The Green Enigma (I)
Laysa sat at the compact table set on the middle of the diminutive kitchen, that was smaller than the table itself and so crowded with utensils and appliances that she had sit on the open lid of the oven. She watched a fly buzzing around the leftovers of yesterday’s evening meal. On the plate laid in front of her remained only some half eaten chicken bones with chunks of beef flesh still attached to them, a fact that for some reason failed to impress her with its obvious oddity. Another dish rested on the brim of her own because the lack space on the overflowing tabletop made impossible for both plates to share the small space without overlapping. That dish was identical to hers, but the food, that was also the same, was intact, as if the person destined to eat it had found the contents unsavory and left the room hurriedly, which is actually precisely what had happened. The tilted plate still hold her husband’s untouched dinner and was the roaming location of choice for the fly she had been watching all night long since the television set was broken and stations rarely broadcasted shows about flies buzzing around food anyway. She had eaten her chicken alone the previous night after a discussion with Nat, her husband. He left the house very angry and on an empty stomach, but she knew the chicken’s taste had not been the real reason but just an excuse to scape from their apartment. Last evening he had arrived home visibly agitated and restless. She had realized that because the characteristic way he pulled his hair and how he banged his head on the wall several times while murmuring incomprehensible recriminations to himself. She had asked him what was upsetting him when their dog’s self-portrait fell from the wall after a particularly violent head banging outburst and he had reacted violently. ‘Mind your own business.’ he had said, and after a pause he added ‘Bitch’ Those words had been painful to her, specially the last one. She lapsed into silence and decided to put too much salt on the chicken remembering the doctor’s advice to her husband to cut down his salt intake after his first stroke. Nat had apologized later and told her he had some problems he could not speak about and that there was no reason to worry. Laura had pretended to believe him and nodded in silence, but it was difficult to give credit to the explanations of a man that would not stop munching the lapels of the fake leather jacket he had forgotten to take out, as if he was ready to leave at a moments notice. When she had finally laid the table for him he ate one of the peas with disgust and complained it was too salty. ‘Shit!’ . She though. Nat had then darted towards the door mumbling something about buying smokes, in spite of the fact that he had never smoked before and after a few minutes searching nervously for his jacket he had realized he was wearing it and left. She had to eat the salty meal alone and spent the night spellbound by the contemplation of the fly’s flight and regretting having sabotaged the chicken. That had happened several hours before. The pale early morning light and street noises were now invading the room, sneaking from the outside through the open window. She realized the night was coming to an end and that soon would be time to get ready and go to work. She still wondered what had been upsetting her husband so badly and was worried something might have happened to him, although she found some consolation thinking he probably had just gotten himself drunk and was now lying on his own vomit in some nearby alley. Probably Nat would be back soon with a painful hangover, an idea in which she found not only relief to her distress but also significant traces of the bittersweet taste of retribution. After dumping the leftovers from her plate into the trash bin she navigated the overcrowded living room towards the bedroom and got herself ready for another day of hard underpaid work at the factory.
She dozed off several times on the train and every time her head tipped over the shoulder of the man sitting on the bench next to her, who expressed his discomfort by mumbling obscenities and jerking his head as if his neck muscles were connected to a car battery. The sleepless night had drained her energy and her shift at the conveyor belt preparing corpses felt more uphill than ever. She had been working for seven years processing bodies at the recycling plant but she still wasn’t completely used to it. She had grown up during the demographic explosion of the twenty thirties and understood the need of reusing corpses as fertilizer, but still the sight of unending lines of naked bodies slowly marching like a sinister lineup waiting to purchase tickets for a show left her in a somber mood for the rest of the day. She would have liked to quit long ago, but an uneducated immigrant couldn’t expect to find anything better, specially after the government had widened the definition of uneducated immigrant to include everybody who could not find a job. At least hers was better job than the people in charge of erasing the faces of the dead with acid jet-pistols. Her task was to shave the bodies using a laser trimmer but she only took care of torso and limbs because when she did the heads she always cut the sides to short and there had been complaints. It was the younger girl next to her who had a hairdresser degree who took care of the heads. She was also her best friend and they always had lunch together. Her name was Almacia although everybody called her Alma, and as usual she was waiting for Laysa at the factory gates with two steamy recycled paper cups full with hot synthetic caffeine drink, that had replaced coffee after the plutonium poisoning of the coffee harvest of 2038.
‘ You look terrible!’ she said while handing her the hot gruel ‘You look worse than most of the stiffies we do’ she added, giggling. She always called the bodies stiffies because they were so stiff and because that way she distanced herself from their condition. Alma was only twenty-one and was better used to the idea of body recycling than members of the older generation who still could remember the times when corpses were laid into wooden boxes and buried to rot. A notion that Alma’s generation would have considered wasteful and eco-unfriendly.
‘I know. I didn’t have any sleep.’ Laysa complained while sipping from the caffeine paper cup.
‘You had another discussion with Nat, didn’t you? That guy is a total shithead. You should leave him and try to get a decent husband. You are still young and attractive. Although if I was as young and attractive as you are I would blow my brains with a gun’
‘Very funny!’ said Laysa, used to her young friend’s candid sense humor. Alma wore the mandatory glazed silicone jumpsuit under an old and stained oversized army surplus jacket with a patch of her gang sewn on the shoulder. She belonged to the Speed Sisters, one of the street gangs that every night roamed the city in their hydrogen bikes at top speed and got high every the weekends with any sort of drug they could get. Layra had lent her the money for her first abortion and since then they have become best friends at the plant.
They were waiting for the beginning of the morning shift on a barren expanse of terrain covered with debris that ran along the concrete walls topped with electrified barbwire that surrounded the compound. Standing there the workers made time before and after their shifts sipping from paper cups and smoking in clusters around empty oil drums that served as tables. There was also several cars and electro-vans that prepared cheap meals or sold drinks for the workers. The processing plant was hardly visible from there because the high walls only allowed the top of the superstructure to be seen: a honeycomb pattern of dirty fiberglass with telecom antennae and smoke stacks that emitted a dense columns of greenish pre-filtered smoke into the black sky above. When the workers heard the siren announcing the end of that night’s shift they slowly marched towards the giant automated gates marked ENTRANCE in six meters tall letters.