The room was grey just like her uniform. Her hesitant movements betrayed the fact that it was her first time there. She entered the small cubicle, the grey metal cot at one end dominating her vision. There wasn’t much else in the room. A small metal tripod, shining with a dullness born of frequent usage, stood to the side of the bed.
Probably for people to keep their personal belongings during the… She didn’t allow herself to complete that thought. Musing on the situation wasn’t going to help. Thinking would only make her lose her nerve.
She stripped down, tunic, pants, underwear, a familiar routine in unfamiliar surroundings. She folded up her clothes neatly and carefully placed them on the table. Then she lay down on the bed, a taut breath, expectant.
She didn’t have to wait long. The door opened gradually once again; hesitant- an apology, a request. She lay there still, not moving, not speaking. She felt an unfamiliar lightness and in the next moment, she wasn’t lying there on the bed anymore. She floated above, ephemeral, invisible.
A young man entered the room, his face a contrasting mixture of anticipation and reluctance. He looked at her as he stood there; hoping for some signal, a smile, a nod; but none was forthcoming. He gazed at her body, naked, an open invitation and shuddered, as if shedding his doubts and apprehensions. Then he was out of his clothes and next to her on the bed.
She watched all that happened from where she floated, formless. She was the witness, the victim, and the perpetrator for wasn’t she the one who had volunteered for this? But she hadn’t bargained for the crippling anxiety that would turn her limbs lifeless and heart to stone. The young man kissed her but her terror had turned her lips into rocks. Finding no reaction, he then turned his attention to her nipples. They stood pert and inviting, more due to the cold than passion. He tried his best to evoke some feeling into her unresponsive body with his zealous fingers but her fear refused to release her senses into any rapturous reactions. As he parted her legs and entered her, all she could think of was his uniform lying crumpled on the floor. When he was done, he put on the crushed uniform and left. Not one word had passed between the two of them. She lay there on the bed and uttered a futile prayer for the act to be fruitful, as she squeezed her legs with hope and desperation.
Rivka stopped for a minute to push a loose curl back inside the visor. Try as she might, her rebellious curls refused to stay pinned, coming loose now and then and interfering with the infernal cycling. She straightened her back for a moment to loosen the kinks in her neck.
Bending down and cycling constantly wasn’t a job she liked but likes and dislikes had no say in how they, the Interred, got to live their lives. It was not for them to speak but to do.
The section she belonged to was segregated based on their genders and their living moments were either spent on the cycle generating energy, which would be either used by the populace or sold for revenue, or trying to recuperate the amount lost through feeding or resting. Everything was monitored, their movements and the energy they generated through pedaling for the calories generated determined their income. They could spend their money on food and entertainment theoretically but the food was dull and tasteless and there was hardly any time for recreational activities of any KIND.. No one had the energy.
Even the inclination would be leached out of our systems if we continue to be a slave to this hot seat. Well, it could have been worse! I could’ve been cleaning the drains with their foul-smelling corrosive liquid, a touch of which could singe these curls to nothing. At least, here I’m dry.
“Rivka,” muttered Trina. “Get going. Aunty Helva is coming. You want to go hungry again?” Rivka looked at Trina, a fellow Interred, a mousy face atop a shriveled body, the worn grey uniform too big for her frail frame. She seemed lost in the folds. They could have been twins.
Rivka visualized herself, all lines and sharp angles, not a hint of curves anywhere. Who cared how they looked? They, the denizens of the underground city, were nothing more than a sum of their body parts, useful only as long as they could function. A pair of hands for working, a set of legs for locomotion, and when the right time came, a womb for the taking for the Exalted. They were the Interred, buried both literally and metaphorically.
They had emerged from a catastrophic war but not unscathed. The various military, nuclear and biological weapons had wreaked unimagined destruction, and work was needed to make the land habitable again. The cheapest form of energy available in the changed scenario was human labor and the society was divided into the Exalted and the Interred, those who directed and those who followed.
Efforts had been ongoing for a long time to restore the grandeur of the past. All the menial jobs were carried out by the Interred beneath the surface of the ravaged earth under the supervision of Exalted men and women, called aunties and uncles, the terms a misnomer. They ensured strict discipline and were nothing like the loving terms denoted. The Exalted lived in their environment controlled glass domes, artificial replicas of the world as had been. It was a reflection of paradise but one that flourished on the sweat of the Interred and their flesh and blood.
