Cyano feels the index finger and thumb of a hand press into her neck. They sink into any looseness in her tendons, pushing them to the side, pushing with a harsh muscularity. They travel towards her wind pipe and for a moment Cyano thinks they might rip it from her throat.
A moment later the train rattles and jerk Cyano back to consciousness somewhat. She smells the staleness of the air and the must of the shoulder she’s resting on. Cyano breathlessly jerks her hand up to her throat to check the attacked area. Her hand grazes a metal device before it is flicked away by the person with her.
‘not now Cyano, now is time for rest’
This persons voice softens the tension in Cyano’s mind. Its faintly melodic and seems to be emanate both depth and lightness, harmonizing with its own sound. The voice lulls Cyano back into a traumatic sleep.
Cyano is woken by a beeping that invades her dreams, penetrated through thick foggy layers of sleep. She is being carried by the person who she rested on before. As she awakens she remembers her community advice before the surgery. She’d have a handler afterwards, they told her, the handler would keep her alive and take her to safety and to the..
This thought is interrupted by a uniformed man who demands loudly for identification. Cyanos body stiffens and she regains focus. Her handler displays her digicard and Cyano smile under her teeth. The effort involved drains Cyano of any remaining energy and by the time they are out of the office Cyano has collapsed into her handler’s arms. She is swiftly moved to the back of a tryke and her handler pedals into the evening stream of vehicles making their way back from the city.
They pass cavernous marshes filled with darkness and past marshes where fossils of building potrude through the algae. After cycling for an hour or so the handler comes to a larger lake with a large concrete block of houses in it. It looks deserted from the outside apart from a few streams of light that seep out of the block and across the water to the tryke. The handler dismounts, pulls a pump from the trunk and begins the inflate the tryke’s chassis. After this is completed they push down on the pedals and cycle out across the water.
“the balance of sound in here is essential, please try to avoid loud exclamations”
Cyano finds herself in a dimly hall, her feet sinking into a floor that absorbs her feet in algae. Her grogginess has somewhat lifted and she notices others stood by her, some resting their weight on rock parts of the walls. Her body is pulsing. Many of the group have an implant on their neck that Cyano now remember is a called a BioDevice, the rest resemble Cyano’s handler, hidden behind hoods and dark dresses.
The person who has ushered them into silence walks towards them. She glides through each step, and sends sonic ripples along the ground that tickle Cyano’s feet. The whole group have their eyes stuck to this woman. The skin on her torso and down to her thighs is covered by a thick mossy pelt and her face is populated by dense patches of algae.
Anarita’s sings as she walks over to them
“and when I’m in my solitude
I can hear, I can hear the breeze singing
breath of the earth
come to meet me
breath of the skies
rush to greet me”
'what the fuck’ murmurs lightly through their breath
Cyano has seen similar in her past, when she travelled to the shores for ocean foods, sealites covered in algaes, encroached by aqueosity. crustaceans slowly forming just away from where the algae met skin. At the time she thought these people were fading into the ocean, enticed by the lure of the food. Anarita’s skin covering looks closer to hair though, coiled and upright.
Despite the shock of this place, its the first time today Cyano’s felt comfortable. Her breathing fades away from her ears and her pounding heart slows. The room is both silent and yet amplifies the dancer’s movements into sound. She rhythm of a complete band, her hips lead, slowly panning around the feel of her feet, which pulsate with a syncopated rhythm with each other.
Anarita shakes some of her moisture from the shoulders of her pelt, it stops twice on the way to the cold stone, resounding first from her calf with a contoured earthy tone, before ripping through a thin layer of gelatenous fluid, two nanometrs thick, just one cell attached to another. As the liquid ruptures the surface the stone releases a tight twang approximately 9ms before another and another…
‘welcome to the Punkah’
“anarita’s holding this whole place together’ says a taller handler
This women tells the group her name is Anarita and she is one of the leaders of the Punkah.
please its time to rest.’
use the seats behind you, they’ll hold you, don’t worry
some deflate into the seats at the close of Anaritass final word. Some resist and flinch back as they step back into the thick moss but they’re tired. they hadn’t been breathing right all day, and eventually all are resting in the moss.
as Cyano sinks into the seat she senses anarita’s song diffusing into her skin, the threshold of her diminishing. She feels the oxygen into flow her blood, pulled in through the algae
‘I give my thanks to the handlers but you’re welcome to recede now, we’ll take it from here… and i trust the crew’s would give thanks as well for your care”
her voice sort of,
shimmers across the floor to reach cyano
intoxicated by a sudden influx of breath, she giggles a bit, slightly out of sync
before them, but hidden from site, cyano can hear singing. Long tones stretching out to meet her. These tones resonate through alagaeic nodes that hang from above. Their origin is the baths below where Cyano is. Groups are engaged in the singing practices that make the algae and moss vibrate, keeping the Punkah breathing.
the crew will make it to the baths soon enough but for now they need rest
“When we give the algae and moss sound they breath more holistically. The sound helps them connect to more cells of each other as it resonates through their flagellum
That why you can breathe in here. Thank to algae and the moss.
Enough words though, you’ll find all you need if you just feel for now
Come meet your crew
They’ll be your partners for the next couple of week”
One of the crew, who has been more comfortable than the rest since they arrived approaches cyano. they’re in a smaller chamber now, like the main hall it reverberates slightly but mostly it’s quiet.
