radioactivelizard

fiction | nonfiction

Breakfasts

The house wife wakes up, pretties herself, then cooks breakfast for her husband.

It is a two-story house. The rooms are on the second-story. The smell of the food cooking wafts onto the rooms on the second floor.

The husband wakes up. He prepares himself for the day of hard work he is to face. He washes his face, brushes his teeth, dresses himself. His clothes were prepared for him the night before by the wife/cook/house cleaner. Elbows on the table, he reads the newspaper.

The children, two of them, are still asleep.

“Say honey,” the husband says.

“Yes dear,” the house wife says.

“I’ve been noticing something,” the husband says.

“What dear?,” she replies, turning her attention to him, a smile on her face. The husband looks at her. They stare at each other. Frozen smiles, healthy gums, pearly-white teeth. The birds are tweeting outside, it’s a sunny day. There is the constant humbuzzing from the wires between the electric poles. People are jogging and walking their dogs. There are puddles here and there on the sidewalk and street. It rained the night before, not that hard, just a drizzle, but it lasted the whole night and did not let up until a few hours until sunlight. Black smoke rises from the pan.

“Oh dear me,” she says and swiftly douses the burnt egg with water from the faucet. The husband grimaces, frowns, his face contort terrifically. Eyes bulging red, jaw clenched so hard he could feel his teeth sinking deeper into the jawbones, veins prominent on his neck. But then he relaxes, his face falls back into its neutral pleasant smiley state. Birds are chirping outside by the window.

The children wake up. First child is a girl. Second child is a boy. First child is two years older than the boy. Their parents have been taught that proper spacing of children is important in a growing family. Allow a gap of at least two years in between children. The ideal number of children is three or fewer. Depending on the growing family’s economic capacity, one could add more. But five children is the maximum allowed. Psycho-sociological research have shown that the optimum number of children to have in this modern-day and age is three. The parents could only devote quality attention to three children. Beyond that, and one or more of the children could exhibit undesirable social and psychological behavior for lack of love and attention.

“Juice,” the boy says to the housewife/mother.

“I want cake,” the girl says to the housewife/mother.

“Now, now sweetie, you know you can’t have cake for breakfast,” the father says to the female child.

The mother/wife places a glass of juice on the table in front of the boy/child. The boy looks up and smiles, in that totally adorable smile kids do where their eyes almost close, at the mother/wife/provider of juice.

The girl/child sees this and her face contorts. Her voice is low and grizzly, like it’s not her voice, it’s the voice of a large adult male person. “Mother, I want cake, I want cake, I want cake.” She shouts this instruction to the mother. The father looks on smiling adoringly. She bares her teeth so her mother could see how serious she is. She clenches her jaws and raises her lips some more to expose her gums. She holds her face like this for minutes while the boy/child drinks and finishes drinking the orange juice. “Yum, yum, yum,” the boy child says, licking his lips to emphasize the deliciousness of the sugary liquid he just imbibed. The girl child turns to face the father. The father smiles at her. The girl child turns to face the child/brother/boy. She wants him to see her face, her reddening bulging eyes, her gums, her teeth.

“Well, I guess have to go to work now.” The father/leader of the household stands up and kisses the wife, stoops to kiss the little male child, walks to where the girl child is sitting and stoops down and kisses her too. The girl child is still making the face.

The mother (wearing her apron), the male child, the female child (still making the face, clutching a glass of orange juice), all stand on the patio. They all wave goodbye at the father/provider of money. The father is smiling. He is waving at them as well.

Mental-Physical Space

The room was a machine that measured my condition: how much of me remained, how much of me was no longer there. I was both perpetrator and witness, both actor and audience in a theater of one. I could follow the progress of my own dismemberment. Piece by piece, I could watch myself disappear.

