In the morning, Charlie opened his eyes blearily, rubbing them as he listened to the automated female tannoy system gently croon that the first session of the day would commence in half an hour. The sound of the voice was replaced by the peace of birdsong, and Charlie remembered back to a story his parents told him as a child when he was falling asleep each night. It was about a boy and a girl who sat on the tallest branch of the tallest tree together in the forest, their small limbs fitting perfectly into the crooked angles and crumbling bark of the tree, that revealed cunning splinters every time one of them moved even an inch. So instead they sat, fingertips touching so gently you could hear the whisper of their skin slide together. Neither dared to move out of their solace as they looked about them, forever coming back to each other’s eyes. This happened every day for a year, each time they sat together on the tree, touching hands and looking. On the year to the day, the boy starting singing. A ditty came from his mouth, a beautiful melody that the girl waltzed around with her own voice, creating a beautiful harmony that lit up the woods with so much love that all the animals came to the tallest tree to hear them sing. The sun was setting and the leaves were gold, dancing on their skin in time to their music. Their love was so pure and strong that the sun recognised the beauty in them. The sun concentrated its gaze onto them, and their fingertips tingled together, each finger turning into the soft bristle of a feather, the downy feathers pure white and perfect together. They looked at each other as their song turned from slurred human melody to the staccato ditty of birdsong, and their mouths turned into beaks, and their eyes turned into small black dots. The sun eased its glow and the birdsong was the most beautiful thing alive, immortalised forever in their form of the two doves. They flew together around the world, casting their sweet song onto all the true lovers. When one hears two doves when walking with a sweetheart, you know you have found true love, as the doves recognise their own hearts in yours. Charlie came back to his senses and shook the sleep off of him with a dainty flick of his head, stretching out his back, hands coming to reach the soft padding of the headboard behind him, still listening to the sound of the birds, the echo of his childhood calling him back to the warm crumpled bed, to close his eyes and to forget about the day ahead. And so he did just that, closing his eyes softly, but the sleek rustle of sheets disturbed his rest, reminding him of the luxurious reality outside his window, another temptation to change his mind the moment it presented itself to him. Grabbing his key card, he stumbled into the bathroom to change into the one other outfit he had been issued at the camp; a plain white t-shirt and pale blue tracksuit bottoms. Cleaning his teeth with a standard issue toothbrush, he proceeded to open the French doors, pulling the slide with both hands and breathing in the cool, fresh air that wafted inside the room, the scent of the dew matching the glistening scene before his eyes. He stepped through and closed the door behind me, key safely in his pocket, and walked to where all the other people with the same uniform as him were standing, varying t-shirt colours correlating with what month they arrived in. As there were so many people, they were all taken in to the camp on a monthly basis, in order to create control and help out the camp leaders. Myself and two others were herded into the section on the right, with others in white t-shirts. The other groups around us looked completely calm, while the group he stood with were twitching and rubbing their hands together nervously. The girl with the afro from the morning in there car stood in front of Charlie, her silhouette so familiar from the long drive that it almost made him feel at home, and turned around to smile at him. She introduced herself as ‘Annie’ and extended a warm, doughy hand toward him. Before Charlie could say anything, a man walked up to them, entirely serene. His hair was dark with flecks of grey permeating the tousled quiff balanced on the crown of his head, his face so relaxed that no lines dared to appear upon it. His eyes matched the grey of his hair, tinged with blue like the afternoon on a cloudy day. His t-shirt was orange, and he created an aura of superiority that floated around us like flecks of dust dancing in a stream of light. He looked around again at his peers and most of them bowed their heads instinctively as he walked to the front of the group, and Charlie too did the same, unwilling to meet the mystery man’s eyes for too long. Charlie was extremely tired despite the sweet sleep he fell into, as all the new surroundings washed him out to the point of complete exhaustion. The night before had not prepared him for the lack of coffee or food as it had been a long while, and he felt as if his body was crashing, each limb slowly feeling heavier with the effort of standing up. The man in front of him slowly began to go out of focus, the whole world blurry and green as Charlie lost concentration on what the man in front of them was saying, and he blindly followed everyone to their next port of call, ready to be rejuvenated by either the food or sleep promised in their garden.
