairs, back to her sweet potatoes.

You are alone. You think for a moment, and decide that you have nothing to lose by taking a look at what the IGC can do. You ponder your memory for names, soon thinking of what your great great grandma’s story might offer to you. You lift your wrist to your lips and whisper, “Hestella.”

You are transported. You feel your head get foggy and the room spins around you. Everything goes dark and you feel the air rush out of your lungs. Just before you feel you are about to pass out, you are returned to your body. But it isn’t your body. 

IGC Session 1 – Begins: yr. 2135

You are taller than you were before and feel as though your limbs are thicker with muscle. You try to bring your hands before your face but find that you are not in control of your body. You watch through eyes functioning like a television as whoever controls your body checks the IGC on a wrist that is not your own. The IGC looks even newer and sparkles in the sunlight. You are at the beginning of your great-grandma’s story.

Your ancestor drops their hand and things appear to play at high-speed. Major and minor life moments flash before you – first dates, trips to the beach, her mama’s funeral, and her brother’s graduation from school. The story slows down in pace and you are back in real time. She is speaking to an older man – you decipher that this must be the wearers’ father by the way that he speaks to her. She is pleading with him to see her side of things. 

“You can’t just up and leave your family like that, Hestella!” he says hotly.

Your lips move with your ancestor’s words. “You don’t get what I’m tryna tell you! Livin’ in Calliaqua might be all good ‘n fine for you, but there are so many more opportunities across the water. I could make more money to support everyone if I got a job in Canada. I know I needa start helpin’ out. I just want to make you proud, papa. This is what our ancestors wanted for us.”

“But you can’t even afford a ticket! What you plannin’ to do about that, huh?”

“I’ll figure it out – I know I can!  

“I have already lost too much!” he yells in his booming Vincy accent. “I don’t want to lose you too Hestella.” He hides his face with his hands, but you can tell that he is crying. 

She hangs her head with a twinge of guilt in her stomach and walks down the hall and into a bedroom. She waits. It feels like hours until she hears the sounds of her cousins snoring in the room beside her and begins packing her things. You carefully stumble through the darkness of the hallway towards your father’s bedroom. The door softly creaks as she opens it, but he is still sleeping as she enters the room. She kisses his forehead and leave a goodbye note on the bedside table. 

She leaves her home that night, staring around at the silhouette of the house and the soufriere tree in the front yard as if she will never see them again. She travels through the cobblestone streets of Calliaqua until she reaches the harbour. She sees the S. S. Caraquet floating above the moonlight water and watches as burly men load crates of fruit and electronic machines on board. 

She waits for just the right moment and runs up the boards connecting the boat to the shore when no one is looking. She travels deep into the lower decks of the ship and hides behind one of the bigger crates carrying mangoes. She hears voices passing by her repeatedly for a couple hours, until all goes quiet. She is hidden on the ship for five days before it reaches its destination. She reads the signs around the docks to learn that she has landed in St. John’s, New Brunswick. 

The story speeds up againyou watch as your ancestor moves to Montreal, falls in love with your great grandpa, gives birth to and raises beautiful, kind children and works as the owner of a bed and breakfast frequented by hover-monorail porters. You feel her smile more often than she did before, especially when dancing to jazz music and packing money into envelopes addressed to a house in Calliaqua.

The story slows again. You feel just as tall, but much lighter and somewhat physically tired. Your ancestor is looking at a boy in his late teens carrying a suitcase under his arm. He looks eager. Her hands look weathered and ashy as she unclasps the IGC from her wrist. Everything goes black.

IGC Session 1 – Ends: yr. 2167

You are surprised to see that you are back in the basement of your Auntie Shameera’s house. You exercise the freedom of moving your own limbs and feeling the comfort of your own body. You feel the weight of your own conundrum re-enter your mind after seeing grandma Hestella’s story. You find that it only makes you feel guiltier for considering turning down the opportunity offered by ASIM’s. 

You think about how accepting the offer could help your family – while you wouldn’t be able to visit home, you could send back funds to help out your dad when times got tough. You always felt bad knowing that he fought tooth and nail to send you to Maarifa, but sometimes wasn’t able to bring home enough food from the community garden. You think that maybe you should be like Hestella, ensuring that you fulfil your responsibility towards supporting your family. But what about what you want?

You exhale in frustration. You consider seeking council from your Auntie, but decide that it is time you take your own life into your hands. Your mind aches for more stories that might ease your thoughts and you ready yourself to begin again. You think of your great-grandfather next. You whisper into the IGC, saying “Isaiah” this time.

