“And so this is Christmas For weak and for strong For rich and the poor ones The world is so wrong.” - John Lennon - Yoko Ono
“It's Christmas at Ground Zero, There's music in the air, The sleigh bells are ringin' and the carolers are singin' While the air raid sirens blare. --- It's the end of all humanity, No more time for last minute shoppin', It's time to face your final destiny.” - Alfred “Weird Al” Yankovic
Barshana stands resolute in the center of this line of direct-action protest that snakes along the harbor. More than 100,000 sari-clad women lock arms and step forward. In front of them, eighteen 24-wheeler trucks rev their engines.
Of course they know it's Christmas.
The same Jesus was a prophet in Islam, humanity's second largest religion, which these women were members. But, more so, these women brought the advent of each Christmas. With their bare hands, they built the shirts and shoes and toys that Boujee girls and boys screamed for. They were the real Santaland elves.
They also know their frail human bodies could be crushed by the trucks that roll towards them, or gunned down by the paramilitary forces that circle them. But, like all civil rights struggles, they know they can only win with a public relations campaign that made those in power feel guilty enough concede to their demands.
Above them swirled drones from around the world, snapping their pictures and taking videos. The images would be warped and framed before these reached the eye of their Boujee beholders and presented as unbiased news. The conduit in-between controlled their fate and how people cared for the tragedies they suffered.
“Inshallah, let these drones accurately share our misery.” The women prayed.
Barshana knew this was their final hope as their nation hurtled towards catastrophe. They had to try. There was no time left and very little likelihood that the damage could ever be undone.
Tomorrow, she'll become the Vessel used by an undead force to kill every human.
But today, she stands in solidarity with the Bangladeshi Women's Garment Workers.
As the ocean waters have risen and as Bangladesh has suffered more severe floods, these women demand international assistance before they will all die. Since 2/3rds of Earth's surface is liquid, its moon's gravitational field stretched and squeezed all surface water twice a day, causing the more massive bodies of water, the oceans, to devastate low-lying coastal areas like the nation of Bangladesh. If the international community will not help them, then they demanded free passage out of Bangladesh. India had erected a Trump Wall all along its border, restricting their movement out of this soon-to-be-underwater world.
This is their only bargaining chip, to hold Christmas hostage.
The garment factory workers have organized and are on strike to stop the Christmas gifts manufactured in their country from being shipped until their demands are met. Barshana squeezes the hands of the women by her side as the trucks roll towards them. The fingers, gnarled and callused, interlock, ready for whatever comes their way.
Barshana takes a deep breath and as she exhales, she meditates on the journey of life that brought her here.
* * *
A new factory sprouted on top of where her mother died. The area had been razed, any semblance of the shell her mother had once inhabited had been pulverized and buried under layers of concrete poured over it.
At age 17, the forces of gnawing hunger and poverty pushed Barshana to repeat the steps of her mom and work in this new Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.
Each day, she approached the building built on her mother's body with trepidation.
Will today be the day you kill me?
She lifts her hands ruefully to the sky but then resigns. Shaken, she steps into the building, up the five flights of stairs and through a locked door to the sewing room.
It seemed the only thing that changed between her mother's life and hers were the fashions and the tools that made them. She spent hours hand stitching electroluminescent (EL) wires into shirts and pants that sparked energy to create glow-in-the-dark holograms projected from Boujee bodies, particularly those that attended expensive arts festivals that preached decommodification.
That season, the most sought-after fashions were tops with ethereal sparkles, like fireworks, brightening Boujee cheeks and twinkling their eyes. This had started as an Instagram filter but Boujees demanded to be able to filter their entire reality with it. Barshana shattered lab grown gems and hot glued the shards into gaudy gem sweaters, building phrases like “I (Heart) U” in alternating rubies, opals and emeralds.
She glued odor-control sheets into the armpits of Boujee men's shirts. These detected the pH-levels of excreted sweat, absorbed these and turned their stank into the musk of their choice: sandalwood, campfire, or hickory barbecue. She sewed shoe horns into the thighs of women's jeans for the Moses Effect, parting the seas of femur fat to create a thigh gap wide enough for the Israelites to charge through.
From this factory floor, Barshana sewed her way into all of humanity's greatest cultural events.
On her first day of work, she stitched the Britney Spears Tramp L'oeil created after Brit-Brit's breakdown. Through her machine rolled shirts for the Disney Trial: #TeamDisney vs #TeamLindsay, #TeamJustin Vs #TeamNoOne, and #EattheRich. Counterculture protesters forked over $50 for that last shirt. She sewed the shirts for the celebs to wear during the Hurricane Tonya relief telethon Stand↑2Floodz. The stars of different sizes had their costume designers feverishly tailor these to make them fit their body types. She constructed Superbowl shirts, half with one team declared the winner, half with the other team declared winner. On the night of the game, the losers' shirts were thrown away.
