The fog was so thick it was Izara who spotted it first, Baba look! Is that it? We both stood still waiting for a moment of clarity, the air swirling around us, the earth groaning intermittently like the creaking timbers of a ship adrift on a silent sea. I’ve never gotten used to it, whereas it was all she’d ever known. Emptiness, soul crushing nothingness was her before, her now, her tomorrow and that’s why I had to bring her here, my miracle child. Especially as it’s just her and me now.
I led her down the slope. A dewy skein still hid most of the building, only a sliver of red siding visible. Izara grabbed my jacket and pulled me along, I could feel her excitement. I, on the other hand, was in no hurry, being back here brought me no joy. I guided her towards the entrance, my little shadow holding onto me until I told her, put your hand on the wall so you can feel your way along. I waited when she stopped and pressed her hands and face against the brick as if she hoped something would reveal itself to her. Actual people lived here, she said in such a reverent voice that reminded me of myself when I’d stumbled across this place not long after she was born, my utter disbelief at finding a building that, against all odds, stood intact. I’d clung to these walls as if they were sentient, wanting so badly to lose myself. But, unlike Izara, who only had the stories I’d told her about life before, memories, sweet, unbearable memories had poured from the bricks, choking me until I couldn’t stand.
We stood in front of the narrow black door and I asked her if she was ready. She nodded solemnly, although her body shook with anticipation that filled me with sadness. She had a right to see where she’d come from but I’d put it off as long as I could since what good would it serve? She’d suffered enough. I tugged affectionately on a spring of her unruly dark hair and she smiled up at me, those innocent eyes full of trust, there was nowhere for me to hide.
I’d already told her what to expect when the door closed behind us so she didn’t jump when the sonorous artificial voice announced, Welcome to the Last Museum, and Miles Davis’ ‘A Kind of Blue’ started playing. Light flooded the narrow entrance hall almost blinding her but she was ready for this too and immediately pulled her hood down over her eyes.
Please identify yourself.
It was too late to turn back now.
It’s Chuks and… this is Izara.
I kept her close to me, my hands squeezing her pinched shoulders.
Welcome Chuks. Do you have something for us today?
Affirmative. Please enjoy the tour.
We entered the first collection through sliding doors to our left, the voice announcing ‘The Great Room of Human Stuff’ as we passed inside, and I have to admit that Izara’s gasps filled me with the closest thing I’ve felt to joy since, well…since she was born and for a while, as she skipped around the cavernous white space trying to take in the countless objects organised in neat rows on white plinths, all collected and labelled after The End. The things she could lift she removed, examining them carefully, talking to them, stroking them, trying to relate them to things I’d told her about, her mind unable to keep up with her eyes which burned with a fire I’d never witnessed.
And this is a laptop, right? Like the one you had? Wait…is it a torch?
She pressed the button but nothing happened.
And what’s this weird thing?
A cheese grater.
Huh? And these?
I followed behind her and reeled things off as she drifted down the first row on a cloud.
Artificial flowers. Extension cord. Chair leg. Er…face cream? Buzz Lightyear. Waffle iron. Toilet brush. Hmmm, shop sign…
What kind of shop?
I flinched at the sight of the neon titties, relieved she couldn’t read. I lied. She ignored the rusted carcass of a car and the mangled pushchair, its pale pink cover stained dark red.
Show me which things you collected for the museum Baba?
I’d been dreading this question and looked vaguely around knowing full well none of it was in this collection. More lies. I’ll tell you if I see something. And was very glad when she found a smartphone. She’d already picked it up and was sitting on the floor running her fingers over the screen.
How could this tiny thing do all those things Baba! Tell me again what you did when you were my age while I’m holding it.
I joined her on the floor, my back aching, a faint vibration in my stone heart talking about childhood friends, the games played, the stupid songs we wrote, trash talking, not caring about anything or anyone. Would we have been different if we’d known? We’d all been so distracted with all this useless stuff. The weight of it bore down on my chest as I lay on the floor next to Izara.
We stayed like this for a while. She looked so peaceful and happy and when she murmured, Let’s stay here forever, I pretended that she wanted this as much as me. This was how I would remember her, precisely this way, my patient, optimistic, beautiful Izara. Since surely she would change if she was condemned to wander this wretched planet with me searching for remnants of what was already lost. And when I go, then what?
Chimes rang out. It was time.
I took her hand and pulled her up.
Where are we going?
I’ll show you. You’ll love it.
We took our seats in the auditorium, its domed roof an infinite pool of stars, while all around an explosion of plants and trees sprang up before us. Then, a dazzling spectacle of virtual creatures, great and small, flashed into existence. Izara clapped as birds dipped and soared, sea life teemed across oceans, bison ranged great plains, snakes glided, monkeys tumbled, bears lumbered. And then came the humans. Every race, every colour, since time began, gliding past in endless processions. Slowly at first, then faster and faster, and the more they came, all that went before gradually faded away as the stars merged into a single, burning sun.
As usual I searched for those I’d known, all preserved perfectly in the state of Before. I spotted my parents, my brother, friends, Izara’s mother… and finally, there was darkness.
I glanced at my daughter. She was hardly breathing, tears ran down her cheek.
I whispered, I’ll be back in a minute.
She looked at me with those trusting eyes. What a pitiful excuse of a man. One place left in the ‘Collection of the Human Race’ and as the ‘Last Child’ she’ll be preserved forever as the museum’s star exhibit. They promised me that much. It was the price of getting to keep her this long. And I couldn’t even bring myself to be with her now it’s time to collect.