The same fogginess and darkness ensue, pushing your body to that feeling one has just before passing out. The discomfort ceases and you are in a new body. 

IGC Session 1 – Begins: yr. 2167

You are Hestella’s son, adjusting the IGC on his wrist before he kisses her goodbye. 

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of you, baby,” she says with tears in her eyes. “You are making your ancestors proud by forging your own path in the world.”

“I’m gonna miss you, ma,” he says back to her. You feel anxiety twist his stomach as he boards a hover-monorail with only a small suitcase under his arm. He unloads his things and begins the gruelling work of cleaning several of the compartments on the train and serving drinks to passengers. The story speeds up – differing sights of icy mountains, lush valleys, and industrial cities pass by in the glass windows. He is travelling everywhere tracks lie across the country. The beauty of landscapes are diminished by the long, monotonous hours of work on the train, repeated scenes of white passengers judging his every effort, and dinner every night eaten behind a curtain. The story slows. He looks at a photo of a family – you guess that they are his wife and children from the brief scenes shown before you – and you feel hot tears run down his cheeks. 

“I’m strengthening our legacy,” he says as he kisses the printed faces of his children. The same twist in his stomach endures. 

Again it speeds up and slows to a stop. He looks at the photo again – it is worn down and stained in places. You feel the twist in his stomach, but now a new overbearing weight on his shoulders. 

One of the other porters catches him and leans towards him. “Brother, I know how you’re feelin’,” he says, “keep this inside your coat for when you’re feelin’ a little homesick.” He drinks from a silver flask and tucks it into  his inner coat pocket.

Speed, slow, stop. He feels lighter. With blurry vision you see he is subtly drinking from a bottle of bitter amber liquid before attending to his passengers beyond the curtain. Speed, slow, stop. His words are slurring slightly as he speaks to his boss. “Isaiah this is the third time I have received complaints about your behaviour,” his boss says, “have you been drinking on the job or not?” 

Speed, slow, stop. 

He is crying and pleading with his fellow porters. “Guys please, this is all I have. I gotta have some money to send to my family next week. Everyone’s countin’ on me.” 

They hand him his bag. “I think you should lay low for a while man,” one of them says, “take a break while we try to get you a gig somewhere else.”

He stumbles off the train and onto the platform, lost and alone. You’re not sure if your own head feels dizzy from the repeated changes in speed or if it is just the drunkenness of the wearer. 

Speed, slow, stop. 

The story pauses at a moment in a cozy living room, the scene still blurred by the wearer. The woman from the photo pleads with somber eyes, “Isaiah please just let me go to the grocery store. I gotta get our shopping done for the week.” He yells something back at her in anger. There are children cowering on the couch. An older girl comforts her smaller siblings as she glowers at her father with tears running down her face. His wife continues to try reasoning with him, “Isaiah please. You can do this if you need to, but the children shouldn’t see you like this anymore.” You feel rage burn inside him as he raises his hand, aimed towards her. He swings down and the IGC slides off his wrist. 

IGC Session 1 – Ends: yr. 2185

Your return to the basement is sudden and you try to catch your breath. Your head spins with the gravity of what you have just witnessed. You feel understanding, compassion, and sorrow wash over you all at once. You sit for a moment with this new information and wince at the memory of stories you never knew. 

You feel conflicted, struggling with the idea that your ancestor caused harm that you could never imagine inflicting on others and fearing that you may follow in his footsteps. You could never, you tell yourself. You wonder if he told himself the same when he was your age. You begin to realize that following in your ancestors’ footsteps might be less desirable than you once imagined. In a weird way, the intensity of such a story takes a bit of the weight off of your shoulders. You exhale.

You consider taking the IGC off. You are shaken, but feel stronger in knowing the truth. Despite your apprehensiveness, this strength is what pushing you to keep going. You whisper your grandma’s name into your wrist. “Laila.”

IGC Session 3 – Begins: yr. 2212

You are in a body much like your own. You recognize the shape of her hips and the way that her shoulders slouch a bit. She is a beautiful dark skinned woman looking in the mirror to see how the IGC looks on her wrist. Her hair is cut short with a fade and she is wearing gold earrings. She is wearing the bright red robes of the economy district and you guess that  she is on her way to work at the office. The wearer looks tired and tries to find comfort in smiling a crooked smile at herself in the mirror.

She kisses her husband goodbye and walks out of her apartment. She takes a down trip on the elevator and enters the busy streets of Toronto – you recognize it from old photos of your mama as a child. The amount of skyscrapers cramped together make the streets feel claustrophobic and there are thousands of automobiles, drones, and maintenance vehicles flying noisily above the walkways below. 

