by Wendy Wuyts
Her apartment was a mess. On her wall, plants and moss formed a chaotic symbiosis with water pipes, electrical wires and woolen threads. Carpets full of life covered her walls and skin. She didn't have much furniture, but the few wooden pieces were overflowing with books and tupperware jars, some empty, some still full of food scraps, and some the feeding ground for mold or bacteria. The four rooms in her house smelled of wet birch wood or cognac. Or both. She was almost as old as the building itself, and even in a better shape and state. Goedele's secret to long health and access to a good income was to never interfere with forces beyond her control. She did barely clean, but trusted in the bacteria that regulated the indoor air quality and other health indicators. However, she forgot -as one of her friends remarked during a tea- that bacteria cannot move big things. Goedele ignored that advice; she only listened to the voices coming from her bones, belly and brain.
Don't forget... bacteria cannot move big things
In addition, Goedele was one of the few people who had managed to do the same job for the same giant company in her whole career: the Brussels Department of Baptism. Even in 2080, many years after her retirement, her day seemed the same and she was happy about this: At 6 a.m. she got up, did some stretches, made time to write for ten minutes in her journal (usually she wrote to God), drank black coffee with a small piece of chocolate (back in the day when she started her career, the pieces were bigger though), then read a book preferably a history book (something that already happened she didn't have to worry about anyway). After lunch (seaweed from the Belgian coast, bread, beans from the hanging gardens, cheese and a glass of lambic, which was local), she visited one of her three ex-partners (the last remains of a tree and two places) and her digitor (to see if the chip in her wrist was still receiving all the signals, if that was up to date with the latest facts, #decreasethedigitalgap) or her doctor (for the check the content of good microbes on her skin). In a park, she would take off her shoes and walk barefoot in the mossy lawns or dig with her toes in the soil (to maintain her old friendships with the microbiomes of the city). It was her favorite part of the day: Goedele liked listening to the sounds of the twilight. She found God there every day again. Her dinner was simple: sprouts or other vegetables she bought on her way from the park. She was not poor; she had enough money to pay the self-driving cabs, healthy locally sourced food and books. She just liked simplicity. If you live in a compact city like Brussels, with so many human and non-human life, she believed, that simplicity was your subscription fee to this city.
the walls were occupied with vegetables, lights and wires and elevator systems, the middle of the space was served for co-working activities or for leisure.
Close to her street, there were vertical gardens of her neighbourhood, corporated by one of the biggest companies. It was a busy place: while the walls were occupied with vegetables, lights and wires and elevator systems, the middle of the space was served for co-working activities or for leisure. The rooms were small, as a result of the need to meet in smaller bubbles to the pandemics in the twenties, or because land prices were expensive. There were of course different theories about it. The last part of the day was going to the Baptist Skygarden, on one of the top floors of the vertical farm building. Even after her retirement, Goedele supported the Baptists by sharing her testimonials about her baptism experiences. ‘The operation does not hurt.’ ‘Did you know that many different maidens dreamed about the chip in the same dark period. Therefore, it’s clear that the chip is an invention by God. What you will get, will enable you to perform a sacred act.’ She didn’t talk about her divorces; it would be too complicated to explain how the relationships challenged her own values of security and persistence. After one hour talking, Goedele went home, prepared her dinner, while listening to the voice messages of her friends (there was always one reminding her that bacteria cannot move big things), and started a new cycle.
Until one day, she heard in the vertical farm about Shin Inc’s plans, just after she finished her work in the Baptist Skygarden. She could not sleep for the whole night, did not eat her piece of chocolate the next day, her doctor measured increased stress levels and got worried. She did not find God that day in the park. Suddenly she saw all the histories of loss in the park, where once were statues.
