A Polluted World
"That was FUN," I lie. I'm sitting in the back seat of a very expensive car. It's warm and has leather seats and smells like leather, perfume, and some other stuff. But I can't enjoy any of that right now because I want to throw up. I want to forget this experience so badly. I want to kill the snake that's disguised as a man in fron of me. I wonder if he sees it in my eyes. I smile. Hopefully he doesn't look too deep into my eyes, but I know he won't. But I guess he already knows how much I want to scrape his skin off with sandpaper. And to top it all off I'm so hungry. My head hurts and my stomach feels like it has a black hole in it. But that's a familiar feeling, I'm always hungry.
"It's really refreshing to be with someone so young and fresh," He hisses. I can't hold back a wince as he runs his fingers through my hair.
"Do you prefer it that way?"
"Honestly it doesn't matter as long as they know how to do it properly." I shudder. I hate being talked about like this. But I have to do it.
"It just surprises me a bit," he continues. "How old did you say you were again?"
"Fourteen, sir." I swear to God above that I will murder this person one day. "Anyways, where's my money? I'm not doing this just so I can walk away as broke as I was before."
"Let's see how much you deserve. You are a bit of a delinquent. So you probably..." he takes his time getting his wallet, probably just to torture me for longer. "One, two, two dollars and ten, two dollars and twenty, two dollars and thirty, two dollars and fourty, two dollars and fifty cents." He hands it over to me. What? That can't be it. That's barely anything. It's not going to buy my baby sister a meal.
"Please sir." I don't know what to say that won't offend him, because doing that would only make my situation worse.
"Well maybe I can double it you give me double the services." Kill me. No I'm not the one who deserved it. Kill him. And give my sister food. And give me food. And make the world different. And make my sister happy. Harmony is so freaking young and so sweet and perfect and she deserves every happiness in the world. If only I can make enough money in time. But what if I can't? How will I explain it? Was Santa just extra busy this year and didn't have time? No but why would he be? He never normally is, she'll see through that. She'll think Santa disapproves of her now like the rest of the world does. She'll think on of her her idols thinks less of her. She'll think she actually is less. She'll think she's less important. She'll give up. She'll lose hope. She'll let people go around treating her like dirt. And she won't rebel against that in her head. She won't hold onto her pride and her sense of self-respect. I can't have that happen, I just can't. She needs to keep believing, keep dreaming, keep fighting.
"HEY!" I'm transported back into the world with that harsh yell. "Girl! Are you even listening to me?"
"Sorry sir." I'm so hungry.
"What do you say to my proposition?"
"Sure." I get up onto his lap. "But this time give me the money first okay?" He hands it over to me. I count it. Two and a half dollars. Making five dollars in total. The most I've gotten all month. I start unbuttoning my worn-out, ripped shirt. God help me.
After we were done I was crying. He looked at the tears drowning my eyes and said it suited me well. I got out of the car an into the fresh air and freedom and biting cold. That's where I am now, with the snow smothering my body like an anti-blanket. I hug my knees to my chest and cry. He was so selfish, so apathetic, so horrible. I'm a person goddamnit. And I deserve to be treated like one. He's not better than me. He's just a selfish, stingy, greedy, infidel who just sees everyone as tools for him to use. My hatred at - at his attitudes, not him - is keeping me warm in this cold though, washing the filth from my skin, giving me a bit of my peace back. And that's because I know who I am. I know what I deserve, And those thoughts can push back the thoughts given to me by him about what I deserve, and reconquer my mind. And I need to make sure Harmony always has the strength to do that too.
What if I tell her Santa gave her a less cool gift because he helped us get food and stuff instead? But if she knows Santa can do that, bring things other than toys, then won't she want Santa to give us enough stuff to actually be safe? Why would Santa give us less than we need? Why would he so abandon us? Thinking that would break her more. The "only can give toys" rule needs to stay. No I needed to make the money. So far I only have fifteen dollars saved. I'll need more.
I walk into the shack we live in and am greeted by a warm hug from my baby sister.
"How are you Msitu?!" The eight-yer-old excitedly asks.
"Not the best baby girl. But I'm so much better now that I see you. How are you?"
