In my dream I turned off the main road onto the narrow footpath that leads to my street. The end of my street is walled off from the road by a line of fig trees. Their grey-skinned boles are massive—much bigger than I remember. Thick aerial roots brace wide-flung branches, curtaining off the rushing traffic with living wood.
My street was not there.
The asphalt of the dead end had been dug up. A mass of plants and trees grew in a riotous, scrappy, untended mess. I could see the remains of the sidewalks, though they were black instead of pale concrete. I made for the nearest one, picking my way through the jungle of weeds.
The bushes parted and a woman emerged from the tangle. Her black face, haloed by silver and black curls, wrinkled further in a smile. She was wearing a blue dress and sat in a copper, throne-like chair. The chair stepped delicately forward on its four articulated legs. Wide metal wings unfolded from its tall back, feather-like plates spreading and rotating to catch the sunlight. I realised the regal-looking woman could not walk.
She gestured to the pile of vegetables in her lap. “Just grabbing a few things for dinner,” she said.
She was entirely unsurprised to see me. “Can you grab a few of those mangoes?” she asked. “They’ll be good for dessert.”
I looked around. A young tree dangled yellow and orange fruit below thick dark leaves. The scene clicked into place.
This was a garden.
The whole end of the street had been turned into a communal food forest. Herbs and root vegetables hugged the ground under berry bushes. Vines climbed fruit trees. It wasn’t a mess. It was a perfectly ordered natural system.
I picked the mangoes and followed the woman to the black sidewalk. A few chickens strutted calmly out of her way. Bees buzzed, the scent of sun-warmed herbs wafted about me.
As the woman’s walking chair clicked down the path, dozens of shiny beetles flitted up out of the way, filling the air with sparkles.
“They’re our cleaning drones,” she said, noticing my gaze. “The kiddies make them in school and program them to keep the solar panels and water pipes clean. They have competitions over who can build the most efficient or prettiest ones.”
She watched them for a moment. “The little one with the moustache is my favourite.”
I looked closer at the bright blue one she indicated, hovering in the air. Sure enough, it appeared to have a huge bristly moustache, presumably as part of its cleaning function. It made me smile.
The balconies of the houses and apartments lining the street-garden overflowed with more plants and flowers. There were even more varied types, chosen for beauty and reasons other than food. Myriad pipes crisscrossed any available wall space, hugging corners and feeding into larger ones that disappeared underground. It took me a moment to realise that they were collecting every spare drop of water that fell on the buildings. Tall, graceful spiral and whorl structures lined all the roof peaks, rotating in the afternoon breeze.
The buildings were familiar but so different.
We reached the cross-street at the bottom of the slope. A bank had been built across the width of the street, holding back the water of a wide green pond. Big geese clustered on the edge. Beyond it, shaded by trees, a group of nine or ten people were sitting silently on the ground in a circle, as if in meditation.
A bunch of shrieking kids ran up, chasing the buzzing cleaning beetles with small nets, followed by an over-excited terrier.
“Hi Gramma!” screamed a couple of the kids, waving at the woman.
She waved back. “I just saw Mister Whiskers up near the sweet potatoes, if you’re looking for him,” she called back. “How about you all head up there so you don’t disturb the Intenders.”
The kids took off back the way we’d come.
The cross-street had been narrowed considerably to make room for more plantings on the extra-wide footpaths. The clearway was probably only wide enough for one car and was paved with yet more solar panels. Narrow driveways, lined with flowers, led into the old two- and three-story apartment blocks. Only a couple of garages held electric cars. The rest had been converted into various workshops—potteries, smithies, machine shops, CAD printeries. A wide variety of people, young and old, were at work.
The woman turned up the narrow path of an old brick building that overlooked the communal garden. I almost didn’t recognise that it was my building. She wasn’t a new neighbour, was she? Her solar wings tucked in neatly down the back of her chair as she passed under the interlacing branches of a wattle tree and a macadamia tree. A cat lounging on the low garden wall got a brief pat.
I spotted a possum nest in the branches of the wattle tree. Native beehives hung high up the wall of the apartment building. Thick golden spiderwebs, shining in the sun, stretched above our heads along the path.
Everywhere was a feeling of clean, joyful, peaceful life. It was beautiful. Tension I didn’t even know I carried unwound in my heart and belly.
The woman’s walking chair clanked up the stairs. Some kind of gyroscopic arrangement meant that she floated smoothly upwards while the copper limbs danced underneath. Cool ferns and delicate climbing vines draped the rails and landings.
The door to my apartment opened automatically as we approached and the woman went inside. I hurried after her, alarmed that she had access to my home. But the furniture inside was different. Same layout, but not mine. But some of my landscapes still hung on the walls.
The woman piled her vegetables into the kitchen sink and turned to me. I realised that I wasn’t carrying the mangoes anymore. They had vanished. My body was fading, too.
“Well, grandad, what can I do for you today?” she asked.
I stared at her, bewildered and frightened. Her bright green-brown eyes watched me.
I woke up.