― Paul Auster, ‘Moon Palace’

I stare at the whorls and the swirls, the patterns on the wall of my room. My room is a cube, a white cube. I live here. I haven’t gone out of the house in a long time. I have severe social phobia. Though this phobia only manifests itself in this town where I grow up and still live. Walking among strangers in a vast city, I have no problem at all. It’s when I encounter these people whom I have a past with, that’s the time that I have a problem. It’s not shyness, I realize now. I am not a shy person. If I know how I ‘fit’ in the scheme of things, if I know what my role is in a situation, if I know my purpose, then I have no fear. This could be a sign of a deep-seated conservatism on my part. Not a political conservatism, but a psychological and philosophical one. Given the choice of participating in something that I am not comfortable with and just staying in my room and doing something that I like, I will choose the latter every time. Could this be a sign of what is called ‘perfectionism’? I doubt it.

There are empty hangers on a line in my room. The line is held up by these nails that I have hammered onto the wall. The line is made of nylon and they twine around the nails. My room is tiny, and exactly three steps from where I am sitting and typing these words are my dumb bells. There are four of them. Two large ones. Two little ones. I have recently taken up lifting weights once more. It helps me deal with the boredom. It helps me deal with the isolation.

I tell myself to keep things ‘light.’ By this I mean not to think too much of dark and depressing things. This is why I avoid the news as much as I can. It’s not so much that I am saddened by the misery happening in the world, it’s that this very misery is making me feel not so bad about my situation. That feeling of comparing my suffering to others’ sickens me. It’s what the Germans call Schadenfreude. It’s not so much taking pleasure in the misery of others as feeling a bit less miserable because of that suffering. At least that’s my interpretation of that specific condition. So I avoid the news because it brings out this ugly aspect of myself. By this ‘lightness’ which is my ideal I mean humor. Funny things. A light-heartedness. The Thai have a specific word for it and which translates into English as a ‘cool heart.’ I want a cool heart. I want a cool heart and a cool head. It is said that we desire what we lack. Do I lack these things?

I sometimes have these manic episodes where I just clean my room. I dust the furnitures, my books, my things, I sweep the floor, I then mop it, I arrange things. The arranging takes quite a long time. It’s like I want everything to fit into this schema that has suddenly appeared in my head. It’s a mental itch that does not easily go away until it falls into the reality of my room. Often when after hours of arranging, things still do not ‘fit,’ I just overload and stop. I drop whatever it is that I am holding, I leave things half-way done. I simply give up, sit down, like my mind has encountered an error and has to shut down for a while.

I like repairing things. The electric fan that I am using now I repaired myself. It’s a Frankenstein sort of thing, with parts from older damaged fans that I have cobbled together using wires and electrical tape. The electrical tape is red in color. The propeller does not automatically turn left and right because I pulled out those parts of the machine that makes the electric fan do that motion. The grills that cover the propeller gathers so much dust sometimes that I am very careful not to touch it for fear that the dust would be disturbed and fill my room.

I keep the center of my room empty. All my furnitures – the table, the plastic containers with my clothes, my table on top of which are placed my laptop, my scanner and other electronics – all are arranged around this empty center. Above this center, on the ceiling, is the fluorescent light. It’s a white cylinder of glass that has been in use for so long that it’s no longer very bright. It used to be that I could barely stare at it. Now I can look at it just fine. There are spots on the surface of the glass that are yellow in color. I wonder how it came to be there.

My books are arranged to my left. By ‘arranged’ I mean piled one on top of the other so that they look like mini sky-scrapers. I have read most of these books. I collected them through the years. These are the distillation of more than ten years of collecting and donating and lending, and sometimes stealing. I have books borrowed by friends that are still to be returned. One book is entitled ‘The Art of Loving’ by Erich Fromm. It was borrowed by a classmate of mine in a history class back in college. Another book is ‘Living Dolls, A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life’ by Gaby Wood. It was a lucky find of mine in a secondhand bookstore around 2008 back in college in the City. I remember the cover was very iconic. It was a photo of a hand of a marionette. The back has a square hole so that you can see the mechanism inside that makes it move. A few years later I would use that book as a source in a paper on the topic of cyberpunk.