Statues had always been special to the people of Brussels, especially to the anciens. They were the guardians of old stories, of wrong choices and right decisions. Last decades, many statues and fountains had been "cleaned up" by the eco-Marie Kondo movement, named after the Japanese ex-shinto maiden who, in the early 21st century, encouraged people to empty their homes of stuff that no longer gave them joy. It was a result of Green Deal Green Surface, which allowed the municipalities and private actors to make deals with companies to manage the surfaces that they own. Companies begin signing rental contracts for ground surfaces and façades with low heat capacity and good insulation. Building codes loosened, buildings were wrapped or ripped apart and the face of the city started changing. Companies try to make the business model as profitable as possible through multifunctionality. They didn’t expect the emergence of DAO. Distributed Autonomous Organisation. Companies run by algorithms. The hackers of the eco-Marie Kondo movement created Shin.Inc, an algorithm which envisions the return to the pre-industrial ecosystem by 2100 and justice for multispecies. One of their missions is altering human’s sentiments to pasts of exploitation, which means statues and fountains that were all about individual success, war, exploitation and progress. The areas were turned into micro-forests, which increased the pricing of real estate that this DAO also owned. Shin-Inc was not the only DAO changing the urban landscape and social practices of its habitants, but one of the most powerful. Miru.Inc was another DOA, an anthropocentric-DOA, which aimed to protect the more vulnerable humans to the increasing prices of land and other resources -and if needed- at the expense of other species. Both DAOs helped in climate adaptation; many neighbourhoods were perceived as cooler compared with the 2020s, so the government did let them go.
One of her ex-partners became property of Miru.Inc and he was afterwards not the same anymore
However, when Shin.Inc announced in 2080 that they would buy the oldest resident, it was the last drop for Goedele and many other ancients. The Brussels government was also speechless. The signs were there; Shin.Inc had already bought some real estate in the neighborhood. Miru.Inc and other companies immediately offered money for this statue, with the vision that the land around Manneken Pis should remain common land. Goedele was no fan of both companies. She did not like the free drivers in the common grounds. One of her ex-partners became property of Miru.Inc and he was afterwards not the same anymore: it had led to their divorce. And that evening she talked about this divorce with ‘t Moeraske to interested clients of the Baptist Skygarden. And the Baptisters asked her afterwards: ‘Auntie, what’s wrong?’
She couldn’t answer and they decided that it was better if she took some afternoons off. She couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t eat. She couldn’t do anything. And that for two days. Her friends sent her messages, with the advice to clean, because that always helps to get over things. ‘And… don’t forget,’ one of the voice mails said, ‘bacteria cannot move big things.’ The third day, a voice coming deep from her bones started to sing and told her it was enough.
Goedele took the closest parked cab to her building block. The cab was grey, like her unwashed clothes. She had forgotten to put it in the bacteriawasher. She held her left arm against the door.
‘Manneken Pis, please.’ The car’s conscience agreed with her request and told her how much it would cost her. She made the permission gesture with her fingers. The door unlocked and she went inside. She could feel her heart pumping in her throat. She bite on her finger nails. The car finished calculating the most efficient route. Fingers gesture. The map entered her brain. She made again her permission gesture and the cab started to drive. She looked outside to distract herself. She saw the green roofs, which were mowed in a way you could read the taglines of companies who had a partnership with the big Surface Corporations. She noticed the Senne. Once, it was buried beneath stone and hard layers. Now it was there back, in her full presence, connected and connecting to the rest of the life around her. A fierce mother who returned from the dead. And she observed the sounds of airplanes and food delivery drones, echoes of the past, fractured by all the green roofs and walls, and the silence. She witnessed the climate refugees from overseas who left the Alice Arena, during the day a place for leisure and music, during the night a shelter. The giant moss wall explained how the owning company contributed to a better society.
The whole neighbourhood of Manneken Pis was like the inside of one of the termite house designed shopping malls she visits once a month, to meet old colleagues. A lot of people, a lot of wind. It has been a long time since she went to this district of the city. Some old buildings were demolished and replaced by hanging gardens. It was greener, but the tourist trap vibe was still there. Many expensive luxury shops whose profit could handle the high land prices. Rich colored people left boutiques with jewellery and manganese treasurers from the deep sea mining or haute couture shops. Many tourists were taking pictures of the peeing statue as if it is the last chance. Perhaps it was. Some old people behind a table were yelling, almost begging for donations to buy the land and save history.
