The work was not backbreaking, as some may have imagined. This was not the mere filling of a shallow grave in the dead of night. I used to do that, and don’t readily admit this time in my life to strangers on the street. There, I lived as an accomplice, working with others to serve a master whose actions we never knew or truly understood. We would bury god knows what in the summer humidity, to the rancid sound of cicadas. We worked under trees that dripped with moisture and other animalistic residue that we preferred not to ponder. The air was always thick and foreign there. This was the country of my birth, but in this role I barely recognized it, any more than I knew the reflection I would occasionally catch of myself. But those days are gone. Now, when I can escape the city, I still see freshly turned dirt sometimes by the side of the road, and while I flashback to elements of that past, I know that this sight does not mean that things will suddenly revert, and that I will once again be stuck on the carousel of my previous profession.
Sometimes people dig in the earth to plant new crops, because farmland is abundant, in this place, and I remember that it also brings new life.
My work is different, now, and I travel to it every day, under sunshine and artificial neon. It’s cold today and I’m leaning against the subway car door, as usual, because I hate sitting more than necessary. I look to my left and what seems to be an unassuming passenger starts kicking his heels up on his seat, dancing around in the space in front of the stoic plastic bench. Suddenly, he starts singing in only the way a person can when they have on headphones and cannot hear their voice. I shake my head and sip my coffee, imagining myself outside again, in the heat, surveying my completed labors wearing a cynical lip curl and sheltering a cigarette in my palm.
I burst forth from the chilly underground train tunnels and run to enjoy as much fresh air as I possibly can before entering the catacombs. I finally obtained an iPhone and accompanying headphones – onetime futuristic accouterments that used to be entirely without of reach. My favorite radio show continues to play in the background; this segment is discussing a study where people were asked to just talk to strangers on the train, rather than shut themselves off and while most people were terrified, it made for a pleasant experience for all.
I think about the silence we used to inhabit, digging, in the dark, lifting shovelful after shovelful of dirt and avoiding each other’s toes. We never spoke then, almost forgetting what speech was, nor did we develop a common language, yet we knew how to communicate in a fashion more tender than a mother caring for her firstborn. We had no choice, for this was our reality.
“I didn’t need these things. I didn’t need them.”