by Joël Foramitti
The world had stopped changing, and yet it continued to move. It kept floating and spinning, circling the sun, cooling and heating as seasons passed by. Life flourished upon it, and people did, too. They created, destroyed, loved, and forgot — caught up in desire and lost in their fears. Though an endless repetition had taken hold of this world. There was, in a sense, no uncertainty left, nothing to dance with beneath the long rain. Except in the minds of those truly alive.
Amid the far-reaching fields and their colorful plants, there was a mighty machine. From its back hung a plough, heavy and wide, digging through the soil without hurry. Inside it, comfortably seated, there was an old farmer, dressed in long sheets of linen, and lost in her thoughts. As they were running along, the tractor added a quiet hum into the evening’s soft noises and filled its surroundings with an ambient light.
The farmer’s name was Nara. She had always been the one to take care of these fields. Her friends had fled from the droughts, her family had died from the rains, and her thoughts had dulled from the silence of their absence. But her work had remained. The fields were all that was left, and her life was tied to them like a tree to the ground. And over the decades, again and again, life had flourished through her hands in new colors and forms.
Nara was about to turn in for the day. She had ploughed the whole sector, which was now standing out like a brown patch on a colorful tapestry. Slowly, the tractor came to a stop. She got off and stroked its blue hull, praising it for being such a sturdy companion. Tomorrow she’d sow. A joyful pride filled her body when she looked over the fields, and so she kneeled down and touched the soil with her cheeks to thank it.
The farmer then left her machine and started to roam through the fields without aim. It was a beautiful night. The sky was painted in heavy strokes of ruby and blue with a few thin white lines stretched across the horizon. A slight breeze was blowing through Nara’s hair and the plants bent back and forth in a gentle rhythm. After some time, her thoughts started to fade into a comfortable trance until she was just listening to the sound of her feet.
Beyond the fields, one could see the distant towers glimmering in the falling darkness. To Nara, they were a reminder that the world was finally in good hands. She appreciated that such matters were far away and out of her reach. But when she was walking through the fields on that night, she made out something unusual that woke an old rusty feeling of excitement from deep within her heart. There was a person in the fields, first barely visible from afar, then increasingly clearer, running towards her and waving their hands.
It took a few minutes until the stranger came into Nara’s reach. It was a woman, dressed in a long cyan dress with two sturdy boots sticking out beneath. Much smaller than the old farmer, with a fair and spotless face and hair so short that it was barely visible. For a second, the woman looked at Nara with curious eyes before she dropped to the ground in exhaustion. Her body rose and fell with heavy breaths and it took a few minutes for her to come back to her feet. Then, in a tone that was careful but clearly excited, she started to speak:
“Are you from around here?”
Nara nodded slowly and muttered her name. She had not talked to anyone in a very long time, so her voice was brittle and rough.
“I take care of these fields.”
The strange woman looked around and praised the farmer on the beauty of her garden.
“My name is Yhi”, she added after a few seconds, “and I take care of people.”
This created some immediate sympathy in Nara, and they shook hands. After that, she asked the strange woman what had brought her all the way to her fields.
“I am searching for something”, she explained, “Something that is both old and new, that never breaks. Something always remains. Do you know what I mean?”
Instinctively, Nara looked back to her tractor, still visible as a slight blue glimmer on the horizon behind them. Following the farmers gaze, Yhi expressed in excitement:
“Of course! And you never had any trouble with it?”
“Not really, it’s been serving me well.”
The mysterious woman asked if she could see it up close. As there was no objection, they began to walk back to the plough. On the way, she started to ask about the old farmer’s life. About her town, her family, her past, her dreams, and so on. But Nara had little to say. So the stranger surrendered at some point and started to talk about herself instead. Nara learned that she was an artist. When she asked her how that takes care of people, Yhi started to laugh.
“Maybe it is more about taking care of myself. And what I want is just for others to discover the same. Think about it, when was the last time you saw someone dancing?”
