The Tragedy of the Commons


The Black Tern is a wise creature, even if Uki’s uncle didn’t think so. Average taste and of little other consequence he would say. Uki disagreed. He would spend endless thoughtful hours at the shore watching flocks of the bird swirl above the abyss of blue that surrounded all he knew. How could it not be wise? Anything that had knowledge of what lay beyond the horizon must carry wisdom with it on the wind; messages from the Gods.

The statues constructed by Uki’s ancestors did not care for wisdom it would seem. Their broad volcanic backs were turned against the expanse of the ocean while their grim faces cared only for the barren island on which Uki’s tribe toiled and argued. They shunned the possibilities of that expanse, like ignoring time itself. They were concerned only for those who worshipped them and those who might hurt them.

However much Uki could not understand these stone guardians, he was devoted to them all the same. As inevitable as the black rocks and the whispers from the grassland beneath the mountain that demanded reverence from all, their presence was infinite from his perspective; a thing of nature.

Just like the others, he would join in the dancing when fires were lit at their feet, and would wonder whether his ancestors did the same. Just like the others, he would hope for favourable harvests born of the land they cared for so meticulously. And just like the others, he would experience pride in his tribe and any success that they experienced.

On one such evening, Uki gathered with others not far from the tight rows of farmland, planted in the dry dirt and shielded from the elements by great stone plinths that were larger than anything else in view. While the elders talked over the fire, Uki looked up to see vast swathes of speckled light smeared across the darkening sky; the eyes of his ancestors perhaps. His grandfather always said they were the birds that used to live on the island, flown off after they grew tired of this diminished world. If so, they were still flying and Uki wondered when they would reach their destination.

The hollow chops of his mother’s obsidian knife going through sweet potato and tarot onto the wooden board across her lap sedated him as low voices ebbed and flowed around the light of the crackling flames. The dancing was done for the night and their chieftain was reflecting on the hard winter ahead.

‘Tomorrow, Maku, you will go to the groves and take a tree.’

Uki noticed the look of disapproval on his cousin Tua’s face. The chief noticed also.

Tua, your face is as the sky on a rainy day. Do you wish to challenge me?’

Uki’s uncle bristled and laid a hand on his son’s shoulder. ‘Tua, quiet.’

Uki was much younger than his cousin but if anyone was wise, it was Tua.

My chief,’ said Tua, brushing his father’s hand away, ‘we can burn herbs and grasses to keep warm. There is no need of the wood you speak of.’

‘We keep warm by staying alive Tua. We keep warm by knowing our numbers swell and by knowing we have power over our territory. We keep warm by maintaining our dignity in the face of the others. That is how we keep warm.

He dismissed Tua with a wave of the hand. ‘Besides, we need more shelter in which to house our children and shelter them from the rains. These children then will help us farm the land and defend it. They will honour our Gods and one day, we will make more Moai, just as our ancestors did. Do not speak unless you know what you speak of. That is for me as your chief.’

‘But we struggle as it is. If there are more of us…’

‘If we do not do this, we will be overrun but the others. Our way of life will be over. Even now, the Majuriki eye our lands and our sugarcane. They deface our idols more and more even though once they were our friends. What would you have me do? You would seek to disadvantage us?’ He sniffed. ‘This would only hasten our demise. You are enlightened in some ways Tua but you have much to learn. Until that time, you will learn to respect this tribe with me at its head.’

Though Tua remained silent, he did not look placated, even with some of the disapproving glances from around the fire.

The next morning, Uki approached Tua as he inspected the crops. Uki asked about what Tua had meant the night before. Tua seemed pleased that someone would listen.

We revere our ancestors Uki, but I sometimes wonder whether they deserve our devotion. Their legacies are the idols that we so triumphantly protect. But I have come to realise that these idols do nothing but judge us.

Mother says they protect us,’ offered Uki, confused.

From what? Our past? Ourselves. What protected our mighty ancestors Uki? Where are the wonders they tell of in the stories? Where are the vessels they took to sea and the vast creatures they brought back? Where are the forests filled with happiness and plenty?

‘In the stories?’ replied Uki. Tua had lost him and the older boy realised it.

Tua looked up to the barren slopes of the mountain and the bitter whip of the salt air squeezed his eyes tight. ‘The chief is right. Without these things, we will be at the mercy of the Majuriki. The problem is that no one sees the real problem at the heart of it all.’

‘What’s that?’ asked Uki quietly, not expecting to understand the answer.

‘No one is happy with what they already have. That is the problem Uki. Maybe one day you’ll understand. I’m not sure that will change anything though.’

