Sketches #2: Solitude


For now, you are a satellite.

You place your hand on the white skin of the ship. You admire its rough, jagged texture, a surprisingly delightful quality, although you can only infer the surface’s character from the way the sharp sunlight casts shadows upon it. You take care not to put too much pressure against the vessel, because you don’t need your advanced grasp of physics to know that doing so will push you back more than you will push the vessel away, and you will have to spend precious micro-rocket fuel to secure your proximity to the ship.

You look above you (or should that be below?) and see what others before you have lovingly described as a blue marble. You admire the clouds, white and frayed, soft and seemingly still in a layer underneath the blue fringes of the planet’s atmosphere.

From where you are, the sun is an intimidating presence. It is a violently brilliant orb, and yet, in the emptiness of all that surrounds it, you can sense the clash between its intensity and the fragility of worlds. You look at the stars, and even them, their beautiful multitude, they cause you distress, because their lights will forever be only a dream beyond your reach.

You hear nothing but your own breathing, and the occasional beeping of the systems that keep your suit a habitable space. You listen carefully to this solitary sound. This, the voice of your body, is the only thing sparing you from the silence of space.


For more than twenty years, the radiation facility has been his second home. For such a Third-World country, it’s interesting that the government could afford to maintain the establishment, let alone build it in the first place. But science is important. We need research, we must not fall too far behind the world’s economic leaders in terms of technology, or else we will never be able to catch up again. Or so the rhetoric went of not a few presidents and secretaries of science.

In reality, the institute’s contribution to developing national scientific expertise is dubious at best. Every now and then, some researcher, a professor or a group of students, visits the facility, diligently does the paperwork and gets their materials going into the conveyor that passes through the heart of the irradiation chamber. He’s not sure what they’re exactly trying to achieve (are they expecting their samples to spontaneously transform into marshmallow?), but they often seem to be happy enough that their packages have been exposed to a good dose of gamma rays.

When he was new to his job as one of the facility’s operators, he was of course worried about exposure. He knows the effects of excessive radiation; he has watched documentaries about the effects of the Atom Bomb on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was horrified by the burns, melted skin, and multiple cancers that the civilians suffered. The facility’s irradiation chamber, fortunately, is shielded by several meters of dense concrete plus a layer of lead plating, and his training seminars informed him that he should be fine even in the long term. That is, as long as he stays out of the chamber’s perimeter whenever the radiation hazards are on. His anxiety was completely relieved only after his eldest child was born without any birth defects, followed by a beautiful bundle of a daughter.

Today is just another day. Two of their clients have already claimed their products from the facility, so the receiving area has some room again for new arrivals. The schedule is full of familiar customers requesting routine sterilization of their produce; nothing extraordinary. Of course he’s hoping that one day someone will show up with something truly exciting to do with the facility. He’s been to other countries, and he has seen their radiation facilities with all their valuable research going on, and surely those must have contributed to the continued prosperity of their economies. Maybe, someday, it will be the same with this facility, here in his country. When his children are old enough, maybe.


He’s at a small, round, and comfortable wooden table at the corner, his favorite spot. Here, just beyond the gaze of the pendant lights in the soft shade, he feels free. With a lazy hand and a lagging fork he pokes at a plate, on its solitary occupant, a cupcake. It’s a plain chocolate piece crowned delicately with stark white frosting and sprinkled with crushed nuts. Sitting beside the cupcake is a cup of cappuccino, from which he sips idly, and which could have come in a mug but he asked for a carton cup instead, because that way it looks nicer, tastes almost better, and besides he loves the texture of the corrugated coffee holder. He had watched the cup being brewed, with the premium machine taking in finely ground beans and ejecting twin hot streams of full-flavored espresso. He closes his journal (thin, unruled pages, creamy-smooth pages), and his gaze wanders. He can still sniff the stiff scent of the woman wearing a blazer and thick-rimmed glasses, even if she’s across the shop absorbed in her book now, though the air is already starting to get heavy with cold. With her, actually with all the busy people in this place, he perceives a connection, a sense of belonging, unspoken but deeply felt. He feels free, at peace, and safe; it’s a space for recollection, for creation, and for experience. Later, he will drive through avenues and dancing lights, and he will be at his apartment, the door will be heavy, his body, his eyelids will be heavy, and the next thing he will know is that he’s back for the daily grind.


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