I am now sitting on my bench which also functions as my bed. It is made of wood and it is cushioned. This bench/bed does not have a backrest so I placed it flush to the wall, so the wall acts as a backrest. It is early morning here, and cold, and the fan is blowing air straight into me shooing the mosquitoes and other insects away. I love the sound it makes, I believe it’s called ‘white noise.’ I wind down at around two in the morning, and fall asleep to the sound of the fan filling my room.

Bookbinding

Weird Dream 15 Nov 2014

My folks and I were travelling some place and we stopped by a sari-sari store to get something to drink. Just then I noticed this massive mountain-eclipsing wave. It reminded me of that traditional Japanese print called “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” (1829) by Hokusai. It loomed like a wall behind the mountain range. This mountain range was about a few kilometers from the side of the highway where we were standing sipping our drinks. 1280px-The_Great_Wave_off_Kanagawa

People looked up from whatever it was they were doing and started to panic. They scampered off, parents dragged their children, lovers hugged then ran, people just ran like hell. Dad remarked that maybe it was time to get inside our car. The wave was just standing there, it was caught in suspension, like some force is keeping it from falling down. This lasted for a few minutes, just enough so that we could run to the car parked on the other side of the road. Just as I closed the door, the wave slammed down.

It was a bit anti-climactic. I was expecting massive damage – huge buildings reduced to debris, houses reduced to rubble, water at least ten meters high, etc., instead it was so weak it sort of like flowed into where we were. The water just reached up to our knees.

What was funny though is that I remember before the wave came down, I saw this guy balancing himself on a plank of wood on the side of the wave. He was wearing only shorts. He was surfing.

Butterflies

I was at my aunt’s house. My parents left me there because they had to look after grandmother. “Grandmother is very sick,” they said. They had to be at her side at the hospital. I argued I could look after myself, but they said “no, you’re too young, you don’t even know how to cook and wash your clothes,” and all that stuff. I was so mad, I didn’t want to go to my aunt’s house. She lives alone, and has too many cats, and why couldn’t she look after grandmother? Well, they said, “you know how your aunt has social anxiety and everything. She gets really uncomfortable going outside and meeting new people.” I sulked inside my room the whole day. My mom packed my clothes for me. I frowned all the way to my aunt’s house. We arrived there at noon. My aunt is sweet and everything, but again, I just didn’t like being around so many cats.

That night, while watching television, documentaries after documentaries about animals – sharks, then meerkats, then hedgehogs, etc., I wished I wouldn’t have to stay a long time at that house. The cats were pampered and they walked all over the place, on the tables and counters and chairs. At least they were trained by my aunt so they wouldn’t pee and stuff inside. Have you ever smelled cat pee? It’s the worst smell ever. Well, anyway, after hours of the show, my vision started to turn fuzzy. My aunt smiled and in her really soft voice, said that maybe I want to go to sleep. I wanted to argue and say, no I can still watch all these stuff, but she was right. So I walked to the room prepared for me, and went to sleep.

I dreamt about butterflies. I was alone in a field and it was very bright. There were so many of them, of different sizes and colors. Blue ones, red ones, yellow ones, orange ones. Some were even multi-colored with different and unique patterns of swirls and polka dots and everything. I ran and some of them followed me. I felt so light, like I had a different body, so I tried to jump. I jumped so high in slow-motion, like in those old black and white movies of astronauts on the moon. I jumped, and the rainbow of butterflies just followed me everywhere. After a while, I felt tired, so I sat down. The butterflies were gone and I must have been so busy playing I did notice it was already sunset. You know those moments in a dream when you realize you’re actually dreaming? It was something like that. As I sat there, I recalled my grandmother. When I was small, we used to visit her in her old house. Whenever I think of that house, I always remember two things – the big clock that would chime very loudly, and this huge framed collection of preserved butterflies. These were all in the living room. I remember looking at all those dead butterflies, their wings so colorful, while being held by my grandmother. This was years before she started getting sick and they had to move her to a home.

I remember my grandmother telling me stories about the war, about my grandfather who was a soldier in the war. She said he was very brave and it was a shame I didn’t meet him when he was still alive. It was all too boring to me.