"Work was hard. I was hungry. I when I was walking home I saw Alika from school last year and she had a big chocolate bar. And I asked her if I could have some. And she looked at me scardly. And she said no. And I told her, 'don't worry, it's me Harmony, I used to be in your class we used to be friends.' And she still looked at me the same way. And she said no, it was her's. And I told her that I was really hungry and my tummy was hurting from how hungry I was. And she said that wasn't her problem, I should learn to work harder if I wanted more food. And it made me really really sad." She looked at me sadly, almost brokenly. I was so angry. I wanted to watch the world burn. I wanted to burn it to the ground and have it just be people like us - people who are impoverished and hungry and desperate - left. So that we could make it better, and make it a world worth living in. Actually no I don't want that. I want people to listen to our cries instead of labelling us as dangerous.
"Baby she just said that because she doesn't know any better. She's not right. You're a beautiful and amazing little girl and of course you deserve food. You deserve to be fed and warm and you deserve a proper home. You deserve a family and an education and you deserve to feel safe and protected and valued and free and you deserve everything that anyone else deserves. She just said that because she didn't know any better. She just said that because her mom told her to think that way. And her mom only told her because she wants to think she's better than everyone and not care. She's wrong."
"Okay. I think you're right. I know who I am. But it hurts, it freaking hurts."
"I know baby girl." I hug her close.
"I really like it when you're here. I really like it when anyone's here who I can feel myself around."
"Harmony you're really everything. You're happiness and you're necessity and you make me so overwhelmingly happy in every part of me in a way that I just want to proclaim to the world."
"Thanks Msitu.. You're everything too. You keep me safe and make me feel free and you make me feel like I'm important and you make me feel like I'm needed. And you're the most perfectest person."
"Darling everyone who says you aren't a beautiful soul are only saying it because they don't know anything besides how to be shallow."
"I don't think we can teach them. Do you?"
"I don't think so too. But maybe one day that will change."
"Msitu you're sad. Why?"
"Because I had to do some things with someone who was really mean."
"That's horrible. Why did you have to?"
"Oh the same reason as a lot of things. Money."
"Msitu that sucks. Don't feel like you have to hurt yourself for me okay?"
"Baby I don't feel that way. But I'd have nothing without you. I don't ever want to lose you okay?"
"I miss mom and dad."
"Me too. But I'm sure they're watching over us."
"Well why can't they help us?"
"Because there are dark forces all around and they make it harder."
"I know I've felt them. The air smells kind of weird and you can't see stars anymore and the water is all dirty and plants don't grow that much."
"And the people. They look like they're stuck behind some kind of glass."
"Yeah. But there's hope. There's us. And there's your friends from work. And there's the knowledge that we have."
"Yeah. And it's Christmas soon. And Santa's going to be coming around."
"Yeah." I sigh.
"Are you scared?"
"If we had a magic wand how would that be?"
"Amazing." We kept talking until it was time to sleep. I cooked a little bit of rice, and we had some beans to go with it. I was still hungry after the food. Harmony wasn't though. And we kept talking. She believes in magic so strongly. If that keeps her going, that's good.
I'm walking to work. And Harmony is beside me. I'm clutching her hand and she's clutching mine.
My feet hurt. Partially because they're frozen and partially because my shoes are too small. I shiver. And of course hunger is there. It's my constant friend, my husband really seeing as how I'm spending my whole life with it. Hunger sleeps with me, wakes with me, and kisses me good night every night. It walks with me, and keeps me wrapped in it's hard arms every moment of my life. It always talks to me. But unlike a loving partner, it constantly degrades me and beats me down. Hunger is an abusive, over-possessive husband. It keeps saying that I'm not good enough, that people don't care about me, that people don't care about me enough to want me alive, that I'm just a tool to them and they don't care how I feel. No, most of that is true. Maybe my dear spouse Hunger just doesn't want me to forget who I can and can't trust. But it does it in a very mean way.
That's why I'm glad I have my sister to give me all the reassurance she can, to balm the effects of the abuse I feel at my Hunger's hands. I hold her hand just a bit tighter and feel her love wash over me. Calm and soothing and energizing. But like most people who try to help you through an abusive relationship you're stuck in, she only helps to an extent. She helps me immensely and makes me feel so beautiful inside and sometimes she takes away all the pain. But a lot of the times there is still quite a lot of pain left.
