Above the Water

By Kiara Ash


Grandmother often tells me stories about where we come from. The sweeping coastlines, rugged cliffs, and passionate waterfalls. She gets this sad, wistful look on her face, a look of longing for another life.

I ask her, ‘Grandmother, why go there?’ and she always gives me the same answer: ‘It doesn’t exist anymore.’ Then she becomes all tight-lipped and won’t budge.

I like my life here in this place we call Australia. When the sea had swam upon the land, and the sun brought flames to the earth, many countries perished. Entire cities fell underwater or turned into ashes floating in the sky. But this one did not. It burned, and burned, and burned, and many vegetation became lost. The land became shrunken by the sea. But this land held stronger than the rest. It refused to not exist. And so, it became a beacon of hope for those of us left in the world. Those of us who needed a home.

People stumbled upon this land from all different directions. They came here swamped on boats smelling of rotting flesh and sour body odour. The heat was gruelling, and there wasn’t enough water to go around. Skin burned and lips peeled. Many died, and so many bodies were hauled overboard to create room for the breathing. Each boat held different tongues, but the cries of relief and joy were universal. For they believed they had found safety. Or at least Grandma tells me.


The locals say it is because they are smart. That’s why Australia survived the burning and the flooding. They say it is because they installed solar panels on the roofs of houses, and traded cars for bikes, and meats for vegetables. But there is a whispering, a distress amongst some of the people here.

I ask grandmother, ‘Why are some people ungrateful for the lives we have here?’

And grandmother replies with a huff, ‘Why should we be grateful?’

They say that beneath the locals’ facade is the truth, that they themselves must surely know. That they did not do enough, that they doomed us all. That they never took the threat seriously because it never threatened them personally.

I wish I could visit my grandmother’s home. I wish I could dive off cliffs into cool, fresh water. You aren’t allowed to swim in many places in Australia. They have bans on beaches that are deemed too polluted. So the ones that are clean are crowded with people – those who are often reminiscing past lives. The elders do not like the water and prefer to sit on the sand. They tell me the water used to be cool to the touch, and that it would refresh and rejuvenate you. Not anymore. Now it is always hot.


The sun hits the earth and burns our skin, and there is mandatory melanoma testing every year. Last month they came to our school. They taught us all about why we need use our sunscreen, wear our hats, and wear the long clothing we use to protect ourselves from the sun. Even though our sweat makes our sleeves stick to our skin, we listen.

My friend Amanda didn’t. She’s one of the land’s . Her family tried to reject the environmental crisis, she told me. I asked her once why her parents gave me weird looks every time we played together, and she told me they didn’t want my people here.

Amanda’s parents also didn’t listen to the government outlines for mandatory sun protection. When we had our checks last month, they found melanoma on her face. She now has a scar that runs across her left cheek. People give her looks in the streets and mutter about her parents under their breaths. Amanda wears sunscreen now.


Grandmother took me to the museum once. I was excited, hoping I would see images of the land where we once came from. In the museum, there is a room dedicated to each of the old nations, or as they had called it, the forgotten lands. I found the title funny because it clearly isn’t forgotten. Often, people come in here and cry, sobbing sounds that hit you to your core.

‘Grandmother,’ I asked when we were there, ‘can you tell me a story about home?’

Her voice was comforting when she told me about her simple upbringing with her family of two brothers and their wives. She and Grandfather lived together with them in a small house close to the sea. They planted their own fruits and vegetables, and often laughed together over a pot of herbal tea.

‘Grandmother, where are grandfather and your brothers now?’

She looked away from . Her eyes search for something that doesn’t exist.


Sometimes I come to the museum after school, mother is still at work and I am meant to be at home doing my homework. I look out the window at the dull and dusty terrain, with its dried trees and scattered leaves that crunch underfoot, and feel disappointed in my reality. So I imagine wonderful things, such as running through the trees and smelling the ground beneath my feet as I find a clearing, where a thrashing waterfall sprays water upon my nose. But I don’t tell anyone these fantasies, for fear of being chastised for living in a fantasy world.

But my dream will not be a fantasy for much longer. Not long ago, the adults were talking about some new science, where we can perhaps restore the planet. I read a paper about it in school. It’s called geo-engineering. In what used to be called Antarctica, they have installed solar powered wind turbines on big poles, which connect to the land that is still below. It’s like big scale air-conditioning for the ocean! They’ve also put glass beads into the water, which apparently reflects the heat of the sun. Combined, this is meant to freeze the water again.

A lot of people were dubious, and it was meant to be very costly – or so my teacher told me – so people thought it wouldn’t go ahead. But they were wrong! Once people found out about it, so many donations flooded in! I asked Mother if I could donate my pocket money, but she told me I should keep it for now, and that she would try and donate some of her money for me. I really want to be able to take Grandmother home.

I’ve been practising balancing things on my head ever since I heard the news. I saw in a video of the old world that people used to carry water from one place to another, balancing buckets on their heads. I don’t know whether we will still do this, but I want to be ready nonetheless.

Grandmother laughs at me, tells me that I am just being silly and that we will not be doing that. She steals the objects off my head and swats my bottom. But I can tell she is excited. The corner of her eyes starts wrinkling when she smiles, and somehow it helps brighten the expression on her face.

I ask her if I will need to learn the ancient languages, and she tells me that it won’t be necessary. Everyone has lived in Australia for so long now that she doubts people will even remember the old ways. Besides, just because they spoke it before I was born, it doesn’t mean it’s ancient. Apparently. But I think this time she is the one being silly, because I know she mutters things in a foreign tongue to herself when she thinks I’m not paying attention.

Recently, I found out some good news – the wind turbines have been working. The water of the Arctic Ocean is freezing, and the land is beginning to resurface. Better yet, mother has signed both of us up to go as part of preliminary trial groups. We are going to try to rebuild civilisation there. But there is also bad news – grandmother cannot come with us. Apparently, she is too old and will not be of use. I tell mother that that is rubbish! If she’s too old, then I’m too young. So I’ve made myself a promise. A promise to come back and take Grandmother home with me one day.

Amanda tells me she doesn’t want me to go, but I tell her I need to. This isn’t where I belong. Plus, there is no way I can live out my promise to Grandmother by staying here. She understands, but she tells me she will miss me. I tell her she needs to come visit, otherwise the distance between us will be unbearable.

Mother tells me this isn’t going to be easy, and that I am going to need to be as big as I can when we get there. I tell her that’s impossible. She is short and so surely, I will be too. She rolls her eyes at me and tells me that’s not what she means. She wants me to be mature. Adult-like. She doesn’t seem to realise that my “big” comes from my imagination.

I wonder what I am going to find when I get there. In my head, the civilisation that was left behind will have gone underground, in a man-made cave beneath the water. They will have tubes coming up through the earth and the water to outside, so they still have oxygen to breathe. It will be just like a big house underneath the land, or a mansion!

We will voyage through the land until we stumble across their opening, and when I climb down the ladder into their home, the people will cry in glee because they are saved! They will no longer be living off spam and canned vegetable! And in the cave will be Grandfather and my Grandmothers’ two brothers, ready to greet us. Ready to finally meet me. Then together as a family, we will begin to rebuild.

I know this is probably not going to be the case, but I can’t help but hope it is. So, I’m packing the watch my Grandmother gave me – the one she told me used to be my Grandfather’s -because I intend to give it back to him.

Every night now I go to sleep and dream of this new home. And every minute I’m awake, I count down to when we leave. While Mother is busy planning with the other adults, I draw the landscape I’m venturing to, and design what my new bedroom will look like in the underwater cave. I am so excited for the future, and I can’t wait to make it a reality.



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