So while sitting there, I saw this single butterfly land on my toe. Somehow I am always barefoot in my dreams. It was not the prettiest butterfly, in fact, it was kinda boring-looking. It was small and faded-yellow in color. But this butterfly caught my attention. I stared as it flapped its wings slowly, flew everywhere and around me, went in circles around me as I walked.

Cats have this stereotype of being calm and silent animals who just sleep all day. This is not true. That day I was woken up by a loud screeching sound. Angry cats hiss and screech and emit all sorts of shrieks when they fight. I stared at the ceiling and was surprised at first. I thought, hey this doesn’t look like my ceiling. That’s when I realized I was actually in my aunt’s house, so anyway, there it was, I saw it, I couldn’t believe it. The faded-yellow butterfly was there. It was on the top of the bedpost to my right, the one above my head. Just then, I heard a knocking, it was more like a tapping really. While my aunt knocked, I watched as the butterfly slowly flew towards and out of the window. I stood up, opened the door, and there was my aunt in tears stroking a sleeping orange cat. She said she has something important to tell me.

The Ghost of Communism in Indonesia

I sit on the floor of the bamboo veranda of the small hut facing the ricefields.

I hear a young female voice weeping in the middle of the flat, vast and moonlit waters collected by the paddies.

Communists are materialists. They don’t believe in ghosts. Whether they turn into ghosts is another matter. Communists were massacred by the Suharto government in the 60s.

It was a coup by the military against the left-leaning government of Sukarno. 500,000 to 1,000,000 communists and suspected communists were killed.

There were death squads, auxiliaries to the military, organized to go village to village and kill the communists.

Until now, there is a very strong right-wing tendency in Indonesian government and society. Buried not so deep as well are racial resentments, tension, between the Malays and the Chinese minority. The Chinese are present in great or small numbers in all of the countries of Southeast Asia where they usually engage in business.

Their relative economic wealth over the Malay majority creates resentment.

The death squads created ghosts, hundreds of thousands of them. They wander the countryside. They float during certain nights like clouds over the ricefields, the flooded paddies, reflected on the water.

Bloodsuckers

We joke. We say politics is an amalgam of two words. The first is ‘poli’ which is Greek for ‘many,’ and the second is ‘tics’ which are tiny blood-sucking insects. But do the people laugh? Some of them. Most don’t have time for bullshit jokes. Life, man. They are too busy living their lives. Too caught up with the world to listen to commentators of politics and politicians.

Mar Roxas’ smiling visage graced the cover of Esquire Philippines Magazine. Many people on Facebook and Twitter were offended. The man did nothing, or at least very little for the efforts at rehabilitation of Samar and Leyte post-Haiyan, they said. Eight thousand people dead and here’s the DILG Secretary posing with a jeepney loaded with planks at the background, a huge grin on his face.

It took days to clear the roads leading to the city. By then, the bodies have already started to smell. The stench of the dead permeated the world, and lingered at night when people tried to sleep. When the food trucks finally came, and people tried to cook their food, tried to eat the food, they had to eat it in that unpleasant miasma. There were too many bodies, there weren’t enough people yet to bury the dead. There weren’t enough shovels, equipments like wheelbarrows, and vehicles, for the dead to be given proper burials. So those that were retrieved from the depths of the mud were laid on the side of the highway, covered with tarpaulins bearing the face of some politician, or banana leaves, slowly bloating underneath the heat of the sun.

The government’s answer to the disaster was to dump this whole bureaucracy atop the ruined buildings and lives. The public witnessed the bungling that occurred. Several warehouses filled with rotting food donated from Western countries. Officials on the ground supposedly stocking some for themselves and selling them. A check on the housing program showed that the houses were unsuitable for human habitation. The bickerings by local and national politicians was broadcast country-wide hours and days following the disaster relief efforts. The disagreements continue to this day, a year after the devastation.

The people interviewed look tired. Some of them shed tears as they lit candles for their loved ones who passed away. One woman survived with her infant child, but her husband died during the massive storm surge. She was given a sari-sari store. Another was not so lucky. His entire family was gone. He managed to hang on to one of the top branches of a tall tree. He watched as his mother and father and siblings were swept away by the water.

