By Margaret King
Ms Chen breathed in the fresh, oxygen-rich air. She remembered being 30 years old and visiting Shanghai parks on the weekends, wearing flowing skirts and tennis shoes, carrying a parasol to shade her from the searing sun, and lounging with lovers under shady trees such as these.
“Blue!!” The students whirled under the sky, jumping up and down and pointing with excitement.
“Ms Chen, I see it!!”
“There it is!! It’s blue, it’s real!”
Ms Chen beamed at them. Like Earth’s more ancient people, the inhabitants of NewBrand had forgotten the color blue and had no words in the new language to describe it. This was always Ms Chen’s favorite part of this annual field trip: when their eyes opened to a new color they had only heard about in her class.
“Listen, please,” she switched to the NewBrand tongue, as the students struggled beyond basic Earth sentences. “There are things all around you that you don’t even know are there until you see them, and name them.”
The students paused for a moment and then ran ahead, throwing their arms out, their fingertips tentatively brushing leafy branches. The thrill of it traveled through them, and they shrieked with delight. Ms Chen picked her way behind her class with the help of a cane. At 346 years old, she was getting too old for these trips to EarthPark. The only reason she still received her daily rejuvenation medicine from the NewBrand authorities was because she was the premier Earth as a Second Language teacher on the planet, and she refused to retire. She was one of the last remaining humans on NewBrand who had been born on Earth. She knew what would die with her, and she was ready to let most of her curriculum go–the square dancing, the old video files of elephants roaming savannah, the unit on holidays–but she was not ready for NewBrand’s students to lose this annual trip to EarthPark.
As a linguist on Earth, Ms Chen had known several languages–but of these, only one was designated for teaching NewBrand’s youth as ESL, and only certain words were permitted translation. That had been the agreement. They would take her with them, and she would help them design NewBrand’s common language. In turn, she would agree to erase certain words and concepts from human articulation.
The students stopped at a designated clearing ahead and sat in a circle on the soft grass.
“The grass is green,” Ms Chen recited.
“The grass is green,” they responded in unison, running their fingers through the blades.
“This flower is white.”
“This flower is white,” they chanted.
“This apple is sweet.”
They passed the freshly-picked apple around and she tried not to stare at each face as it lit up with wonder.
The final event of their day in EarthPark was peeling off their NewBrand suits and jumping into the turtle pond. Screams rose into the air as the cold water covered their skin, which was rarely exposed to any planet’s air. They splashed each other while Ms Chen picked up one of the turtles her former student, Sunil, had stocked the pond with just for her class.
The students fell silent and came one by one to touch the turtle, some with fear and others with a reverence she had never seen on NewBrand.
They made their way back to the entrance, Sunil waited with the school ship and its pilot.
“Let’s all thank Mr Sunil for this once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she said. “It’s only through his generous donations that EarthPark exists and we can take this field trip.”
And through his political clout, Ms Chen thought. One of these years, she would stay. The government would slow her rejuvenation medicine down to a trickle, but she had been rationing it to spend her last days back on Earth, in EarthPark.
“Ms Chen, are you coming?” Sunil’s question was innocent to the students, but it was their code.
She nodded resolutely and took his hand, letting him help her into the school ship.
Ms Chen assigned her usual exercise on the way back to NewBrand, “What Does Earth Mean to Me?” The students struggled to write a clumsy sentence or two in their broken Earth language. “Heaven” was not a word that had made the approved translation list. It was a word that might promote too much longing.
She picked up the first response:
Earth means the sky is blue.
Margaret King is a Wisconsin author who enjoys penning poetry and flash fiction. Her recent work has appeared in Moonchild Magazine, Nightingale & Sparrow, VampCat Magazine, MookyChick, and Great Lakes Review. She is also the author of the poetry collection, Isthmus.