This bleak narrative by Author Tavinder Kauer New paints a picture of a dystopian future were people that are sick are considered defective.
“I can’t be….”
“You are. The test confirms it.”
“Your number is 10078.” The officer dressed in white, wearing protective plastic gloves shook his head.
It was official, I had to go to quarantine. I’d never been sick before, but now I was defective, a burden on society who had to be sent away to the Quarantine Zone across the border. My previous identity didn’t matter, I’m number 10078 now. That’s who I am, and I have to leave my home to the other zone.
“Take your overalls,” the officer said with a destaining look.
I didn’t blame him, I looked at people who were flawed in the same way, as scum who had something wrong with their genes and were no longer part of the Well-Conditioned Zone.
“Jug…Jug…swish, swish….” The machine screeched, it was a huge device which looked like a tumble dryer. Doctors had to ensure that my illness was contained.
A white bus waited at the back of the hospital. It was shiny, crisp with plastic seats that could not be soiled with dirt or disease.
“10078?” asked the driver of the van. He was dressed in the same manner as the officer who’d condemned me to ensure he wouldn’t be infected.
“That’s me,” I answered.
I’d worn my overalls. My family had been notified. I was to be shamed to an inadequate human being, no longer a person but a burden on society, ill, spreading disease. It the year 3356.
In the thirty-first century, due to illness and diseases that were spreading, the country was divided into two zones: Well-Conditioned and Quarantine.
The Well-Conditioned Zone contained healthy, productive, working human beings who contributed to the economy strength and to domination. But if you had a illness you’d be sent to the Quarantine Zone.
Ailments: such as cancer, dementia, colds or flues which had cost the National Health service millions in the twenty first century were now dealt with by the Quarantine Zone. This was to keep the well-conditioned healthy and productive, to enhance the economy and keep it booming. Sick leave and doctor’s certificates were eradicated by the government. The government felt it was no longer productive to spend money to get people well, so they excluded those who became ill instead.
Some people were re-integrated into the well zone, but they were ultimately ostracized by others, ridiculed, bullied, frowned upon. They had been contaminated. They were defective, and they were ultimately sent back to the Quarantine Zone.
I myself, number 10078, had a cold, I had never been ill before, the Well-Conditioned Zone was clean, everyone wore masks, plastics covered everything and a fresh supply of air was kept circulated. People were screened regularly before entering and leaving their employment, so disease spread was non existent. But I still got a cold, I was seen as a contagion that might infect others. It was a flaw in me as a human being, and I was no longer to be part of their zone.
I could see the green trees, fresh, tall and ripened, disappearing into the background as the bus left the Well-Conditioned Zone. The light darkened as the bus bumped along. There were others with me, eyes looking down, ashamed. Some had colds, flu, dementia or cancer. Serious illness would cause death. No money was spent on medication. It was all about manufacturing and resources.
It had to do with a fault in the genes as the government stated in our era, that caused us to be ill. Twenty first century money spent on getting people better had ultimately caused the county to crash and civil wars to occur, there was no money, so the government divided its land into two regions to ensure wealth. In the thirty first century wars were unknown, as we had dominated the world due to the two factions.
I could see the Quarantine Zone appearing, there were rows, rows and rows of little tents, like a refugee camp. Thousands of little huts squeezed together in an expansive space. This was detention. No one spoke about it; we were ill people, non-productive, a burden on society and ultimately incomplete humans.
“Off, you indisposed. This is where you will be,” said the driver. The van would be incinerated and the driver screened to be able to return.
I had no belongings, all my possessions had been disposed of due to my impurity and to protect others. All I wore were my overalls which are like a sack used to keep potatoes.
“No, 10078,” your bunker is that red one over there. The lady pointed. “Your period of separation is two weeks.” But I knew this was my new home and I couldn’t go back.
The Quarantine Zone air was rancid, polluted and black like soot which you could see clearly with the eye. Few people showed themselves. Most remained in their tents ashamed of their illness. People who had completed their period of clearance were working as officers welcoming others, and helping the sick and needy with plant remedies to heal or prevent their suffering. Most ill people had their faces covered with cloths. Distant fires could be seen where bodies of the dead were disposed of.
My tent lay in squalor. Nothing was clean or hygienic, unlike the Well-Conditioned Zone where machines cleaned the roads and houses were looked after. Here people were left to die, suffer or survive.
“Welcome 10078,” said the lady at the front of the tent who greeted me. “Here is your knife and fishing rod. Those are all the supplies you’re permitted. There isn’t much food here, and you must provide for yourself.”
I couldn’t respond. Her skin was smooth and white, I didn’t want to ask what illness she had. That kind of question was a taboo subject. But she continued, “I know you have a cold, 10078, that is easily remedied by herbs which you can get from 30,967, who is a white tent. We need more able bodied men like yourself to help the sick and ill.”
Her hair was silky, smooth. “I stay here too,” she said. “I was told I had eczema, I am number 49,0078, though our numbers don’t really represent anything, I don’t know how long I have been here, I took herbs and now I am healthy, but cannot go back,” she said.
“Thank you,” I responded.
“You do realize it’s their way of keeping the population down, don’t you? Fewer mouths to feed, they require you to produce and force you to live here. It’s expedient government.”
“What? You are talking nonsense; we are defective,” I said, trying not to get angry while rearranging the mattress on my rancid bed.
“How could we have gotten ill in a world so hygienic? Think about it; it’s so clean, pure. Machines do the cleaning….”
“But we are defective,” I said cutting her off before she could finish.
“That’s just what they want you to believe. Number 60,7763 in the silver tent at the back will tell you. He was a government official before he came here. How can a government man be defective?” she asked.
She slipped out of the tent like a mouse. My head was shaking. No! It can’t be, I thought. It’s rubbish. I decided to go down to the silver tent, which took me ten days in total to get too. The Quarantine Zone was vast, expansive, and forever enlarging with new buses arriving daily.
“Welcome, number 10078,” said the man. He wasn’t wearing a sack but still had his government suit on, like the ones I had seen on the television screen.
“You are wondering why I am not wearing a sack. It’s one of the perks of being an ex-government official,” he said, laughing hoarsely.
“Is it true what the lady at the front gate told me?”
“Yes. The government made up the story about a defective gene. It’s a method of population control. Have to keep down numbers and keep production up to sustain the economy. You were chosen at random to come here, just like me. I was told I was defective but I’m the one who created that crap. So I knew I had been made ill during the night by machines that clean the Well-Conditioned Zone. They inject you with illness and send you here to die.”
“It can’t be true. It just can’t be….” I responded.
“There is nothing actually wrong with your genes, the government created that ruse to maintain production and economy. Illness is their creation to ensure a minimal population. I was sent here myself after I created that rubbish. There is no escape from this place. It’s our destiny to produce, be exploited and then be killed. We are a slave population.”
I could not believe what I was hearing! I was nothing more than an animal to be kept strong, healthy, productive and then, in the end, left to be slaughtered.
Tavinder Kaur New is primarily a short story writer, who lives in Dagenham Essex. One of her short stories ‘ If I had Known’ has been published in City Lit Adult Education Centre in London in their Between the Lines Magazine in 2010.
She has been also chosen to read her poem ‘I Want’ in the Barking and Dagenham Folk Festival in 2015. She has attended many writing courses in City Lit Adult Centre and currently in Barking and Dagenham Adult College.
Tavinder has a BA honours in English and Cultural Studies and also a Level 3 diploma in Counselling Studies. In addition she has a blog where all of her collection of poems and short stories have been published.