The Black Bags


ago
5 min
97
readings
1
Finalist
Jury
The rattle of bottles and cans betrayed the sun's quiet ascent that Wednesday morning. Above, in apartment 3D, Patricia rose from her bed. She was careful not to disturb her grandson, Carlitos, who was asleep. She donned a sweatshirt and slid into her chanclas. Then she tiptoed to the eastern window.
The man in the blue hat worked in the alley below. He came to fill his cart, racing against the green trucks.
She knew there was no time to waste and hurried to the kitchen. The entire apartment was spotless except for the bags in the corner. She prayed for speed.
Patricia unlocked the front door and left it open. The hallway was empty, the first good sign. She rubbed her hands to wake up the muscles as she walked back to the black bags. Taking a deep breath, Patricia grabbed the bags by their plastic knots and heaved them to the exit. The plastic groaned and squeaked under the stress. The pile of trash was a nearly immovable object. But Patricia was an unstoppable force.
She heard the rumble of the garbage truck as she took to the stairs with her burden. The green behemoth was fast approaching.
Patricia wasn't the only tenant awake by dawn. Two floors up her competition lay in wait. Frank was careful not to wake his wife as he dressed for the race. Last evening Lydia had organized the refuse in two piles by the door. Now she slept peacefully. Frank rubbed his eyes and stretched before heading to the front door.
On his left, half a dozen paper bags of recycling threatened to shred their flimsy handles the moment Frank tried to lift them. On his right were two massive black bags, one leaking onto the linoleum. Any reasonable person would've used four bags instead of two for that much trash. Then again, reasonable people would bring out their trash one bag at a time instead of saving it up all week. But this was 3501 Redding Street.
Frank carefully grasped the paper bags. Satisfied with his hold, he grabbed the black bags and heaved. They barely shifted. He heaved again with a grunt that was sure to wake up Lydia.
The garbage truck approached the building and turned into the alley. The driver jumped out and dragged open the chain-link gate. The metal scraped the asphalt through its usual arching white grooves.
On the ground floor, Damien awoke at the horrid sound. He groaned not at the noise, but at the chaos that would follow. The trash loomed above the brim of the box. It was right outside Damien's bedroom window and the pile blocked most of the sunlight. It had been six months since he'd taken over the super job from his father. He didn't know where or when this custom first came about. Likely someone had filled the dumpsters to the brim one week, years ago, and forced this upon the rest. If so, the tenants were victims of the limits of the big metal boxes in the alley. Or maybe they were the culprits. It certainly felt that way to Damien.
Every Tuesday night, he climbed into the dumpsters to crush the trash and cardboard to the allowable limit. He carried a boxcutter and wore his late father's galoshes. While the rest of the building enjoyed dinner with family, he clamored into the dumpsters. First was recycling. He slashed and sliced the cardboard boxes, stomped on soda cans, and deflated empty milk cartons. Then he ventured into the disgusting unknown of the brown dumpster.
He jumped up and down, bracing himself against the wall, deathly afraid of falling in. In these moments he hated his charges, from the family of four in 2A to the old security guard and his wife in 5F. No amount of "good mornings" or Christmas tips made up for this ritual they subjected him to.
As the truck's hydraulics strained against the mass of the dumpsters, Damien vowed to put an end to the chaos. He scrambled to dress and rushed to stop the procession of renters, laden with their black bags.
Frank led the march, followed by Patricia. He was out of breath dragging his load down the sixty steps to the lobby. The golden sun streamed through the glass front door. A figure stepped out before them. Thirteen people had joined him on this trek. Most were still in pajamas and robes. The youngest were the two men from 4C, who worked for a start-up and paid triple Frank's rent. They carried a black 55-gallon bag and a dripping little green one that was allegedly compostable. The oldest was Patricia, who had moved in a few years ago. Frank was a gentleman and didn't ask her age. A figure stepped into the hallway, silhouetted by the morning glow. Despite his angelic entrance, he was the bearer of bad news.
"Everybody listen up!" Damien hollered. He was certain he woke a few people on his floor and the one above. "This nonsense ends today."
The tenants were quiet for a moment. They relaxed their hold, allowing their loads to rest on the wooden steps. They could hear the welcome crashing in the silence as the first bin was dumped into the truck's insatiable hold.
"What the hell, brotha?" Frank, the de facto leader, responded.
"Frank, you knew my old man for a long time." Damien lowered his voice but still commanded the vestibule. "He took care of each one of you with kindness. Now I'm asking you to return the favor."
"Son, we've got garbage that's been stinking up our homes all week," Frank started.
"I understand that, but this is unreasonable. Every Wednesday morning that truck comes and empties out our cans. Then minutes later you all pile in your trash from the week and we're back to square one. Have any of you lived in a place or even heard of a place that operates like this?"
There was a murmur throughout the crowd. Of course, they were the only building that operated like this. There was a hollow boom from the alley. The truck released the empty bin and moved on to the next.
Damien continued before the group could retort and steal his momentum. "I'm going to talk to the driver. Ask him if he'll let us dump two loads in his truck today. Then it's a clean slate. You empty your bins as you fill them and take them out to the dumpster as the week progresses."
"He'll never go for it," a voice shouted from upstairs. It was the mother of triplets in 2D.
"We can't keep going on like this," Damien replied. He looked over their half-asleep faces, then at the black bags. No doubt the hallway would smell like trash for the rest of the day. "You're all so concerned with the rush and being first, that you'll sacrifice your own sanity and the sanctity of your own home! You don't need speed, you need consistency. Set a pace and maintain it. Smaller loads staggered throughout. It's the only way for this community to thrive."
Another murmur passed through the group. One of the boys from 4C spoke up.
"What if they charge us extra for the second load?"
Damien sighed. "Then I'll pay for it out of my own pocket." He thought of his thin wallet on his nightstand.
Frank stepped forward. "I'd like to contribute."
Patricia followed suit. "Yo tambien."
Damien smiled. He led them out the door and into the warmth of the morning sun. As they exited the building, Damien's heart sank. The truck was no longer in the alley. They listened and heard it rumble into the distance a few blocks away. Frank put a hand on the young man's shoulder.
Patricia sighed and turned back her bags inside. "Well, maybe next week."
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