Cars zoom by, making the brown sludge that lines the streets part to the side. The people inside seem more fortified. They have jackets, even in the heated interiors they're in. Their eyes are cold. They look past us. Every once in a while there is a really posh car. The men inside those always wear shiny coats that were quite sleek. The women always wear copious amounts of make-up. So much make-up. Like the girl driving a motorcycle right now. She drives quite slow and her nose is in a book, which is quite dangerous if you think about it. I don't want us to get run over. So I ask Harmony if she agrees with us cuting closer to the buildings. She does. We are aware that we're on private property. But we don't want to die. Well too bad.
Just then another man in a car sees me. His car is red and brown and really quite shiny. It's one of the most impressive cars I've seen. He saw us and he came closer to us, parking beside the curb. I quickly pull us back to the public sidewalk. But it's too late.
"What do you careless kids think you're doing?" the immaculately-dressed man with a polished beard asks.
"Sorry sir we were just trying to be safe." I reply. Harmony hugs me.
"Do you think safety is more important than the laws of our nation?"
"No sir," Harmony says timidly. I hate the way the word "sir" sounds on her tongue. It's a word that doesn't belong there or in anyone's tongue.
"We won't do it again sir. It's all my fault I pulled her towards the building she had nothing to do with it sir."
"She let you pull her," he says, ignoring the obvious size difference between me and Harmony.
"We won't do it again sir I promise," says Harmony, hugging me.
"Damn right you won't. Because I'm going to make sure you girls get taught a lesson." Forcibly separating us, he puts us in his car, a luxury I'm actually thankful for, and drives us to the police station.
Harmony is shaking. And I am too. If we get long sentences we'll lose our jobs. If we lose your jobs who knows how long we'll have to wait for new ones? And in the meanwhile, how will we deal with the hunger, the sickness? This is a potential death threat. This is one of the most frightening moments of my life. Harmony is curled in a ball silently crying into my chest. I hug her close and run my fingers through her hair. I can't say anything through because that will anger the man more.
Finally we arrive at the ominous building. Surprisingly enough it's not that big. We get dragged inside, and there are only two cops sitting behind desks and a cell full of mostly skinny-looking people. People like us. I'm crying. Harmony is too. I look at her. Her big eyes are full of so much. Terror, sadness, surprise, hope, anger, it's heartbreaking. But there's hope there at least. Please please don't let us die God please. The police officers look up sternly.
"Dr. Starless, it's an honour to be in your presence, why do you grace us on this fine winter day?" He seems bewildered.
"I caught these two miscreants trespassing on private property."
"Well thank you so much for catching them sir now we can bring the the justice they deserve." Dr. Starless shoves us at the desk and leaves. Me and Harmony desperately make for each other.
"So," the police officer starts, "it seems like you two have been misbehaving. The penalty for that is three days."
"Sir. I understand," I say. Three days is a death sentence. I might be able to get out of it though. "We're really horrible kids and we need to learn to be grateful for what you great men have given us. I kept making excuses before because I wanted it easier. I wanted to feel safe and have food and shelter. But I realize now that I didn't deserve that. I realize that I don't deserve to be having it easy when I'm not giving myself what I need legally instead of just wanting it. I realize now that my anger towards the great people of this nation should actually be directed at myself. I'm not worth their attention, I'm not worth their mercy, I'm just someone who doesn't care about being a good citizen. If I can pull myself up by myself then I'll deserve to be treated the same as them. Otherwise, I deserve what I get. I need to be able to deal with the world as it is not ask it to be any different for me. I'm a horrible kid and I realize that whatever punishment I get is justice." The police officer looks taken aback a little. But then he snarls again.
"Do you really think that?" He asks.
"Yes sir I really do." I bow my head deeply. Harmony looks at me in surprise, eyes filled with tears. I hate having to make her watch me like this. I'm lying though, my head doesn't think what my mouth is forced to say.
"Come into my office," he says. We follow. "No, just the older one. Officer Kenneth get the other one into the cell." Harmony gets put into the cell and goes to the corner to cry. As I walk through the doors I turn and see some people moving to console her.
