“…dont tell me to stop….tell the rain not to drop…tell the wind not to blow…”
The decades old Madonna number tinkled on on his cell phone. Pralhad fumbled for it near his pillow, found it and pushed snooze. The red light streaming in through the bay window was too bright he felt, but he was too lazy to pull the curtains across. Rather, there would be no point in getting out of bed, pulling the curtains and getting back in bed. He would much rather wake up in another 10 minutes.
But he could not sleep. Again. It was too hot and balmy. He lolled around in bed, picked up his phone and stared at it till the number on the screen changed from 07:03 to 07:04. He got out of bed again and gulped down half a bottle of water in the kitchen. Then, remembering something, he came back and turned off the alarm on his cell.
He looked at the mirror. unshaved, swollen under-eyes, bored looking and boring looking, he thought. ” The day you find your face unattractive, you have done something wrong with your life.” He thought of the words a friend once had said to him.
The entire day lay ahead. The routine passed through his mind. Bath-change-pick up keys from table-put wallet in left pocket-keys and phone in right-wear shoes-pick up bag-camera-go down 8 flights of stairs-open the cab car door-through bag on passenger seat-start the car-push out of door-head to the scheduled highway-park the cab at convenient point-pull out segway from under the tarp-putter along edge of the road and take photos of potholes and irregularities on the road-note precise location of said irregularity from read out on GPS-eat packed cold lunch at lunch or mood-smoke a fag-then putter along on the segway again-cover the day’s 30 km stretch-get back home-pick up food and maybe beer on the way-park-drink-eat-sleep-wake up to Madonna again.
The routine had not changed for years. The alarm tone had not changed for months.
He would think of this everyday. He would leave it at that thought. He did not see a point in investing more thought and energy in this. He had a job to do.
It was 2256 AD.
As had been predicted in the centuries preceding, Earth’s population had inflated beyond hope. To save on space, buildings were built tall, straight and box-like. The pollution levels were absolute. On most days, the sunlight reached the surface through a multi-hued screen of dense smog. ‘Sunny days’ were unknown.
A century-and-a-half ago, all ground traffic had been banned. People commuted in electric cabs that moved on rails. Most people did not step on the surface for days, as the cabs could be accessed directly from their flats. You just punched in your destination on the screen in your cab. And the time by which you had to get there. The Central Traffic Control System took care of the rest, maneuvering the cab smoothly through several hundred tiers of rail-bridges and a the cobweb like paths they took.
The surface roads were preserved under a program called Roots Legacy-an effort by the One Government to stay rooted to humanity’s past. The roads were preserved and kept in top-class condition. Nobody but the most elite could use the roads-it was considered a luxury because they could go wherever, however they wanted to. Not allowing some computer to decide their path for them. The offices of all the important people had shifted from the top floors in the 21st century to the bottom floors now- away from the blinding pollution.
Pralhad could also use the road. Not that he was big or important. He was small and insignificant actually. He was an employee of the Roots Legacy Surface Roads Maintenance Department. His job? To monitor the roads daily, take photos of irregularities, feed the GPS co-ordinates into the Maintenance system so that Bot Crews could go and do the repair work.
Splashing cold water on his face, he walked into the balcony and stood awestruck and staring. The sky over his city had turned red. Not the pretty twilight red. A burning, scarlet red.
“Atleast something has changed” he thought to himself.
His room was littered with DVD cases…a guilty pleasure he had kept secret. Nobody watched movies on DVD anymore. But he loved the simplicity of the whole thing. And he loved the movies. Women in short clothes, men driving around in vests, dancing in clubs…he wished he was born in the 21st century.
Change. “I want change” he thought.
The thought began to nag him. The word. Change. He had wanted a change desperately. The thought ate into his brain as he drove down to his designated stretch of road.
He wasn’t leading a wholesome life. His girlfriend, who worked in the Surface Pollution Control office, was not really that fond of him anymore, he thought. And he would get annoyed with himself over the thought. Why do I need her to be happy he would think. They fought each time they talked.
Getting down from his cab, he trained the lens of the camera on a ditch in the road. He adjusted the focus, zoomed in, set the markers which showed the depth of the depression and was about to press the ‘Click’ button when he stopped.
“Not today. Not again.” he thought. He flung the camera on the road, ripped out the location transmitter from the hood of his cab, pushed the throttle and shot out towards wherever the road would lead him.
After travelling a few miles, after the adrenaline had settled, his actions registered to him. He always had a knack for doing things out of the blue. But this was totally pushing it. What he had done had instantly made him a criminal. Absconding From Duty. Disagreeing To Register Location To System.
So what now? Run! So he pushed down again on the accelerator.