Even the most brutal storm to hit the Earth have not washed away the shamelessness of some government officials. Not to say the celebrities. Weeks after the disaster, the First Sister, Kris Aquino, visited the people of the devastated city. On top of her truck, she waved and smiled, and gave interviews. Several actors and actresses followed suit, giving packs of food to people. The plastic bags and shirts and back packs filled with goodies were imprinted with the name of this show business corporation, or that politician.

Many ticks, many bloodsuckers.

Where I am in my Readings

I’ve been in a reading slump lately. And by lately, I mean the second half of this year. So since July, I can’t remember reading anything really good. I still have several books to finish. One of those books is the last story in Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy about the writer who recalls his childhood friend and finds out that this childhood friend was a writer too. The writing was so good, I did not want to just slurp everything up, so I decided to set it aside and finish it sometime soon. Orhan Pamuk’s Snow I grappled with since last year. I’ve been on the losing end of my struggle with it. Adding to the reasons not to finish the book is the fact that the bookmark slid out when I picked the book one time, so I can’t recall where I am in the text. And I don’t really want to re-read more of it. I reason, it’s okay not to finish books. I still have yet to finish Bolaño’s 2666 which I started to read about three years ago. I am still at that part about the literary scholars. Their relationship and interactions with each other is analyzed scrupulously by Bolaño. Their fascination with their subject, the reclusive writer Archimboldi, is interesting, and a big reason why I got anywhere at all with the text. This was an author they have written so much about, discussed a lot about, and yet they have not ever seen.

I like genre literature. Science fiction and horror especially. So I thought I should begin another book search for things to read with these genres in mind. I like doing this book search thing. This isn’t an actual organized process so much as a scramble-click-anything-interesting-you-find-read-all-the-reviews-about-it, kind of thing. And believe it or don’t, it actually yields some interesting finds. One of these finds is the short novel Equations of Life by Simon Morden. It’s about this tough, foul-mouthed whiz kid named Samuil Petrovich. In these kinds of literature, world-building comes first, characterization second, at least that’s what I think. Petrovich isn’t that likeable a character, but he fits in the world he moves in. He is a survivor. Not only does he struggle with the outside world, he also has some major health problems. In this future world, a Great Calamity of the nuclear variety has occurred decades before, and humanity and society has had to adapt to it. Given that, there did occur technological progress, but as the cyberpunk cliché goes, it’s ‘high-tech and low-life.’ The low-lives are the main characters of the book. Even the supposed harbinger of law and order, the police detective Chain is a bit shady, but overall he’s a solid Lawful Neutral. The whole plot is put into motion when Petrovich, out of some compulsion to do something good, rescues the daughter of a yakuza boss from a kidnapping. From there, things move fast. This is a short, fast-paced novel set in a dystopic city.

Another sci-fi novel picked-up through this haphazard methodology of mine is Harmony by someone named Project Itoh. Like Equations of Life, it is set in a future dystopia only this time, instead of some grimy, pollution-filled city, the story starts in an uber-clean and organized and generally very pleasant place to live in Japan. Again, there is the Great Calamity that occurred decades before. This was a nuclear conflict which resulted in a dark age of some sort. Only through the use of medical nanotechnology and the rise of a world medical organization with its bureaucratic philosophy called ‘lifeism’ were they able to salvage and ultimately improve upon what remained of the world. The problem is, as the main character complains, this world is stifling, and boring and conformist in a way never before imagined. I found the main character a bit annoying. I am just going to copy-paste my comment about it on reddit here:

… It’s a sci-fi where humanity has progressed to a level where they can keep people healthy and long-lived. However for this, they have sacrificed privacy and passion/high emotions. I liked the world-building, how some details are mentioned as the story moves along in order for the reader to have a picture of the Big Catastrophe that happened before, and of the cultures that adapted/remained. I liked how idea-driven it is. I liked the use of ‘choruses’ like in Palahniuk’s ‘Fight Club.’ There’s also the figure of the anti-civilization prophet, which is another similarity. What I did have trouble though is sympathizing with the main character. Her rebellion is childish/selfish? She relishes her ‘outsider’ status and sees everyone ‘in the system’ as beneath her. The book is short, and I’m almost done with it.