Goedele looked at the statue, and thought about the boy.
‘So, they might destroy you.’
And she thought about his father. She was only 27 years old. She worked for some years for the Baptists and was in a happy partnership with this moon-kissed ruigte of the Vogelzangbeekvalley; with it’s mothering soil, it’s dancing bumble bees, it’s tickling grass. At night, after work, she would sit for hours, feeling sensuality in every microscopic move, becoming one with the rest of that place. She did not need a man or children; although many people did not know how kinship with multispecies was an antidote to loneliness. She did not also want to marry, don’t be defined by her relationships with human men, she was an ecofeminist and wanted to stay a maiden like the one she is named after. Or she likes to believe she is named after. And that is where the tragedy strikes: when a nomen becomes an omen.
She gulped the beer inside, while she looked to the peeing statue. She wanted to cry, piling even more salt between her facial wrinkles
At the age of 91, she opened a bottle of faro beer. Some days ago, she had read a Brussels saga how a sign of God had decided which beer was the best. And about the special microbes in the valley of the Zenne that gave this unique taste to their beer. She gulped the beer inside, while she looked to the peeing statue. She wanted to cry, piling even more salt between her facial wrinkles.
On the other hand, old stories, herstories can also heal if you read them many times. Goedele did not remember what was first: the tragedy of the old story. Or perhaps it did not matter. Something that her former partnerships taught her was that life was all too complex to understand it as sequential realities.
The rich man wanted her to baptise his son. She had talked with him, as she had done with many others. She had not seen how his eyes started to scan her whole body. She was only seeing faith. After work, he had followed her to the Vogelzangbeekvalley. He tried to let it look like their meeting was coincidence. Her partner warned her on time. And she disappeared in the high vegetation. The chip had saved her. The next day she reported him. She heard his son would not get baptised. No chip for him. No partner with the more than human world.
If she had known.
She went to the table with the old people and noticed they only reached 1% of their target after already standing there for a week.
‘Any digicoin is useful,’ the redbeard said.
She showed her wrist, made a gesture with her fingers and said the number of digicoins they could have. She felt a bit lighter. The different ancient started talking and buzzing to her.
‘Thank you so much.’
‘Yes, thank you for helping preserve history.’
‘Manneken Pis forever.’
She looked back to the statue. The water was falling in her head. ‘He didn’t deserve it,’ she said with a harsh voice which came from deep in her belly. ‘It wasn’t his fault.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘The little boy. His father should be actually standing there.’
‘I don’t follow you, Mrs?’
She sighed, but then her eyes caught one of the texts of the brochure. As an alligator she attacked the brochure and felt her whole body glowing with anger. ‘I thought you were a charity?’
‘No, a charity would never win against the DAOs.’
‘That company has destroyed many parks in the 2020s.’
‘It’s now his son who’s CEO. Still a tough man, but not so bad as his father. They do what’s best for preserving the old surfaces of Brussels.’
‘He’s not baptised,’ she knew. She felt how the water in her body started to boil, and felt her skin stretching, as if a well wanted to break out of her body. She flowed to the statue, put her hands on the fence, she tensed her arms and pulled herself up.
The termite theater stopped. The sounds came only from other streets and parks. Bewildered, everyone looked at the old lady who climbed to the statue. Some pigeons landed on the table of the money collectors and a squirrel jumped dancing between the frozen tourists. Goedele threw her arms over its neck and tried to pull it off its pedestal. Suddenly, some people realised it was not a fata morgana. Some people started to scream at her, but she did not hear, only her own thoughts telling her she should have eaten more seaweed in the past days. Police appeared. ‘I want to move this big thing!’ she screamed to the police, when they escorted to their car. ‘The bacteria cannot remove this dirt,’ she said, this time in another tone, when she was in the back. ‘Only me. It’s time to clean.’
‘Yeah, yeah,’ one of the police agents said and he took another gulp of his soda. He started the car. Goedele threw a last gaze to Manneken Pis and signed. ‘What a mess.’