About three months ago, if you had had the opportunity to visit Lucy, you would surely have seen me, wrapped in a white plastic bag, sitting on the floor and leaning against the side of a shoe rack against the wall right beside the door to the outside. Certainly, you would have been able to tell, by experience or by instinct, that I was not supposed to be deserted there, indeterminately, in that unsightly condition. Where you would have seen me was, to say the least, cold and dark and nowhere in between—not quite in the house, nor quite out of it—as though I was not quite welcomed in the place but was not quite ready to be let go of either. Now, don’t be mistaken: I was not displeased about where I was. I merely found it obligatory to make clear some facts so that you could understand how, upon setting sight on me, you may have, quite naturally, as you walked in or out of Lucy’s place, questioned her about me. You may have ventured:
“It reeks of nothing less than feces here. Take it down promptly! Before the flies, roaches and rats make a scene!”
But, of course, you would not have said this, or anything to the same effect, had you not had a daring and direct disposition. Had you had a mellow temperament and an inclination for understatement, I bet, you may have hinted:
“It may appear impertinent of me, but I don’t suppose the shoe rack is quite the ‘natural habitat’ for this poor thing.”
Or, you may have humored Lucy:
“The bears in this part of town have no manners.”
Based on my observation for the duration of time at her place, I believe she would have picked up the hints and taken me where I had to go. All she needed may have been a gentle reminder, I sometimes thought. But the truth was you may have said anything and she wouldn’t have responded in any fashion.
But all this was in the past. Nothing can be done now to nudge her into performing “the task” she had invariably postponed. But it could have been chronic forgetfulness that had done the mischief. I cannot tell.
In all fairness, she had initially performed “the task” to an enormously satisfactory degree. Arriving at her place you would have found, then, an immaculately clean entryway leading you straight into the kitchen on the far end and the living room on the right, without me or my companions on the floor obstructing your strides and surprising your nose with, as it were, “our aroma.” Once in the living room you would have found a couch in the middle, some distance before the television, behind which would have been the balcony where you would have found, blurred behind the blinds, the outlines of some snowy mountains standing generously for nature pilgrims. Sadly, Lucy had always been ambivalent about nature in this part of town, so, if you had attempted to open the blinds and put your hand on the handle of the balcony door, you would have put her in distress: she would have gasped and found herself inconveniently caught between the wish to stop you from going out and the belief in your freedom to explore as a guest. Of course, this doesn’t mean you wouldn’t have liked her or her place. In fact, she was a brilliant cook. Whatever cuisines you may have liked, she could cook. And most impressively, perhaps, she could arrange for you, at the shortest of notice, what she called an “authentic-loco-meal.” I never had the fortune to taste it—mind you, I’d always been the recipient of what was not eaten—but I’m sure you’d have licked the plates or bowls clean. Anyway, what I am trying to say is you may, after visiting her, even have wished to stay overnight in the guest room on the other end of her place, especially on a snowy night, like the one we have now. And, regardless of your character, I believe, you would have enjoyed her company, like most guests, who had always applauded her culinary skills and hospitality, out of either sincerity or politeness.
Now, I don’t intend to give you the impression that Lucy loved parties and invited guests over all the time. She did to a fair degree. But mostly she was alone, cooking this or that and dining by herself. And, more often than not, she was sorting through documents and typing things up late into the night, with little time to entertain guests. That was one reason I would never want to swap positions with her.
Anyway, I was telling you about “the task” earlier. Well, things soon went the wrong direction for Lucy, and she gradually failed to keep up with it. One day she came home from work and plopped down on the couch, her jovial spirit gone, her posture sagging, eyes drooping. She remained as such for some time, before suddenly and frantically thumbing on her phone. When I squinted to see what she was looking at, I saw she was searching for flights. Putting her phone aside, she once again fell back to the silence of her place. Only the steps of the tenants upstairs were occasionally heard. She must’ve fallen asleep that night, just like that. At one point in the night, though, I could hear her sleep-talk a little, with much anxiety, about “the bastard.”
