I was born at the dawn of a warm summer day. I don’t remember it except for the feeling of the sun bursting through the sky, warming my soft red skin. My first tangible memory was seeing my brothers and sisters, the Reds, hundreds upon hundreds of them, surrounding me, growing along with me, static, unmoving, marveling at life along with me. A sea of red, and I was but a tiny drop.
Our Father did everything for us: he gave us nourishment, drove away the troublesome and dangerous pests and checked up on our health every day. He loved us, softly held us with his white rubber hands, his smiling white teeth peeking out from his aged, cracked, spotted mask as his bespectacled eyes covered each one of his children. And we loved him, but we could not show it, for all our expressions were the same, try as we did to prove otherwise.
Those first few weeks were laid back and easygoing, there wasn’t anything we had to do, and soon became monotonous. The only way we could pass the time was by chatting with each other. My four closest (both in distance and in relationship) friends were Rajiv, on my left, Bob, in front of me, Lin, on my right and Dick, behind me. Together we asked questions about what we could see from where we were, like why the sky was blue, or what those metal birds in the sky were or what happened to all our comrades who got picked up by Father at a certain age.
Our older siblings told us that there would be a time in our growth where we would be able to go to the Promised Land, a place where we could interact with other men and women like Father and be admired and adored for who we were, and that’s where they all went. We imagined what the Promised Land was like, with bright lights, exciting sounds and tender care just like Father gave us. Where we wouldn’t be attacked by insects, where we could have fun and grow old together.
My dream to go to the Promised Land was almost shattered one night when an insect predator attacked the field. It was a ravenous stinkbug, its feet skittering over the soil, touching my brethren with its hideous feelers, spoilt for choice in this Garden of Eden. As it moved through the aisles, panic spread through the children like wildfire as we steeled ourselves for the inevitable. Those close to the stinkbug wailed and cried for Father, desperate for his attention, but Night meant Father would be sleeping just like us, we were truly alone. I could feel the bug’s steps coming closer and closer to where I was, rustling through the leaves, until finally it stopped.
And then it sunk its jagged teeth into Pete Sanders five rows behind me, one of the largest amongst us, with great relish. Pete’s juices spilled over its jaws, and he attacked Pete with vile ferocity. I started to quake in fear, I had always thought that I would evade any pests or insects with a (now) false sense of security.
After the bug devoured Pete, it inched slowly, weighed down by its appetizer, and burped a couple of times. It crept four rows behind me, three rows, then two. I whispered to Dick words of encouragement to be strong. Dick had already wet himself with fear, his skin glistening under the moonlight. The bug turned to him and touched him slowly, feeling his body, gauging his tastiness. He started to cry in fits and starts, his courage eroding under the gaze of the bug. All of us prayed for him to get through this, for some miracle to arrive and save us all from this ghastly beast.
And then we heard that familiar deafening roar of a metal bird as it shot through the sky, flying low in the night, leaving behind a trail of smoke that covered the stars. This fearsome predator became a frightened, tittering bug and scurried away into the darkness. We all consoled Dick and said he was very brave. I whispered a word of thanks to all the metal birds in the world that night, bless their timing.
The day finally arrived when I could feel that I would be taken to the Promised Land. I put on my best smile, made my skin glow, pushed my chest out to give it that extra bit of oomph and waited for Father to come by my side. He came slowly, looking over my siblings one by one, calculating if we were the perfect Reds that were fit enough to be dispatched to that otherworldly place. When he came next to me I closed my eyes and prayed that my gut was right. He held me, gave me a once over and then plucked me from my station. I was free, after weeks of being static. I couldn’t wait to see what was next.
We were buzzing in the bag, congratulating each one of our friends that made it in and telling each other our own imagined versions of where we would be going. After the bag was filled to the brim, Father closed it and we waited until it would open again. We knew we were moving on some kind of vessel that was taking us to the Promised Land. The initial energy that we had when the trip started soon dissipating as we grew weary and most of us feel asleep. The ones that didn’t, including me, stayed up to talk about how we would miss Father once we got to the Promised Land, but the pros certainly outweighed the cons.
