Chinatown – by Juan M.S.

A new page in Miguel’s science fictional book had just been turned and it lay blank for him to fill it with meaning. Miguel was in the mood for scribbling down some impressions he’d had since he saw the first Chinese person back in Argentina. He’d just finished drinking his morning yerba mate infusion, which was one of the few luxuries he could afford, not so much for the high cost of desalinized water but for the pangs of conscience he had whenever he consumed a non-essential product. Yerba mate, as well as coffee and all kinds of infusions, had been labeled: non-essential products in the last UN summit. The rules from this summit had worldwide effect, since the United States had deigned to join the Union, probably out of fear of being let outside of the global economy, since China and Japan had already joined. All this ascension fuss had started since the last block of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf had melted; by then most of the coastal countries of the world had already been flooded and the rest of the world rushed into an alliance with the least evil of the empires: the European empire. Of course no one called it the “European empire”, except some anachronistic Star Wars fans; most of the voluntary members called it the United Nations, which was actually a very accurate term for this confederation.

Miguel was sipping his mate in a last effort to bring back some of the old times to his life. He still remembered when his father would drive for hours on end on a road that seemed to lead nowhere, surrounded by palm-trees and grassland. Now the landscapes had become bluer, to the dismay of farmers and ranchers. Nowadays the cheapest livestock was fish. Desalinization was an easy process and many people had their own desalinizers, but Miguel had just moved into his new house and he hadn’t bought one yet. He was aware the urgent need for one, for he needed to carry a five liter jerrycan of water every day for him and his whole family: a Chinese label; they didn’t bother to translate it anymore. The company that produced his jerrycan of water was actually French, but, as most of its customers were Chinese, it had just accommodated to the language of the Union.

Miguel went out at last, time to go to work. He grabbed his bike and braced himself for a cold ride; it was the middle of winter. He saw the bright side on everything; the global temperature had raised and Poland wasn’t what it used to be; however, it was still cold some odd days of the year. The trams worked well, but they were expensive, for there was no alternative means of transport and the law of demand had wanted that they become a luxury only well-off people could afford. No way of talking about cars or motorbikes since the last crude oil reservoir had been depleted. Countries had started investing in alternative energy sources since the beginning of the decline of petroleum, and they were doing well, but this proved to be not the main issue the Earth would have. Continuous natural disasters battered cities; hurricanes and floods started appearing where there had been none before. The water level raised and rivers were flooded with salty water. Food wasn’t taken for granted anymore. Fruits, vegetables and crops were the first thing to suffer, then livestock. Everyone learned how much water costs to breed a medium size calf; drinkable water was just too expensive to waste on animals. Everyone became vegetarian by force, but vegans and vegetarians were as disheartened as before, knowing that people didn’t eat cows just because they didn’t exist anymore. On the other hand, people started broadening their tastes. Conservatives had just thrown in the towel and people wanted to grab the last piece of meat available in the market. Wild birds were shot down, every herbivore wild animal was hunted and the even the carnivores. It was a feast for the palate, but it didn’t last long. Now the science fiction stories that were read years ago didn’t seem so absurd; surrogate meat started to appear. Meat essence production became a major business; plastic recycling also became very profitable.

Miguel had managed to cram Chinese in five years. It was a requirement for almost every job nowadays. No one had seen it come, but Chinese people populated the whole world, or at least what hadn’t been submerged. Everyone agreed on the fact that the Chinese were survivors, they had acclimatized to all kinds of weather and conditions and they did the hard work that needed to be done in the catastrophe stricken countries. Contrary to other nations, like Europeans, Americans, Middle East Arabs and Japanese, they weren’t belligerent, and contrary to South Americans and Africans, they weren’t lazy or inclined to idleness. They were a hardworking people that had earned its place in the new world. However, some people, probably out of envy or frustration at their own helplessness, just couldn’t help comparing Chinese to cockroaches, which were believed to be able to survive everything, even radiation. But the Chinese hadn’t offhandedly become the most proliferous nation in the world; it had been the result of a deliberate and systematic plan: a postmodern colonization plan.

Miguel came back home after a long day of work. He could feel the aroma of a recently baked cheese and corn tart which his wife had made. In the world he was living in, that was just science fictional. He didn’t ask her where she had gotten the ingredients from or how much they had cost; he just ate with pleasure and wished with all his strength that he’d never wake from this fantasy. He started wondering whether he took enough care of her, whether she was satisfied with him. He thought he’ do something similar for her the following day; he’d buy her a flower. He didn’t want to think how much that would cost him or what would be the use of it; probably buying her a new computer would be cheaper and more practical, but what did she want another computer for? Hadn’t we had enough of technology yet? The same technology that had depleted our Earth and had forced us to feed on synthetic food. He was decided to buy her that flower, and he was decided to tell her he loved her, not because of the tart she’d made, for his heart wasn’t even remotely connected to his stomach, but because she’d given a new sense to his life; she’d just showed him that he was still the owner of his own destiny.

At last Miguel closed his laptop and went to bed. A new page of his science fictional book had been turned.

Chapter 28 of Second Chances

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