When I had the operation, it was in the ‘50s, the 2050s, when it had just come out. Somehow the doctors, they found a way to install electrical outlets in the center of your lower back.
Well, actually, it wasn’t really the human doctors.
It was those stupid assistant doctors,
those AIs that were oh so smart that they sent to come live with us in what they called the Third World back in Ma’s time but we all know is just another word for “trash dump.”
Lucky us: we got to house one of those assistant doctors because the whole damn village nominated us as the “most average” and “representative” family of our place.
In reality, we were just the poorest, and they knew two things: the first is the poorer we appeared to be, the more help they would send,
and the second is my Ma is a woman who’d do anything to keep her neighbors happy.
Anyway, so it lives with us for a good eight months, stealing Ma’s recipes and swiping off little squares of my skin and giving me cuts and harassing me every chance it gets,
and none of us can do anything about it because then Pa thunders, “Do y’all chil’ren want help or not?
You’re damn lucky there’s white people comin’ to get my children outta the Third World” and we all got to keep our mouths shut because Pa didn’t have no food to eat except what his mama grew
and all us children get to dig in the First World trash for good stuff to sell and use and we’ve got a whole e-con-omy that gets us money and can buy us food.
God, I’ve had to have heard that damn lecture a dozen times.
Anyway, so the damn robot harasses me for a while, and then the white people come and get it.
Ma had washed it clean with the last of our good soap, some lavender scraps she had found in a FWT (First World Trash) package three years ago,
and then the neighbors come and rub it a little with dirt and grime and do everything short of defecating on it to make us look poor without appearing too disrespectful,
like we were vandalizing because, as Ma put it, “we didn’t want no help.”
Dirty or not, they finally took that piece of plastic junk away and life went back to normal for a bit.
Ma started complaining about how nobody would help her cook and her hands were rotting from washing the dishes all day and I’d help her again, like I used to.
Then I had to play with my little brother because there wasn’t a damn robot around to wink at him and make him giggle. But I was happy enough. No more tire tracks in our garden.
Anyway, so one day about three months later, they come back and storm through our village, driving their ecogreen cars and knocking down our doors, looking for tall, strong-looking young men.
Pa’s a proud of me--a rarity, really, and Ma doesn’t want anyone knocking down our door, so they send me to stand in the front of our house and that’s what I do. They notice me.
They come and talk to my Ma and my Pa, sounding all sophisticated and complicated in their fancy Common World Language nobody here speaks because we’ve still got our own dialects.
Then they shove a clipboard in their faces and hand them pens. My parents look at me, wild-eyed.
“They want you to sign the clipboard, but I wouldn-” Pa and Ma take turns scribbling on the clipboard— the first time in their lives they’ve been asked to sign something, like some big,
important First World people, and grin dopey grins and close the door.
“What was that about, son?” Pa asks.
“I don’t know. I don’t speak Common. I can’t read.”
“Then what did we sign?” Ma asked, a frantic look on her face. “Oh, darling, what if they’re sending our son to war?”
“What would they want him for? He’s just a scrawny little boy, not even a man yet,” Pa says scruffily, even though he knows it’s not true.
My six-year old brother starts acting like a two-year old and nibbles on a sheet of paper. He likes the taste of paper but it’s very expensive around here.
We never get any except when the First World Family we’re paired up with remembers my brother likes paper and throws in a few scraps of cut-up cereal box.
“Hey, where’d you get that?” I exclaim.
“They shoved it under the door,” he answers naturally.
“You didn’t eat any of the words yet, did you?”
“No, just the corner, where the little emblem of the First World is, it’s very soft and papery-”
“Give it to me!” I boom, just like Pa.
Everyone stares but my brother gives it to me, and I take off running in my ratty Air Jordans all the way to the Chancellor, who really is just an Elder that knows the Common language.
“Sir, sir. Chancellor, could you read this to me-”
“Woah there, son, what’s the hurry?”
“My parents, they signed a, um, a letter, no, um, a contract, and we don’t know what it’s about.”
“Hmm. Let me see. Hand me my glasses, son, will you?”
