Sunday, January 20, 2008


by Frank Roger

A beam of sharp sunlight hits my eyelids, pierces its way through : there's my free wake-up call, delivered daily at sunrise. I open my eyes, stretch my cramped legs and arms, and crawl into an upright position, groaning, shaking off the last vestiges of sleep. Even at this early hour, people are already on the move, going to work, clutching briefcases, their faces contorted into their usual no-time-to-lose-expression, moving hurriedly but making sure not to trip over my body and my encampment made of cardboard and discarded newspapers.

About time I get out of the way, before the subway entrance grows dangerously bustling with activity and I would run the risk of getting trampled. But I'm clever: I know where to set up camp at night, I know where exactly the rising sun will send down its slanting beams of light, so I make sure my eyes are in their path. It's a flawless method, and it's absolutely free! It took me quite a while to hone it to my present level of perfection, though.

I gather my meagre belongings, and move to the side of the subway entrance, resting my back against the graffiti-smeared wall, allowing the quickly swelling stream of passengers to flow past unhindered.

Deep down in the back of my head, something is winking on and off, trying to draw my attention to a fact that just has to be of tremendous importance, but I can't seem to grasp it right now. Wait a minute, wait a minute! Could it be...?

Well, there's only one way to find out!

I clasp the tattered bag containing all my belongings under my arm, and go up to the surface, my legs still a bit wobbly. My empty stomach isn't exactly helping much, my haze-clouded mind even less. I know there's a newsstand close to the subway entrance. I emerge in full daylight, and I stand still for a few moments, allowing the light to wash all over my body, an invigorating shower of warmth and brightness. Then I head for the newsstand, its decoration of magazines flaunting their gaudy and garish covers waving invitingly in the wind. But it's not the magazines I need to see, the dazzling toothpaste smiles gorgeous women flash at me leave me stone cold, as do blitzy sports cars, shiny futuristic computer hardware, exotic travel pictures and even voluptuous bare-breasted girls from silicon heaven. What I need is one glance at a newspaper, one fleeting glance.

The man behind the counter notices me, understands right away why I'm heading for him, and as my presence might prove bad for business he shouts what I need to know.

"Hey, pal, it's your lucky day all right. Last day of the month. March thirty-first, to be precise. So don't come any closer now, go where you're expected. I'm sure you don't wanna be late, do you?"

I nod, wave at him gratefully, and turn around. I was right: last day of the month! That means best day of the month! Off I go, my wobbly legs and misty mind forgotten. But not my empty stomach. But then again, that problem is about to be dealt with. Last day of the month! Long live rich people! Long live fat rich people! Long live fat rich people who don't wanna die! Off I go, cavorting like a madman.

It takes me half an hour to reach Thomas More Square, in the heart of the business district. On any other day of the month I wouldn't exactly be welcome here, but today my presence will be tolerated. Many homeless guys and winos and society's other dropouts are already gathered here, and more are bound to join the crowd.

We exchange warm greetings, even though most of us don't really know one another. We embrace total strangers, slap each other on the back, some even hug and kiss. This is after all a day of celebration, of happiness, of fulfilment. But, just like on any previous occasion, I gaze around and wonder at the disparity between the opulent, baroque buildings circling the Square and the motley crew gathered in its midst : this is the time and place where both ends of society's spectrum meet in perfect unison... only to be flung back to their respective extremes tomorrow, until the next day of celebration dawns on us.

Some of us wait patiently, others sing and dance with wild abandon, while the preparations for the great event are being made. Our attention is riveted to one, and only one of the towering, overwhelming marvels of dazzling architecture gracing the area: the majestic building of the Eternal Life Cryogenics Corporation, and the scaffold structure erected in front of its massive entrance, a sculpture of glass and metal of rare beauty, sparkling and scintillating as if with a life of its own.

The gathered crowd erupts into cheers and applause as a man in a red-and-white uniform appears on the scaffold, and the name of the organisation he represents is chanted as if this were some religious ceremony: "Intensive Care, Intensive Care,..."

When the ovation has died down, the man grabs a microphone and addresses us. "Welcome, dear friends, welcome on this last day of March. As has become a tradition, Intensive Care will once again provide an invaluable service to those among you who are deprived of the most basic…"

Once again cheers and shouts go up, making it impossible to understand everything the man says, but who needs to hear his words? We know what he's saying, what he's repeating month after month. Do the good people of Intensive Care (God bless their souls) think we're guilty, and our guilt has to be eased? Come on, fellas! So these rich guys paid huge amounts of money to be frozen in liquid nitrogen (or is it ammonia? or their own urine?) until they can be resurrected and resume their spoiled-brats' lives, and now a few of them are again (after a mild contribution by Intensive Care to the ever-so-slightly-corrupt Cryogenics Corporation) pulled out of their tanks (coffins?) to be thawed and sliced and roasted (and well-seasoned!) and distributed free among us poor guys. So what? We're not guilty, just hungry! Let lunch come our way! Pick some really fat ones this month, please. Many of these rich guys were fat, and that's how we like 'em best.

"...and yet," the man continues his sermon, like a preacher desperately trying to convert a flock of heathens, "the people who are to be sacrificed presently are not being cheated. Little did they know the technology to thaw them without causing extensive and irreparable brain damage was never to be developed, leaving them doomed to remain frozen forever..."

Who cares about brain damage, pal? They've got more than enough body parts that are bigger and tastier, believe me!

"...the eternal life they paid for will not be within their reach anyway... unless one considers this ultimate sacrifice, this yielding of their mortal flesh as food for their less affluent fellow men a form of resurrection. So in a sense, they will live on in your bodies, and hence one could posit they achieve thus what they paid for, albeit in a way different from the one originally intended..."

Applause and cheers swell into a deafening roar as three bathtub-like contraptions are rolled out of the Cryo Corp building. Through the din I can catch a few words, while the three chunks of meat are being prepared for the final phase of this gastro-religious ritual.

"Brothers, sisters, think of the symbolism this event is laden with while you eat. These people's riches have by no means been spent idly. Their highly cherished dreams are about to come true. They will live forever inside all of you. Thank the good people of Eternal Life Cryogenics Corporation for parting with three more of their clients, thank our sponsors for making this Intensive Care action possible, thank all of you for coming, and... be sure to be back here on the last day of April!"

And now those smells are reaching our nostrils, our jaws and palates tingle with anticipation, our hands tremble with expectancy. Stomachs growl, saliva drips, teeth are eager to sink into tender meat. Cryolunch is coming! Cryobarbecue is here again! Long live rich people! Long live fat rich people! Long live fat rich people who don't wanna die! And you bet we'll be back on the last day of April, you bet...

Frank Roger is a Belgian author with more than 500 short story publications (including a few short novels) to his credit in more than 20 languages.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh, man - where's the USDA when you need them? Give me real Angus beef any day!