From then on, she had rarely taken to the kitchen and would come home with some prepackaged food—bento, pizza, or sandwich—eat and throw it into or around me or my companions. You would have, I suppose, used quantity words such as “a heap” or “a pile,” along with swear words and insult, to describe the sight, especially if she had forgotten to make a double knot on top of me or my companions. You would have thought, after the build-up of the “aroma,” Lucy would have gone back to performing “the task.” But the truth was, the situation deteriorated, especially after one night someone came knocking at her door. Lucy woke up, walked through the entryway, and leaned in to the peephole. She sprang back as soon as she saw whoever it was. Whoever-it-was, I suspected, must’ve been that “bastard” she had sleep-talked about. She stood there for a while and went back inside her room. That “bastard,” hearing nothing from Lucy, knocked several more times, and even punched and kicked the door at some point, so hard I thought he could have broken the door, charged in, and snatched Lucy to wherever pleased him. Fortunately, the door, like a fortress, was impregnable, and the “bastard” retreated without even uttering a battle cry. Shortly after, I heard some sounds bordering on sobs from Lucy’s room, but was not sure. I remember waiting for the sounds to die down. But then some noise from the balcony interrupted me.
Craning forward, I saw a creature slip through the balcony door and run towards me, sniffing and licking about, poking and pinching me, and feasting on whatever it could find. The size of a chihuahua, it had the head of a rat but the body of a cat with a tail like that of a pig, its claws, instead of any distinguishable parts, in the form of one pointed triangle. It wandered about me, wavered, and then scampered away. It was the strangest “visitor” I had had all these years, and to this day, I haven’t the faintest idea what it was. Certainly, it was no rat or racoon. At that time, I didn’t think much of it because Lucy’s situation worried and confused me. Revisiting the image of that creature now, I can tell, perhaps like me, the creature was also keen on a life of its own and would have liked to be identified as a unique whole. But I could just be imposing a view on it.
Here, it might be right timing to give you a better idea of who I am. It wouldn’t take long, I promise. Inside me, you would find, a hotchpotch of things: an empty can of Coke, an expired tofu pack, fish bones, stale meat, dirty tissues with mucus, personal hygiene products, delivery boxes, yellowed veggies, and more. I know you may wonder why I don’t tell you openly who I am. The truth is, I don’t even know myself, you see. I suppose, though, you can say I’m a bit of everything that is of no major importance for human beings. Okay, I don’t want to bore you about myself. People usually don’t think much of me anyway.
Now, for Lucy, the weekend after the “bastard” came she did have a guest over. Or was it the next day? I can’t recall clearly now. Oh, I shouldn’t have said “guest” because it was more like “a friend going through the same shit.”
It was a rainy and windy afternoon, I think. Lucy opened the door to this friend, Ian or David. He took off his shoes and stepped onto the platform where the entryway began. As he walked in, he coughed and, with a gentle kick, pushed me and my companions out of his way. He must’ve been quite used to the sight—and “aroma”—because he didn’t even say anything after seeing us. I doubted if his place was also like Lucy’s, with some of my distant companions strewn on the floor. He sat down on one end of the couch and put his legs on the tea table, and Lucy, wrapping her legs close to her chest, sat on the other end. Neither of them said anything for a while. Then, out of the blue, Ian or David said:
“I’m not like you, Lucy. I am, but I am not. I love this place and I’d love to live and work here and renew the contracts indefinitely. But I don’t think I can. You know as well as I do there’s no life here. It’s convenient and all that. But I’m from the city. I need some activities, some noises around me from time to time. The countryside here is nice, and the quiet and people are nice too. After a while, though, it’s all the same and I feel some itch to move home. I really do. But then I remember all the shit happening back home and how they treat my people there, I just cringe and never want to go back.”
Ian or David paused, put his legs on the floor, leaned forward toward Lucy and continued:
“But you’re different. You have a home to go back to, and your family and friends there will be around. And people from your country are at least nice, and if they aren’t, they at least pretend to be.”
He put his legs back up the couch, now directly facing Lucy.
“So, think, is it all that important to find or live close to your roots? I’m sorry if I’m harsh. But you’ve got to pull yourself together and look deep into yourself. You’re not like the people in this town or country! Your parents or your parents’ parents? They, not you, are from this country. I know you’ll say I don’t understand, but you asked me for opinion and this is what you will get.”
At that Ian or David leaned back on the couch and combed his hair back with his fingers. Lucy hugged her legs closer to her chest and didn’t say anything. Eventually, eyes on the tea table, she said:
“I’m not hoping to find my roots. I’m just—I—just—love this place. I don’t know why. Like I said, ever since I was little, I was fascinated by this place. Its history, culture, custom, landscape, food and people.”
“Are you sure you’re fascinated by that sexist, racist bastard?” Ian or David interrupted.
“Don’t lie to yourself,” Ian or David said. “You’ve changed jobs at least—how many times? —four or five? And you’ve moved so many times. Each time to a different city! Is he really part of your fascination? I think there’s been too much of this fascination, to the point it’s no longer fascination but obsession you’ve been indoctrinated with, one way or another, since childhood. Think about it. You really don’t blend well with the people here. Not that I’m any better, but at least I talk to people online! Friends and family back home are just one click away for me. But for you, listen to me, move back home. You need to see your loved ones in person. Book the flights. I can help you if you want.”
