“I’m really sorry for upsetting you,” said the stranger. “I didn’t come here to monologue at you, I’m only telling you stuff because you’re asking me questions and I don’t want to be rude. I approached you to ask you questions.”
“Oh,” said Lisa, her irritation subsiding. “Okay. What questions?”
“I want to know what it’s like. For you, personally. What’s it like living on this planet? What’s it like being born and growing up here? What’s it like walking around on this dirt day after day and interacting with all the people and plants and animals here? What’s it like being human, and living among humans your whole life?”
“Those… aren’t very scientific questions,” said Lisa.
“I’m not a scientist,” said the stranger.
“Oh. Sorry For assuming.”
“Right. Well, hmm. Let me think.”
The stranger leaned in intently. She realized that its enormous eyes, which she’s initially taken for black, were actually a very deep, dark purple beneath a transparent outer lens.
“Umm… well… I guess I don’t know any different so it’s hard to say…”
“Try. Just let the words come together. You can’t get it wrong.”
“Well I guess you’ll never know if I don’t get it right, will you?” Lisa murmured thoughtfully, and then burst out laughing.
“What?” The stranger seemed taken aback by the sound.
“Ha well, I was just trying to think about how to describe here and getting all worried about getting it wrong, and then it struck me that that’s probably the most human experience of all.”
“Getting it wrong?”
“Umm, no, more like being worried about getting it wrong. I live my whole life trying not to get it wrong, worrying if I got it wrong in the past, hoping I won’t get it wrong in the future. It’s a very human thing to do. It’s like our favorite hobby, even though we all hate it.”
“You worry that you got it wrong in the past? Weird.”
“Huh?” said Lisa sobering up a little.
“Well you obviously didn’t get it wrong in the past, cuz you’re still here. So you can’t have gotten it that wrong.”
“Yeah, I guess so. Well, anyway, it doesn’t seem to matter, we all know it’s stupid but we do it anyway. We worry about getting it wrong. I’d feel scared not to!”
“Because what if something went wrong!?”
“So it’s like… like a superstition practice? Like something you do in your mind to ward off bad luck?”
Lisa was about to protest but the words wouldn’t come. She gaped for a moment before breaking into a giggle.
“You’re cute. That’s cute. That’s cute and probably true!” she said. The stranger did a little bow. She laughed again.
“What else? What’s your favorite thing about living on earth?” it said, leaning in so close that Lisa could see herself reflected in its eyes.
“Well, uhhh, gosh. So much stuff. Like the animals are really cool!”
“You guys have such a weird relationship with animals. The house pet thing is a trip.”
“The house pet thing?”
“Like, you have them. I don’t generally see that in other civilizations. You build these anti-nature fortresses called houses to keep the animals out, and then you go Uh-oh, there aren’t any animals in here! And you bring some in to live with you.”
“Ha! Yeah, we do that with plants too.”
“So you like the animals here? Which are your favorite?”
“Humans.” She said with feeling after a pause.
“Humans. Really. Tell me more about that.”
“Well…” she looked sideways to the sky. “They’re, I mean, we’re really fragile. Anyone could crunch down on my finger easier than a carrot at any moment. But for some reason they don’t, for some reason we’re all super tender with each other’s fragile bits whether they’re body parts or mind parts. We carry each other’s wounds. Well, for the most part anyway. We try not to hurt them because we know what it is to hurt and we don’t want to do that to someone else. That’s really beautiful, don’t you think?”
The stranger nodded in agreement.
“And when we’re young, we really should still be in the womb. Like we haven’t developed like other animals have at birth, so we’re basically fetuses in baby blankets and everyone tiptoes around us and carries us real careful because our little skulls are still soft and you can see our hearts beating through our fontanelles. And at the end of our lives too, we can lose everything, even our personalities, and our loved ones will still wheel us around and be careful with our soft bits and even when our minds are gone and our body is just a home where we used to live, they are careful with us because this body is where someone they love dearly once resided. I mean, really, we’re so fucking sweet.
“We hug when we’re happy, we hug when we’re sad, and we jump up and down and shake our asses when music plays. I mean, we make music. How cool is that? We played around with wood and strings and bone and rock until we made contraptions that made buzzes that sounded good in our earflaps. We play all the time! We love to play with all sorts of things. We make toys that sound good and look good and feel good and make us fly through the air for hours at a time. No other animal does shit like that.
“We’re really fun. We find smells we like and make them into oils that we put on our bodies so we smell like a piece of candy. We put paint on our faces and flowers in our hair to go and stand in a field and listen to humans play with the contraptions that make pleasant buzzes in our earflaps. Sometimes the noises remind us of when someone hurt our tender bits, and we hold hands with the person next to us and let water fall out of our eyeballs until the hurt goes away again. I mean, if you saw an animal in the wild like that, you would think it was the cutest fucking thing ever.”
“And we love helping. Sometimes late at night when I can’t sleep I watch videos of accidents or disasters just to watch people spring into action. Sometimes the nicest thing you can do for someone is let them help you. People really love to be useful. It’s nourishing in a way that I can’t really put words to. It’s just nice to be needed, you know? And you know what, sometimes I wonder… ” Lisa stopped for a second and looked at the stranger.
“Go on..?” it said.
“Well I just wonder sometimes if… well if… if the challenges… if what you say is coming is coming… ”
“Yes?” The stranger prompted.
“Well I wonder if it would be the best thing to have it all turn to shit,” she tumbled out nervously, biting her lip. “Like, not kill us, but have all the systems collapse. Doomsday. Armageddon. End of days shit, you know what I mean?”
“How do you think that would go down?” it asked.
“Well, like… I don’t buy all the dystopia stories that we read and watch. I just don’t buy it. If there was a massive catastrophe today and everyone had to live by their wits, we wouldn’t dissolve into a Mad Max hellscape where it was every man for himself. That just wouldn’t happen. In an emergency situation, people aren’t like that. Emergencies bring out the best in people. They help each other as much as they can. They can’t do enough to help. I’ve seen it over and over. After a tsunami or a hurricane or whatever, people won’t sleep until they know everyone is safe and accounted for. They will travel miles to help someone. And I think we all know that deep inside us. I think maybe that’s why… ”
She paused and sent a blank piece of paper drifting into the river current.
“That’s why what?”
“Well sometimes I wonder if we’re trying to force it. Everyone’s sick of the money game, it’s made us crazy and turned everything bad, and maybe subconsciously we want to get back to a time where plain old goodwill is the currency again. Like, a time when you share whatever you have and be grateful for whatever comes your way and enjoy building a new world together. A reset.”
She looked over to the stranger and smiled sadly. “Sometimes I wonder if deep down, that’s all we really want.”
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