Around 120 world leaders and Heads of States, as well as about 25,000 delegates, are meeting at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow from November 1 to 12, 2021. COP26 is humanity’s “last, best chance” to secure global net zero emissions by 2050 and keep the average global temperature from rising 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels. Failure to achieve this threshold will make extensive regions of our planet uninhabitable. Some areas are already facing famine, loss of coastlands to the sea, and other climate change disasters. Many of these areas are small-island nations where their cries for help have yet to be heard. Listen to what Barbados Prime Minister Mottley had to say at the Climate Summit.
In her latest book of speculative fiction, Daylight Come (Peepal Tree Press, UK, 2020), Jamaican author and environmental activist Diana McCaulay envisages a future when daylight kills. In 2017, after reading about the impact of extreme heat on construction workers, farmers, and people without shelter in India, McCaulay began thinking what it would mean for a tropical country like Jamaica if it became too dangerous to be outside during the day.
“Suppose it got so hot that we all had to work at night and sleep in the day?” McCaulay asks in her Author’s Note (p.195). “And suppose there was a girl, a teenager, who simply couldn’t sleep during the day?”
Daylight Come begins in 2084 on the fictitious island country of Bajacu. Sorrel, the restless heroine, is fourteen years old. She lives in the dying city of Bana with her forty-five-year-old mother Bibi. Situated in the coastal Immersion Zone where the Domins rule with brutal force, the city faces daily threats from the encroaching sea.
Bibi works at the Tech Center, fixing remnants of the old-time computers. With her job comes a P1AK, their most valuable possession, with access to websites, chat rooms, and satellite feeds. She is paid in skynuts, a good source of protein, from the only tree on the lowlands to have survived the extreme heat.
Certain of death from direct exposure to outdoor daylight temperatures, people must sleep during the day and work or got to school at night. To absorb some of the heat indoors, they plant turf and succulents on the rooftops. The scarce water supply is rationed and delivered to homes by water trucks and stored in cisterns. As required by law to conserve on water usage, Sorrel and her mother must shave their heads.
Sorrel struggles to sleep during the day. Her mother believes it was because she was born at sunrise. “A daylight come baby,” Bibi had told her. To make matters worse, she lost her father when she was nine years old. The Domins arrested and imprisoned him for cutting down a nut-bearing skynut tree. She has no hope of ever seeing him again. Then, three years later, a new disease took her grandmother’s life. She and her mother only have each other for comfort.
Bana is a dead city to Sorrel. She yearns to leave; to live with other young people. In the chat rooms online, she has heard rumors of groups of young people, known as Tribals, who live in cooler areas on higher ground in the interior. Her mother thinks the Tribals are just a teenage myth to hold onto hope for a better life.
Sorrel’s opportunity to leave Bana comes when they are forced to evacuate due to an impending hurricane storm surge. She tells her mother of her plan to find a secure cave in the mountains. Her mother does not share her optimism. Bibi fears that without her job, they would have no food or water. But Sorrel has made up her mind: She would go without her mother.
Bibi considers her options. At forty-five years old, she is fast approaching the end of her usefulness. In a world of scarcity, older people who could not work became burdens to the young. She knows, too, that her daughter does not stand a chance of escaping Bana without help. The Domins are always on the hunt for fertile young women as wives. She has also seen classified reports about raids on young female Lowlanders to use as slaves by rich settlers, called Toplanders, living in the mountains of Bajacu. “To die with Sorrel would be better than to die alone.”
Using Bibi’s access to the SATMAP, they plan their escape route. They pack the P1AK and as much water and food as they could carry. Bibi reminds Sorrel to take their sharpest knives for gathering food. They leave Bana at 1900 hours and join the handful of people still in search of shelters outside the Immersion Zone. Failure to find shelter by dusk meant sure death in the scorching heat. Packs of feral animals on the hunt for food presented yet another threat.
McCaulay does not give an exact year for what she calls The Convergence, stating only that it occurred mid-century. Bibi was eleven years old during the avalanche of disasters that swept away their way of life. First came the power cuts, then the crash of the electric grid. After three years of darkness, solar panels brought electricity to homes and businesses. New diseases, resistant to antibiotics, spread. Water supply systems collapsed. Relentless hurricanes pummeled the region, until airborne dust from expanding global deserts shut down the hurricanes.
In Bajacu, the people celebrated the end of the hurricanes only to be reminded of the life-giving water they brought to the island. Rivers dried up under six years of drought and searing heat. Wildfires consumed the trees on the hillsides. Then, the rain returned with vengeance. A rain like nobody had ever seen—a month’s worth in one hour. They called it the “rain bomb.” Cities and towns drowned. The forest fell when the earth collapsed. The soil washed off into the ocean, turning it gray. The trade winds died. White people and rich people fled north.
Then came The Renaming. They changed the names of everything to flower names as if this could save them. Bibi’s mother had chosen the name of her baby. “She mustn’t be soft, like a daisy or a rose. Call her Sorrel, something red and spiky.”
The Fury soon followed. Someone had to be blamed for what had happened to the world. Who better than the people over forty? They had ignored the signs of the coming crisis. Bibi’s mother, then over forty, survived several beatings.
During their threat-filled odyssey across a harsh environment, Sorrel and her mother will both be tested. The headstrong, teenage Sorrel will learn the nature of maternal love and self-sacrifice. She will learn, too, that protecting herself and her mother will demand difficult moral choices. Bibi, for her part, must risk everything to ensure her daughter’s future.
In 2050, my sons will be in their sixties. My adorable two-year-old neighbor will be twenty-eight years old. His parents will be in their mid-fifties. Will COP26 turn out to be yet another show of empty promises? Will McCaulay’s vision, brought to life in Daylight Come, be their fate?
Diana McCaulay is a Jamaican writer and environmental activist. She has written two novels, Dog-Heart (March 2010) and Huracan (July 2012), published by Peepal Tree Press. Both novels met with critical acclaim and have broken local publishing records.
Dog-Heart won a Gold Medal in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s National Creative Writing Awards (2008), was shortlisted for the Guyana Prize (2011), the IMPAC Dublin Award (2012), and the Saroyan Prize for International Writing (2012). Huracan was also shortlisted for the Saroyan Prize 2014.
She is the founder and Board Chair of the Jamaican Environment Trust. She is also the recipient of the 2005 Euan P. McFarlane Award for Outstanding Environmental Leadership, a Bronze Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica, and National Honors, the Order of Distinction (Officer Class), for her environmental work. She lives in Kingston, Jamaica.
Learn more at her official website http://www.dianamccaulay.com/