She enters a grey building and is carried in a glass elevator to the 175th floor, overlooking the rest of the city. She closes the door of her office and feels the artificial sunlight supplied by her ceiling lights warm her face. She sits down at her desk and opens her work for the day on the hologram pad. 

You feel a buzz in the inside of her wrist and she turns her palm upwards to see a notification. “Lil Sis” is calling. She slides a finger up her wrist and a bluish face floats in mid-air. They greet each other and catch up on what is new in their lives. 

Your grandma speaks to her sister candidly, “I’m sorry for not calling in so long – work has been too busy these days, for real.” 

“You look tired, babes. If it’s too much, you don’t gotta stick with a job like that.”

“It’s not THAT bad,” she shoots back, mildly frustrated. “I know you don’t agree with what I’m tryna do here, but I am well on my way to being the first Black female CEO in West Corp. history.”

“I get that, but your wellness just means more than your work to me. You know how your mental game gets when there’s a lot of stress on you.”

She doesn’t take this as seriously as it is delivered. “I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams – they gon’ take care of me.”

“Okay, well my home is your home. You’re always welcome for a visit…or an extended stay.” 

She doesn’t understand why her sister  says this before ending the call abruptly.

The story speeds up and slows to an argument between her and your grandpa. 

Your grandpa is leaning over the table with his hands clasped in front of him. “Nia’s health issues are only gonna get better if we move out of the city – the industrial fog is just too much for her. It’s messing with her vitamin D intake and her breathing is only gettin’ worse. Like I said, we can start fresh, go live with your sister in the country and see if things get better.”

She gets frustrated. “Look, my job is very important to me – to us. Who’s been paying for Nia’s bills this whole time? My daddy always said you have to leave home to make your mark in this world and I intend to honour those words. I’m not CEO yet, but I’m so close, baby. Nia can last another couple months, and then we can consider moving.”

He is in disbelief. “She can’t wait any longer. Your vision is clouded, Laila. You’re not doing this for the kids – hell, I don’t even know who you’re doing this for anymore.” 

They are both resolute in their decisions. “Look,” she says, “you take the kid’s to my family and get settled. I’ll keep working here, but I’ll visit every weekend from Saturday to Monday, okay?” He agrees to the deal.

The story speeds up. She honours the agreement for the first few weeks. She cancels on various weekends, claiming she has “important work events” – she has started drinking more often. Weekly visits turn into monthly visits, monthly visits become occasional weekends scattered across the year. 

Her depression returns and she secludes herself routinely. As years go by, her marriage fizzles and she finds it most convenient to call her children when she remembers they haven’t spoken in a while. The story slows to an end. She lays in a bed covered with white sheets in a healing house clasping her daughters’ hands. You feel tears run down her face. “I’m sorry,” she says to her children, “I’m so sorry it took me too long to realize what I was doing to you all. I’m so so sorry.” She begins slipping the IGC off her wrist.

IGC Session 3 – Ends: yr. 2254

You are back in your body – alone in the basement, crying. You feel the pain of four souls all at once. But you understand what you must do. You feel a clarity that brings you comfort. 

You walk upstairs to the kitchen and see that it is still daylight out – lifetimes have passed before your eyes in a matter of hours, maybe even minutes. Your Auntie Shameera hears you enter the kitchen and looks at you gently. You embrace her in a tight hug and share in her warmth. You whisper a thank you into her ear and she knows she is not the only one that is meant to hear this.

Epilogue

You are older. You are tending to the plants in the community garden with your father. The IGC glitters on your wrist as you pat the soil surrounding some freshly planted collard greens. You wear the same uniform now, but complement it with your mama’s sun hat. Your auntie gave it to you soon after you decided to move back home. You knew it was just the right fit for you when you devised the idea to work at the gardens during the day and have time to teach astronomy classes to youth in the community a few nights a week. 

You always loved being able to put your hands into the earth while looking up at the stars. You are so kind to the children. You teach them that they are loved by all those around them. You remind them before every lesson that just like the stars, their ancestors look down upon them and guide them in their lives. You remind them that there is more than one way to honour your ancestors. There is much value in embracing home.

You wipe the soil from your hands and bid your dad farewell as you follow the boardwalk leading through the forest. You are glad for this permanent return to your home. 

You cannot see me, but I am glad you are home.

This land is your home, just as I once was.

I have always been proud of you, my daughter. I always will be.