The office is surprisingly small. I wonder if I'm gonna have to fuck this guy. I hope not.
"Kneel," he says (author's notes: we're all people. I'm a human being, you're a human being, everyone involved is a human being. We all feel pain. We all feel joy. We all feel hope and we all feel love. So, we have to help each other. There's nothing that's just someone's fight. We have to help each other. Everything is everyone's fight. Regardless. Because on the inside we're all made of love, the only thing worth fighting for.) I oblige. I keep by head low but glance up at him with my eyes.
"What's your name?" he asks coldly.
"Msitu Ametsenya, sir." He grabs a fistful of my hair, not too hardly, and I already don't like the direction this is going.
"None of that 'sir' nonsense. I'm very highly ranked compared to you and you'll address me as 'your honour.'
"Anything you think I need your honour," I say, trying to sound sincere.
"Now tell me what you are."
"Tell me you're a blood-sucking maggot and currently a waste of space."
"I'm a blood-sucking maggot and currently a waste of space."
"Say that you don't care about anything. Say that you're just a little brat who doesn't care about her place in the world." He seems to be
"I don't care about anything and I don't care about my place in the world. Your honour."
"Kiss my shoe." Tears are welling up in my eyes as he stares at me in such a hard and and piercing way. I have to remain "sincere" though.
"Absolutely your honour," I say meekly and lean over to do it.
"Now say that you're not anything compared to the successful people of this world."
"I'm nothing compared to the successful people of the world."
"Say that you're eternally grateful to heroes like us." He pulls my hair forcing me to look him in the eyes.
"I should be eternally grateful to heroes like you. I'm eternally grateful to heroes like you."
"Say you don't know anything."
"I don't know anything." He smirks.
"Lick my shoe." How fucked up is this guy gonna get? I oblige. "Tell me you don't deserve anything unless you're successful like them."
"I don't deserve anything unless I'm successful like them."
"Say they deserve your utmost worship. Say that unless you stop being such a pathetic weak little worm you deserve nothing."
"Yes your honour, you and your people deserve my utmost worship. I'm a pathetic and weak worm and unless I stop being so pathetic and weak I deserve nothing." My voice is shaking.
"Now say ..."
This continues for who knows how long, it seems like days but it's probably just a few hours. I am so incredibly broken by the end of it.
"Now make sure your pathetic little friend knows this too. Make sure she knows what she is."
"Yes your honour." My voice completely breaks at this. Never. I'll die before I let her spirits break. But lying is how you win against these guys. Or at least, not lose. He grabs me harshly by the shoulder and pushes me out of the room. My steps are shaking. I'm thrown into the cell.
"In the morning you can leave." He says coldly and hardly, his voice like an barbed wire fence on a winter day.
I curl up into a ball on the cold floor and bury my face in my arms. People come closer to me, asking how I am and what I need. Harmony hugs me. She's like the rainforest loam. So different from that cop. But I know if I accept the kindness and love I'm getting now the cop will know I was faking.
"Leave me alone. Don't talk to me." I snap. "I need to think." I'm broken. No. I'm bent. I'm not broken. I'm almost broken. It hurts though. My thoughts are like a swirling whirlpool of pain, pain, and more overwhelming pain.
Hunger punches me in the gut, reminding me of his ownership over my body. Hunger was with me during that whole terrifying session. My dear companion was adding more sting and bite to everything that happened because He was obviously happy that someone else was helping Him put me in my place.
Once me and Harmony are back into the frigid coldness of freedom, she turns to me.
"Why did you say those things?" He clear green eyes are filled with confusion and worry.
"I was lying. What I said wasn't true at all but I had to say it because that's what they want to hear. It's not true though."
"But it still hurted though didn't it?"
"What happened behind that door?"
"He hurt me."
"Well he's just a mean, horrible, selfish man who thinks he's more important than everyone because of his title. Don't listen to him he's wrong. Fuck him. He's very mean, and that's all he is."
"Thanks." This heals me just a bit.
We ended up missing a day and a half of work. Meaning we had to make it up by working a day and a half for free. There goes my savings. Fuck.
If you like this piece check out my Twitter my handle is @FSairuv and I post about human rights, social justice, and the environment.