I woke up in the morning, when the vessel had stopped and the bag was opened. There were five men standing around, picking us out one by one, putting us in different bags, taking us to different places. It looked like the Promised Land was still far away and this was a connection in our journey. I saw Father talking to the men, exchanging colored paper and handshakes. And then I was picked up and thrown into another bag. Father didn’t even say goodbye to us. The man who had taken me was a short, fat man with narrow slits for eyes, nostrils, a mouth and ears. A bit like a squishy ball of clay with lines. I hope he could commandeer his vessel with such small eyes. I missed Father already.
In the new bag, I fraternized with children from different fields. They were excited to go to the Promised Land, although some of them called it Paradise, others Heaven and still others Mecca. This next journey was as uneventful as the last, but once the new vessel stopped, all of us froze. This was the moment we had been waiting for for all our lives. We felt the bag being lifted by the Clay Man, and then set down in what we presumed to be our destination, the Best Place on Earth. He opened the bag and started taking us out one by one. We could see a world of white, bright lights, colorful things, and different kinds of children. There were orange, green, purple, brown and yellow ones, but we couldn’t speak their different languages. We were placed together in a box that faced outwards. The cool air of this white world calmed me, it felt better than the hot Sun that I had felt throughout my growth.
We were all placed on top of older, more seasoned Reds who had been there much before us. I asked them if this was really the Promised Land. They scoffed at my words and told us that this was a Supermarket and that we would be picked out by families to be taken to their homes, where we would be a part of their family and be attended to like we were in the fields, that was the actual Promised Land. We had to look our best, those of us that were damaged in transit or had some deformities at birth wouldn’t be selected. I was confident that they would take me, how could they not?
Men, women and children started visiting a couple of hours later, their faces listless and blank, as if this process was a chore instead of an exciting experience to select new members of their family. One by one they went down the sections, picking out the Oranges, and the Yellows and the Greens first and then they came to us. The first couple of women that came to us Reds completely ignored me and instead went for my fatter compatriots. I hadn’t let myself slide into obesity by sucking us extra nutrition when I didn’t need it, I thought I was the right size, and so had Father. But these people were looking for fatter Reds, not fit ones.
Eventually as the day went on and more and more of my friends left me behind to go enjoy their new lives, I began to grow weary. As the Sun slipped out of sight and changed into Night, I felt pangs of homesickness for the field, where life seemed much less competitive and more fun with my friends. But then a small girl walked into the Supermarket, her face flustered and her movements hurried. She grabbed a plastic cover, rushed up to us and started grabbing us one by one. I shouted to her in desperation, “Pick me, pick me!” She must have heard me, because I was next to be picked. Another bag, another place.
Our new Mother set us down on a black counter. She was still in a hurried state, maybe she was late for something. She put on an apron, took out a pan and placed it on the stove. The lot of us felt suffocated in the plastic, and we were glad when she took us out, the marble cooled us down. She took two of us, me and my new friend Joe, and washed us under a tap. I hadn’t tasted water in so long, and it refreshed me. She put us back on the counter and took a wooden board and a knife. I figured she was cooking for her husband. Then she took Joe, placed him on the board and raised the knife above him. Joe’s eyes were facing me and he was smiling, so he didn’t see this. I shouted out to him, “Look out!” but it was too late. We had come to the home of a serial killer. This woman was going to kill us and eat us for dinner. I tried to roll away from her clutches, but we Reds weren’t built for movement at all. She cut Joe into four pieces and threw him into the pan. I was next, I prayed to my real Father to get me out of this somehow, but my heart knew that there would be no escape. I closed my eyes and prepared for the worst. The other Reds were in utter panic, they didn’t care about me, not like my friends in the field. The woman turned to me and placed me on the wooden board. This was it, it was all about to end. So much for the Promised Land and being cared for by a family. Goodb-