As far as I remember Lucy didn’t reply for a long time. Eventually she merely said:
“I’ll think about it.”
Ian or David, slightly annoyed, said:
“C’mon, Lucy. You’re wasting your time. You can’t go on like this forever, indecisive and all.”
He paused and, sensing the hurtfulness of his words, said:
“Sorry. I didn’t mean you’re indecisive.”
“No, it’s okay. I am.”
For a while silence prevailed. Then abruptly Ian or David said:
“Didn’t you say there was a sweetheart waiting for you back home? I thought you talk to him every other day? Why don’t you go back to him?”
I must say here that, since Lucy moved to this part of the world, I’d never seen her talk to anyone online or back home, not even once, never mind the “sweetheart.” I remember, one time, she rushed home and, putting her handbag down on the floor opposite me, dashed to the washroom. She didn’t come back to retrieve her handbag until the next morning. Her phone, tucked in the outer pocket, vibrated close to midnight and, on the big screen, I could just make out the caller ID: Probs Home Don’t Answer. Ian and David, I believe, likely didn’t know about this.
Back to that afternoon, I think it didn’t go any further. If it did, it didn’t lead to anything big. Lucy didn’t book the flights home. And the next Monday she went back to work. Admittedly, some parts of the conversation may have been different from what you read here, but the majority of it, I assure you, shall be correct, because after their conversation I, naturally curious, kept turning over what they said in my mind.
Now, I can tell you Lucy did eventually move away, but whether she moved home or to another place in this country, I don’t know. What I do know is the incident that led up to her moving away.
One morning after talking to Ian or David, Lucy opened the door to find a man in a formal suit with a bouquet of flowers in his arms. As soon as Lucy saw him, she slammed the door shut shouting, “Go away, bastard.”
For your benefit I managed to catch a glimpse of him. You would have found him, I suppose, somewhere between handsome and ugly, modern and old-fashioned, sharp and dull, foreign and local. Frankly, I couldn’t say unreservedly if he was from this part of town. But something about him exuded familiarity with his space and confidence in his manner. Oh, wait, I don’t think I’ve told you about Lucy yet, have I? I mean, how she looks. No, I don’t think so. Now, I suppose you could call her “a hybrid of many hybrids.” Mind you, I don’t mean just her appearance. In fact, the description would apply to her tastes, beliefs, behaviors, etc. At least, that was “the aura” she gave off, and for this reason, you could say, I’m somewhat drawn to her.
Back to the “bastard.” Of course, he didn’t go away. And I had assumed it was the same “bastard” who came the other night and who may have kept Lucy in distress all that time. He, without using force like the other night, started talking, or more accurately, singing in the local language. It must’ve been some sort of ballad or folk song in the late 1970s or ‘80s. In any case, Lucy, sitting among me and my companions on the floor, listened to the music with noticeable affection. The “bastard” sang two more similar songs, and remained silent for a little while, before saying:
“Lucy, please, open the door. I know you want to see me, as much as I do.”
Lucy gave no response, but still sat by the shoe rack and among us.
After what must’ve been ten to fifteen minutes the “bastard” said:
“If you don’t want to open the door, please at least consider my proposal again. Yes, I may not be the perfect one for you. I am not rich or handsome. But I’ll work hard, and I’ll exercise and stay in shape. And yes, I’m not ‘pure’ but I’ve ancestral blood connecting me to this land. This, I imagine, can re-establish your ties to this country. And our children and their children will be born here and grow up proud of where they come from.”
Again, silence prevailed. Then the “bastard” said:
“I’m sorry if I’ve held you up. I’ll be off now.”
I could hear him putting down the flowers and turning away. After a couple of steps, he turned back, saying:
“I don’t want to make things awkward for us at work. But I just want to say you’re the one reason why I’d keep working day and night, however tough work may get, however bossy the high-ups may be.”
I’m quite sure he said nothing more and left it at that. Lucy sat dazed for a long time. I don’t think she even called in sick that day, and it might’ve been until the evening before she got up.
Oh, one thing, I remember how, after the “bastard” botched his proposal, some of my companions poked fun at Lucy. One of them, wrapped in a supermarket plastic bag like me and reeking of some mouldy bread soaked in teriyaki sauce, said that Lucy should’ve just accepted the “bastard” and married him.