They followed in a haphazard line to a break in the garden, where a staircase made of stone and moss led them down to a perfect square of flat grass, the lawnmower indenting slightly Around us, a tall ledge partially masked our view of most of the garden, so they had to focus all of our attention to the man who had stopped and turned to face us. His bare feet were solidly planted on the ground, and they were encouraged to do the same, wriggling our toes in the grass. He introduced himself as Chris, and a smile grew on his face as he surveyed us all, his nose widening and the curves of his mouth lifting to make creases down from his nose.hewas so thankful when he asked us to sit down cross-legged on the grass, as it took all his strength to keep on standing up, all the energy sapped out of me. Chris had started speaking as they sat uniform on the ground, each of us cross legged, knees high in the air as they stretched our hip openers like small school children. they were required to breathe deeply, into our belly, then up to our chest, then up to our collarbones and all the way back down again, air filling us up so much so that our shoulders lifted and they felt they were going to explode, each controlled exhale feeling like a long release of all our tensions. As they were breathing in synchronised silence, Chris sparked some green matches and lit incense in a circle around us. The incense was a deep purple colour, thick wedges of cylinder sticking out from the ground as if surrounding us in a fence, each stick hit into the ground by Chris as he walked. The scent enveloped us in a cloud of a smellhecould not identify. The whole garden was quiet as they sat there, the flutter and rustle of leaves in the wind from the trees and the hopping of birds from tree to tree, nestling in bushes and creating sweet birdsong was completely artificial, small speakers emulating the sound of nature tied to the trees, nestling in the armpit of the branches. The smoke of the incense reached his nose as he noticed these things, and took him into a state of sleep in the garden. As his eyes closed he felt his body roll backwards and his hands hit the dewy ground, the soft, plush earth catching his fall and caressing his head with its small, grassy fingers. The whole world was black and dreamless, and by the time he woke up, the sun had started setting, yet it felt like seconds had gone by. Around me, his peers had also fallen asleep, lying in various positions in the middle of the circle, the line they sat in dissipating into a pile of bodies that looked totally peaceful and relaxed. The hunger he had felt earlier had faded away and he achieved a state of artificial bliss. The incense had stopped surrounding us in smoke and as the fog lifted,he could blink through it to see Chris’s silhouette, sitting very upright and very still just outside the circle, index finger and thumb resting together in a perfect circle on his knees, the rest of his fingers dropping out far to the side, stretching to reach the extreme length of his legs. As the others lay sleeping,he stood up and walked to sit next to him. Chris looked up at me, and lifted his chin quickly in a way of greeting, fluttering his eyes open to show that he was aware of his presence, but at the same time identifying that it was him for his own clarity. Charlie sat down, crossing his legs as instructed in the beginning of the class, knees far off the ground, noticing how Chris was able to open his legs so much that his knees touched the ground his ease. He silently watched the sunset with him for a few hours, barely any talk passing between us. Soon the other students were rising out of their sleep, and Chris walked us back in to have some food. Slowly, after each day passed and he woke up from our relaxation earlier than the others, Chris began to talk to me, bringing his awareness into our space, instead of sitting solitary in his own mind. The first time they talked privately, they did not establish much between us. He broke the silence first. ’You should think about lifting your ribs away from your hips, it’ll help you sit comfortably.’he breathed in and tried to lift his back as straight as his, feeling a dull ache in his back and his abdomen tightening in order to lift the weight of his body, one that he was not used to. Seeing his discomfort, he let out a low chuckle, one that sounded like it vibrated through his whole body, so when lying on his chest you could catch the low rumbling in your own head, and spread the laughter through your own body just by feeling the vibrations. He closed his eyes and smiled at the thought, both of us revelling in the mutual happiness.
’How did you learn to sit like this for so long?’hequestioned, turning his head to look at him, yet he carried on looking straight ahead, the last of the sun shining on his face that creating a cool glow which complemented his skin.
‘It’s all about the practice,’ he replied. ’At first he could only last 5 minutes, being so stiff and weak, but slowly ashestretched his body and focused on breathing,hecould sit like this for forever if he wanted to.’he snorted at this.
‘I don’t exactly have forever to think about it.’ His eyes wrinkled up into a sad frown.
‘I can work with you as much as you like, and I’m always here to listen and to talk if you need it. You’re not a bad egg, Charlie, you don’t seem as mentally scarred like the others. The incense, it contains a drug that travels round the body and completely relaxes the muscles and the brain, but when it’s achieved its job you wake up again. Now, the others sleep to past sunset, and you wake up earlier. By the end of the month here, people usually only take an hour at the beginning of the day to completely relax, and then they start incorporating more activities. By waking up early, you achieve the honour of being the least stressed out of everyone here.’ his laughter was the opposite of Chris’s, ringing out in a derisive snort, his upper throat whirling and grumbling like the startup of a chainsaw. ‘I’m being serious!’ He finally turned to face me. ’It’s a mixture of Klonopin, Ambien and Valium, combined in such a way that means when you inhale just a scent, it seeps through your body so fast you barely know what’s happening. He would have to stay outside the circle otherwise I’d be dragged into the sleep as well. Because you were already so relaxed, the cortisol levels in your body were eradicated faster than in the others, waking you up faster. That’s what he was told anyway,heactually have no clue about the real science, about what’s really in it…apparently it took years to create.’he shook his head in reply.
‘I don’t know how they can develop these things when people don’t even have the money to eat anymore.’
