"Look, Baa, it's a human!" She pointed an excited finger at a glass enclosure partitioned into several chambers that showcased a different race of human exhibit in each one. Her tiny finger pointed at the woolly, old thing in the third chamber.
Baa peeled her eyes off the exquisite Kalamkari piece she was looking at and trained her eyes at the source of Shepiro's two-year-old delight. "Oh yes, fascinating, isn't it?" She crouched down to Shepiro's eye level, cuddling her daughter as she settled back on her haunches.She smiled wistfully as she remembered the last time she had seen one of these creatures walking about, un-caged, like they were used to being.
"What is this one called, Baa?"
"Why don't you hop over to the exhibit label and read about it yourself?"
Shepiro made a face. "I'm not tall enough to reach up there and read it. Please, Baa, please, read it for me."
Baa smirked. She knew bringing Shepiro here had been a good idea. Shepiro had been excitedly running from one exhibit to another, eagerly drinking in all the sights her two-year-old eyes could take in. Baa had no doubt Shepiro would be going back home with a head full of ideas about drawings of the museum exhibits. And why not? Museums were a great place to learn and there was so much to learn from the past - things about the evolution of life, about animals, insects, birds and humans, their own realms... and the war that changed everything.
Baa stood up and reached up to the label to read it. She had to simplify the content for Shepiro to understand it better, so she said -
The Native Indian. Said to have inhabited the Indian subcontinent, the birth place of the religions Hinduism and Buddhism. The biggest human nation on the subcontinent was India, but the region had a diversity of people, cultures, languages, religions, flora and fauna. The region was also home to The Indus Civilization, which was was one of the oldest civilization's in the world, dating back to 7000 BCE.
All that remains of this man and his birthplace now are the Himalayas. The rest of the subcontinent was swallowed up by the Indian ocean after the Armageddon wars.
"But this human's remains are from 1952." Baa humphed and looked down at Shepiro who was trying to read out from the label.
"1952? That means he died before the Armageddon wars, right Baa?"
"That's right, he did. But there are other, more interesting exhibits in the museum too, sweetie." Baa pointed at an exhibit of a Sabertooth and a Tasmanian Devil, depicted in their natural surroundings as they must have been back when those two magnificent predators had been alive.
Shepiro, however, was fascinated with this one. "Humans, Baa, why don't they look like this anymore?"
Baa wasn't sure how she could explain why to her two-year-old. Should she tell her about the Armageddon wars that nearly wiped out all of life from the Earth? Or should she just tell her what Shepiro's school textbooks did - that humans had made the gravest mistake ever - trying to play God - by altering the process of birth and death, experimenting with mutations and had become victims of their own experiments while also endangering all of life on this planet?
While she mulled over the right answer, a small lion cub padded towards them. "Hi, Shepiro," he said. It was Shepiro's classmate and next door neighbour.
"Hi, Kipper!" Shepiro quickly glanced at Kipper and then turned back to the Human Exhibit that seemed more worthy of her attention.
"Mrs Woolwirth, a pleasure to see you here." That came from Kipper's mother, who padded in after Kipper.
"Mrs Rohr, long time." The two women butted heads together, gently, as per the custom of greeting acquaintances in the New World.
"I didn't know you were coming here. I could have given you a lift," said Mrs Rohr.
"Same here. I should have called you about it, seeing how these kids are studying Modern Human History together at school. Oh well, next time we'll know better." She smiled.
"Yes." Mrs Rohr mirrored Baa's smile and then the two started talking about their lives in general, while the kids went from one exhibit to another.
meanwhile, Kipper offered Shepiro his snack and added, "Shepiro, would you like some fried fingers?"
Kipper had just uttered the words when Mrs Rohr rushed in to stop him. "No Kipper, the Woolwirths don't eat fried fingers. They are vegetarians." Though he was confused and did not understand what the term meant, he still mouthed a Sorry to Shepiro.
Baa beamed at Kipper reassuringly. "Its okay, Kipper, it was only a small mistake."
That put him at ease instantly and his childish error was forgotten as he babbled, "I only offered them because I love to eat them. I thought Shepiro would like them too. Too bad you guys don't eat them. There's nothing like fried human fingers. The tiny bones are so crispy, crunchy..."
