Bárbara Colio

Bárbara Colio

 

Postcards From a Better World

1. Paris.

Of course we know that babies don’t come from Paris. But the Dying Cubes do. One hundred percent made-in-France. The market studies, done to determine who would be the exclusive authorized dealer, showed that the great majority of the Globe’s population would feel much safer—and, even then, almost “happy”—using a French product during the final moments of their life. According to those studies, depression and anxiety indexes rose in participants who were told that the product may have been produced in China, Taiwan, or Mexico.

To me, it seems that there is a bit of black humor in the fact that, for some strange marketing-related reason, the Dying Cube logo is a stork. It became a constitutional right that each and every citizen of the Globe, regardless of color, creed, race, language, poverty level, or migratory status, would receive, at birth, their Dying Cube. Even those born in the deepest part of the jungle, forest, or in the most miserable of alleys; their Dying Cube would arrive directly from Paris. A phenomenal delivery system.

The ironic thing is that the Dying Cubes appeared after a fierce battle to defend the right to be born.

Pay attention: this is sensational, a textbook case in Law School. Me, I’ve taken a few years of Law. And I’m doing well. Really well. I’m working on a presentation about this topic.

The case: when most of the Globe’s countries were on the verge of legalizing abortion, the extremist religious groups that were fighting the law managed to have a rigorous scientific study carried out in order to test whether the original cell—never mind the fetus—whether the original cell, that is the first sign of human life, possesses any trait that could be identified as a decision-making capacity. It sounded insane, a mystic’s delirium, but SCIENCE—that eternal enemy of the CHURCH— this time proved them right.

The most important scientists from around the Globe revealed these fascinating results: the achievement of the sperm—that one in thousands that manages to penetrate the egg—cannot be attributed to either strength or chance, but to a decision: TO BE. The sperm that makes it is the one that has no doubts, the one that is determined. Those studies have been reviewed hundreds of times and from every possible angle, and no one has managed to cast doubt on the results. Now, the whole fertilization process—that is important to underline—is a consensual decision: the egg also has the capacity to decide to be fertilized. TO BE.

Baseball. Sorry.                                                                                                        

I know I’m telling this as if it were a children’s fairytale about the courtship between sperm and eggs. Obviously, the issue is more complex. So, then: we know that the creation of a human being isn’t so much the result of a decision between two human beings—those who’ll later be known as “mother” and “father”—but rather, the result of a biological decision. The original cell is an entity made up of decisions, and one which, in turn, continues to make decisions. It decides to grow into a fetus, to become a baby, to be born. Or not.

At some point in my life, I wanted to study biology.

So, anyway, as I was saying: Once we acknowledged the decision-making capacity of the original cell, it went on to have rights. The religious groups forever proved their argument and both, abortion and euthanasia became strictly and eternally forbidden, considered illegal, criminal, anti-natural.

“No one can decide the life of another, whether this other is someone born, or an original cell; both are exclusively responsible for their choice to exist.”

Wow. Wow. This law marked the beginning of a new era in human history.

Although, of course, there was that whole issue with the poor goats. Oh man, the goats.

The joy of religious extremists over that triumph didn’t last for long. Following the logic of the natural law and then the legal law, it soon became evident that if one decides to be born, then one can also decide to die. If you’re given the right to choose your beginning, then obviously you also have the right to choose your ending. And no one could come up with an argument against that.

And that is how the Dying Cube came to be.

Results are one hundred percent guaranteed.

Pain-free.

Free from physical pain. As far as moral or emotional pain…there are no guarantees, since science has declared that this type of pain is impossible to measure, since philosophically, it occurs within that undefined space we call “soul,” the existence of which, at least as of now, remains officially unrecognized. How about that? How about that!? According to science, the soul doesn’t exist. That fact—keep that fact fresh in your mind. We’ll come back to it.

Upon turning five, each person has the right to be informed about how the Dying Cube works, and about his or her freedom to use it whenever he or she sees fit.

Our parents talk about how, back in their days, it was a total scandal. But the religious folks had no argument to stand on since the Dying Cubes had resulted from the very principles their demands were based on. Contradicting their own principles would have meant taking back what they had been alleging, and the Church—whichever Church—has never, in all its history, been known to take anything back. So, little by little, people came to accept the new law, to believe it was for the best.

I find the whole controversy fascinating. More so now. More so, stuck in this bubble. In this loophole.

The Cubes are wonderful, although it’s important to acknowledge that there are certain legal loopholes that weren’t foreseen. Certain small…defects, yes, caused by the limits of science, which sometimes baseball cause serious problems. Very serious problems.

However, no one can deny that the Dying Cubes brought humanity a great many benefits. The suicide rate decreased significantly, so much so that “attempted suicide” later became illegal. Yeah, because if you really wanted to kill yourself, you had an ideal way to go about it, within reach; other attempts, like throwing yourself onto the subway tracks or at a moving vehicle, or jumping off a balcony, came to be considered “intentional harm to the physical and moral integrity of the self, with an aggravated violation of the rights of third parties as well as collateral obstruction of traffic.”

