One morning, in this short fiction, the world didn’t end.
By Moataz Hassanen
Translated by Emad El-Din Aysha
Tonight it’s the end of the world. Everyone found out from the media. Strangely, for the first time, humanity didn’t panic. Chaos didn’t spread in the streets as people engaged in futile attempts to avoid the end. It was crystal clear to everyone, it seems, that there was no escaping fate. The end was approaching; all that remained were a few solitary hours to spend with those you love. Before they cut the TV transmission—the presenters had to head home themselves—they broadcast that a group of world’s leaders committed collective suicide at an international summit.
Khalid, however, was distressed. He wanted to shout at everyone, “You’re fools to believe such a preposterous lie.” He could see death and surrender plastered across their gloomy faces.
But he didn’t bother to scream, realizing the simple fact that, by doing so, he would be wasting his energy on a bunch of idiots. He got back home at 9 p.m. and went about his usual routine, prepared his usual dinner of fries and ful beans and a strong cup of tea. He then picked up his dinner and carried it to the lounge, where he sat in front of the TV set and put on one of his favorite movies. Two hours later, he returned to his bedroom, set his alarm for 6 a.m., and fell into a deep sleep.
The rattling of the alarm roused Khalid from his slumber, the morning after the end of the world. It took several heaves before he finally got up, and—as he’d done every single day over the past few years—went straight off to the bathroom to pee and place his head beneath the cold-water tap. He brushed his yellowed teeth, which stubbornly refused to turn white because of his incessant smoking. After that, he was off to the kitchen to make a cup of bitter coffee that would slap all remaining trace of drowsiness from his face. No sooner had he finished his morning cup than he put on his clothes, preparing himself for another go-round, a new workday. At first, everything appeared normal to Khalid, a day like any other. But something was missing from the daily equation. The atmosphere was quieter than it should be. No cars honking, no noises emanating from his neighbors. Even so, he quickly dismissed the notion, telling himself, “The fools still think it’s the end of the world.”
When he walked out onto the street, the scene staring Khalid in the face could not be described as natural in any way. The streets in the Ghamra neighborhood were completely empty. Not a creature stirred. There was nothing ahead of him but emptiness. Empty buildings, empty cars.
Even so, he followed his usual path to the underground Metro station as if nothing was amiss. He’d made up his mind that everything that had happened thus far was a giant practical joke, jointly perpetrated by the world’s governments. He was still alive, wasn’t he? Everyone else must still be alive, too; they were just hiding away inside their homes, cowards that they were. They were too terrified to face up to the false truth that had been broadcast to the world. “The world’s coming to an end, what a load of horseshit,” he muttered to himself.
He thought that, within the hour, everyone would figure it out. They would step out of their homes and once again resume their boring lives.
A quarter of an hour went by as he snaked his way toward the Metro station, not chancing on a single living soul. Neither man nor beast nor bird. Undaunted, he continued on his way as if nothing had happened. He went down the escalator into the station and found there wasn’t anyone at the ticket office. He left a pound note in front of the window, and then he jumped over the turnstile.
Reaching the subway platform, he found there was no one there, either. He was all alone in the caverns of the station. He waited patiently for the train to arrive, stealing glances at his watch from time to time. When the clock hit 7:15 a.m. without the train showing up, he realized that there was only one way he could get to work on time. He’d have to leg it.
Back up the escalator to the ticket office, he retrieved his money and headed out of the station.
He didn’t see anything human in the area. And he didn’t see that the end of the world had in fact come. So he started walking towards Ramses Square with one thing on his mind: “Can’t afford to be late for work!”
Completed by the grace of God on February 15, 2017, 4:09 p.m.
Moataz Hassanen is author of the fantasy novel صانع الأحلام (Maker of Dreams), a fantasy novel set in a futuristic, monarchy-run England. He is also author of 2063, a dystopian novella set in a near-future Egypt where reading books is punishable by law.
Emad El-Din Aysha is an academic, journalist, and translator, and an author, one of the authors who contributed to Palestine + 100.