Try to Wash Away the Poison
It's cold. Really freaking cold. January is coming up and whatever this abandoned shack is made of is not well-insulated. Still, it's better than being out in the open where there is wind and snow. I shiver in my thin, worn jacket. More of a fall jacket than a winter one. But winter jackets are expensive. And I'm stronger, I mean I don't know why I'm stronger but I just am. And the money I have - which isn't much - has to go to buying the stuff we need to live. And that means I need to get Harmony a warm jacket, so her younger, frailer body won't get sick and die for want of a doctor I just couldn't afford. I haven't been able to spend much time with Harmony this holiday season. This holiday season seemed like hell actually.
I miss mom and dad so freaking much. And I miss being safe, feeling like I'm not going to get sick or die. I miss not having the constant twist of Hunger and cold banging against me. I miss feeling like my baby sister is safe, and comfortable, and happy. I miss feeling like we were part of society and not just an unwanted burden to it. I miss our parents. I miss our human dignity. I miss my sister's safety. And my own. And my baby sister's. And I miss the rest of my family.
I have a mission this Christmas though. I have to make sure that Harmony know Santa didn't forget her. I have to make sure she doesn't think Santa thinks any less of her because of her new status. She must already think society thinks less of her now. But if she thought that Santa Claus thought less of her than he did before, it would break her heart. Yes, she has a hard time stomaching the fact that humans don't care about her, but humans are imperfect, and misguided sometimes, and their opinions don't necessarily reflect her no matter how much they affect her.
And she still has light in her eyes and a sense of self-respect in her steps and hope and rebelliousness and energy.
But if Santa puts any less thought and care into her present than he did with the other kids', Santa who is magic and perfect and knows what he's doing, then it would mean that she's just a little bit less important, and there was no denying that fact. That knowledge would break her. It would break her spirit, and I don't know what else. And I don't want that.
I think of the extra hours I've been working, which were taking a toll on my health. They don't pay much and honestly there aren't many extra hours being thrown my way. I think of the less savoury things I've done. Not just for gift money but for meal money as well. The thought makes me want to die. Because this "perfect society" is a world where fourteen-year-old girls are desperate enough resort to that kind of stuff in order to feed the people they care about. Yeah this is exactly what a perfect society looks like. And I've been desperately saving every bit of money I could so that I could make sure Santa meets his previous standards. But there's been no luck so far, and a polished carved doll or bundle of colourful ribbons or something is impossible too get with the wages I'm currently making. So I've missed the deadline, December 25th, but the one good thing about our situation is that Harmony doesn't know it's not yet Christmas, and as long as I can get the money somehow in the next few days ... which I don't know how I'm going to do by myself ... she won't think Santa thinks less of her. And the spark in her eyes won't' fade.
I'm hugging Harmony close to me trying desperately to give her the energy from the cellular respiration that my body is doing so that she can star warm, and healthy, and alive. The photons released from the organic carbon compound combustion that my biological processes undergo need to go to her. To keep her healthy.
"Msitu?" Her voice sounds so sweet.
"Santa forgot me this year." My heart falls.
"No, beautiful soul, he didn't."
"Yeah, Christmas went by and he did nothing."
"It's not Christmas yet."
"Yeah it is. There was this boy whose clothes were all clean and shiny and his hair was shiny. It was the same colour as your's."
"And he was in this shiny motorcycle. And he went up to me and said that Santa got hm this two weeks ago for being such a good child. He said if I was good Santa might get me something too, but only if I'm good. And then his mom told him to not talk to me because I'm probably a bad influence." My breathing gets shallower. Honestly I don't know how I'm going to salvage this situation.
"How do you know he was telling the truth? He might just be toying with you."
"What if he's not?!" She starts to cry. Okay, think hard. How do we solve this? I hug Harmony closer to me.
"Harmony I have a secret. Santa isn't around anymore. Well, he's alive, but he's been captured for a long time. There is a fake Santa who everyone thinks is the real Santa and everybody writes their letters and stuff to him, but he's the opposite of what the real Santa used to be. The old Santa used to love every child equally, regardless of every single freaking factor, and the real Santa used to make sure every child was provided for. To the kids who were hungry he'd give food. To the kids who were cold he'd give a jacket. To the kids who had no family he'd help them find a family. He gave everyone toys. And to the kids who were taught to be greedy and prideful he'd teach them not to be.