‘I know,’ Chris sighed, the exhalation carrying the words with it. A rustle was heard behind them and they looked around, everyone waking up, one by one dragging their torsos into an upright position, seemingly embarrassed about falling asleep. Chris placed his opposite hand on his knee and stretched round, a deep, resonant crack sounding from his spine as he twisted one way and then the other, small pops that were gross and satisfying at the same time. He stood up and gestured for all of us to do the same, walking towards the huge tent that was already thrumming with the hubbub of people inside.
The food hall consisted of a white marquee tent, with straw panels creating an uneven floor for us to walk across. A white table held the food for the evening, a display of rye and ezekiel bread, avocado slices, chia seeds, peanut butter, vegetables…all high fat, raw foods. A low hum and clatter permeated the hall, the jingling of cutlery and the chinking of plates and cups as people gathered their food and sat down on the long table that ran parallel to the buffet. The different colours of t-shirts were all jumbled up and mixed, so a sea of varying shades of blue and green, light pastels seeping into a medium colour, a lack of darkness creating a calm that would never be known around the grey and bleak streets of the city just down the road. The sight stretched out in front of me, and he felt like ifhetried to run to the end he would give up halfway, too tired to move. It seemed like the tent went on for miles, as many hundreds of thousands of people were coming in through the flaps in the tent, another group of white t-shirts emerging too, the sheer multitude of these grounds finally hitting me. he found a space next to the girl from earlier, and her hands had stopped trembling. When she looked at him now, her brown eyes were dry and a real smile emerged on her face.
‘Hi,’ she timidly acknowledged me, the plate in front of her loaded with what seemed like all of the food that could be found on the table - an avocado was open and dripping with peanut butter, her water had chia seeds in and there were more scattered all over the plate. She had both ezekiel and rye bread, two slices of each stacked to make an enormous sandwich, with an amalgamation of seeds and tomatoes and lettuce on the inside. he examined her plate with his eyes lowered, and looked up to meet her eyes, saying hi in return.
‘I’m Annie,he saw you talking earlier with Simon?’ Her head tilted to the side in curiosity.
‘Yeah,he woke up a lot earlier than all of you guys…I could’ve used the extra sleep though.’ Her back straightened as she laughed, the food on her fork dropping back down onto her plate.
‘At least the beds are comfy here…even in the tents.’
’The tents?’he wondered what she was on about; all of the accommodation he had seen were rooms similar to mine. ‘What tents?’
‘The tents at the back? You can’t see them from here, but the people who can’t afford flats have to stay in tents at the end of the ground. they get everything you do, and it’s not cold for anything…I can still sleep well,he just miss walls sometimes’
’Why don’t you have any money?’he asked, ‘Surely your sponsor would provide for you?’
‘It’s his family, I’m sponsoring his younger sister, and I’ve cost them too much anyway.’ She gestured to her full plate. ’I can’t expect them to feed him like this forever, I’m a drain on resources.’he knew the cost of abortion was high, but not for measures so desperate. ‘My family are happier with him out of the picture, and a new life to look forward to…I just didn’t expect to go so soon,’ she sighed into her plate. ‘Sorry,’ she shook her head and her shoulders out, coming back to the smile from earlier. ‘I might as well enjoy the time,he have right?he shouldn’t be so negative about the past.’ She kept picking at her food, enjoying every mouthful as they both turned back to our plates, mine with half an avocado on a slice of bread, hers slowly demolished with a face of ecstasy. After she had finished, they all remained sitting there in silence until he spoke again.
‘You know, you could always share his room.’ Her eyebrow shot up.
’Sorry, I’m not interested in…’he got her meaning and cut her off fast
‘No! No no no,he didn’t mean like that at all,he just meant, if you get cold or miss walls too much, there’s plenty of room for both of us.’ As he talked, her shoulders returned down from her ears, and she asked him if I’d even read the handbook.
’That’s an intensely prohibited proposition, you know that, right? they could get moved up a group…die earlier…you really need to read that handbook.’he remembered it vaguely from earlier, sitting in his room on the floor where hehad kicked it off. She leant in closer to me, burying her shoulder under his armpit and her head next to mine, her afro hair curling down on his chin, scratching his cheek sheathe. A feeling of being a protector came over me, and a slow feeling of warmth radiated from his chest and he moved his cheek slowly against her hair, the tight curls enveloping him in a sweet scent of spices, reminding him of the chai tea they used to drink as children. they sat like that until it was time to go back, this time never far from each other, finding comfort in our togetherness.
