The air Outside was thick. Suffocating. May’s eyes clamped shut in the blinding brightness. The heat! May had known the direct sunlight was going to hurt, but not like this. This was like standing inside an oven.

May had spent weeks reading up on the kind of conditions to expect outside the Fishbowl,  the plexiglass dome that encased 95% of Singapore. The streets Outside were a kind of unnerving quiet that May had never experienced. In the Fishbowl, there was a constant hum of air conditioning, machinery and vehicles. But out here, there was nothing.

How could anyone live out here? May winced as she felt something drip down the middle of her back. Sweat. It felt unnerving. She thought about her girlfriend, Gloria, who had been adamant that she turn down the assignment when she got the email from her editor. If anything happens to you, Gloria had said, I won’t be able to live with myself. May had snapped that it was rich coming from someone who barely acknowledged her in the streets, who had once said she didn’t see a future for them.

As May’s vision blurred, she wished she hadn’t said this. It wasn’t Gloria’s fault. They both knew the penalties if their relationship was found out.

May gasped for air, felt her knees buckle—

May’s eyes fluttered open. A middle-aged woman with a shaved head stood above her.  Above the woman was a cracked concrete ceiling, roots dangling from it. May didn’t feel hot or sticky any more. She could breathe. 

The woman held a cold towel over May’s face. May recoiled and sat up. 

“Where—who are you?!” 

“I’m Ting. I won’t hurt you. You collapsed from the heat, so I brought you home. Have some water.”

May drank ravenously from the glass Ting handed to her.

“You…live here?” 

“Yes. This actually used to be my primary school. Telok Ayer Girls.”

The first thing she noticed was a tall, thin tree that seemed to be growing straight out of the floor, toward a small hole in the ceiling. The room was covered in dead leaves; there were weeds and saplings bursting through the floor. The paint-chipped walls were green with moss and algae. A fern crept along a whiteboard covered in indecipherable writing and wrapped itself around a rusty ceiling fan.

It reminded May of the green architecture she had seen as a child—the sides of skyscrapers covered in curated plants. They had been phased out years ago when it was decided that plants used too much of the Fishbowl’s precious water. It felt strange to be surrounded by so much greenery. Something about the smell of it reminded her of her last year of primary school.

“You…planted all this?”

“They planted themselves. There’s so much rain and sunlight, they just appear—”  

There was a knock on the door. A tanned woman with long silver hair came in, carrying a baby.

“Feeling better?” she asked. 

“Much better,” May said.

“I’m Gwen. You’re lucky Ting found you. My wife takes good care of people.” She kissed Ting on the cheek and handed her the baby, who wouldn’t stop staring at May.

“Your—and you have a—”

“When you live in a wasteland, anything is possible,” Gwen said, smiling at May’s confusion. “The baby isn’t ours though. There’s ten of us living here. We take turns caring for her.”

“Wow,” May stammered.  

May watched the two women taking turns holding the baby, marvelling at their carefree affection for one another, even in the presence of a stranger. May and Gloria were constantly looking over their shoulders in the Fishbowl, unless they were completely alone. Marriage was an impossibility for them in there. And a baby? May bit her lip and looked up at the ceiling, blinking back tears. Why was she crying? Was it jealousy? Sadness? Hope?

‘Outside’ is part of a series of micro-fiction pieces around the theme Speculative Futures in the Climate Crisis. Enjoyed this story and want to read more? Let us know!

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