"Alright Kipper, that's enough." Mrs Rohr interjected. The two women were smiling at each other. Kids!
After a while they went out onto the Museum Lawns and were headed to the Amphitheater where a show had been organised for children. "C'mon kids, run and take your seats. The show is about to start," Mrs Rohr prompted the children and they scampered off to find seats in the front row, while the ladies ambled along the narrow aisles, still discussing work and families. For a moment they thought they had lost the children in the crowd but then Shepiro's high-pitched Baa-aa-aaa drew their eyes to where the sound came from. Shepiro and Kipper had managed to secure seats in the second row from the front and the ladies headed there to join the children.
The Amphitheater was abuzz with murmurs and the squeals of children for another ten minutes or so till the sound of drums rolling indicated that the show was about to start. Everyone began to settle down in their seats in anticipation. Soon an Orangutan marched in dressed like a clown. He held out the microphone and said, "Good afternoon everyone! Hope you've enjoyed the Tour, especially the new wing of The Human Museum - the Modern Human History Wing. Did you check out all the new Human Exhibits we've displayed there?"
A few unenthusiastic claps came from the crowd. He waited for the claps to subside and then resumed his talk, "I hear some noes? Then make sure you head back after this show coz you don't want to miss this. Some of these exhibits date back to the 1900's. These are one of the most recent surviving artifacts from the Human world, untouched by the Armageddon Wars. What's more, we have a piece of that forgotten history playing for you this very afternoon! Now..." He jumped up on a raised platform in the middle of the amphitheater, crouched on his haunches and brought his voice down a notch to create suspense, "We've all seen things like science shows, human films and bric-a-brac. But have you ever seen a live human dance?" His sharp, beady eyes danced from one end to the other.
At once, the crowd erupted in thunderous claps and loud exclamations of excitement. The children were the loudest. Shepiro was whistling openly much to Baa's disdain, but since everyone around them was cheering on, Shepiro didn't care about whether Baa was pleased with her 'sheep-less' behaviour, as she would have put it. She knew she would anyway have an earful later in the day, so why care now?
The Orangutan let the crowd roar. A little longer would build anticipation, excitement, his practiced eyes knew. He stoked the crowd some more, "I can't hear you, people! Who wants to see A. Live. Human. Dance?!" And he somersaulted from the platform.
The crowd went wild! There were children standing on their seats, hooting loudly. There were growls and thumps of solid paws from the four-legged beasts in attendance and members of the bird family were hopping on their twiggy toes in utter delight. It seemed that they were not in a city anymore but transported to a thriving jungle.
In the New World, Humans were all but extinct. The only ones who survived the war and the mutation, the real humans, were the property of the Government of the New World. They were exclusively bred by the Government for scientific research - the modern-day guinea pigs, as they were unofficially called. The ones who were touched by the war had mutated so far beyond imagination so as not to befit the term 'human' anymore.
Those hapless mutants were now bred in captivity solely for food and labour and were now called Galhosa - a corruption of the scientific term for new humans - Genetically Altered Homo Sapien or G.A.H.S. A live 'human' dance was not a rarity, it was a novelty, which was why the crowd was going berserk over the prospect of watching it.
The Orangutan held out a hand and gushed over the microphone, "Please put your hands together for Nabu and the Hairless Apes!"
A giant cage was wheeled in by two mammoth gorillas who were presumably the trainers. Beyond them, behind the bars of the cage crouched four humans - two males and two females. The trainers lowered the trapdoor on the cage to release the humans. The noise had died down because every neck was craning beyond its capacity to take a clear look at the humans - real humans, unscathed by the stain of the war and the mutation.
The trainers unhooked whips attached to their sides and brandished them before the humans, who scared as they were, needed no more encouragement than the mere sight of those worn out whips. As soon as the clownish music started, they started to tap dance. The crowd was cheering them on with loud hoof beats and hoots, but Baa noticed how those humans weren't smiling while they danced. They looked like puppets, responding to their trainers' calls but not comprehending what it was that they were doing. They had fear in their eyes, fear in their demeanor, fear in those sudden jerky movements they made, whenever the whip or any of the trainers came within an inch of them. Clearly, they had been beaten and abused into submission. Baa actually began to feel sorry for them.