The next couple of days passed in the same way, and Annie opened up to him even more. he opened his eyes blearily, looking to the side to look out of the window, but seeing only darkness. The alarms that wake us up had obviously malfunctioned, as it was too early to get up. he groaned and rolled over in the warm bubble I’d created during his sleep, and found a cool space on the pillow to grumpily turn over to. he fell back asleep and woke up barely any time later, this time bringing his knees up to his chest and reluctantly opening his eyes. he hopped out of bed, tucking his feet into his slippers as he walked into the bathroom. Looking at myself in the mirror,he saw a sort of health returning to his face. his hair was sticking out in all directions so he hastily tried to flatten it back to its usual quiff, and brushed his teeth as usual, stepping out of his pyjamas into his casual clothes, lacing his shoes and heading out of doors. The hubbub of the corridor reached his ears as everyone left at the same time as me. he followed a group of boys out to the garden, climbing the steps to go through the reception as it seemed too dark for everyone to congregate out there. The tired and the slovenly all looked confused, standing in reception with the girls, who had had the same idea as us. he thought of Annie at the other side of the camp, and wondered how she was going to get down here in order to find out what was going on. The garden was not well lit enough for anyone to clamber over the multitude of shrubbery. Chris came down the stairs behind reception, leading to the only first floor rooms in the compound, the ones where the leaders lived. His smooth skin had tinted grey under his eyes, and small creases had appeared in the bottom of his t-shirt, as if he had stayed up all night wearing it. The look on his face was not serene and he shook his head at me, others coming down the stairs behind him carrying industrial torches and lamps. They filed out and trekked up toward the camps and lined the garden, casting a harsh white glow across the ground, changing the peaceful red glow from the sunrise and the natural light they had once seen, into a harsh white land, one filled with shadows and the fluttering of leaves. Once everyone had packed themselves into the room, standing shoulder to shoulder, they were told to section off into our usual groups. they gathered in a group around Chris, and he faced him head on, chest aching with the fact that they couldn’t be alone together, sorting and figuring out what the hell was going on, his wisdom imparting into his head and making all the clouds go away. he was suddenly hit by the image of his scar, a long, raised line on his left side, warm and tragic and fragile. his fingers burnt with a tingling red heat from where he touched it yesterday, as Chris told him of his illness and his past, how he finally reached his inner calm and came here. he blinked once, then twice, and came to his senses and bought myself back to where the others were dispersed around him in a semicircle. The other groups are also gathered around their respective leaders all around the room, the hubbub fading to a slow susurrus of sound, the leaders speaking in hushed tones so everyone could hear each other, explaining the same thing in a number of ways. The leaders were to leave the compound, and new leaders were to step in in their place. Additionally, they had signed up to the program, and would join us as sponsors; they all wished to die now, for the good of the government. After he had finished his speech, Chris refused to look at anyone, hanging his head down and lifting his shoulders up, tucking his mind away from the shock to our systems, the pity that was etched on our faces. they had no idea what was happening. Everything had changed in a split second. There are moments in everyone’s lives when they are put down a new path, a new road in life, and they can pinpoint them directly, narrating their life story with the road signs of these moments. For Chris, for everyone here, their last signpost was this place, the last path of life. Everyone dispersed back, trickling into their rooms for the final few hours before the new leaders took us out to our new itinerary. The leaders went begrudgingly back up the stairs, and came down again with their belongings in boxes, ready to move into one of the sectors they all inhabit, each wearing a grey t-shirt, to signify their new station.
They all heard the alarm ring out once more. he had been sitting on his bed, cross-legged, to watch the sun rise through his glass window. he placed his feet back down into his shoes and followed the trail of people out of doors this time, in order to follow through to his station for the day. Just as he leant down over myself, noticing a new flexibility that had entered his body,he realised that the announcement was still going, ordering us to go to the tents in order to have breakfast; a new routine had already started. A small bowl of warm porridge, thick in consistency, with raspberries and blueberries dotted along the top in two orderly lines met him at the table, with a glass of milk on the side. he talked to Annie, who was sat next to him as always, her bowl slightly larger than mine, with a banana on the side, and some toast splayed out on her plate.
’Chris wouldn’t do this,’he whispered, afraid of others listening in on his theories about the controversy. Annie agreed with me, speaking intermittently as she focused on her breakfast and the words she was to say next, both of us equally cautious, sitting with our heads almost touching as they spoke. Annie added:
‘Chris was happy…he was at peace, and they wouldn’t all give up on life on the same day! He looked so tired, as did the others, and I’ve never seen him act that way, almost like he was ashamed of himself.’
‘Is there any way of getting him out of this?’
‘Nope, not one bit…once you put on the t-shirt the contract they sign is binding and they have to see it through to the end…although he had heard about people in the past…rumour has it there’s a clause somewhere that states that you can defer and carry on living, but if you do then the baby has to die still, and you have to pay back all of the money to the parents. It’s a tough one, especially if the baby is far along…people would rather die than take away that sort of hope from people.’
