Gopika Gopakumar won the Higher Education Category of the 2020 Melbourne Writers Festival's storytelling competition 'Bold New World'.

The Guardians

By Gopika Gopakumar

It was sunny. The three stilettos walking past whizzing drones on one side and calm lush greens on the other, were slowing down. ‘Amamma? (Grandmother) tell us that story again, about the guardians who saved the world when Covet……..’. ‘COVID-19’ grandmother corrected the younger one. ‘Yes..that one!’ the children chimed in together. Grandmother’s eyes gleamed as she vocally got ready for the story.

‘The story begins with a young girl who had a simple dream of studying in Melbourne. She had worked long and hard towards this that she finally made it to Melbourne. The young girl spent hours walking down the city streets and exploring nooks and corners. She dreamed of swimming in the great barrier reef.

She made so many friends and was planning on her happily ever after. But, like in every other story, tragedy strikes upon her almost perfect life.

COVID-19, a monster of sorts, loomed over the whole world. It made people very sick. Everyone in the city had to hide from it, they closed up their doors and hoped the monster would go away. But the monster grew bigger and stronger. The hauntingly empty streets now had a few souls clad in masks.

The young girls’ friends and family were far away, and she was worried about them. She was all alone. She missed the tram rides and the strangers smiling at her. She kept wondering if she would ever make it to the great barrier reef in her lifetime.

The old fairy tales always had a brave prince who would fight the monster and save the day. But in the new fairy tales, princesses do not wait around for a prince; instead she herself would defeat the monster. The young girl was trained in Krav-mage, but this monster was no simple monster.

Fortunately, she meets the Guardians. They were not superheroes with the ability to fly or shoot laser beams. They were the people of the city. Doctors, Teachers, Farmers and everyone. They had all come together to fight. The young girl was eager to help. She decided to make the city stronger to win against the monster. The young girl started planning.

She redesigned her beautiful city into smaller hubs so that people did not have to travel far. She proposed having all facilities for people within the hubs/pockets. She designed spaces for people to play, spend time, shop and eat. She wanted her city to use a lot of bicycles. She designed more bicycle tracks and set up dedicated no-car zones.

She thought of all the worry, anxiety, loneliness and mental health issues people were experiencing. She decided to ask the city to provide calming sessions, meditations and exercise classes free of cost to make everyone healthy and strong.

But the smartest thing she thought of, was using technology. She envisioned her city transform into a smart one. Fast, efficient and organised. Without putting other people at risk and by connecting to each other through a touch of a button. She proposed drones, kiosks, robots and self-driving everything.

She also imagined having small and thick forests, coexisting with the skyscrapers, sprinkled all over the city. The young girl was smart and knew that this would be easy to achieve. Empty buildings could be converted into inhouse gardens. She knew this would also protect the great barrier reef. She wanted her city to have huge gardens. She wanted these in full bloom like a bouquet of beautiful flowers to welcome everyone back.

She put all these plans together. It was a well-rounded one, considering everything she could think of. But she kept doubting herself. I am not fighting the monster myself. Am I fit enough to be a Guardian?

She called her mother. Her mother looked at the young girl through her screen, thousands of miles away from her, and beamed. ‘You are doing your part’, she told the young girl. You are spreading hope and acting on it. You are like a butterfly.

When all the guardians flutter their wings together, the monster will not be able to withstand that. And with that, the young girl joined forces with the other guardians, to put the plans into actions.

The guardians saved the world.’

‘And so, Melbourne became smart and green. I love this story’ The older boy tugged at his grandmother’s coat. She nodded.

The little boy, exhausted from the walk shrugged his shoulders, suggesting they take a break. They decided to sit near the water. The children started chatting away.
Their grandmother stood up to take in the full view of her favourite spot in Melbourne, the Docks. She looked at the vaguely familiar vista. Memories came flooding back. Her first home in Melbourne. The young girl, not so young anymore, smiled.

‘Vires acquirit eundo’ (She gathers strength as she goes) she glimpsed at one of the boats docked beside her. Her city made it. She made it too. She also bragged about swimming near the great barrier reef for a really long time.