Another interesting book I am in the middle of reading is Eduardo Galeano’s Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History. It is a collection of interesting anecdotes about the world and Latin America. In one or two paragraphs, Galeano tells of something interesting that happened on that particular day. You’ll learn for example that on January 17, 1918, during the Russian Revolution, Anatoly Lunacharsky presided over a trial judging God. The prosecution said that God has committed numerous crimes against humanity. The defense argued God cannot stand to trial because he is mentally ill. In the end, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. They fired a few machine-gun rounds to the sky. Galeano’s historical coverage is vast and wide. It has its serious moments, but mostly it’s light, fun, whimsical reading.

So I guess I am dealing with this reading slump somewhat alright. Goodreads is this website that catalogs all the books you’ve read and currently reading. You can write reviews and comments. It has a feature where you can set a goal, a number of books, to read for the year. I haven’t visited the site for weeks, and my account says I have only read thirteen books so far in my stated goal of forty-eight. Here is my reasoning: we have to get out of this mentality of acquisitiveness. Books are meant to be enjoyed, and reading a lot of books isn’t a good measure of being a reader. Instead of being a heavy reader, maybe one should be more of a deep kind of reader. Also, it’s hard to find books I really want to read. I am very picky with books. Once my interest starts to flag, I often just put down the book, and what do you know, it has magically gained several kilograms.

Memories

I write things down because of fear. I don’t have a good memory. Just read earlier that Terry Pratchett is suffering from Alzheimer’s. In a reddit AMA, Stephen King wrote that his worst fear is having Alzheimer’s. Losing memories is a terrible thing. All those wonderful moments. They are really the only things that you have. We don’t own things, we own ideas of things. Something something ‘the world is my idea.’ Something something ‘the world is not made up of atoms, it is made up of stories.’ Losing memories means you’ll lose the ability to make stories, you’ll lose the ability to string together sentences and paragraphs into a coherent whole, into a story. Without a story, life does not make any sense. It would be a nihilistic existence.

Life is narrative. Losing memory is losing that ability to create narrative, to create meaning. Losing memories of loved ones is terrifying. The horror/terror? is doubled? made more ironic because it is not you that is doing the crying, since you can’t remember. It would be your loved ones, because they still have their memory of you. You don’t have your memory of them when you’re suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Just right now I am recalling that moment spent with Ms. S.U. in Star Mall? where the first time we met we hugged. It was a good solid hug. I was almost shocked by it, it was so physical. So real. So solid. We talked about what’s going on with our lives. She was living I think in U.P village somewhere, I’m not sure. She was biking. Then we went to another place to buy grocery. Then I walked her to that spot where she parked her bike. Such an independent young woman. It was very impressive. I like her because I like talking to her. Imagine talking to a young Japanese woman in Tagalog about Nietzsche, Foucault, power, knowledge and postmodernism. This latter conversation we had years? earlier in the CASAA eatery near the AS aka Palma Hall. This was when we were classmates in a class under Prof. T. My classmates were amazed that I am friend with this Japanese girl who speaks Tagalog so fluently. I recall her slight lisp. I remember her voice. I recall her laugh. She calls me by my nickname. I remember being fascinated by that moment while it was still happening. I am fascinated as well every time I recall that memory.

Those conversations, those deep deep conversations where you feel like you’re at the same mental wavelength with an individual, like you are seeing another more beautiful, more interesting version of yourself, like you’re in a deep spiritual and mental union with someone, that kind of thing is beautiful. Another beautiful memory, and this one is more idyllic. There wasn’t much conversation in it. It was just us, Ms. MC, side by side sitting on swings. I can’t recall the conversation. What I recall are the sensations, that swaying movement. The green grass. The smell of the grass. Her voice. It’s kinda faded now, this memory, but I cannot forget it. Even earlier, years earlier, I remember those memories with Ms. AE. Memories upon memories upon beautiful memories. Now imagine losing them.