‘he still need to talk to him,’ he replied. ‘It’s impossible to believe that he would do this on purpose.’ his mind was whirring as he thought of the thousands of scenarios that would lead him and the others into this situation, and he started shaking with anger at the whole system. he thought of the coercive nature of the government,he thought about their families being threatened, if they had to die anyway, if this was normal…if the camp was going to be shut down and they needed people out the way…like Alice in Wonderland,he was thinking about the 5 impossible things he needed to think before breakfast. hetalked myself into believing that none of it could be true. he didn’t notice any grey shirts walking into the tent for breakfast this morning, so none of the leaders were here. he needed to get out of this tent and talk to Chris. It was ridiculous what had happened, and he needed to see if he was okay, at least. Apart from Annie, it felt like Chris was his only friend here, the only one who actually cared. Most people started practicing detachment, leaving people behind in order to find their own peace. he couldn’t do that, not when he cared so much about people. he left his porridge, leaving Annie and the tent behind him as hewent outside to try to search for his new dorms. The light from the morning left his mind crisp and clear, the air purging him of the insanity of the morning. It was with a logical plan that he went up to the front desk and asked if they had seen Chris. Anticipating their answer as no,he realised that anything he tried to say would be futile, and that I’d be looked at warily for the rest of the time. he did not know yet how taboo it would actually be to speak to the leaders, and whether it would be allowed when they saw them again, so he just walked straight down, taking a sharp turn away from the desk, and walked towards his own dormitory. Strolling down the corridor,he went past his room and towards the end of the hallway, hundreds of doors passing me. his head turned left and right and left and right searching for any indication that Chris was around, clutching at straws. As he padded slowly down the hallway, searching for any sounds of movement, a faint scent wafted out from underneath one of the doors, like camomile and creatine, the smell he remembered from the garden. Knocking on the door,he heard a faint scuffling, and the room was cautiously opened. he found Chris there, bedraggled and dazed, looking too tired after the lack of last night’s sleep to fully summon the energy to put his things away. They scatted the floor behind him, and a circle of the candles they used in the garden were around his bed.
’I…I can come back,’he started, gesturing back the way he came.
‘No, it’s okay,he couldn’t sleep anyway, even with the candles.’ Chris blew them out, and as he did so he timidly stepped into the room. His curtains were closed and the room was dark save for a lamp on the side. It was stuffy and too warm in there, dark and claustrophobic save for a sole beam of sunlight that made its way across the room from a slither of space in the curtains. he sank down onto the opposite side of the bed that Chris was on, and felt it give way slightly underneath his weight, the way his own bed does. It was exactly the same, but less lived in, the slope of the bed different as suddenly two people were sat on it. Pensively,he lifted his feet up one by one, lying myself back against the cushions, waiting for Chris to say something as he did the same, our shoulders touching and our feet crossed towards one another as his legs stretched out long in front of us, mine reaching further down the bed than Chris’, his feet pointing towards his ankles, and his toes reaching towards an empty space. Like they practised,he sat perfectly still, feeling our bodies breathe in time, a deep slowness that resonated around the room with every exhale. they synchronised the perfect rise and fall of our breaths, making the mattress rise and fall with us. He yawned and the sun beam from the gap on the curtains illuminated his mouth. He still looked distraught, his company easing no pain from his face. He rolled over and off the bed, making him sink deeper into it, and shut the door, locking us inside. Stretching out,he got up too and started sorting out his belongings into some sort of order.
’So,’he began, clearing his throat with his back turned from him after such a long time in silence, ‘what happened out there?’ He looked at me, his head cocked to one side with his eyebrow raised. he shifted his foot and turned around to face him.
’They’re forcing you?’he questioned, trying to mask his outrage with his residual calm from sitting next to him for so long. he carried on organising, keeping his cool before he nodded, lips clasping together and tears squeezing out of his eyes. Padding over his floor towards him,he wrapped him up in a hug, his soft skin pressing into the stubble of his cheek. He smelt warm and his arms were stronger than mine, constantly supporting him more than he him. he carried on holding him in his arms, waiting for the tears to stop, his hand rubbing his back in circles of comfort. Chris spoke again. He began with a sigh, and chased it up with his words.
‘I die on the same day as you, if that helps.’ Holding him away from him, he looked down at the floor, summoning a sad smile as he lifted his head, almost as if he pitied me. The corner of his mouth rose on one side and his eyes fell sleepily onto his face. All hope seemed lost to him, no energy reached his expressions. he stared blankly at the wall, tearing myself away from the sorry sight before me. But his arms couldn’t move. he held on tightly to his upper arms, his clammy hands being heated by his radiating warmth. he felt like he had been punched in the gut, almost about to throw up. his chest hurt, his heart felt too big for his ribcage all of a sudden. This was the first real emotion he had acknowledged in a long time, the first one henoted feeling. And it was one of pain. The introspection of his own feelings when his friend is going to be forced to die suddenly seemed wrong, seemed so selfish. The sickly feeling intensified but focused his efforts back to Chris, to try and help him figure something out.
‘I’m donating his life to a senator and his wife, actually,’ he sneered, effort stretching his smile up and distorting his face into a scene of pain. ‘I don’t know whether you know this but this sort of thing happens all the time, especially if a new election is taking place. The people like me, they have power over you, the helpless ones. If they could start a rebellion through all the camps, the system as they know it would be over.’ He twisted away from me, and started to pace around the room as he told his story, randomly picking up his belongings and placing them into some kind of order, his clothes in one pile, picture frames of his family and what seemed to be a deity rested against the leg of the chest of drawers.
