The Rented Room

The alarm rings at 5:55 am. The blinding incandescent light turns on. The bed buzzes and Sara, the Sexy Voice, counts down from five before retracting it into the wall. I roll to the floor. It’s not the hit but the cold tiles that finish the job of awaking me.

“Good morning,” Sara says empathically.

“G-good morning.” I yawn.

“Are you ready for another exciting day?”

I nod eyes shut and wave my hand to the camera at the top corner of the cramped room.

“Great! Today’s objective is fifty squats!” Sara says overexcited and the instructions appear in the wall illustrating the right and wrong way to squat to prevent knee and back injuries. “One, two, three…” Sara counts while at the window the first sun beams filter at the top, sunbathing the walls of the cylindrical building. Sadly the rays don’t reach my floor. I’m in 67 of 133 floors. Good news are that I’m closer to garden at basement, above from the eighty floor trees look like Monet’s paint patches.

“…forty nine, and fifty. Congratulations, a new record!” Sara shouts and the light block at the center turns stroboscopic in the celebration.

A wardrobe pops out from the sterile wall. I undress and hang my pajamas. The wardrobe retracts and the Turbo-shower comes out. I wear and fast my swim goggles, get inside the plastic bag, put the breather inside my mouth.

“Washing.” Sara says and from the upper connection of the bag a cold stream of water rushes in and out through the lower connection in just five seconds. “Cleaning,” the second step of the shower cycle and soap is sprayed over my entire body and I scrub myself. “Washing.” The stream of water comes in before I could finish the work. “Drying.” A burst of hot air evaporates the remaining water and I step out clean and awake. The wardrobe shows once again and this time I take my overall, shoes and hat and fit in.

I sit at my desk, the metal hatch covering it slides revealing the black conveyor. The clock at the wall counts down to 6 a.m. with the milliseconds revolving madly. Today I finished ten seconds earlier what makes a forty three seconds wait that I spend caressing the photo of my visit to my parents’ house last summer… The bright clouds cropped out the blue sky contrasting with the green bushy hills, the joyful smile of my mother, and the affective hug of my father… just eighty three days left.

“In your marks!” Sara says five seconds before and I roll my sleeves up. “Set,” the conveyor starts moving and I prepare my tool kit. “And go!” The clock reaches 6:00:000 a.m. “Today’s goal is 5,893 apples.”

The conveyor carries an apple coming from my neighbor in the room at my right. I hit the red button and the apple stops right in front of me. I work in Fruits Inc—the world leader in fruit solutions as is stated in the logo of my uniform—and we manufacture apples. Not just apples, glorious apples. I reach the extractor—that resembles a combination between a syringe and a corkscrew—and subtract a portion of the apple. I take a happy worm out the happy worm’s jar and put it inside the hole. Finally, I apply biodegrading glue and I seal it back with the portion extracted. Once finished, I hit the green button and the conveyor takes the apple to my neighbor in the room at my left.

My job is one of the most critical in the chain—even above seeding and painting. Customers in this days are concerned about the quality of their worms, they like them juicy. And only happy worms are juicy worms.

After 2,398 apples the conveyor stops. “Lunch break,” Sara announces. “You are .05% above baseline performance, congratulations!” The clock starts counting down five minutes and a Power Bar slides down in the pneumatic mail chamber. I peal and eat my bar while pace back and forth the three by three meters room the first two minutes. Later I glance trough the floor-to-ceiling window in I search for the sun’s reflection in the upper floors’ windows, later to the green disc conforming the garden at the bottom.

Finally, with my remaining time I behold my neighbors’ windows. My favorites are painting, in 65th floor, which uses to dance oddly, like some kind of tribal dance. Polishing in 64th, that undresses herself and lies close to the window with sunglasses on in an attempt to get a tan. And stickers, right in front of my room that loves to play the mime. But today it seems empty. Apples will go out without stickers if they don’t get a replacement quick. The alarm rings and I go back to work.

Hours later, when the sun has gone, I end my shift with 5,841 apples. “Toooooo bad, goal not reached. Best luck tomorrow!” Sara sets tomorrow’s alarm fifteen minutes earlier to compensate the deficit.

The wardrobe comes out, I hang my overall, take my poetry book and fall backwards in perfect synchronicity with the emerging bed. In the first page I realize I’m dead tired for reading. I put it aside and then notice something weird in stickers, some kind of reunion. I walk to my window puzzled. Two men are standing at the window and a girl—that I recognize for her longer hair and body curves—moves from one side to the other carrying her clothes. She comes close to one man and taking his hand she waives it. On closer inspection I realize those are human-size ragdolls made using her clothes. She goes to the light switch and turns it on and off quickly. After a couple of seconds later I find a patter. Morse. She is sending a message.

“H-e-l-l-o” She says.

I look to my surrounding neighbors as the curvature of the building allows me, but nobody answers her message. I fly to the light switch and answer her.

“H-e-l-l-o.”

She approaches the window and waves her hand and I wave mine.

“N-i-c-e—t-o—m-e-e-t—y-o-u.”

“P-l-e-a-s-u-r-e—i-s—m-i-n-e,” I reply. “W-h-o—a-r-e—y-o-u-?”

“S-u-b-s-t-i-t-u-t-e.”

“F-i-r-s-t—t-i-m-e-?” I ask and she nods her head.