“But that caused problems. Problems for the rich people at least. All the new generations were learning how to love and help each other, and there were less and less people to be prideful. People weren't worshipping the wealthy businessmen anymore, they were more focused of everyone. And people weren't going along with the ’make money for myself’ model of doing things, they were banding together and helping each other and that made it harder for the ones at the top to maintain their hold. The daughters and sons of the people who were dissatisfied with this newly-forming world were very mesmerized by it. They were leaving behind their old lifestyles and using their souls to benefit everyone equally and humbly and they weren't concerned about the meaningless stuff like shiny cars and make-up. And obviously the bosses thought their children were being corrupted and shying away from the life they were supposed to lead, they life they 'deserved.'" I make air quotations.
"These people were infuriated. What was also bad was that people didn't have child labour anymore because the children didn't need to spend their time working in dangerous factories when they could be in school and playing afterwards." Harmony looks at me with her big, clear eyes filled with sadness and wonder and anger and amazement and ... hope!!! Yes!!!!
"Msitu what happened? Why did they win? Why do they always win? They always win and they always shape the world in their own creepy image and they keep taking and taking everything from us." Holy crap I didn't expect her to be so angry. But then again she's freezing and hungry and the world doesn't do anything to console her.
"Harmony my baby they won't win forever. This is just temporary and if we keep fighting and if you promise to not ever think someone is better or worse than you and if you keep hoping for things to get better then we will win."
"Get on with the story."
"It's not a story it's a historical account. Anyways, they were building a huge machine to fight against Santa's magic. When they finished it, they brought it into the North Pole. Santa, the elves, and the reindeer saw it and were very scared. They knew this day would come though. They all came together and started to sing their magic Christmas carols and that created a defensive force field around the North Pole which kept it safe from the attackers and weakened them. But the dark powers of the machine was sucking in the magic and polluting it. The machine was getting weakened too, and it was almost destroyed. Unfortunately, this time it was just a little bit too powerful. When the Christmas team saw what happened they all got on the sleigh and started running. But the attackers had a blimp and they shot the sleigh down. They were falling into the sea. And everyone thought that was it, they drowned in the freezing cold water. But no. Because they used the last bit of magic they had to freeze themselves into the ice.
“Now they're in hibernation and thier magic powers are growing stronger. And eventually they'll be able to return to their previous job of helping kids everywhere. But there's one more thing. The only thing strong enough to break the ice is the magic of the world finally becoming harmonious. So when the world changes, Santa, the elves, and the reindeer will be back." Harmony is smiling. I give her a hug.
"Msitu thanks. I'm so glad that I know that. How did you find out?"
"Once it was a really clear day. There was this section of the sky that was so dark and filled with stars. It wasn't the faintly-orangish starless thing urban light and air pollution causes. And the stars were swirling around and forming pictures. They told me this story. And they told me to be sure I told it to my baby sister, because the story was for her just as much."
"Holy crap. We need to tell everyone." Her big green eyes are so full of promise it's breaking my heart.
"Maybe not now, because if the bosses hear it they'll kill you."
"But Msitu I wanna tell everyone."
"Follow your heart then baby. But make sure you only tell children, and not children with high-ranking parents."
"Msitu get me out of here please just get me out of here I hate it here. I don't want to live like this I don't want to be treated like this. I want to be more than a piece of machinery. I want to matter." I feel so angry. I want to murder everyone who designed this city. But I can't. I really really want to. But the reality is I'm a young, hungry, girl who can't always feed her family in a world run by rich, powerful, well-educated, landowning, tax-dodging, nature-hating, apathetic, self-absorbed, powerful, wealthy men.
"Harmony you darling soul God loves you always and nobody can take that away from you. Whatever the hell they take, whatever they give or don't give, they can't change the fact that God loves you."
"Can't you do something?"
"We need to all do something together."
"I agree. This is our song now."
If you like this piece check out my Twitter my handle is @FSairuv and I post about human rights, social justice, and the environment.