‘Of course,he wouldn’t do that, you know?he think the way things are being handled is perfect. But, in our contract, once you sign up to help the sponsors, you technically become one yourself…but only when the Company needs it. And this hasn’t happened in a long time, there’s a huge chance that you’ll live to see old age, have a family and retire yourself. But there is also, when you take this job, a 2% chance of being called out for the job. he was young when he signed up,he wanted the luxuries you guys had but without the death at the end! The Company went round the villages recruiting and he just…’ He stopped pacing and looked at me, hand rubbing his forehead as he thought, stopping his tangent from running away with him. ‘More often than not, I’m just disappointed that official’s manifestations are treated with more fortune than their current employees…it goes against the ethical standards they should strive for.’ It was unlike Chris to get so passionate, to display any emotions but compassion and kindness about anything and he hoped the conversation would pass on soon, so he could understand what has happening, and so Chris could move on and find peace again before he died.
‘Basically,’ he repeated, ‘when there is a sponsor shortage in the UK, the Company go round and pick on employees from the camp…If life can be sold for such a high value, people want to hold onto it more. Having a life means you’re in the richest half of the population nowadays. So, they picked on our quadrant. They picked on us. 18 of us have to die this time, for each person in Company who wants another baby. Because each human life is established by a hierarchy, we’re below them. And their children.’ The feeling of being completely owned washed over me, as he realised he was in the same position as Chris, dying for those with a higher value to society, but he chose this life. he had free will and he chose his sponsors, helping people who really loved, who really mattered in the world; normal people who would care if someone wanted to die, and would understand the massive sacrifice a person would make for another life.
’There must be a way,’he said, his eyes tired from watching Chris pace, lying back slowly onto the bed to fully gather his thoughts and close his eyes. ‘If he wanted to, wouldn’t he be able to change his paperwork? And if he did, surely you would be able to as well?’ Chris smiled slightly, pleased with the concern in his voice. his head spun as he looked at the ceiling. I’d enjoyed his time with Annie and Chris so much,he wasn’t sure he wanted to die anymore if hecould live with them forever. If they wanted to die,he would go with them, and it wouldn’t matter what the Company did. It doesn’t matter what the Company do to others, as long as he know no one has to die without full control of their own free will. Chris’s peace at the sunrise every morning, his caring nature, his constant smile, told him he didn’t want to die any time soon. he couldn’t imagine him ever wanting a new day to pass him by. he slowly drifted off, feeling Chris’ warm, lean body sit down next to me, rolling into the side of his body as they lay down together, on top of the sheets, using each other as blankets to keep ourselves warm and loved in the nighttime.
The next day he rose early. With the pills and medical aid they were able to access with the privilege of being sponsors,he seemed to function with more of a purpose than he ever did before, and the new challenge of Chris’s issue took precedence over his own wish to die, his own flawed mental health. he requested a day pass out of the building, the only one they were allowed in our whole time in the retreat, and walked down the road into town. he was handed a bag with all of his old clothes inside, musty and damp from the way here. he changed in the toilets and handed in his retreat uniform before walking out of the door. The lack of public transport was for our own safety, due to one of the first sponsors. Every sponsor is given a health and safety talk, as they need to be in peak physical health in order to enjoy our last months. This is mainly so the elderly can use the service to sacrifice themselves, and so the poor can finally achieve a good quality of life, one that makes 9 months of living worth more than 20 years. On what seemed like a day many years ago now, they all sat down for the safety talk about our day outside the retreat, in rows of plastic chairs, a sea of white t-shirts segmented off into blocks, ready to be shipped off to our retreats. On the screen that illuminated our faces, they saw one of the first sponsors on the security tapes. Silence filled the hall until one of the leaders started speaking. they saw the sponsor climb into one of the cars and drive away from the camp he was allocated towards a town on the horizon. Plumes of dust raced behind him as the wheels started turning in a different direction. His face was completely calm as he swerved out of the range of the cameras, and that was the last of the footage, the screen flashing to a picture of the wreckage and his mangled body at the side of the road. they were told that the manifestation the man was sponsoring could not afford to keep payments any longer, and the man was being pulled from the program. By dying early, he freed a space in the program for the manifestation as he didn’t have the luxuries needed for a happy last few months. This was not allowed, as it ruined the program and gave people an incentive to not endorse the government routine. As such, his family were punished, his body buried in an unmarked grave for the selfishness of suicide against a government regime. they took in this information and the car crash on screen, watching the slow burn of the wreckage and the still, exposed flesh of this nameless man slowly cook under the heat of the flames. The image then changed to the picture of a row of successful sponsors, their new, lifeless bodies lined up in a laboratory, waiting for the organ donations and transplants needed to keep the remaining people on earth happy. By keeping ourselves safe and happy, they were keeping the future people safe and happy, and giving our bodies to science. The Company did not want us to die for nothing, and this is the last chance they had to give our lives meaning. The man kept on talking but he did not listen, looking at the blank faces with closed eyes and such a neutral expression of sleep. he both yearned for it and was repulsed by it, pitying them but accepting that they were like me. The next image improved even more, a row of fancy white graves in a green field, luxurious boxes buried into the ground, rows upon rows of people who had sacrificed themselves for the better cause. he had this in his head as they told us they were allowed into town, in order to properly say goodbye to our loved ones, to experience life outside the compound for one last time. As he walked for two hours instead of taking the bus,he was able to contemplate where he was in life. he felt things for Chris, and