Uki was desperate to help his cousin, who seemed sad. All he could think was that the black terns might hold the answer – after all, they were as wise as Tua was, no matter what his uncle might think. Uki looked out over the beach to find them and it was then that he saw it. Upon the line of cerulean blue that marked the boundary of his existence was something new. Balancing like the brightest white feathers were three fluttering beacons, all in a line and hazy in the morning sun.


Years later, when recalling the events of that time, Uki would tell his own children stories of his cousin Tua. ‘He taught me a lot but I think my greatest lesson is something I realised for myself,’ Uki would say. They would sit at his feet, staring with wide but unknowing eyes as he spoke. Our wisdom is not determined by those few most gifted in that respect but it is instead limited to that of the lowest ebb of our society where human nature triumphs above all.’ Still the children stared. ‘I’m not sure that will change anything though,’ he whispered.


The Motor Car

Since my wife, Betsy, died a few years back I felt, as I imagine many do in similar situations, as if a large hole was yawning beneath me, ready to swallow me up at any moment. It hit me hard, I don’t mind admitting. The Company had been a great help, and had even arranged for her to have some special treatment, but even they couldn’t do anything in the end. When I heard that she had died I was near inconsolable. My son were a great help mind, and slowly I got back to the day-to-day stuff although the gap in my life was hard to ignore.

It was a few months after she had passed that I came upon the motor car. Some old fellow from up the lane had had it there for years supposedly and had never been able to get anything out of it. I’ve always been someone who likes a challenge. I’m up with the sun and the chickens in the morning, raring to go and if I don’t have anything to work towards, if I’ m honest, I feel a bit lost. Work happened to be slow around that time. Only now do I realise that it was all the folk around me going easy on me. Which I must say I am now rightly grateful for.

So it was that I had some time free. I knew that, if I weren’t careful, it would set me to dwelling on my lovely Betsy more than I should. The motorcar was sat there, all decrepit and finished. Everyone had given up on it.

It’s dead Tom” they’d say. “It’s just a load of metal that would be put to better use elsewhere. It won’t have run for centuries.” That got me thinking about all the stories that had no doubt gone with it. I wondered on the people who had driven it the last time it had worked – what their lives must have been like and what they would think if I were to give up on it like everyone else.

So I decided I would try and get it working again. I remember the first morning I dragged it down outside my house using two of the biggest horses in the village. I took a closer look at it and all of a sudden realised I had my work cut out. Rust most of it, on top and underneath. The tyres were gone obviously but when I looked into the engine, there was still a bit of oil in it. I couldn’t believe my luck. Not much mind, but it was there. The battery was a different matter – all clogged up and useless. So I had to set about getting around all of this. I spent a bit of time reading a book on engines and I was down at the market whenever any new stuff came in from the convoys. I would select anything I thought might help. Even times when I could do nothing more than scrape the rust off the old engine felt like therapy of a kind.

Over the months, people began to take notice of what I was doing. They would gather around and sometimes poke a bit of fun at me for trying it. All in good nature of course. I loved spending that time with my boy as well. I started at a good time, just as winter was turning into spring, so by the time I had assembled what I thought was a working engine, made myself a make-shift battery and put on some new tyres, make-shift as they were, I thought I was on to a winner. The first time I plucked up the courage to go, I did it in secret. Maybe subconsciously I knew it wouldn’t work. And I was right. A little puff of smoke was all I got. But that was enough to tell me that I was on the right lines.

A few weeks later, after making a few alterations, I tried again. This time, I had a bit of a crowd who’d cottoned on to the fact that I was a bit more hopeful this time. The sky was blue and it was right hot. The first time I put those wires together to turn on the ignition and start the engine, nothing happened. But the second time, it burst into action. The cheers went up and the way my son’s face lit up when the engine jumped to life for the first time in a long time made me hold back a tear or two. I took it straight out onto the field and gave it a right good outing. Everyone would run around behind us and chase us down. I let some of them have a go even.

It only lasted a few days of course. I always knew it wouldn’t run for long. But for that fleeting moment, I felt alive again. I had brought it back from the dead. I’ll never forget those days. Not for the rest of my life. The way the air smelt, the way the seeds in the grass jumped out of the way of the wheels as they churned on by. And when it did finally come to a stop for the last time, I didn’t feel sad. Just proud. Proud that for a short time, because I had not given in, I had reached my goal. I can still see it out of my window now, in the field where it stopped, up the hill a ways. It’s a nice reminder of that spring and summer. And I sometimes like to think that, somewhere, Betsy’s face lit up just the same as my boy’s did when she’d seen what I’d done.

