The heat glistened on the earth; its fiery breath ascended from the ground in plain view before perishing into nothingness. In that expanse of mostly non-being, except for the few buildings and numerous cars, stood a lone tree. The tree wasn’t majestic or beautiful; its bark was of uninspiring color and texture and its leaves were the dullest gray. Yet its resilience is appreciated by the town’s residents for it rebelled against nature's forces that suppressed every seed or bud. The young girl sleeping beneath the tree appreciated the precious shade. She had her eyes shut forcibly hoping to indulge in a few more seconds of sleep. But her cheeks which met the earth was burnt from the heat. They were an angry red. Reluctantly, she rose and looked around.
Her name was Milli and she had a few more hours before reaching her destination. The obstacle was she was without means to make the rest of the journey. There were many cars and no one was looking; she could easily hop into one and drive away. But being only about thirteen years of age, she had limited life skills and driving was not one of them. She would have to hitchhike again if she had to complete her journey on time. Anyone would have been better than her previous ride: the weeping actor. The actor was either lamenting loudly or blubbering loudly for the four hours Milli spent in her car. Milli wished she could tell her friends that the actor was an ugly crier and a wet one at that, for fluids drained from her facial orifices. Milli would have told them that she was nothing like in the movies where she was dignified in every shot. The actor had begged Milli to accompany her to Madurai and Milli though tempted had firmly stood by her stand.
Milli could imagine her friends' faces if they ever heard of her adventures. They wanted to come, but their parents believed that they must spend time with family rather than with their insane friend. It was not like Milli’s parents were dead or junkies to not care for their daughter. It was just that the three of them wished to be in three different places at the same time and whatever progress technology had made was not enough for that wish. So, they decided to go their separate ways while wishing the best for the others. Yesterday, her Mom settled in her reading chair with ‘Moby Dick’. Her Dad went away to his childhood home in the hills and Milli, she wanted to see the sea.
All her friends have been to the ocean, but not her. There was never time or money. She had always hated her parents for being controlling, for being poor. But yesterday, when she bade them goodbye, she felt the overwhelming love uniting the three of them. A connection she had never felt before.
A car stopped before her. Pleasantries were exchanged. Each sized up the other and together they were on their way to the sea. The man never said a word after she sat in the car. That did not stop Milli from recounting her life to him. It wasn’t rude of her to badger a good Samaritan when he never stopped her. After a little while, Milli had nothing more to say. She had only lived for thirteen years and that accounted for very few stories. It was then that Milli found the silence smothering and the man, eerie. She was in a car with a stranger and that never ended up well. So, when she reached her destination, she was glad to get out. The man seemed to reciprocate her feelings, for he drove away immediately.
People were nicer the past few days like never before. They were atoning for past sins, forgotten sins and the buried ones. Milli had to do her share of apologizing too. She apologized to her parents for being a ‘smart mouth’ as they often referred to her. She apologized to her neighbor Linda for stealing her chicken eggs. She begged mercy to Linda’s chicken for feeding them fried chicken. That was plain wrong. She had previously justified her actions by saying, the chicken should be smarter to know not to eat their relatives. But the truth is chickens are dumb and she can’t blame them for her heinous action. She did not apologize to her science teacher, Mr Alby for walking out of his class. Mr Alby deserved to be treated badly. She did not apologize to her friend Belle for wrecking her bicycle. Belle thought it was Nelson and Milli did not want to alienate two of her friends. She had waited for people to apologize to her, but they never came. She had lost precious time of her journey waiting for them. Some people never own their mistakes, she thought.
Milli heard waves hitting the shore, but she couldn’t see any water. There was a crowd walking towards the direction of the waves. She decided to follow them. They must be going to the sea. Nothing else made sense. So Milli was not the only one who had never seen the sea. What stopped the million people from a nice ocean retreat? Milli wondered. Poverty, jobs or family. Or they loved the sea and wanted to come again.
“You see, we are being fools. This is nothing. They made a mistake. They have done so a million times before. Predictions...based on science, they say. But do we really know? We should all go home. We will have a good laugh and forget our stupidity,” said a man from the crowd. No one responded to him. He did not turn back too.
The sea was nearer. She could smell what she had always imagined to be the fragrance of the sea. Milli wanted to shout in jubilation, but she decided against it and walked somberly like everyone else.
The crowd was moving treacherously slow for Milli’s liking. She accelerated her steps only to hit the person in front of her. All the apologizing had made her an expert and she had put on her best face equipped for melting the fiercest hearts. The person turned to give her an exasperated look, but did not say a word. It was the President. Milli had never met a President. She thought they were exquisite beings: refined and clever. The President disappointed Milli. She looked neither dignified or clever. She held the arms of a little boy and walked with the crowd. The President looked ordinary.
“Is this your first time to see the sea, Madam President? I have never seen one,” whispered Milli to the President’s ear. The President did not flinch; she moved forward unhindered. Milli scowled. She hoped her parents had not voted for the President’s party.
Milli couldn’t curse the President anymore as she had reached the ocean. It was green and gray with white waves. From the cliff where they stood, Milli could see the darkness approaching. The predictions were true. Multiple events around the world to result in annihilation of the era of life as we know it. She was just in time to witness the end. Milli wished the sea and she could have had a few more moments. She hoped her parents were happy. Then the tall waves hit the cliff and carried the land and its people to oblivion. It was time for the rebirth.