he loved Annie so dearly. he only felt regret when he looked at the people on the outside who he knew,he regret the time he spent with his parents,he regret not being able to love them the way he did his fiancée, who ended up dead anyway. he cannot now even feel anything but numb whenhelook back on the memory of her corpse, the one he had to go in to identify, the name tag ‘Jane Doe’ replaced with ‘Julia Danone’, barely identifiable as either name, the difference such a pedantic one. he walked into town to the centre where he originally signed the papers with the couple he sponsored. It was so long ago now,he could barely remember their names, and he thought long and hard about who they were on his way down. It wasn’t unheard of of a sponsor backing out of the program, but they spend most of their life paying back the money they used from the manifestation’s family, and end up right back where they started, wishing they could die. The only reason they leave is because the Company that run the sponsorship program need the endorphins that make us happy. After the safety talk, they witnessed a display by the Company scientist researching world poverty and the population crises, and he explained how the use of the drugs they gave us increased our happiness to levels of contentment and intense joy. Endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, paroxetine and oxytocin are all targeted in the pills that everyone has to take, and for specific maladies, natural remedies such as the incense in the garden, yoga, tai chi, and herbal homeopathy help to ease people into their best life. Without these to support us, they would go back to the way they were before, as anxious, depressed, mentally ill people. All this came back to him as hewalked down the boulevard, nearing his destination. The familiar scene of cobbled path, pastel blue walls and complicated woodwork greeted him as he entered the Sponsorship Building. he stopped outside for a second, leaning against the cold white wall of the hospital before slumping down, hugging his knees into his chest. he imagined his life after this visit. he imagined his life if he could ever get out of the deal, if Chris could too. he imagined our lives together, living in the countryside somewhere, waking up together every morning to meditate and watch the sunrise, sharing sweet contentment and belonging to a community with the other villagers, helping to farm things and to grow together, learning from each other even more, visiting one of the few remaining libraries and reading together on our days off…I shook off the thought, standing up again before he ran away with myself any more.hedecided to see if he could get out of the deal too as he swung through the door, hurrying inside after his arduous journey, and sitting down with some water to regain his senses. he looked around the room and saw two different couples, one with an elderly lady, and one with a small, skeletal child, sitting hunched over in his chair, limp and quiet as his parents talked in hushed voices. They finished their forms and the man walked over to pick up the child, his feet still hanging limply. He could not walk himself anymore, so thin he appeared to have absolutely no muscle on him. He was alert though, and looked at him as they walked out the door, his mother stroking his hair. His mouth clenched together as much as it could and he looked at him with such anguish and pain at his own weakness. Approaching the desk, and placing his cup down in the tray to be washed for the next person,he asked to speak to the manager, and the smiling lady at the reception enquired about his visit, speaking quietly so as not to disturb the last couple left, who were obviously very distraught, crying into one another and writing with shaking hands. After telling her he wished to enquire about a withdrawal from the program, the smile flew off her face and she hastily picked up the phone, hat tilting to the side in her rush to dial the manager. he heard the usual mumblings of someone listening to an authority figure from this side of the phone, the constant affirmations of ‘Yes ma’am…yes…mmhmmm…’ ringing in his ears. She hung up and ushered him into a back room, placing him in a plush chair in front of an overbearing heavy oak desk, too tall for the low sunk and well-worn chair he was placed in. A female figure walked in, heels clicking on the hardwood floor, the trotting of her steps daring him to turn around and look as she approached. he kept his head facing forward, however, looking out of the mottled glass arches that constituted windows behind her own desk, the grey outlook permeated with brown fields where crops were growing. The panes had such thick black outlines to trace with his gaze that he barely noticed when the clacking of the shoes on hardwood floor stopped, the lady stepping onto the rug upon which her chair was placed. She came into his view and he finally allowed myself to look as she expertly spun round onto the seat behind the desk, smoothing down her grey pencil skirt underneath her as she did so. Her hair was perfectly coiffed at the front, swirling round to a neat chignon at the back of her head, the grey of her skirt matching the flat grey colour of her hair. Her whole outfit was incredibly drab, the grey like the sky on a rainy day covered in dark clouds. The one item that stood out was the gold chain around her neck, falling down and catching the light from her desk lamp as the chain held up the gold rimmed glasses resting on her chest. She primly pulled out his paperwork with her perfectly manicured nails glistening on her bare fingers. She examined the documents and profiles of all involved in his case, picking up her glasses and placing them on the crook of her nose. he waited there in silence for a number of minutes, the clock in the corner ticking away, his foot tapping on the soft carpet in double time. he looked down at his shoe, the old brogue he used to wear suddenly looking alien on his foot. he longed for the soft canvas and the bliss of the camp, the city suddenly stifling, bland and cold. The carpet beneath him was a faded teal, koi fish swimming round in the material pond, dulled with time and age and travel, a white patch already appearing around the chair hewas sat on as many people before him had shuffled and fidgeted on this seat. The walls were covered in shelves, the luxury of fictional books on display here, the shelves interrupted with framed certificates of government statements, various accolades that need only be obtained in order to gin superiority over others. She finally peered up at me, watching his face and body language as his hands were wringing themselves together, twisting his clammy fingers into pretzels as he looked around the room. he made eye contact with her and she finally spoke, clearing her voice slightly after a period of neglect. In a matronly voice, stern, but with such a diplomacy that he could not ignore or fail to respect her, she talked down to him over the desk.