Pedro Nelson


22nd May:

Everyone kept saying I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it, I DON’T BELIEVE IT! Funny thing is I actually do believe it. It still feels a bit like a dream though. A really bad dream. That’s a bit clichéd I know but I suppose it’s a cliché for a reason. People say it a lot and there’s no smoke without fire.

How to describe it… It’s as if everything has slowed down and the air has sort of condensed around me. It feels heavy. Claustrophobic. It makes me panic sometimes. Heavy breathing and all of that, which never happened to me before. I’ve always been pretty level headed, I think. It just happened now.

I’ve decided to write this … I don’t know why. I suppose no one will really read it once it’s all over. The thing is, I’ve always meant to write a journal. It’s one of those things I’ve had on my list to do. Like so many other things.

I’ve tried before. Sometimes I’ve only managed to keep it up for a few days when I’ve got a nice new notebook. The novelty wears off pretty quickly once life gets in the way. There’s been a couple of times I’ve had it going for a few months but no more than that.

I’m not sure how different it will be now, knowing that no one will read this one. Would anyone have read any of the others? Is that even why one writes a journal? With the idea that someone is going to leaf through it one day maybe with a cup of tea. I suppose it’s a bit like talking to an imaginary friend. No, I think it’s more to get your thoughts in order. That’s what they say. Once it’s down on paper, sometimes things make more sense.

No one will read this that’s for sure. I’m not sure there’s not much sense to be made of this either. It is what it is. In a few days we’ll all be dead. Pulverised. Atomised maybe. Oh God, I just had another panic attack. I’m not religious by the way, but I wish I was. Only God could save us now.

23rd May:

27th May. That’s when they reckon it’ll hit. That means I have 5 days to live. I can’t believe it. I’ve been glued to the TV all morning. What else am I supposed to do? I live alone. All my friends have gone to their families. I wonder where Mum is? I hope she’s with someone at least. I’m presuming work aren’t open. Maybe they are? Maybe I’ll get fired? Whatever, I can’t face going in at the moment.

My cornflakes tasted rubbish this morning so I had some toast instead. While I was making it, I couldn’t stop thinking about death. I suppose the biggest mystery for us all – how we’re going to die – has been answered. Maybe it’s comforting in a way. Maybe it’s the fear of not knowing rather than death itself. Still makes me feel a bit empty though. Is this it? It seems as if there was so much more to come. Felt as if I was heading towards something. When all the time something was heading towards us.

24th May:

Got up early and went for a run this morning. First time I’ve done that for ages. Possibly years. It was great at first but then I passed the high street and everyone was fighting. People were smashing windows and pissing in the street. Horrible. They’re like animals. I can’t believe how different some people are. Some people are more like animals. Frightened and stupid. I’m frightened by them just as much as what’s coming.

Been listening to music all day with the TV on in the background. The news is starting to just repeat stuff. Did a bit of drawing too. Got me thinking about the other day when I was thinking about the way my life was going. The way I had always thought it was heading towards something. It occurred to me how passive I’ve been. ‘Heading towards’ implies me doing some work. I shouldn’t kid myself… I’ve been waiting for something. Stupid. It’s not as if I’m a bad person. I always try to do the right thing. It stresses me out too much to lie. I don’t throw rubbish on the floor. I recycle. I’m always polite to people. I genuinely care if someone’s hurt or sad. I don’t mind in a way that no one sees those things. It’s not that I do them to get attention. I do them because there’s a reason behind it. If everyone acted the same way, it would be great. But so many people don’t. And those who do make sure other people see them do it. Only they don’t do those things because it’s right like I do. They do it to get attention. And they get it. It feels like sometimes there are people out there who have none of those qualities and are still successful. Meanwhile I seem to go nowhere. They have lives. I don’t.

None of us do now.

25th May:

Had a few beers last night and my head hurts this morning. Pretty annoyed with myself. I should be making the most of this. It’s a lovely day outside. Got a message from Sam at work (my boss). I’m surprised my phone is even working but he sounded pretty angry. Said I couldn’t just not turn up. He’s a dick. He’s one of those people I was talking about last night. He’ll have been out looting like the rest of them I’m sure.

I went in to work today and saw Sam at the back. I walked straight up to him and punched him in the face. He looked like he’d been crying but I don’t care. He got what he deserved at last. I’ve wanted to do it before but I never would have until now. Didn’t floor him but he certainly looked surprised. I thought he’d come for me but he didn’t. He just stood there all wide eyed. That’s when I turned around and came back home. Feeling bad about it now actually. What had he been crying about I wonder? Maybe I should message him.

Phones are down now. So is the TV.

Can’t sleep. Why should I? I need to absorb everything I can before it’s too late. How many nights have I slept here oblivious to everything around me? So much happening and so much to miss out on. But I suppose we have to sleep. At least we used to. Not much point now as far as I can see.