Nara shook her head, and the woman explained to her that there were many such things that people had forgotten. But there were exceptions to every rule. And she would find it and spread it like a disease in order to return some uncertainty to the world. Nara stopped for a second at this remark, wondering what that woman had in plan for her tractor. But before she could say anything, Yhi had already figured out what was on her mind.
“Bah, this could be the most interesting thing to ever happen to you! Think about it!”
Her voice was raised, and Nara got the feeling that she was rather talking about her own life. After that, they continued to walk in silence for the rest of the way until they finally arrived at the freshly ploughed field, softly illuminated by the ambient light of the tractor. With Nara’s skeptical look fixed upon her, Yhi started to walk around the machine in amazement. How curious it was for the farmer not to know what would happen next. And how anxious it made her at the same time. It reminded her of the past.
Somewhere at the front of the machine, Yhi stopped her inspection and lifted a hood. Nara came closer and saw hundreds of pipes that went around and connected to each other without any clear system behind it. In the middle sat a white little box, as big as a fist, so seamless and perfectly formed that the old farmer was not sure whether she was seeing an actual object. There was an obvious connection between that box and the mysterious woman. They were like two pieces of a different world, lost out here in the wilderness.
After some careful investigation, Yhi removed the box from its slot and the humming noise of the tractor died down. They then sat down and opened the box. Nara held her breath and could hear the air fill the empty space within the object. There was nothing inside it, it was as empty as something can be. Just as seamless and perfect on the inside as it was on the outside.
Yhi looked devastated. All the strength and fire inside her had suddenly disappeared.
“I thought there would be something”, she muttered with tears in her eyes.
The old farmer wanted to console her new friend but still had little to say. So she offered her a hand. Yhi got up to her feet and they looked at each other for a while. Then, slowly, they started to turn in circles. Step by Step. One breath at a time. They continued for a long time, never going faster or slower, drawing circles into the freshly ploughed soil as the ambient light of the tractor slowly faded away and left them alone in the void of darkness.
When they came to a stop, Nara realized that the faraway towers, as well, had lost their light. Everything had become dark and silent. But something unavoidable was on its way. At first it was only a soft noise in the distance. As time passed, it became louder and uncomfortable. And then, suddenly, a glaring light was aimed on them from the sky.
Yhi began to tremble.
“We have to put it back”, she said faintly with almost no air in her voice.
The box was where they had left it on the ground, reflecting the light like a diamond. In rapid movements, Yhi jumped towards it, closed it again, and put it back into the tractor. Then she started to run. Her cyan clothes fluttered wildly, and the dirt started to swirl up from the ground as the helicopter started to follow behind her.
Nara, in the meantime, was completely paralyzed. She had grown too old for this and didn’t know what to do or how to react. Suddenly, a loud noise ripped through the air and she saw her new friend stumble and fall to the ground. But Yhi raised her body again and slowly turned towards Nara with a bitter smile on her face. Looking genuinely relieved but also clearly in pain, she shouted towards the farmer:
“Wasn’t that quite an irregular day?”
The old farmer stood there and looked as Yhi dropped back to the ground. And then, just as fast as the trouble had come, it went away again. The helicopter landed right next to Yhi’s body and a group of tall men appeared. They moved the body inside and, without sparing a second, the helicopter rose up again and disappeared into the darkness.
After a long time, the ambient lights and familiar humming of the tractor returned and reminded Nara of the present. When she started to move again, there were little feelings left in her heart, and no trace to remind her of what had happened. She told herself that the story would have ended this way with or without her. That this stranger had died because that was what she had set out to do in the first place. That death had been the only real change this person had possessed the freedom to bring about.
And so, there was nothing left to do for the old farmer but to keep doing her work as she had always done. In the days to follow, she started to plant new seeds on the field. And over time, the usual serenity slowly returned to her old mind. Only every once in a while, when the gleaming towers in the distance caught her eyes, she thought that she saw a shadow moving through the fields. But it would fade away every time, never to reach her again.
Thank you to Marlene Wagner and Aaron Vansintjan for helping out with this story.
Joël Foramitti is a researcher and activist from Barcelona and Vienna.