453 readings

21

FINALIST
Jury Selection

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I heard one day that New York had once been a magnificent city. My first reaction was to laugh. I can hardly imagine the city you can make out down below, enveloped in a thick cloud of blackish smoke, could ever have been anything other than what it is today, a no man’s land of smoking, tottering ruins, or, what is worse, brand new. 
The new skyscrapers are high, very high, so high that they disappear above the clouds, beyond the reach of humans. Ninety-nine per cent of the population are starving while they wait for someone to deign to throw them some breadcrumbs, like a master keeping his dog hungry so that it will follow him, living in makeshift houses which they build with pieces of the old buildings that did not survive the Disaster. 
As for me, all that doesn’t affect me. Well, it would be more accurate to say that it doesn’t rule my actions. Of course, I am not so pragmatic or self-centred that I am not affected by the fact that ninety-nine per cent of the population are living like zombies or ghosts, haunted by their misfortunes. But with time I have learned to cope, to survive.
After the Great Quake, the rich paid for their houses to be quickly cleared away then rebuilt, equipped with the most expensive anti-earthquake protection. And the poor, as they didn’t have houses that could withstand the whims of Earth or of Mother Nature, had to work to be able to afford the house clearers, or profiteers as they were called. Those who supposedly come to rescue the family of the poor disaster-struck person and who only managed to bring out mummified bodies. As in any situation, there are profiteers, poachers, speculators, and egotists who, being capable of anything and enjoying the advantage of not having any ethical or moral line to follow, get rich on the backs of defenceless innocent people.
With my feet hanging over the void, eight hundred feet above the ground, sitting on a rusty metal bar parallel to the abyss, that vast precipice that stops no-one knows where, I feel a new tremor. Sometimes I think that these shudders come from the anger of a giant or a God, or that he’s just feeling cold like I hear so often from the innocent mouths of children. But soon my pragmatism comes back to the fore and I tell myself that in the end it doesn’t really matter because whatever I do it is impossible to change things and I am, like everyone else, condemned to live a miserable life, with an empty stomach while others are vomiting so that they can start eating again. 
The abyss taunts me, its blackness and the mystery enveloping it call to me in a soft, sensual voice. “Gaia. Gaia, my love, I am here. Come and see Mother.” 
My parents called me Gaia before they died. Rather ironic given that Gaia, as I later learned, is the Goddess of the Earth in Greek mythology. 
My stomach is rumbling but I am used to hunger and after sixteen years of suffering I have learned to live with it.
Often, I have wondered what was under the abyss, beyond the blackness. And just thinking about this – stupid – question makes me want to jump off to go and see for myself. 
Another tremor. 
Often, when I was young and naive, I dreamed that the abyss was a magic doorway, leading to a better world where I would not have to fight for an old crust of stale bread, just like the pigeons in the public square that are so thin I always think they are about to die, having expended their last bit of energy on flapping their wings. 
I turn my attention once more to the city. Shanty towns, punctuated at regular intervals by large buildings surrounded by barbed wire to protect their inhabitants from the claws of those they have nicknamed the Famished. 
I have a splendid view from here, perched as I am facing a screen-shaped hole pierced in their roof by the collapse of a neighboring building. 
Then, suddenly, a series of shakes more powerful than previously, as if to warn of the arrival of a more powerful monster, makes the metal beam vibrate. The almost familiar alarm sounds throughout the whole city, reverberates, then suddenly the cataclysm is here. 
I had never felt anything so violent. But just as the girder gives way from the pressure placed on it, I notice with satisfaction that the skyscrapers of the rich are also collapsing and it is almost with a sense of relief that I plunge into the darkness of the bottomless pit.

Translated by Wendy Cross

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21

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