Daylight Come will be published in September 2020 by Peepal Tree Press.
CHAPTER 1 – BANA CITY
“Did you sleep? Tell me you slept.” Bibi was at the bedroom door. The dangerous light that crept under doors and through cracks in walls and windows had gone and it was night. Sorrel shook her head, impatient with the question, which began most nights. You couldn’t light-proof a house no matter what you did. You couldn’t light-proof a world. Bibi came into the bedroom and sat on the end of her bed. She touched her daughter’s shaven head, just beginning to grow out. Sorrel pulled away.
“I don’t know how to help you.” Bibi’s voice shook. “You have to sleep.”
“I can’t. I’ve told you,” Sorrel snapped.
“Pills tomorrow, then. The green ones.”
“I don’t want them. They make me feel dooley, like I’m asleep when I’m supposed to be awake, which is the whole problem, right?”
“What about that tea we tried?”
“Grammy’s bush tea? I don’t remember it helping. Just leave me alone, Bibi.”
“You’ll get sick if you don’t sleep.”
Sorrel met her mother’s eyes. “I want to sleep now.”
“It’s time for e-school.” Bibi held out her hand. “Get up. It’s dark and you have to eat.”
Sorrel ignored the outstretched hand, but she rose to her feet. She was almost her mother’s height now.
“Your hair needs the razor,” Bibi said.
“Razor’s dull.” Sorrel no longer knew if kindness lived in her heart. She ran her hand over her head. She liked her hair to feel prickly, like it was alive and pushing outwards.
She often daydreamed about what it must have been like for women to have hair that fell to their chins, their shoulders, even to their waists – hair long enough to make into all manner of designs: plaits and corn rows and bumps and locks and weaves and buns and French braids; hair that women washed every week, not once, but twice each time, using conditioners and potions, which had to be rinsed out with drinkable water. Women, she’d read, had even used chemicals to straighten, dye and curl their tresses. They bleached it, did things called “permanents” which were temporary, and used curlers and rollers and bobby-pins and hairpins and combs and dryers and flat irons and curling irons – all to make their hair into whatever it was not. Sorrel loved the pictures on the history sites, especially the layered ones that looked like the feathers of a bird and the styles called Afros, which were like halos – when hair was part of a woman’s beauty.
Her best friend, Sesame, told her that old-time white people had washed their thin hair every day, but nobody had hair like that anymore on Bajacu, because there were few white people left. The Convergence, with its panicked flight of elites to the north, had left a shrinking brown population, all with heads shaved by Domin law. You could be arrested for having the kind of stubble Bibi was pointing out. You would certainly be judged anti-social and have your water ration reduced.
Bibi had told her the Convergence had been called other names before world leaders settled on this less threatening word, though even as it happened, there were those who said it was a lie, a hoax, fake news. Her mother rarely talked about her memories of that time.
Bibi left the room and Sorrel shook off her thoughts. Now that night had fallen, at least they could open a window.
They were living in the most comfortable of all the houses she could remember. Bibi refused to be called Mum or Mom or Mother, they were comrades in arms, she said – a term Sorrel had liked when she was younger, when her mother’s nickname for her was Little One. As she grew older, Bibi shortened it to One.
They had moved often when Sorrel was a child, always looking for a place in shadow, away from the sea, rivers or ravines, preferably a house angled to catch the infrequent breezes. The trade winds had died mid-century, but fluky ones did sometimes roll off the foothills. Bibi had a knack for assessing the comfort of an empty house. Sometimes people paid her in skynuts to do it.
There were thousands of empty places on the island, most of them dilapidated. The people who could escape had left Bajacu in waves, the way the sea had moved onto the land. When they were much younger, her best friend, Sesame, had told her stories of rich people who had retreated high into the mountains – this was after the tunnels they’d built collapsed in the earthquakes.
“They call themselves Toplanders,” she said.
“Ridiculous,” Sorrel had scoffed.
They could visit each other back then, although they could travel only at dawn or dusk, never when the sun was at its height. They’d been lying head to head on the cool tile floor at Sesame’s house, arms outstretched, pretending to be starfish.
“The hurricanes would have killed them. What would they eat?”
“I heard they grow food.”
“What kind of crops would survive the rain bombs, the dust storms? It’s foolishness, Ses.”
“Rich people can do a lot.”
“They can’t do miracles. And what about the ferals? They don’t have them in the mountains?”
“I didn’t hear anything about ferals.”
“These are just stories. Let’s find something to eat,” Sorrel had said, getting up. “What d’you have?”
“I’m so sick of alganola.”
“Yeh, me too. It’s why I like to think about people living in the mountains growing food.”
“Why didn’t other people join them up there, then? No way that could be kept secret from the Domins.”
“There are others up there too – different to the Toplanders. They’re like the Tainos – that’s what I heard.”
“Tainos! You were never any good at history. They’re the people who lived here before everybody else. Tribals, they’re called now.”
“Guata, Ses, you should definitely be a writer.” They giggled at the forbidden curse word and their outstretched fingers touched.