“my names fern, nice to meet you’
they reach out a sturdy hand which Cyano reciprocates. Their grip shoots an impulse down Cyanos arm that stings
Cyano flinches slightly
Fern recoils their arm back
“the air in heres just so.. charged. Feels full of energy” they murmur
Cyano had thought the same as they were walked to the chamber. Reminded her of before an electric storm but… wetter.
“whats your name?”
“oh shit I forgot, sorry its Cyano, nice to meet you too Fern”
they were here first words all day, they stumbled out of her lips, which Cyano licked as she finished her sentence. slimy…
The room isn’t bright but the light hangs in the air, like moisture caught in a spiders web
“you look a bit dazed Cyano, how are you feeling?”
“dazed, yeah, a bit foggy but better than I feared, at least so far”
“me too, but happy to be regulating this easily. I’m from the halophyte swamps by the way, near the sea, it was my first time seeing the city when I went into surgery” fern indicates to Cyano, implying that she might continue the conversation, get to know each other. Cyano wants to engage in conversation with him, shes hardly met anyone from the halophytes and has been interested by the way of life there since she first heard of that place, but instead cyano signals that she’s can’t talk, shes not quite breathing yet. Not quite regulating smoothly, Fern looks at her kindly and allows her to return to rest.
time rolls on, filled with thoughts of the moss. Occasionally it feels like the moss is bubbling, with light effervescence at the horizon of her audio field. Sometimes cyano thinks she sees through the moss, deep into the rhizoids that anchor them
as cyano stares more deeply into the moss she recognises more details. Its impossible to discern exactly what the moss looks like but she notices specific qualities as her gaze drifts across the chamber. she notices how some parts are more pointed, with stiff ridges that slowly fade into tiny hairs that creep upwards. She notices how the dappled green of one section blends into a darker brown that resembles the Meso bushes she’s seen at market. Some thin lines line walls, made up of coarser moss. Occasionally the bubbling of the room retreats from the chamber into Cyano’s ear, and she can’t help but squirm and giggle as it does.
Just as Cyano begins to relax into the room, someone’s voice shudders into Cyano’s body.
“sorry to leave you waiting for so long, you must have all had a difficult time getting here. I’ve brought you all something to help you regulate.”
the members of the crew begin to sit up, someone to the left of Fern has some difficulty rising and so Fern helps out
“my name is Fissiden, I’m here to help you learn how to regulate in here. please take some soft-dried agar”
the agar rests on a thin stone that Fissiden holds. she passes it around to the crew who slurp it gratefully. They haven’t eaten since their surgeries and this has left them ravenous.
“now, I’m sure many of you have heard stories about the practices in this domicile, many I’m sure represent it wildly. Perhaps some of you were scared before you got here. But try to put what you’ve been told out of your head, as best as you can. new intimates get along better when they start fresh”
a young person Cyano vaguely recognises mutters about how difficult that might be
“ don’t worry, don’t worry. the first days going to be the most shocking, just focus on rest for now. I’ll be conserving you all tonight, you’ll get through. then tomorrow, i can guide you through the place. you’ve all been through too much, please, i hope you can now be calm”
with her final words Fissidens voice strums the walls.
a light harmonic drone fills the chamber.
slowly the crewmates begin to stand up and talk to each other, filled with an energy they’d forgotten about since the surgery
In this story I processed my thoughts about the nexus of breathing, interspecies ancestry and sound. A story about Capitalist exploitation of natural systems and of peoples also underlies the work. The main premise of this world is that the characters do not have their lungs. At least not all of them. They’ve have been forced into a surgery by a company in the neighbouring city. A hundred years ago the government deemed that the air in the marshlands is more breathable than in the city. So, it was been made legal for those in the city to pay for oxygen from those in the marshlands. A surgery was been tested and was been rolled out to people of the marshland, many of whom are forced into taking the surgery to make ends meet. A microscopic film is placed around your bronchioles which captures the a percentage of the lung’s oxygen and compiles it into a micro-stack. It is then transported to the new implant on your neck before it is stored for transport to your ‘carrier’.
The balance has been off, however.
Despite the official line from the company that this surgery leaves everyone best off, the implant takes too much oxygen which leaves users with only enough energy to sleep and eat. Those who have the surgery begin to tread the liminal some between life and death.
A healing practice has been set up in the marshlands called the Punkah* where the inhabitants have developed a more sustainable way of life. This is achieved through symbiotic relationships with the species of algae and moss that grow on the walls. The single celled moss and algae can enter a person’s skin and deliver oxygen to the person, bypassing their lungs.
The character of Anarita is based on Margarita Mahfood, a woman who played a key role in bringing reggae and Rastafarianism to Jamaican popular culture through her profession as a dancer, which helped to spread knowledge of slavery and ideas of modes of living emacipated from colonial powers. Margarita Mahfood, or Anita to her close friends is often left out of reggae and Rastafarian histories which have a tendency for phallocentrism. More can be read about Margarita Mahfood in Herbie Millers piece “Brown Girl in the Ring: Margarita and Malungu”
*The Punkah is named by its inhabitants in respect of the workers in Colonial India called ‘Punkah Wallahs’. In Hindi Punkah Wallah means manual fan operator. Punkah Wallahs were the exploited servants whose job was to fan Colonialists. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punkah_wallah