“Contract 404, issued by the First World Project for Third World Elimination and Globalisation Improvement...the subject named will be a healthy young man...he shall...
he shall undergo electro-fissure surgery in the lower back and provide electricity for his family’s devices...
he shall be given a year’s warranty in case of medical emergency of or relating to the surgery…this contract is non-terminable and will proceed at the date of December twenty-fourth
this upcoming year...what’s this now, son, you’re getting surgery?” the Chancellor looks up and stares at me through his ancient glasses.
I’m full-on shaking. “Yes, but what do they mean by electrofis- electrofissure surgery?”
“Well, you see, son, you have learnt how the Firsts use electrical energy to run their world, yes?”
“From what I understand of this contract, your parents are sending you away for a trial operation that would convert the energy your body gains— through eating food, for example,
into electrical energy which can be transferred to First devices like smartphones and computers through the...the ah, outlet in your back, which really ought to be on a wall…”
“So I’m a science experiment.”
“Essentially, yes, but that would be putting it harshly; they mean well but I don’t suppose it’s the best way to go about-”
I run back home before I have to listen to all the Firsts are good, Firsts are trying to help Thirds crap.
“Ma, Ma! Pa!”
“Well? What’s wrong, child? Don’t run so. Speak slowly,” Ma instructs me, scolding even before I’ve spoken a word. She does that when she’s worried or nervous, so I let it go.
“The Chancellor says they’re going to make me a cyborg.”
“Wow, that’s so cool!”
“Shut up, bro. No, Ma, it’s like this.
You know how all the Firsts, they run everything on electricity, how they have those smartphones and tablets and computers and robots and all kinds of things?”
“You mean everything we don’t have,” corrects my brother.
“They’re giving me an operation, so my body can make electricity for us.”
“It’s safe, yes?” Ma asks.
I shrug. “Of course it’s safe,” Pa interjects. “They’re the Firsts. We don’t have to like them to know they always know what they’re doing— which is why we’re Thirds and they’re Firsts.”
I sigh, and leave, knowing nobody would even try and put a stop to this operation because finally having electricity might be something to brag about for once.
A few years later…
“Ma, I’m going to be late for school, we’ll have to charge the tablet later--- and your phone.”
“You selfish child! Be nice to your little brother. He doesn’t get to go to school like you, child; you know we have a one per family cap for schooling. He learns from his tablet! And my phone.
Do you want apple pie or not? I need to search up a recipe.”
“Ma, your old recipe for scrap pie was very good. I don’t want apple pie. That’s a First food. I hate Firsts.
Please, Ma, his tablet’s at forty percent and I’m tired already, it’s draining my energy. And I know you just want to level up on Candy Crush. Besides, we don’t even have apples.
Please, can I go to school now? If I’m late again the Professor will bash me.”
“You selfish child.” She yanks the cords out from the socket in my back and I jolt. “Oww! I swear, Ma, one of these days you’re going to electrocute me and I’m gonna die.”
“Ungrateful child,” she mutters, turning away.
I turn and look at her before I leave and remember the days when she’d kiss me goodbye and tell me to try hard in school and promise me scrap pie if I got a good mark on the next test.
As I walk towards the door, I pass my brother, who’s mindlessly watching cartoons on his tablet. First cartoons.
He doesn’t speak much of our language anymore, just the Common language, from all the First cartoons he watches.
Ma and Pa can’t talk to him much, nor can I, because I’m still learning things the old way in school.
But they think he’s smarter because he can speak Common, even if his Common is broken and he mixes it with our talk which he gets wrong too.
Pa sits on a crate and props up his laptop, shopping online for a lamp so he can “work at night.” He makes logos for Firsts, something he can do all day and all night if he had light.
That would be another thing for me to charge.
As I cross the dirt road, dragging my feet in tiredness, trudging uphill towards the one-room schoolhouse, I look back at my home and-
Before I know it,
a car hits me— one of those real automobiles that run on electricity that Firsts are sending to Thirds in special monthly packages because they’ve found a way to run cars on air,
hy-dro-gen or something like that.
I lie there, too tired to get up. More cars run over me, and a horse steps over me, its wagon wheels thin, jabbing into my ribs.
They charged too much from me today, and Ma says I’m not a growing boy anymore so I can’t eat that much. I’m too tired. I’m dying. They won’t have electricity anymore.
Will they miss me, or the electricity? Are they going to send my brother too, on another contract, and pump him full of hydrogen to run a car? I’m dying, I’m dying.
Won’t anyone stop? I like things better before.