Hospitals, doctors, and nurses from both private and public health institutions were forced to become more efficient, effective, and honest, in order to hold on to their careers. They no longer held the monopoly on the death business.        

Thing is, the Dying Cubes made individuals more responsible, in every aspect. It was no longer necessary to get kids dogs or cats in order to teach them how to be responsible for the life of another being; they had the responsibility for their own lives. They had their Cube. So, the dog or the cat was just for fun. This awareness, since childhood, that one has the freedom and the power to decide on one’s own death, made the population more committed to leading a good life.

No one saw that one coming.

The homicide rate went down.

Rape.

Marriage.

But not the birth rate.

We are moving toward a better world.

It’s simple, the death business. Like I was saying, neither science nor God held the monopoly any longer. Each person did. Religions eventually lost their strength, since there was no longer anything to sustain concepts such as guilt, fear, punishment, hell or heaven. Once God no longer held the monopoly on the death business, He had to settle with being a symbol of…joy. And once religion ceased to be, so did wars. If it was all so simple, I don’t know why they didn’t think of it last century, when religious differences nearly managed to exterminate humanity.

The logic behind the choice to exist prevailed.

From as early as kindergarten, people began to take subjects such as ethics, philosophy, and detachment. Everyone was taught the art of decision. That made us better people. The choice to use your Dying Cube was absolutely respected and never called into question. To each his own. Deaths were mourned less, were better understood, they were respected, they were let go of. The present came to be understood as the only thing we have a grasp on. “Here and now” became a motto for humanity.

Here. And now.

This presentation is for my upcoming oral exam in which I hope to demonstrate a point which —although I truly am a great admirer of the Cubes—there’s something, something I’d like to underline. Give me a second. The ball is coming. I’ve gone over it so, so many times. That damn legal loophole, that damn scientific assumption that screws it all up. Fuck!

Fuck!!

Excuse me.

The Dying Cube is really nice. Very, very nice. Of course, it’s a French design. They had to stop making perfumes, the French. A pity, really. Thing is, the demand is so great, since the birth rate hasn’t decreased, and since the Dying Cubes can only be made in France, all the factories had to start making Dying Cubes in order to supply the entire Globe. Nowadays, perfumes are made in the U.K. Those Brits, they nearly ran the industry into the dirt. Cheese, too. The French stopped making cheese. The cheese business moved to Spain. I remember watching TV as a kid, seeing all those cows and goats, thousands and thousands, leaving France for the Spanish countryside. They looked so sad to be abandoning the French countryside, especially the goats. The goats were really sad. Clearly, they would have much rather died in France than become Spanish, but no one asked them what they would have chosen. And they had a choice, I’m sure of it, but they couldn’t express it like we do. The expression of that decision, the manner in which it happens, that’s the tiny little flaw in the Dying Cube.

Ladies, gentlemen, it’s time to shout it out loud, right here. The Cube has enormous flaw. Enormous. I can prove it. Here it is:

The Dying Cube, as everyone knows, has three security levels designed by that famous group called Portal, comprised of a doctor, a psychologist, a philosopher, a specialist in ethics, an environmentalist, a lawyer, a sexologist, a mother, a child, a father, a serial killer, a homeless person, and a priest.    

The first security layer can only be accessed with your DNA: A bit of a nail or a hair belonging to you can open the first layer. No issues at that point. Then, the Cube asks you in its own voice: “Are you choosing to die today…?” And it says your full name. Then, you have to answer: “Yes, I am -so-and-so-, I’ve chosen to die today.” The Cube evaluates your voice in order to make sure and proceed to access the second layer, where you have to hold the Cube with both hands, at which point it measures your stress level, in case the user is being forced to use the Cube against his or her will, or in case he or she is experiencing an altered state of consciousness that may affect the decision. Since one of the main rules around the use of the Cube is that you must be completely calm and not have ingested any drugs or alcohol, nor had any sex for the last ten days.

Once you’ve managed to access the first two layers, you get to the third one: the one named “The Big Five.” The Cube says: “Tell me about the happiest and most wonderful thing you have experienced.”

Then the Cube waits five minutes. Just five. If it doesn’t register or hear your recollection clearly, it seals itself shut and it can’t be used again for another 365 days. It’s not like dying is a game, either. Many, many people only reach that point. Once forced to recall and decide on only one beautiful memory, they realize they have many and they go on living, they go on raising their kids, they even cure themselves of serious diseases like cancer.

But, once you pass the five-minute test, there’s no turning back. The Cube asks you to say the following sentence:    

“I, so-and-so, have made the decision to die at this moment in time, to cease to exist, to cease to be, to cease to feel any and all of my bodily functions, and to no longer see anyone from this world or any other. I am ready.”

“Thank you for living. This is the end”—the Cube answers. As for the rest…the lethal algorithm takes care of it.