Ascent

There was this girl. She was my age. She was sitting in a chair at the very top of a tall building. It is nearing sunset, and though the skies are cloudy, the heat is intense. It is a miasma of suffocating warmth coming from the highways below, borne up by the sounds of revving engines and blaring horns of vehicles. It is only slightly windy. Everything is in slow-motion. Her long black hair is waving gently, like the tentacles of jellyfish or some other underwater sea creature. She says, this is the first time she has been out of her apartment in months. She says, this is the first time in months that she’s had a cigarette. She looks unkempt, like she does not take care of herself. Is she eating well? Is she alright out here sitting, looking at the sky?

She says she’s somewhat happy, or at least not as miserable as before. It’s the wide open spaces she loves, the vast empty stretches where there are no people to be seen. The problem with the world, she continues, is people. There are too many of them. There are too many of us. Imagine there would be a catastrophe, and only a few people would be left. The cities would be empty. There would be no blaring of horns, no more revving of loud engines of cars and motorcycles. No loud music coming from huge speakers about Christmas, the joy of Christmas, the happiness it would bring into all our lives. No more loud televisions broadcasting the voices of the famous and what the world has labelled beautiful or enticing or charismatic. It would be just people sitting around the campfire at night, talking.

She says, we need stories. Real stories. Not the empty, emotionally and intellectually bankrupt scenes they show on television every night. This world is suffering from a lack of imagination. So full, yet so lacking in the things that really matter. I remember, she continues, about this story, I think it was by Plato. He said that there are only a limited number of souls in the universe. They probably float around just waiting for their assigned bodies to be born, and then they merge with that body. The body lives and feels and hates and loves and just be all engaged with the world for a time, and then the body dies. The soul is released back into the aether where it floats with all the other souls once more. The problem, she says, is that there are more people now than there are souls. The industrial revolution has made mass production, especially in the realm of agriculture, possible. The scientific method has improved the medical arts so effectively that humans generally live longer now. A child born now has a higher chance of living than those born centuries ago. We are mass-producing people, we are making empty containers. There are soulless people walking around. This is the cause of the misery of the world.

She finishes her cigarette. She exhales the smoke. The smoke rises up towards the sky and merges with the clouds. It looks like it’s going to rain. I can hear the low rumbling, the pressure building, of the thunder waiting to be released. She looks at me with the cigarette stub clipped between her fingers. There are dark rings under her eyes. She looks tired and worn-out. The light makes her appear paler than she really is. She’s wearing jeans and flip-flops and a white baggy t-shirt with a few tiny holes in it. She leans over, forearms on her knees, and looks down. She lets go of the cigarette butt and crushes it under her left heel. She asks me: how do we make souls? How can we make this world a less miserable place?

It was just the two of us at the top of the building. I was sitting cross-legged on a piece of cardboard on the floor, about twenty or more steps in front of her. From where I am, she looked like a giant statue. She looked tired, like her words were her strength, and by speaking at length, she has lost a lot of energy. She does not move, she looks heavy, like she’s made of granite. I wondered whether the cement would crack under her feet if she stands up and takes a step.

As if hearing my thoughts, she raises her head and looks at me. She stands up, and the cement holds her weight. She stands up, slowly, and I thought I could see the dust that accumulated through centuries slide down from her onto the floor. I look at her as she walks towards me.

Just then the clouds parted, opening up a vast portion of the sky. It revealed a very bright light that covered the entire world. I could not see. All I managed was a glimpse of her feet as she started to float. Her flip-flops slipped off as I started to crawl towards her. The light had weight and was bearing down on me. My limbs felt heavy, it was hard to breathe. I thought I would lose consciousness. Then the light vanished as quickly as it appeared. My eyes took a long time to adjust back so I could see. When I looked around she was no longer there. The only things left were her flip-flops, the cigarette butt which she has crushed earlier, and the empty chair.

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