“L-o-n-e-l-y,” she answers back.

Isolation is the hardest part of working at Fruits. Three hundred and twenty one days of confinement is a heavy burden for anyone. “But that is the only way to ensure the quality and production process of the product,” management says. The books are the escape route of my mind and I demote my depressive thoughts telling myself how my summer vacations worth the sacrifice. But not everybody can deal with that. Hundreds of workers break every day in the almost a thousand campus of the company. Management is not worried, the entry line is even bigger. Fruits in not an option, is the only option for most of us.

“W-h-a-t—d-o—y-o-u—l-i-k-e—t-o—d-o-?” I ask her.

“C-a-m-p-i-n-g,” She answers.

“S-o-m-e—d-a-y-s—y-o-u—c-a-n—s-e-e—t-h-e—s-t-a-r-s,” I point up hoping that tonight’s pollution fades enough so she can watch the stars. Sleeping close to the window staring at the sky had saved me many nights.

“T-h-a-n-k—y-o-u,” She says before leaving the light off. She goes to bed dragging the ragdolls along.

It makes me think in the eighty three days remaining to be able to walk out the door, to take the train to my village, to see my parents… to go camping, maybe. I have to endure because the grass, the trees, the woods and the flowers will not knock at my door. These are the dangerous thoughts so I wash them away from my head and go to sleep.

The alarm rings earlier as predicted and I jump off my bed straight to the window to see stickers falling from her bed with the light flashing red and blue, and the deafening sound of the horn that, thanks God, sound proof glass doesn’t allow me to hear. She finally stands putting an end to her pandemonium. “You are fifty two apples behind,” Sara says and I follow my ordinary day with an extra effort to fulfill today’s quota worried of not reaching a thousand apples deficit that means dismissal. I perform my job turning to the clock after each finished apple counting the time left for recess.

My Power Bar pops out and I chew it in my way to the window. Stickers is lost over her desk, with the light flashing red, unable to keep herself awake. I squeeze the envelope of my bar in my fist knowing the feeling by experience when first arrived here. A ray of sunlight reflects and lights my clouded thoughts. I unfold the wrinkled envelop and remembering my Origami book, I fold it in the pattern of a tiny rose that place in the frame of my photo for the rest of the shift.

At night, I call her again using the light, “L-o-o-k—f-o-r—t-h-e—X.”

With evident tiredness she hardly replies “Ok” before plummeting in her bed.

Next day, I start my labor and I make a hole to the apple but this time I eat the wriggly worm and put the origami rose inside the apple before seal it back. I mark a discreet “X” with the point of the extractor, hoping that quality control has not been moved back in the line before the apple reaches her.

At recess I find her smiling with the rose in her hands that puts a smile on my face too. I finish my bar and devote the envelope to create a new flower.

“T-h-a-n-k—y-o-u—Y-o-u—m-a-d-e—m-y—d-a-y.” Were her words that night.

 windows

The single task of sending a flower everyday made my days too, my weeks, my months. We spent every night “chatting,” counting the days to be able to go camping. We were like two goldfish in distant fishbowls in an aquarium, dreaming of the day we will meet in the everlasting ocean.

Then, in the tenth night before summer, her light didn’t turn on.

In next morning a fat man that struggled with morning crunches was occupying her room and I understood she didn’t reach her quota and the substitute was substituted. I wanted to throw everything, to punch the wall and kick the door.

“You have a thirty three apples deficit,” Sara said.

“Shut the fuck up, you asshole,” I screamed with tears realizing I lost her. Forever.

“You are infringing the protocol.” The no-more-sexy voice said.

I sat in my chair and worked hard trying to not think in her but failed miserable at each apple. Counting the minutes, I was afraid of the setting of the sun, afraid of finding myself incapable to survive a night without her.

Night fell, and my only escape was to lie next to the window hopping a clear sky that could help me to regain peace. But it didn’t. Clouds were denser and darker than any day before. Melancholia was my sole companion. Her room felt empty even when the fat man was making his bed.

Why? I asked myself for a thousand times, hoping vaguely that I could find an answer that I already had but refused to accept.

The man turned the light off and a miracle happened. The ceiling and walls were covered with the apple’s stickers that were glowing in the night. The thousand stickers she used to create a private starry sky.

For her.

For me.

In the window, tens of stickers shaped a huge heart and a message that read: You were the joy of my life.

That cosmos helped me to endure my days and nights until was my turn to say good bye. I opened the door and leaved without looking back. The day my room became vacant, waiting for the next substitute to rent it.

I found the fishbowl cramped to contain my dreams.

Dreams of an everlasting sea.

M. Ch. Landa

Dedicated in memoriam of:

Xu Lizhi

(1990-2014)

May your life be remembered by the words embodied in your poetry and not by the iPhones 6 your hands crafted in Foxconn assembly line.

Obituary & On My Deathbed

I want to take another look at the ocean, behold

the vastness of tears from half a lifetime

I want to climb another mountain, try to call

back the soul that I’ve lost

I want to touch the sky, feel that blueness so light

But I can’t do any of this, so I’m leaving this world

Everyone who’s heard of me

Shouldn’t be surprised at my leaving

Even less should you sigh or grieve

I was fine when I came, and fine when I left.

—Xu Lizhi, 30 September 2014

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