The crowd roared in appreciation when the humans began their acrobatics. Their graceful somersaults and pirouettes impressed even the hardest of human-haters. But Baa had lost interest in the show. Had it not been for Shepiro's keen interest in the dance, she would have left by now. But since she had to endure another half an hour of the show, she sat on her seat, deep in thought, remembering how it was before humans became like this.
She returned to the present only when a high-pitched scream rent the air. She looked around her but most of the crowd was standing atop the seats, so she couldn't see what was happening on the stage, where the screams were coming from. She could make out though that one of the human females was shrieking in pain. Then she heard it - the hiss of a whip followed by a sickening crack as it whipped across the skin.
Frantically she asked Mrs Rohr, "What? Why is she being beaten?"
An amused Mrs Rohr replied, "What, you missed it? Oh, it was an interesting turn of events. This female stopped doing her routine and began to run amok on the stage. They tried to rope her in with her leash, but she had gone wild. She nearly attacked one in the crowd. They had to beat her down.
Apparently, they're trying to sedate her now."
"And what about the others?"
"The other three humans."
"Oh!" Mrs Rohr waved a hand dismissively, "I think they'll be shipped off to the labs now, all four of them. They had been immediately locked up following that mad female's misconduct. Clearly, they hadn't passed the Indoctrination tests or such a thing wouldn't have happened. My! How standards have fallen these days." Mrs Rohr began to get the children to leave and added, "Come let's go Baa. The show's over I think."
Baa was struck by Mrs Rohr's callousness. Their callousness; how they were treating these wretched creatures, indoctrinating them to believe that they weren't intelligent creatures of yore but lab rats who served only to serve them. It was repulsive!
Mrs Rohr must have guessed what Baa was going through because she chided her, "Oh come now, Baa. Are you feeling sorry for them?" Then muttered under her breath, "I don't believe this!"
"What I don't believe is how we can just dismiss this cruelty, write it off as the usual. This is abhorrent. Nobody deserves this kind of treatment..."
Mrs Rohr roared, baring her canines at Baa. Her composure finally crumbled away under the weight of her revulsion for humans and human-lovers, "Yes, nobody deserves it. We didn't either, or have you forgotten how for century after century they treated us?"
Mrs Rohr's sharp retort silenced Baa. It was true humans had ruled and enslaved the entire planet once. They had all heard horror tales from their ancestors about mass killings, poaching, hunting for sport and even horrors of domestication. Baa didn't want to deny it, but this seemed like more than just tit-for-tat.
Mrs Rohr looked her neighbour up and down in disgust. "You are a sheep. Have you forgotten the years before the wars when your kind was forcefully domesticated for the hair on your back, the milk that should have been fed to your kids, or the meat of your children? Have you forgotten those atrocities on us when we were treated like their property - domesticated, fed, paraded around, impregnated at will, and killed for their sole pleasure or nourishment? My kind was poached for our hides and our bones for centuries till our numbers had dwindled to mere hundreds. Sometimes we were killed only because they were scared of us. You think I would have any sympathy for them?!" She pointed a disgruntled paw in the direction of the stage.
"That was then. What are we becoming now? We aren't doing anything different by treating them this way," Baa beseeched.
Crinkles appeared on Mrs Rohr's leonine face. She nearly roared into Baa's face, "I hate you human-lovers!" She spat out. "You think your human-love is justified? No! You may call this atrocious; I call this justice. We're giving them back what they gave us for years. This is survival, Baa. The world belonged to them once, now it belongs to us. For heaven's sake, choose which side you're on!" She hissed, gave one long reproachful look to Baa and then swung around, swishing her tail angrily as she and her cub left the Amphitheater.
Baa stood rooted to the spot. The Amphitheater had been cleared of beasts and birds now.She walked up to the stage slowly, Shepiro following her with her quizzical eyes. Baa crouched near the splotches of dark red blood pooling in the pits of the light teak floorboards of the stage. She dipped her hoof in one of the pools, held her hoof up and watched the blood make terrifying runnels down onto the contrasting white of her wool.
Our blood on their hands, their blood on our hands. But blood runs red no matter what you are. Why the differences then?
She had no answer for it that day and she suspected there would be no answer to it till life existed on this planet. They were all born only to survive in this game of life. The how never mattered.