There is a chill around me. Droplets of cool moisture make my skin tingle. Though we are packed tightly, we do not feel the heat that ordinarily characterizes such constricting conditions. We have the huge blocks of ice thrust in our midst and resting on our heads, to thank for this. I can feel the weight pressing down on me. But I am made of tough stuff, I will not break.
Every now and again, the lid comes off. The warm hand of a human, reaches inside, deftly swinging out one of us to its fate, leaving the rest a little bit more room in the box to manoeuvre and ease even if temporarily, the weight of ice. But soon enough, albeit rather slowly, the ice starts to melt away, allowing us float for a while in an ice-cold pool of water.
Finally, it’s my turn. Lifted out, I land with a plop in an outstretched hand. Aggressively, he tears at my skin with his teeth. I yelp in pain, but it is drowned out by the loud sucking noises from his mouth and throat, my body squeezed in his palm, as I am forcefully emptied of my essence to quench his thirst in huge consistent gulps; getting only a moment’s respite when he pauses to let out a loud burp! No sooner have I taken a deep breath, than he continues with the squeezing and sucking, till I’m tossed onto a roadside heap of dirt, sludge and waste, part of whom are my aged kith and kin.
Before dusk, I am joined by more members of my family, used, and discarded without a care in the world. We congregate on the heap, dirt-ridden and abandoned like the half-eaten carcass of a deceased animal. Often, a vehicle comes along, the force of air from the speed blowing some from the heap and onto the road. Heavy rubber tyres roll over these unfortunate ones, squelching and crushing them almost beyond recognition. I sigh in sympathy. It could be me under the weight of those tyres, I guess I’m lucky, but then I’m not. My destiny should be decided by much more than luck.
Suddenly I get a whiff of it. The unmistakeable scent of petrichor, trailing from a distance. Gradually it fills the air, courting it like a persistent suitor, a gentle breeze its prognosticator and envoy. I feel the dust rise from the ground like a blast of confetti and cover me as a blanket. It gets more intense. Nearby, I hear the honking of cars, pedestrians scramble in a frenzy, there is a sense of urgency everywhere. They’re in a hurry to find shelter before the rain comes pelting down. But we are too tired to move in our own strength. So, we lie there, till hope is rekindled in the form of a whirlwind. It comes on the tail of the draft, sweeping us off our feet. I enjoy the moment, the sudden and gusty atmospheric shift. As we’re swept up, I dance around, revelling in the attention as some children excited at the prospect of rain, scramble to catch me mid-air.
Windswept, we all land in the carriage to what will be our final resting place. It’s deep, it’s murky, it’s dark, wet, and heavy. But we land there anyway, each of us with a splash or a thud in the gutter, as we struggle for floating space, my heavier friends not so lucky. Yuck, this place stinks! But it appears we have no choice; our fate is sealed. Is this it, is this how quickly it ends? Useful only for a moment; discarded for a never-ending lifetime?
More of our peers will join us as the days go by and the rains intensify. We will gather round and sit as we wait to see what becomes of us. But for now, the clouds are heavy, the skyline a dull grey hue and hope of rescue is fading. So, I know the rain will pour, forcefully and brazenly trying to shove us out of the way, as it makes its journey into the waterways. But we will sit tight, we won’t budge; we have nowhere to go. We have strength in numbers – 2,250 tonnes of us rendered homeless each day in just one city, is no joke! The flowing water would have to find another path, or if it must, sweep us into the lagoon, except that those who find themselves yonder, will soon be accused of murder. Murder of creatures that have made the ocean their home for ages. It is bad enough existing without purpose, but to be labelled a murderer, a much worse fate.
But not all of us have had the same destiny. Not all of us were born without a plan. There are humans who have taken to reviewing the process of creation, ensuring that the birth and all that goes into it, guarantees that we emerge sustainable, less of a threat to the earth and functional for a lifetime.
Yes, news has also reached us of our distant relatives. Some of them are lucky enough to be rescued by the socially responsible and environmentally conscious. Their lives have been transformed by the initiative of those who care; humans focused on driving environmental stewardship. These cousins of ours are carefully selected and taken for a complete makeover to ensure they do not end up like most of us. They say it feels like an overhaul that makes them reusable and even transformed into other forms of utility, the entire lifecycle painstakingly considered in the birth process. It’s a movement, a phenomenon and they call it recycling.
If only we could find our way to those places, we would, but it will take the initiative of more humans to get us there. So, the question lingers, will we get there some day or is this a pipe dream? One thing that is true and certain is that time will tell. We have no choice but to stay put, holding onto hope, till someday, someone pays attention. Then our lives may be transformed through the magic called recycling, demonstrating that the earth is truly all we can save. But for now, hope springs eternal in the polyethylene breast.
* Ms Gray, a lawyer, is the Director of Governance and Sustainability, Sahara Group