Oh, I’m sorry, I hadn’t mentioned the lethal algorithm, I think. It’s even more fascinating than the Cube. The Portal group developed it in order to cause the sole and unique death of the sole and unique user of the sole and unique Dying Cube. Nobody knows how it works. Impossible to get the Portal group to talk. They were the first to use the Dying Cube upon completing their mission with success. It was part of the confidentiality clause in their contract.

So, once its function is fulfilled, the Cube ends up as nothing more than that: a cube. Which can be reused as an urn to keep the ashes of the body. And it had a logic to it: the Cube had been with you all your life. I took mine to the movies a couple of times. It’s such a nice object. French.

I’ve got my Cube, of course. Here, next to my bed. There it is.

I’m totally conscious of my decision to use it. Now. Yes, I’ve got one, ten, even twenty memories that are absolutely beautiful and happy and, no, they won’t make me change my mind. I’ve made up my mind. And? What’s the problem? I can’t use it.

Tell me: is that or is that not an enormous flaw in the Cube?

It is.

It’s not my fault that science has yet to determine the level of consciousness of someone in a coma. Consciousness, soul. I diligently studied all the laws and procedures, all the fine print surrounding the use of the Cube for my upcoming oral exam. I’ve gone over it right here, so, so many times. It is said that a comatose body cannot be considered fully capable of making a decision, which is why it is caught in the legal loophole that determines that it must await a natural death. Who the fuck waits for a natural death these days? I’m in a coma, and I’m fully capable of deciding. But, you know what? YOU KNOW WHAT? Remember those poor goats? The French goats. Fine. Why couldn’t the goats protest against their mobilization? Huh? They did, of course they did, but they weren’t understood. The fact that you may not understand the other doesn’t mean that the other doesn’t have a decision. That is the key.

“Sound of the user’s voice.” “Hold the Cube with both hands.” See? You see? Get it?

The Portal group limited the expression of choice to the body. A tremendous flaw, ladies and gentlemen: decisions take place in the mind. In the brain. It is the brain that should be read by the Cube with no need of the body, in order to ascertain the true decision. Do you see what I mean? DO YOU SEE?

I have perfect auditory knowledge of the   beep-beep-beep    coming from that machine beside my bed which indicates that I’m still alive. I can hear exactly what my college friends come to tell me when they visit every once in a while; less and less often. I am perfectly aware of the fact that I am in a fucking public hospital bed, alone, alone, ever since that fucking car threw me against the pavement while I was on my way to take my oral exam at Law School. Weeks ago, days ago, months, or maybe just fifteen minutes ago, I don’t know. I lost my sense of time, obviously, since I can’t open my eyes and look at a clock. And no one, no one comes over to let me know. I don’t know whether a single day has gone by, or a thousand, because sometimes I see my own body in this hospital, sometimes jumping on my skateboard, or at eight years of age on the baseball field running, trying to catch the ball. Or in my grandmother’s kitchen, waiting for her to take my cake out of the oven. However, I am perfectly clear on my decision to die right here and now.

My decision, made in my brain, in my soul, is clear. Absolute.

Because, ladies, gentlemen, I have discovered it myself, here, trapped inside this bubble that is my body now. The soul—never mind spiritual or philosophic notions—is made up precisely of that: the constant choice to either live or die, each second of our existence. That is what the SOUL is made of.

That no scientist has ever come up with it? People: I study law, not science, and I discovered it. Here. Now.

Don’t make me wait any longer. I don’t want to. Pop this bubble. Add the amendment, design the application that makes it possible for me to make my cube understand and free my lethal algorithm from here, from my brain, from my soul, from my now.

Here and now.

Do it.

¡¡FUCKING A!!

I beg you.

 

I’m in the green field now, the baseball crosses the blue sky, it comes through the clouds, toward me…I run…it’s almost in my hands…it touches my fingertips…

To die here and now would be the happiest, most wonderful fact of my existence.

 

For Daniel.

January 2016

—translated by Jeannine Diego 

 

_____

Bárbara Colio is a Mexican playwright and theater director. Her plays have been performed in Spain, Portugal, France, United States, England, Italy, Argentina, Peru, and Costa Rica, as well as different locations in Mexico. Her plays Cuerdas (Ropes) Pequeñas Certezas (Little Certainties) and Usted está aquí (You are here) have been translated into English. Colio´s plays have earned national and international playwriting awards. Her most recent publication, About Families and Other Catastrophes, gathers six significant plays from her more than thirty written works. She has been a writer in residence at the Royal Court Theatre in London, UK; at the Writers’ Room and the Lark Play Development Center in New York; in Spain via the Iberoamerican Fund for Dramaturgic Creation, in Drama Centre 42 in Singapore, and at Sun Yat-sen University in China.

“Postcards from a Better World” was premiered in DRAMAFEST International Theater Festival in Mexico City, June 2016.

 

 

  © Ninth Letter, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.