I might make a sandwich in a minute. If there’s any bread. I hope there’s bread.

26th May:

Things are starting to unravel a bit. I could hear looting from my flat window last night. Didn’t get any sleep. The shop over the road looks a bit quiet now. Door’s open. I don’t have bread. I might just get some. Otherwise I’ll starve. Maybe that would be better?

I took some bread from the shop. There wasn’t much left but there were a few other things that I took. Some melting ice-cream and a family pack of quavers. I’m eating them now. I was going to read a book, but what if I couldn’t finish it in time? So I put it back on the shelf and thought I’d write in here instead.

Thinking about where I’ll go when it happens. Might just stay here. I have some vodka in the cupboard so I might dose myself up on that. The pills from the shop were all gone so presumably everyone else has been thinking along other lines. God this is terrible. It’s so bleak. Squirrel outside on a branch. It has no idea. I wish I was that squirrel.

I stole a car today. It was open and no one was in it so I took it. I don’t even feel bad about it. It was beautiful outside. I drove into the countryside because the main roads were all chaos. Where do people think they can go? Fighting everywhere. People screaming. Most people drunk. I suppose there are more people at home behaving themselves but it’s the few out there that cause the problems – the ones we hear about.

Once I got out of the town, I drove too fast through the fields and hills. It was like something out of a film and I cried at one point. Stopped by a stream for a while and just stood there. Then I walked into it and waded around with my trousers pulled up. Old couple walked hand in hand and looked at me as if I were some sort of madman. Don’t even know what to make of it. I think they were frightened of me though.

The sun is down now. Writing in here is all I can do to stop pacing. The old lady in the flat down the road is crying. I wish she’d stop. I can hear her through the window but the breeze is so nice that I want to keep the window open. Maybe I want to hear for anything else that happens as well. I don’t think I’ll go to sleep. I’ve not drunk the vodka yet. Feels like that would be a bit final. Might go for a walk. See what’s out there. I’ll take my cricket bat in case anyone wants a fight. In a way it’s quite exciting. I can feel my adrenaline. It’s like anarchy. A release.

Back from the walk. Most amazing experience and nothing like what I expected. The looting has stopped. It’s so quiet out there. Went to the park and there were so many people but here’s the thing… no one was violent. There was no fighting. Everyone was mostly just walking in silence. Some would smile as I went by. I felt a bit stupid in the end carrying a cricket bat around so I dropped it in a bush. There’s no tension now. People were gathered in places looking up at the light in the sky. I think that’s it, coming towards us. I stood there for a while and just looked with everyone else. Like a bright star. Quite sad in a way. No one seemed scared which was weird. I think I am scared though. Not sure what to do now.

27th May:

Doors and windows locked and curtains drawn. There’s no electricity now so I’ve lit a few candles. Half the vodka has gone.

Nothing yet.

28th May:

Maybe they got the timing wrong. Either way, it’s been a pleasure.

Looked out the window. Lovely day but the lady over the road is dead on her front path. Big cloud of smoke in the centre of town. Silent.

29th May:

Tried the TV today. It’s working. Most channels not working but news keeps going on about Pedro Nelson. I’m drunk though so not sure why he’s so important right now.

30th May:

Pedro Nelson, Pedro Nelson, Pedro Nelson. Sounds like Mexican gangster. Or a football player. It’s him. He’s the one. The one that did all of this.

31st May:

Went for a walk again today. Found my cricket bat where I left it in the bush and I’m glad I had it because there were a group of men that looked as if they would have had me otherwise. Everything’s different. There are men and women lying dead in the street. One house was on fire nearby and no one was doing anything.

Went to the supermarket and managed to get some water and loads of canned food in a trolley. The staff are all gone but I had to bat a few people though. I’m not sure how badly I hurt them but I need the food. Got some beer as well.

It’s all because of him. Pedro Nelson.

1st June:

Some men saw me come into my flat. I’ve put the fridge over the front door so they can’t get in. It’s all his fault. Pedro Nelson. The news has gone onto repeat again but all it says is ‘Pedro Nelson, a disgruntled low level NASA employee, is thought to have orchestrated the whole thing. The asteroid was never real but the hoax became global and only time will tell the damage it has caused.’

Time will tell but I no longer know how I’m going to die.

Someone has sprayed his name on the wall down the road. As if he’s some kind of hero. How could that be? He’s some sad little individual who has ended up ruining everything. Maybe once I would reserve judgement until I’d had his side of the story. But we’ve had enough stories from him. He needs to die. Pedro Nelson. He deserves to die.