When you board the train bound to The Edge, that means you are on your way to the ends of the Earth with very little to no chance of going back to where you came from. That means you signed up for a sort of exile or banishment or death. No one ever has come back from The Edge. And I don’t think I will be an exemption.
I sit on a small cabin of a train where there are about thirty passengers. I think the area is suitable only for about fifteen. People who boarded found their place on the floor. Some are standing, leaning on the locked door that I suppose are passageways to the next cabin. They don’t mind the floor; we all don’t. We are the lowest type of people, victims of the pandemic and the long recession that followed, the remains of society, bound to be forgotten – that’s if the world remembers us at all. But I guess not. I guess no one will notice if the homeless beggar sleeping outside a 7/11 or on the street would suddenly disappear one day. Are we even registered in the census? Or counted as citizens of this country? I guess not.
The doors close, leaving no one on the platform except the dim underground lights and a security officer who ensures all the passengers are in, and all the doors are locked. No one should escape the fate that we all signed up for.
It is quite putrid inside the cabin; I smell decay amongst living people and a mixture of burned smell, cigarettes, curry, and unwashed clothes.
The train starts to move, but I don’t hear any choo-choo sounds that my father used to make when he gently pushes my toy train towards me. That’s one of my few memories with him, a lifetime ago when I still had a family and a roof to sleep in.
I hear the squeal of the wheels instead. Louder and louder. I start to get dizzy, imagining the rolling of the wheels on the steel rails.
I look at the small girl in front of me. She sits beside an old lady, probably her mom. The little girl’s arms cling to the old lady as if she can escape and leave her there. She must be around ten. Her body shape and pale face tell me she must have eaten her last meal two to three days ago. She closes her eyes and gently taps the arms of the old lady who pulled a plastic bag from her jacket pocket. The girl inserts half her face into the plastic and vomits pure liquid.
Everyone covers their noses. After throwing up whatever is in her tiny body, the old lady wipes her face with a handkerchief, ties the plastic bag tight, and keeps it under the bench. The stench is still in the air, unmoving, like us inside the packed cabin.
I take my small box of fruity candy and hands her one. ‘This can help,’ I say. She grabs it and puts it in her mouth quickly. There are few candies left on that box given to me by a random stranger who didn’t want to give me money when I begged. He gave me an opened box of candies. They are chewy and comes in cherry flavor. I save it for emergency purposes when I cannot take the hunger anymore. I keep the candy in my mouth for as long as it can survive before melting away.
The whole railway must be underground. The distance between the train and the walls of the tunnel seems just a few inches away. I wonder where we are. Are we still under the city? Have we crossed over the countryside? How many hours have passed since the train moved? I have so many questions, but I don’t think anything matters.
I wake up with someone prodding my shoulder. It‘s the girl. She walks out of the train, and I follow. The platform is still underground. A security guard gathers us and counts us like beans.
‘Follow me!’ His voice echoes through the walls of the small, dim platform.
We all climb the stairs, and after about a hundred steps, we reach an open area. The sunlight is blinding. My eyes are so accustomed to the dark underground that I could not adjust quickly. I place my hands above my eyes to shield them from the brightness.
The security guard walks towards an unpaved road. There are several three-story white buildings at the end of a vast expanse of rocky land. A few dead trees still stand in random areas.
To my far right is a drop, probably a cliff. I could hear waves crashing. I’m wondering if that’s the only way to escape this place.
On the far left is a mountain of garbage. So this is where the garbage of the whole country goes. How it comes here is a mystery. There are tractors and trucks and people with and without helmets. They wear orange vests, probably so the tractor drivers won’t mistake them for garbage as well. There needs to be a difference between people and garbage. The vests are the distinction.
Behind us are tall walls made of barb wire, probably electric as well. That’s where our small world ends. That’s the division of our world to the real, outside world. Beyond that wall is a vast arid forest made up of tall leafless trees with crows on their branches. Looks straight out of a horror movie. I wonder what’s on the other side.
All the people in orange vests stop their work and look at us. They must think, ‘newcomers,’ or ‘welcome to the club,’ if we are even welcome here.
We reach a building and enter its lobby. A kind-looking older woman with gray hair in a tight bun wears a loose floral dress and huge square eyeglasses. She welcomes us, and the security guard leaves.
‘Welcome aboard everyone, and have a seat.’ She has a high-pitched voice, a little squeaky, but her tone is gentle and welcoming like a grandma. She tells us, ‘please call me Mamita.’ She sounds excited as if welcoming visitors to her home. I wonder how long has Mamita been here.
We sit on long benches in the center of what seems like a lobby. The walls are all white with occasional frames of flower, tree, mountains and garden paintings. That’s probably the closest we can get to foliage.
She helps all of us to fill up forms. Name, birth date, gender. That’s all there is to it. No home address, no emergency contact. Who needs those here? Who has those in the first place?
She hands each of us drawstring bags which contain our orange vest and three pairs of uniforms, a white t-shirt and gray cargo pants, some personal stuffs and keys to our rooms. I get the room at the end of the hallway on the third floor, sharing it with the girl and her mom. It is tiny. It has three double decks and a space for three small lockers as well as a small bathroom. All of the beds are still empty so I assume; we don’t have other sharers as of yet. What a stroke of luck!
She explains to us where the mess hall is and the meal times. Our reporting time is at eight in the morning, so we have to be ready in the lobby, ten minutes before eight for a briefing since we are all new. She’d probably tell us how to segregate garbage. We all learned that in grade school, didn’t we? But as people grow older and wealthier, they don’t seem to understand the simple concept. The richer people get, the bigger their contribution is to the waste and the Earth’s destruction. And here we are, the society’s waste, organizing the waste of the society.
She also tells us that we can go to the rooftop, just don’t jump from it. She laughs at her joke, but nobody else does.
I take a shower in the small bathroom, my first after probably a month. My hair has finally tasted shampoo.
After a refreshing bath, I take the stairs to the rooftop. A light breeze flips my newly combed hair. I look at the endless blue and the puffy clouds that look like sheep in the sky. The waves are relentless, but I don’t know how many decades or centuries will it take for them to break the rocks that hold this land where I stand. It’s funny how my signing up to go to The Edge is not what I expected. This world seem kinder.
I have been living like a dead person for so long. I have eaten food thrown on the garbage bins, mixed, rotten, and spoiled, but now that I will start to work and live with the garbage of the world all around me, I would be able to eat proper food at least.
‘The fish here is fresh and tasty because they have eaten enough human. Those who fell off or jumped off the cliff,’ that’s another dark joke of Mamita that nobody else appreciated.
I hear light footsteps coming towards me. I look around, and it is the little girl.
‘Have you come here to jump?’ I asked. She smiles.
She looks so much better now than she was on the train. Her hair is in neat braids.
I ask her name. She says, ‘Paula.’
We sit there and take in the fresh breeze that sometimes brings in the stench of the stockpile mixed with the ocean breeze. That’s not so bad, really. I could live with that. We sit and listen to the unruly waves along with the noise of the tractors and machinery that probably breaks down the garbage. We watch the birds flock as the sun starts to set. The sky is slowly turning into a mild tangerine. This world seems gentler than the one I left.
The Edge didn’t seem like the end to me. It’s more of a new beginning.
If you are still here, thank you for reading my short story. This is written for the prompt Start your story with someone sitting on a crowded train and end it with them looking out over beautiful natural scenery. The theme is Down To Earth.
I like this story and (of course) I know the hows and whys, I am not sure if it is quite clear for the readers. If you are still here, please be so kind to leave a comment about the story, its structure, writing style, or anything that needs improvement. Thank you!