’They usually don’t accept these kind of rejections, after all, you’ve signed a contract and given a manifestation the right to life. To take this away would be dehumanisation and go completely against the system they have worked so hard to build.’ As she tailed off at the end of her sentence, shuffling papers together once more into neat piles,he slumped down further in his chair like a chastised school boy, his lips turning into a frown as he realised there wasn’t ever going to be a way out, not for Chris or for me.
‘But, Charlie,he would advise you to visit the family of the child you’re going to kill if you do this. It is possible despite all the forewarnings against it, but it doesn’t happen often, for a reason. There isn’t enough time to find a new sponsor with the recent shortages, and I’m sure you’ll agree that from a humanitarian perspective, it wouldn’t be the right thing to do.’ There was a terse pause in the room, as she waited for a reply. he gave none, as he was mulling over her statement. he had time before heading back to the camp, so if he visited Moria and Richard,he could see if they had any relatives to take his place. If he could go through with it and reclaim his freedom, his right to life would be obtained and as this loophole worked for one camp member in recent years, such a new contract could be presented to the current leaders and Company men, and they would either have to let Chris go too, or keep him in the camp against the law. The complications of such an issue over one human life would seem out of proportion, and chances are they would let us go in exchange for our silence. he sat there and imagined what life would be like if everyone lived life in the retreat, without such a temporary existence. If they worked as well, there would be a chance of a sustainable existence, one in which people would actually be happy. The government perspective on such an issue would be one of greed, and with the new changeover, hopefully someone would be elected who would be able to rally against the power of the Company, or at the very least find a solution people like him couldn’t come up with, something entirely new. People died for us to be born, people died for him to be born to his parents, the endless cycle made everyone important and sacred at birth, and then lowly and useless at around the middle of their life, even. People, including me, forget that they were important once too. Especially a man like Chris, so at peace with his life and so happy and content, needs to live and be reminded of his own self-worth. People like Chris create someone to aspire to be, it gives hope to those like me. he have had his happiness and have accepted that I’m not going to have any more love in this lifetime since his fiancée died, but Chris has practiced and worked every day in order to be good at his job, and he is. The pause was broken by a hesitant sound escaping his mouth, voice cracking slightly before he managed to form a coherent sentence.
’If i…if he do manage to come back to the real world…’he wondered whether he could trust this woman, but he had no one else on the outside to ask, so he wouldn’t know whether any effort he made would be futile.
‘Would it mean that someone contractually bound to the camp would be able to be freed as well? Like, someone who used to be a leader in the camp…’ Her eyebrows raised above her glasses at his question, obviously one not heard often when going through the set procedure with someone.
‘Well, that’s a situation I’ve never heard of before…using your case in such an argument might hold up, but being in such different contracts it would also be void. In his opinion, you might as well try, and threaten to take the case public. The company cannot have bad press right now, especially with the new election coming up.’ She looked quizzically at me, as if she didn’t know what to think, and then went back to her work. ‘I hope that helps you in some way,’ she muttered, her voice softening as she spoke into her paper.
’It does, thank you,’he replied, thanking her once more for her time after she had run through all of the terms and conditions of his visit today, something he always agree with but never seem to listen to, forever zoning out in order to ponder his own being. he stood up from the low chair and realised how small the woman was, just coming up to his own shoulder. he shook her hand, feeling his own clammy palm meet the cool, dry, collected palm of the woman. Before he left, she called him back and handed him a slip of paper with the address for Moria and Richard on it, which he was to visit before making his decision.
Walking out the room,he saw the woman pick up the phone, back hard at work at her desk.