‘Look!’ said George, beckoning the boy over. ‘This enclosure is apparently an exact replica of a studio apartment from the twenties. Can you believe the way we used to live, Jimmy? The amount of space a single person had all to themselves?’
‘Why is the man in there cradling his head in his hands?’ the boy asked.
‘Great question! The sign here by the enclosure says: “this quarantining remote worker is suffering from the effects of acute Zoom fatigue” although I don’t see how he can be fatigued when he’s working from his bed. Ha ha! Can you imagine how convenient that must be? Waking up and already being at work?’
‘He looks kind of sad?’ Timmy said. ‘Like, maybe he could use a hug?’
George chuckled to himself. Kids could be so precious, but were also literally (!) the future. There was always an opportunity to teach them something new.
‘That’s where you’re wrong, Tommy! During rona times a hug could literally kill you! And I’m sure that man in there would rather be sad than dead.’
Toby wasn’t the boy’s real name. The centre gave each of the WZRCs (WarZone Relocated Child) an American name in case their DDTG (Designated DayTrip Guardian) found their indigenous name too difficult to pronounce. George had been a DDTG for many years now, ever since his own kids had gone off to college. Coby was his nineteenth WZRC. He was a great kid. Always happy, despite the tragic violence he’d witnessed in his homeland of Europe.
‘Isn’t it humbling to see where we came from? How much we had? You see that little cubicle there? That’s the man’s very own pooping closet. No all-purpose neighbourhood waste disposable outlet for this guy! Can you appreciate, Cory, how, while this man isn’t us, he also, in many ways, is? Our precursor, if you will.’
‘My thoughts, George? It’s too sad. I want to look at something else.’
George followed Gordy as he wandered over to the next enclosure, still thinking about how relaxing it must be to poop at home, in private, and not having to trek two blocks to the waste disposable outlet, all the time worrying that your next-door neighbour Shannon might pass by, dressed head-to-toe in her lycra running gear, just as you dropped your underwear.
‘What are these fury things?’ the boy asked.
‘These are dogs, Garry,’ he replied. ‘During and shortly after rona people grew to love them so much that we bred too many and put a strain on our food supply.’
‘They look hungry?’
‘Of course they are! Can you remember the last time that you weren’t? If we don’t have enough to eat why should they?’
If Shannon had invested in all those different coordinated lycra jogging outfits, it didn’t make sense to him why she wouldn’t also invest in a sports bra (or bras plural).
When she came jogging past, her bosom unhindered, all he wanted to do was shut his eyes — especially when mid-poop (!) — but that seemed rude somehow. Especially since Shannon was a good friend of his wife and it had never been agreed, even though everyone had been using the all-purpose neighbourhood waste disposable outlet for decades, what the right etiquette was while doing one’s business. Should he look her in the eye when she came running into view? Surely, while still very awkward, that was better than staring at her bouncing breasts?
He forced himself to stop thinking about Shannon and realised the boy was no longer beside him. He looked down into the enclosure and saw that Larry was, in fact, lying on his back unconscious in the centre of an ever-growing ring of dogs.
What should he do? Run to the man selling balloons by the entrance to ask for help? There was no time. Those hungry dogs would surely tear the boy apart. If he let Barry get eaten by dogs he would get kicked out of the DDTG programme for sure. Could he fight off the dogs with his bare hands? He could not. He would, without question, be ripped apart alongside Garry. How would the boy’s family back in Europe cope if they learnt he had come to America for a new life only to be mauled to death by formerly beloved pets? There was nothing George could do. The boy was as good as dead. If he jumped in, he would be dead too and then he couldn’t help anymore WZRCs. He would no longer be able to take them out on daytrips and see their little faces light up when he bought them a beef-flavoured, corn-husk stick. It was a no brainer, he told himself, as he hauled himself over the barrier and dropped into the pit.