“I’ll be leaving in a few minutes,” Rivka muttered impatiently. “Don’t you remember?”
Trina grimaced. Rivka reminded herself that she was trying to smile. The hard work had even sapped the strength to smile from them, turning graceful into grotesque.
“Oh! It’s your day. Did you check? Are you ovul…?” her voice trailed off, not wishing to offend.
“Do I need to check? These harpies of aunties probably have the dates stored in their minds,” Rivka snorted.
Then she sighed and continued, “Don’t worry, though. I’m not one of those sentimental fools who feel indignant at the exploitation of my womb. Just think of it as an opportunity for a better life. I would kill to gain entry into those Mother Farms. Just thinking of the delicacies that they can get hold of makes my mouth water. Have you ever looked at them? Fat, pregnant, waddling around like satiated cows?”
The workforce had been depleting due to sheer overwork. The Exalted needed more hands to do their jobs and the Mother Farms had sprung into existence to meet that need. Willing Interred women were monitored during their fertility cycle and mated with the men called donors when it was the right time. The men had to compulsorily offer their services as part of their duty towards the regime. If any mating resulted in pregnancy, the women were shifted to the Mother Farms where they were cared for, monitored, and finally delivered of the baby in a safe environment. The babies were then taken over by the regime to feed and nurture and introduce into the workforce when they grew up. However, the exhaustion had taken its toll on the Interred, and the listless mandatory coupling more often than not failed to produce good news.
Rivka felt jealousy and despair bubble up in her heart like twin springs. Only the women lucky enough to get impregnated were allotted entry into the Mother Farms which was not frequent these days. They had one job – to bring a baby into this world and they were waited upon hand and foot during this time. Their full bodies, rounded curves, and content looks were the testament to their easy times at the farm. While here they were, hunger and hard work making them lean and bare as shorn wheat stalks. She had undergone the humiliation umpteen times now, but luck hadn’t smiled on her.
She licked her lips thinking of the cream, and roast pig she knew had been served there yesterday, stories serving to fill her up instead of real food. The tremulous voice of Trina broke into her daydreams.
“You seem to be having high hopes this time. Haven’t you volunteered for this earlier too?”
Rivka took a deep breath to send the bile that rose in her throat, back to its nether regions. Being queasy wasn’t going to help if she wanted her situation to improve. Still, she shuddered at the memory of the last time she had done this. The well-meaning commiseration by Trina rubbed her the wrong way in her anxiety.
“If by offering myself as a guinea pig, I can properly eat three times, who are you to judge me? It’s my body, and I can do what I like with it. I think the end justifies the means if it’s a case of my welfare.” Rivka retorted.
“Anyway, there are rumors that the regime has developed a drug to make things easier. To relieve the participants of all the stress and to put them into an amenable mood. Fill them to the brim with chemicals that let them shed their inhibitions, their hesitation; and of course, boost fertility too. Like the aphrodisiacs of the past. They are calling it Love,” she smiled at the irony.
“Love? And filled with chemicals too! Doesn’t it make you lose your reason and take away your choice, whether you want to be a participant or not?” Trina enquired, intrigued.
Rivka let go of a sigh and replied, “In a world so crooked, where babies are being harvested in farms, maybe we need to let go of reason sometimes. The grumble of the stomach doesn’t care for a tumble in reason. Didn’t the poets trumpet the fact that Love conquers all? I am placing all my bets on this.” A mirthless smile playing on her lips belied the apprehension that made butterflies flutter in her stomach.
The dull grey room was now a familiar sight, a cocoon of silence and solitude. Countless months of wordless coupling with different men had always ended in the same disappointment. Today, however, she didn’t feel anxiety smothering her senses as she languorously stepped out of her uniform. The prick of the needle, where she had been injected with the drug radiated a warm satisfying glow through her body from a fountainhead of joy, like ripples traveling over the surface of the water. She felt calm and excited at the same time. She lay on the bed, waiting, hopeful.