“I think the rich people just left and there’s no such thing as tribals,” Sorrel said. “They would have died in the heat or the storms, or the ferals got them or they starved to death.”
“People always find a way. I heard the Toplanders are in that old army camp. You’ve seen it on SATMAP.”
“Foolishness. The Domins would definitely find them if they were at Cibao camp.”
“I heard they have slaves. All women. And there’s a terrible man up there.”
“Just stop, Ses. Monster stories.”
She had not seen Sesame in person for more than a year, but she often thought about their time together and her friend’s fantasies.
The house she now lived in with her mother was on Buttercup Avenue in the capital city of Bana. Desperate people had thought that the old place names of long annihilated native peoples could save them; but still the cities had drowned and the rivers had dried up, the land had burned and shook, and the dust from a thousand deserts had taken to the air in rolling storms. After that, there was a burst of flower naming, of roads and airports and hotels and Domin buildings in the city. “I didn’t want you to be soft like a daisy or a rose; I wanted you spiky, red, not pale,” Bibi had told her. “And you were born in December, which used to be the picking time for sorrel.” Sorrel had only ever seen images of her namesake flower and most of the buildings and roads named after flowers were now derelict and without signage.
Like nearly all the still occupied houses on Bajacu, their roof was a slightly slanted concrete slab. This was the law after the hurricane season of ’63 – an easy law to enforce, because after two Category Fives hit the island that year, there were no houses with other kinds of roofs left standing. The miners sent their machines into the hills and dug down the white limestone. They scooped up the sand from rivers, and the cement factories ran day and night. The houses built after ’63 had underground cisterns to catch rainwater. They were virtually useless now as there was so little rain. The best houses had a solid impermeable membrane on the slab roof, complicated drainage systems, a ledge to hold in the turflife, and succulents planted from end to end, half shaded by solar panels. They looked like cartoon characters with square faces, blank eyes and thorny hair; Sorrel liked the intricate shapes of the succulents and the way they needed no care. Up there on the roofs, these plants either lived or died. A thick bank of succulents could lower the temperature in a house by three degrees. To stop people stealing them, you had to apply for a permit to own a ladder. Very few were granted.
Sorrel went into the kitchen and opened one of the makeshift shutters. They used to have glass windows, but Bibi said they were dangerous because they magnified heat. The house gave a little gasp, as if pressure had built up inside during the day. She waited to feel cooler air on her face, but nothing was moving outside. She gazed at the sky, hoping to see the moon or stars, but it was too cloudy. There were always thin clouds now, which was good, because without clouds there would be no rain, ever, and no water, and the rays of the sun would be even more deadly, but she still sometimes wished she could see a clear sky. She fastened the window half open.
If only she could sleep. Her mother sat at the kitchen table, her shoulders slumped. Sorrel saw the small hump on her spine that indicated her age, and she felt a flutter of fear in her chest. Old people were not treated kindly on Bajacu.
Although Bibi was only a child at the time of the Convergence, all the mid-century anger at the people who had ignored the signs of the coming crisis were directed – even now – at anyone over forty. Her Grammy had been beaten in the street more than once simply because she was of that time. People always need someone to blame, Grammy had said, sitting at the kitchen table, blood trickling down her jawline.
“Stop daydreaming,” Bibi said. She handed her daughter a cup of aloe tea and a bar of alganola. Sorrel loathed the bars, convinced you could taste the jelly-fish in them. She joined Bibi at the table and booted up their PlAK.
“Don’t get crumbs on the keyboard,” Bibi said, rising to her feet. “See you later, One.”
Sorrel grunted, avoiding her mother’s tired eyes and the furrow between her eyebrows. They were lucky; her mother had a job at the tech centre, fixing the few old-time computers left on the island. She was jealous of her mother’s contact with people. It was that job that had gifted them the PlAK, by far their most valuable possession, with its access to chat rooms and satellite feeds.
Today was payday. Maybe Bibi would be paid in skynuts. They were better than foodcards and were a good source of protein. The skynut trees had been brought to Bajacu by some long extinct migratory bird, and they had flourished, while every other type of tree thinned out and died.
She rubbed her eyes. She had a Math test in e-school today. She had turned fourteen two days ago and had made herself a birthday promise: one day, she would find a place where it was possible to sleep in the dark and go outside all day when it was light.
CHAPTER 2 – BANA CITY
At 0400 hours, e-school finished. Sorrel rose and stretched. Her legs felt numb and the house closed in around her. Her mother would be back from work in an hour. She checked the water tank in the corner of the kitchen. It was about halfway down. Two more nights before water was delivered. Their house had a cistern from the days when it used to rain regularly, but the water truck’s pipe couldn’t reach it. The tank filter was dirty, and she should clean it, but it was hard to clean anything without using precious water. She replaced the cover with the dirty filter in place. Maybe tomorrow. She decided to go online and talk to Sesame.
“A Tribal girl was captured by the Domins. Last week. She was scavenging,” Sesame wrote, the words coming up like bubbles on the PlAK’s screen.
“Everyone scavenges,” tapped Sorrel, using a string of emojis to show her disdain. “She could have been any Bana girl!”
