The second I laid eyes on the Philosites I felt nauseous. Perhaps it was all those stories of children eating too much after starvation, and then dying from the expanded stomach. Such stories always accompanied the Philosites who came from the upper floors, offering bread, soup and conversion. Since the last riots on the lower levels were especially violent, we hadn’t seen any Philosites for months, and as usual they were blind to the state brutality that had followed.
We sat in their makeshift chairs and ate while they proselytized. Badka and I were no fools, not even for lower-level transients, but we were young and impressionable girls, exactly the type that made a Philosite wet themselves in giddiness. I looked at the old lump of bread they called a muffin, and suspected poison. One of the Philosites saw me, his robotic eye augmentations scanning me like a product code. Only the wafting odor of Badka’s hair induced him to turn from me, towards her. He gave her a triangle smile, posed for a picture with the dark-skinned derelict, and then handed her an audio book in a small chip.
A slight vim came to Badka as she scanned the chip and sent it to our shared database. We heard a voice in proper English who read the book’s title: “The Five Habits of Highly Miserable People.” The narrator read aloud: “After seven years of being miserable, I decided to work hard to change my life from the inside! These habits are the opposite of the seven successful habits, since the opposite of a successful person is a miserable person.”
The audio book was intriguing to both of us, as I had always felt a certain nagging, as if being seen as a ghastly presence on the lower levels had always been a mistake. Leaving the audio on, Badka and I took refuge from the market’s smog inside Badka’s home: a large discarded waste pipe she had decorated with soiled pillows and blankets.
“Habit one. Winners are proactive, and miserable people are passive. Passivity breeds laziness. Solution? Get off your lazy asses right now!” The voice was so commanding that Badka and I leaped up instantly, hitting our heads on the top of the metallic rimmed pipe. We had a laughing fit so loud that we barely heard the next habit: “Winners have an end in mind, they have decisive goals.” Our laughing must have unhinged the pipe from the rivets on the ground, because suddenly we began to feel the pipe tug us to its sides. We went rolling through the marketplace, tossing upon Badka’s oil-stained pillows.
“Miserable people like to drift through life, hoping food, money and happiness will trickle down from the top.”
We screamed to warn patrons and market dwellers of the rolling pipe, as we went barreling through tents full of exotic trinkets. Through the chaotic spin I couldn’t hear the rest of the second habit, and only when the pipe came to a painful halt did we hear the next: “Winners look at life and see opportunity. Miserable people look at life and only see unfairness, cruelty, and other miserable people.”
Outside the pipe, Badka and I found ourselves in the great melting plant, floating on a sea of dense waste, detritus and dozens of other waste pipes. Like the lower levels, the space was reserved for leftovers.
“Solution? Stop blaming the world for the way you are! Instead, seek to change yourself to adapt to the world!”
Badka and I were screaming again, though it wasn’t clear why. It seemed our pipe was being lifted up, perhaps by a large crane. We held onto the pipe’s rivets as gravity began to shift. “Habit number four. Winners have other winners as friends, while miserable people tend to associate with the worst human beings imaginable.” From the open end of the pipe we could see ourselves ascending! Up! Up, past the grey smog and factories on the lower levels, to the glossy towers, colorful lights and three-dimensional advertisements of the upper floors.
“Nobody wants to lose friends. But you must recognize that your friends have no interest in your success. In fact, like yourself, they feed off the misery of others.”
Sweet starlight escapades, sweet auras of music and effervescent light! What unheard of joy we felt as we floated passed the music halls of the eightieth floors, then to the shops of the ninetieth floors, where a deity of my people—Osha the younger—was selling perfume. How odd, how majestic!
“Habit five. Dare to dream big. Know that you deserve to be a winner, and that, let’s face it, most people are stupid. They’re not reading this book, so it’s ok to say that.”
Our ascension ceased just after the 100th floor mall, nearby one of the city’s waste pipes, which, like all such pipes, sent junk and discard to the lower levels. I noticed that there was a large section missing from the pipes—one just big enough for our pipe to fit into! Badka and I held on for our lives as our pipe was set to replace the gap, and we were left in darkness, holding each other while machines drilled our pipe into place.
“You’ve heard these incredibly profound words of wisdom, and successful people should share their wisdom to others. Listening to someone’s complaints only encourages them to shift the blame. Remember you have choices. If you choose to have a pity party, no one will come.”
When the machines finally stopped we were left in that sealed pipe, in darkness and utter silence, with the words of the audio book burned in our minds. I heard something above us—the detritus of the upper levels coming down to flush us out. Soon we would be awash in runoff, in muck and discard. The only way out was straight down. I took Badka’s hand and we made the leap together.
Kawika is currently finishing his doctorate in Seattle, where he teaches college-level writing and writes fiction and poetry. He has been published in Annalemma, The Monarch Review, Unlikely 2.0, The Houston Literary Review and Danse Macabre. You can find more of his published works and his blog HERE.