Freedom in capitalist society always remains about the same as it was in ancient Greek republics: Freedom for the slave-owners.
Bupinder Singh is a writer and educator based in Kashmir, India. His works have appeared in publications such as The Week, The Delacorte Review, and Coldnoon, among others. He is currently working on his first novel, a historical fiction. Follow him on Twitter: @fidoic.
by Bupinder Singh
The chimney buzzed again, announcing—in its metallic voice—the final warning before shift-start. Today, I could finally buy the spray paint. I had saved enough money, so I made a mental note. Go to Lives-villa after shift-end. I had made my request to the megamarket six days before and the shipment was due. They should sell me some spray paint now.
I locked my habitation-container and slipped into the bustling street. Fruit-sellers and cigarette men flogged their wares on every corner. Red-faced macaques, perched atop dust-ridden cars, scanned the street like pickpockets waiting for a mark. Deadly to look them in the eyes. Nobody could work without fingers.
I coughed through my tattered face mask into my fist. Four minutes to get to work, but the walk took only three-minutes-and-forty-seconds. If I moved quickly enough, I could save another twenty seconds and avoid being cited as a wrecker.
Lives-villa didn’t pay what they used to, but selling my fluids meant easy cash. Blood, semen, cerebral fluids. My worker wage only covered necessities like rice and Vitamin D exposure, so the extra money would pay for the spray paint.
I had a genius plan too. If I could produce an extra five foetuses each day, I could earn one extra leave every five months. The chimney tracked our work-speed and inventories closely. The previous month, #32867 had lifted some stem cells and made it across the barriers to the black market, but the chimney traced him. Drones were all over Greys-villa; monitoring everything, everyone, day and night. It was better to work and save; accrue leave days.
If I worked hard and saved all my leaves, I could go home for a whole week.
I stopped by the megamarket after shift-end. On the smoky mezzanine floor, stacks of imported soft drinks, coffee, and spice stood against the walls. No meat or dairy products though. You had to apply through the chimney-keeper for an additional permit if your needs exceeded state-given rations. If you knew where to look, you could find stimulants and pleasure rooms on the lower floors.
I joined the queue outside the inventory office and awaited my turn. The girl behind the glass wore counterfeits and a nose stud. I asked her if they’d received my delivery request.
The girl scanned my ID, but the blue light flashed red. ‘Information request,’ she said, frowning at the computer screen. ‘Worker #29874, what’s your habitation?’
Sweat beaded on my forehead. ‘Container 1861b, chimney,’ I told her.
The girl nodded, scanned my ID again, and the light flashed green. Then she scoured the back shelves of the dispensary. ‘Spray paint, right…? What colour would you like, grey, black, or red?’
My stomach turned. ‘What about blue?’
She shook her head. ‘No blue.’
‘Okay.’ Spray paint. Check next month’s shipment. I bought a bottle of mineral water and some cigarettes on my way out.
I loved my cramped container, although the dust always got in somehow. There was no toilet besides my sanitation bucket, but I had space enough to sleep straight. The low ceiling made cooking a pain in my neck. Sure, I could put in another request for a bigger container, but I didn’t want to be blacklisted. For now, I would make do with the grey container ceiling. It was going to take time to accrue enough leave days, but in four years, I would see the blue sky again.
Copyright © ‘Spray Paint’ Bupinder Singh 2020