I originally wrote this story after watching an ewaste documentary about Guiyu. With recent events in regards to the smog red alert in Beijing I think this is as good a time as any to publish it. The setting is sometime in the future when smog is so thick, that outdoor greenery is a thing of the past.
— Polluted Town Greenhouse:
His daughter’s coughing made Yu Chang’s heart ache. The doctors didn’t give Lin long to live; she might join his wife and son soon. Since she was a baby, she wheezed. He kept back a tear — composure.
A yellow haze blanketed the town, residues from the night’s burnings, decades of soot charred people and things. A suffocating junkyard, he thought.
A metal torso on treads, made its way to his door. Chang soured, grimacing, seemed a government robot, here to waste his income. He thrust open the door and barked: “How many times do I have to tell you? I can’t afford your Eco-products.”
He was slammed by the smell of burning plastic, leaving a bitterly acrid taste in his mouth. “Wheeze,” he tensed and looked over at Lin. Pale, standing by a wall looking wide eyed, she held her chest, and throat.
“If you use our cleaner processors, biological nature shall be more viable, in your local medium, thus a net gain.”
“Nature doesn’t pay the bills.” He had to pay for her medicine. What did the rocks, dirt and acid rain of nature offer? Ash and piles of glass, are what grows in Guiyu.
“We finished the greenhouse, and are inviting you to visit, to experience it for yourself.” The Eco-Bot tilted its head, eyes swiveling towards the wheeze. Raising it’s volume, it said: “you can bring your family.”
Yu squinted, the air stinging his eyes. He had to work so hard for so little, and this robot thought it could get a cut. By making him use its Eco-things. “I ought to scrap you. You sly-”
Cough, “we’re going,” Wheezing, Lin hobbled by. Yu glared at her slight “It’s getting stuffy in here. I could use some fresh air,” she shrugged joining the robot.
The bot rolled back, “I will lead the way.” She kept pace and asked it some questions. Yu hadn’t seen her so chatty in weeks. Grudgingly he tailed the duo, listening.
“Why don’t you process the waste yourselves? ”
“We wish to avoid resentment, hate or an uprising. We intend to incrementally increase automation, as we can retrain and re-purpose laborers.”
With the greenhouse glistening, she hurried on towards it. Yu caught up to the bot.
“So you want to steal my job to? ” Yu sneered with contempt and spat.
The Eco-Bot motioned toward Lin: wheezing in the air lock, beckoning. Feeling a bit guilty, for his rude display, Yu followed.
Air-lock doors sealed shut. It filled with purified air. Lin’s wheezing quieted; Yu softened. They walked in.
“Wow, Daddy, what’s that? It looks like someone left salad, and pretty colors all over the floor.” She ran ahead to inspect them.
“Those are plants and flowers, honey. You’ve seen them in books”. He felt lightheaded, the air was so rich. The floral perfume, made it pleasant, tasting sweet.
“They look different up close.” She stooped down to the flowers. “Ah, something moved.” She clung to him. “Those pebbles are flying.” She pointed.
His eyes widened with concern, then he relaxed in recognition. “Those are bees that pollinate the flowers,” he pat her comfortingly on the shoulder and explained it to her. For months, they hadn’t had such a bonding educational experience.
“Will you make our town, as beautiful as this? ” She embraced him, locking eyes.
“The Eco-Practices will cost more.” He was concerned about her health. “If limited to just me, it wont do much.” She bit her lip, bracing for bad news. But he could see her breathing gently. “Though we’ll be able to visit here, so I’ll do what I can. Can ask around.”
She looked up to him and smiled. They explored the greenhouse. Lin walked along the path.
“Ahaha, look Daddy, it’s the biggest bowl of soup in the village.” Lin smiled and pointed.
“That’s a pond, silly.”
“I know”, they both laughed, uncoiling tension, – loud enough to fill the greenhouse. They sat down by the pond to catch their breaths.
It’s microcosm unfolded, as the lily pads, and water lentils floated apart. Revealing branching stems, and leaves of macro-algae. Snails crawled along, amphipods danced. They watched, entranced.
Yu broke the silence. “You laughed without coughing,” it was the first time in years.
“Yeah? ” She cleared her throat. “I feel better here.” Nature helped.
Outside the bot awaited them. “Can we expect your participation Mr. Chang? ”
The cost being less than the benefits. “Yes,” he said, holding Lin close. The Eco-Bot tilted its head. It seemed oddly curious. “And I’ll get friends to join.” He smiled at Lin warmly.
A wind propelled them, as they walked home, lifting the haze. Imagining plants, growing from dirt. It could become, a renewing oasis, he thought.
“I’ll be okay, Daddy.” For the time since she was born, he believed it could be so. Chang’s chest felt lighter, a tear of his slid. He pulled her up, and hugged her. She giggled.