The door soon opened in a repeat of the times past. A face peeped into the room first, then it was followed by the body in its wake. She was surprised to note that she was relieved to see it wasn’t someone she had been with earlier. She felt happy today and she didn’t want her experience to be marred by any thoughts of the past; her fear, anxiety, her partner’s disappointment in her. She wanted it to be a beautiful memory, a time she would always remember.
He looked at her as he removed each item of his clothing, holding her a prisoner with his eyes. She answered his look with a smile, tart and inviting, broadening as each vestment left his fingers and kissed the ground. She knew they both had been administered the drug, yet she felt she could taste the anticipation of the coming moments on her slightly parted lips. She licked her lips in a tantalizing gesture and found that they were crushed between his lips. His hands roamed over her lean body, all thin lines, and hard angles, but the hands were soft and tender, tracing curves where none existed. This was not a frenzied wordless coupling but a loving meeting of their bodies where words were superfluous. Their angles molded into each other as the two of them rose and fell in a rhythm dictated by their breaths and the drug that coursed through their veins.
Later they lay spent in each other’s arms. It was a first for her. She had never experienced this vibrant, all-encompassing heightening of all her senses where her body had seemed to quiver like the strings of a harp, resonant after discovering its special frequency. Her joy and wonder were mirrored in the donor’s eyes.
What have we been missing? This drug has the potential to revolutionize our existence.
When the time allotted to them was over, they both dressed slowly, reluctant to step out of the dream back into the real world. She felt an ache in her heart, She was saying goodbye to someone who had been an integral part of her life for the brief duration she had been alive, someone close to her heart. It was an unsettling feeling, to be able to feel so deeply for someone other than you. She shook herself out of her weakness, squared her shoulders, and stepped out of the room, a prayer on her lips, as always.
The tele-wall screen came alive at Rivka’s verbal command. She snuggled deep into the wing back chair, cushioned from all sides, her plump body sinking into the soft fur. On the screen, people moved in frenzied mobs holding placards or shouting their demands, leaving behind a trail of destruction. A subdued voice droned over the flickering images,
“The riots by the Interred have become increasingly dangerous. They have been wilfully engaging in the destruction of public property and have refused to return to their various work stations. Their demand, apart from lesser working hours and greater personal freedom, is that Love, the new wonder drug, be administered as part of their daily food supplied to them.”
“The Exalted leaders have assured them that their demands are under consideration and the leadership would soon come up with requisite recompense. Meanwhile, they have requested the Interred to return to their jobs as all this anarchy and chaos has brought daily life to a grinding halt.”
The camera panned to the protestors holding aloft placards that said,
Love Will Set Us Free, Love is Life, and Love Conquers All when the screen went black.
Rivka smiled and patted her expanding stomach. It was time yet for the baby to arrive in this world. She couldn’t believe that the Interred had finally woken up to the exploitation and abuse and taken to the streets. Maybe the drug was going to revolutionize their existence as she had once wondered.
She lifted the bowl of strawberries dipped in cream, picked up one, and licked the cream off. “Let the world chase revolutions. I’ve got my dreams to chase”, she murmured and rang for another bowl of strawberries.
What an interesting premise! The exploration of class divide in this futuristic world was quite intriguing. Loved the nomenclature- the mother farms, interred, exalted.
That was quite an engaging take on the prompt….
I like the way you brandish your words like a sword cutting through the reader. Precise and clean. Reminded me of reading Handmaid’s tale and shuddering every now and then, because your story, Handmaids Tale, all might be turn true soon
Thank you Sarves for your beautiful words. A world where this is possible must make us shudder for sure.
The story flowed well. Hope she keeps the baby.
Her hesitant movement betrayed the fact that it was her first time there.
Shireen, I didn’t get the gist of this line. She was there for the first time so obviously she would have been hesitant.
Thank you Sudha Mam for reading the story and your feedback.
A person can be hesistant not only when things are new but when they are uncomfortable too.
This was her first time. She did have a try at things many times later.
Interesting premise. Methinks she’ll keep the baby. The last para suggests that
Thank you for stopping by Narayani. I think she has an interesting time ahead of her.
interesting premise. I wished for more words though. Did she get to keep her child?
Thanks a lot for your thoughtful response Pallavi. I have left it open ended. The future for her is uncertain in the face of the revolution.