There were no cars on the roads, no people walking the streets. The reality had sunk in decades ago; Russia had won the cold war and communism was in full swing. Every street, every building looked like a replica of Mother Russia’s Moscow. Everything looked like it had time jumped from the late ‘70s. Infrastructure wasn’t doing that well under communism. Neither was my social life. I still had the same friends from high school where we had all ended up in the same college. Senseless but not that hard to fathom when you eat, breathe and shit communism.
The weather was out in a black and grey dress. Dark clouds hovered over the city like smog in Beijing. If it wasn’t for the obvious lack of Asians everywhere, one could have sworn they were in China. The shadow cast by the clouds made it look like dusk was setting in at 2PM. There was a cool breeze blowing in all directions never quite making up its mind. Polythene bags were swaying back and forth like they were attached to a puppeteer’s string; a really bad puppeteer. The sun had not been seen in a long time, neither had the rain. Mass starvation had just climbed over the horizon and was coming for us, all of us. The clouds had, for years, given people hope that they would split open and shower our farms but that hope was quietly fading away. Oh and by our farms I really mean our farms. It was communism after all.
This particular afternoon was no different from yesterday or the day before or the day before that. It was dusk even though it wasn’t really dusk, the breeze was still having a go at its inner demons and losing. The back and forth was here to stay and I still had the same friends but I think the word friend is a bit of an overstatement. They had stopped being friends a long time ago. We were not friends; we were zombies, robots, cogs in the old Mother Russia engine chugging along to the soundtrack of our misery.
Classes (or rather the brainwashing) ended at 2PM and all students congregated around the communist flag erected about a hundred meters from the gate and with no lecturer in sight the PA system broadcast clear instructions on what was expected of us when we left the compound. We were divided into groups and each group received assignments that were to be completed before we went to our respective dwellings and surprisingly to no one I was in the same group with my zombie pals. It’s safe to assume that by now my ‘robots’ and I were going to die on the same day at the same time. Our hearts stopping in unison, our eyes zipping shut in slow motion, dropping to our knees to the sound of concrete breaking our fall as it shutters our long worn out bones.
Our assignment for the afternoon was clear and simple: head over to a fellow countryman’s homestead where a search party was gathering to look for a missing child. The couple’s two year old daughter had been missing for three days and for some reason it took three days to organize a search party. Communism was clearly working!
Someone in my group of zombies suggested that we look for the little girl in the charcoal pyrolysis fields which also doubled as a cemetery because you know, communism. The working theory was that the child was abducted, molested and buried alive in this particular field. I couldn’t tell how that theory was arrived at but now that I think about it, the guy who suggested it was probably behind it. That information was too specific.
Anyway we marched into the pyrolysis field and carefully started dismantling each smoldering pile of slowly cooking charcoal. We eventually struck gold on a recently constructed clamp. The clamp was carefully pulled apart and stuck between slowly burning logs were two human figures; one adult and the other a toddler. The adult female was non-responsive and not in any way related to the little girl and neither was she reported missing. In fact nobody knew who she was. She was just there. Dead. I reached into the pyre and picked up the little girl from the charred surroundings.
This is where things got really creepy. She had no clothes on her and my picking her up exposed her ash covered skin which was near transparent. I could see her heart beating, her lungs puffing and collapsing as she breathlessly inhaled fresh air. Her spine was visible on her back, curving outwards in an awkward angle. She wasn’t crying but there was deathly waft about her and her eyes did nothing to allay my fears that I was holding a ghost or at the very least Gollum from The Lord of the Rings. It was so unsettling that I almost dropped her. I could feel every fiber of my feeble frame retracting and I finally gave in to my fears and put her down after she touched my white short-sleeved shirt.
When I put her down she didn’t drop her gaze, she stared intently into my eyes as I slowly backed away. She stared until she couldn’t see me anymore, until a crowd gathered all around her to witness the conquering of death, the girl who refused to die.
As I was watching the crowd gawk at this anomaly, questions started flooding my brain: when did I stop being an introvert, when did I become the guy who pulls kids from burning clamps, how did I become a hero, how the hell did the soviets win the cold war, how, how, how??? Last but not least, when did I start wearing short-sleeved shirts? I don’t have a single short-sleeved shirt in my wardrobe.
That’s when I woke up, sweating, ready to burn my short-sleeved shirts and murder some soviets. I’m glad I don’t have to do any of those things, especially the short sleeve shirts annihilation part.