“It was how she was dressed, and she was strong. Muscles in her legs. I heard she fought off the Domins like a Feral; killed one and ran. No Lowlander could do that. They caught her, though.”
“You’re just bored.”
“Yeah. Aren’t you?”
Yeah, Sorrel thought, I’m bored, but she didn’t want to hear any more about the Tribal girl. She signed off, sending SEW to her friend, their code for Sudden Ending Warning. She would sit outside for the remaining hour of darkness.
She opened the kitchen door and walked onto the hard dirt, which her grandmother had called “the garden” until the day she died. The light from the kitchen fell into the yard. She sat in her favorite spot on a large, smooth rock in the shadow of the house. Her Grammy had once told her why the rock was there – their house on Buttercup Avenue was on the Sabana Plain, laid down in geologic time by the Ama River, which had brought the big rocks with it. You could still see them around Bana – some had been coated white long ago and still had flecks of paint in their grooves and indentations. The Ama River had broken its banks the year of the Category Fives and killed an uncounted number of people who had been living too close. Now the sea was even nearer to the Ama River and soon there could be a huge body of brackish water cutting right through the city. Too much water and too little water, at the same time. Lowlanders were always thirsty. Soon they would have to seek higher ground.
She heard the noise of working people going home after a night of work, some on foot, some on skateboards. The only type of motorised transportation left on Bajacu were the ATVs of the Domins. No one knew how they were fuelled. She liked to watch the young workers who had enough balance and strength to skateboard. She could hear them jumping over the cracks and buckled asphalt in the road and she thought of the tribal girl that Sesame told her about, fighting like a feral, running, then still being caught.
Could there be people, maybe even young people, living together in the mountains, outside Domin control? There were caves in the mountains, so shelter was possible, and there were simple ways to condense water – every Bana e-school child had to do basic survival training. But what was there to eat in the mountains? What would they have to take with them? What path would they follow? By how much did the temperature fall if you went high up? She started to construct a new world in her mind and imagined herself properly asleep in the darkest of nights. She felt so tired.
Then she remembered what Sesame said had happened to the Tribal girl. The Domins would have staked her out on the Burning Rock Plain – no witnesses, no questions asked – and left her there to sizzle up and die. The whole idea of the mountains was dangerous. Too dangerous. She turned her thoughts to Bibi’s return and what they might eat. The rock she sat on still held some of the day’s heat. She loved rocks. Her clearest childhood memory was of a shallow hole she had scraped out under a rock when she’d been about six, living in a different place. She had been able to crawl inside the hole and lie on her side, knees to chest, the rock almost touching her shoulders. The darkness under the boulder was different from the night outside. The earth had cradled her, and the rock had been like a low sky.
Once, she had dared to go to it in the day. She had dressed in her oldest clothes, climbed into the bath and soaked herself. She did not remember anything about getting there except the lacerating light. Her clothes began to dry immediately. In her scramble to crawl out, her cheek had brushed the rough surface and she’d cried out and jerked away. When her mother saw the blister, Sorrel had confessed that she had been outside and Bibi had confined her to her room with just alganola and water, no PlAK. She still had that scar.
The sky was lightening in the east and the air seemed to contract, like the singeing of her skin against the red-hot rock so many years ago. Sorrel felt short of breath. A sheen of sweat spread over her exposed skin. She wanted to shed her clothes. Once the sun was in the sky, human sweat would dry between one breath and the next. Skin would crack like the salt flats near the Burning Rock Plain. People without efficient sweat glands never lived past childhood.
Where was her mother? Bibi was never late. Maybe she had gone to the seawall for provisions: dried and salted jellyfish, alga-oil for the bars that were their main source of food; maybe some of the mussels which now clung to every surface in the sea and smelled faintly of paint.
Sorrell hoped for a sea-egg. They carpeted the seafloor but were too deep for a casual wader and were harvested by licensed divers. There was a black market, of course, and her mother knew all the sellers. She wished for a fresh one, still smelling of the sea. They would crack it and fry it, add salt, and eat it at the kitchen table.
The sound of skateboards had stopped. The footsteps she could hear sounded too rapid. People out there were running. No one ran anymore; it wasted energy. She thought again of the Tribal girl running, being caught and dying on the Burning Rock Plain. Sorrel walked to the gate and looked down the road.
People were travelling through the gloom in groups: men and women carrying children. A few old people. Some hauled small carts; others were laden with overstuffed backpacks. She heard the clip clop of a mule or horse – equines were the only domestic animal that had not become feral or died out in the starvation years after the Convergence. Those people out there had very little time before the sun came up and they would face Dawn Danger.
Once, Bibi had told her that there had been dawn bunkers in case you were trapped outside at sunrise, but they had been built in the wrong places and the rising sea had claimed them.
“Sorrel!” It was her mother’s voice. She strained to separate Bibi from the groups of hurrying people. “Why’re you outside?”
“I came to look for you. You’re late. What’s happening? Why’s everyone on the move?” She could see her mother’s face now, drawn with worry, glistening with sweat. The half-moon circles under her eyes were deeper and fear flashed in her eyes.
“Inside,” Bibi said.