“These humans!” he said. “Fastidious pigs! The ‘bastard’ wasn’t unapproachable, was he? I can never fathom these nincompoops!”
Some of us chimed in with agreements, some with oppositions. As for me, I just wished I could move on with my situation. One part of me cared about Lucy and wanted the best for her, but another part of me just wanted to strangle her and tell her to take me down—up or out—to wherever the likes of me had to go to meet our fates. I didn’t have to wait long, though.
In fact, my wish was fulfilled sooner than I had expected. Lucy left in the early hours the day after the “bastard” came to sing. She packed light, leaving almost everything as it had always been in the apartment, including her books, clothes and the blinds. She stood at the entryway and looked at the mirror hanging on the door—incidentally, Lucy was a mirror lover so you would have found many mirrors at her place, so many they reflected everything in a zigzag way, so that I could observe all despite being confined to the shoe rack. Now, I wasn’t sure if Lucy was looking at herself or the reflection of the kitchen or the living room. She stood there for quite a while, and then pushed the door open. She didn’t pick up the flowers or lock the door. And that was the last time I saw her.
It didn’t take long for Lucy’s colleagues to come to, as one of them said, “clean up the mess.” I think there were three of them, but some of my companions said only two. But that didn’t matter much. What mattered was they did “clean up the mess.” That included, you see, removing me and my companions from Lucy’s place. As one of them lifted me and flung me into a big black plastic bag and then into a “dumpster,” mixing me and my companions together, I heard her mumble:
“Another one gone. Not easy working here.”
I think her colleague might’ve said:
“She’s one of the longest ones, heh?”
That is about all I can recall from my last day at Lucy’s place. And now, I’m out here in a place you would call “landfill”—I learned from the landfill operators—or as what one of my companions—who had lived in the house of a philosopher—would call “limbo.” Neither of these names suited my taste really. I much prefer “limfill.” It sounds just about right to me. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a similar place. But I surmise you’d not want to go to one of these. It’s in the middle of nowhere. All I can say is that I could see the endless sky above and some snowy mountains far away. I’m not sure if these mountains are the same ones I saw back at Lucy’s, but they certainly look alike. Now, looking at them without the obstruction of the blinds, I could tell the mountains themselves are just as majestic without the snow and the snow itself is just as beautiful without the mountains. I suppose, however, when the mountains and the snow come together, they communicate some melancholy I find pleasing to look at. I wonder if Lucy used to feel the same way about the mountains and the snow and, I wonder, wherever she may be, if she can see these same mountains and snow, I am looking at right now. Anyway, at this “limfill” you’ll see me and many of my companions pressed and flattened into a big pile and forced to wait and do nothing much in particular, except for mingling with one another, which is something I loathe with passion. Indeed, if you see me now you might not be able to tell me apart from my companions. You may even think we are all the same, indistinguishable from one another. But this is not true, I hope you understand. In any case, I heard the other day from one of the landfill operators that some of us, some companions of mine, would be transferred to an “incinerator site.” What interested me the most, though, was what he said about “recycling stations” and “waste to energy plants.” Naturally I don’t know what they are, but my companion—who used to live in the house of a scientist and who happened to lie beside me—told me that at either of these I would be able to “reincarnate” again and again. When I asked him to elaborate, he said the stations and plants could “extend lifecycles” and, shortly after that, he was shuffled to another part of the landfill. It took me a while to understand what he meant. But I’m not sure if I’ve grasped the idea to the full. But I suppose I’d be able to live longer or renew myself in another form, like what happens in one of Ovid’s lengthy poems I heard Lucy play in her audiobooks while cooking. Ah, her cooking, how I wish for you to have tried … Anyway, it’d be superb, wouldn’t it, that everyone of us, human and non-human beings, could regenerate in some way? After all, I haven’t had the opportunity to introduce myself to that creature that slipped through the balcony that night, nor do I know Lucy’s whereabouts. Not that I care about either of them, but there’s some feeling, you see, after spending a while at her place. I wonder where she is now, and I wonder where the creature is. If I ever see her again, I’ll try to keep my “aroma” aromatic, and if I see the creature I’ll ask for its name. But no, it might ask for my name too. I shall think of a name for myself. The names humans have given me and my companions are rather unpleasant. Oh, last but not least, I must practice my understatements. As it is, it’s not that nice to hurt others’ feelings, especially when you meet them after a long time or when you meet them for the first time. Yes, I’ll practice my understatements, pass my time here in the “limfill” for the time being and enjoy the mountains and snow and wait for, well, something to come about, I suppose.