Even though she was trapped behind a 300-pound digital sewing machine that locked around her each morning, she felt like a time traveler. She would see the future of fashion roll through her loom months before it was on the cover of magazines and worn by robot models jerking down the runway.
Fashions changed faster than her calluses would heal. A blister would pop on a brand new sparkle stretch spanx top for spring/summer and still bleed through onto the asymmetrical leather sweaters for fall/winter.
While stagnant inside the factory, life outside blossomed. She married a nice, sweet young man. Muhammad would bring her candies after her 14-hour shifts and sing to her as he massaged her feet.
But in the 2nd month of wedded bliss, Boujee forces tore him away from her. Starving and destitute men were siphoned from India, the Philippines and Bangladesh and sent to toil as construction workers building palaces they could never inhabit.
First he was shipped off to Abu Dhabi to build Arab Disney World. He promised he'd only be gone until November when his tour of duty was to end. Upon arrival, his passport was confiscated and he was billed for his travel along with room and board, all at a 60% interest rate. He worked 16-hour days and slept in shifts with 100 other men jammed into a 30ft by 30ft room. He'd fall asleep to one head sharing his pillow and feel the change every two hours before his group woke up to work.
Every month, he owed more and his contract of servitude grew.
Six months became ten, ten months became fourteen.
The only evidence that Barshana had ever married grew inside her. Muhammad missed the birth of their daughter, Usha. He was allowed one call a year. She remembers the crispness of his hologram face floating before her.
Such high quality!
She could see every crack around his eyes from days laboring in the sun and the cuts and scars on his hands and arms.
But those eyes!
His kind, brown eyes opened wide when he saw her and she fell into those deep wells of everlasting love and devotion.
His hard face cracked and crumbled into waterfalls of tears when he saw his baby for the first time. All the composure he had held when he described his confinement in guarded terms, burst like a dam when he saw his daughter's face. All the emotions he had pent up flowed from him, love and sorrow and anger and frustration and longing for his wife and daughter.
It was at this moment that Barshana understood the trauma of the past year. The ice-cold bitterness she felt for him and his absence melted away and compassion wrapped around her and then wrapped around him.
“Oh Muhammed.” She sighed with a sadness that absolved him of all guilt.
But coldness returned as the reality closed in on her. They were trapped. The forces of the world, created by millions of better off humans, stole any freedom and comfort they could feel in their lives. They were just pawns for a larger machine, gobbled up and used until they were thrown away.
And from within his bellows, he sang that song he used to sing when bringing sweets to Barshana.
His daughter brightened up and she reached for the hologram face, mistaking it for the realness of her father. She screamed when her hands ripped through the ethereal photons that constructed her father's face, rippling waves of light through his flesh.
Barshana held the babe, shushing, trying to explain to her undeveloped mind the electronic wizardry that could bring him to them with such clarity, but why he was kept so far away from them.
It was another year before he returned. She staggered home from the factory to find him standing at the door of their apartment, smiling. She collapsed in screams of joy. That night, as the three of them lie in bed, Barshana and Usha held on to Muhammad, as if they were pinning him into place to make sure he would never leave.
In three weeks, he was rounded up by the same construction mercenaries and marched off to his next duty. He had debts to pay and buildings to build. His life belonged to the Trump Wall Solutions, Inc., not to his wife, not his daughter and certainly not to himself.
Muhammad was the first to be crushed to death by the unbridled ambition of Metropolis. In scuba gear, he pounded rebar into the riverbed beneath the Hudson. A metal stake snagged the side his foot as he pounded it, trapping his suit to it. He attempted to wiggle free, but his suit ripped and water poured in.
The autocement mixer overhead noticed movement but its algorithms determined with high probability that it was a sturgeon ok for purging and not one of the many endangered species it was obligated to protect. The mixer poured 80,000 tons of cement on him, entombing him forever into this most concrete division of humanity.
In a world where information circled the planet in seconds and fashions spread in days, word of his death came two months after he was crushed. A Western Union man delivered the letter late one night. Barshana had to pay the man before she could receive the news. She ripped it open to find his death certificate along with bills for his debt, which she now owed, including a $30,000 penalty for desertion.
How could he be AWOL when he was in a wall?
The spark that ignited her rebirth came when a faulty photovalactic cell in a suit jacket caught fire at her factory. The cell was meant to absorb the light waves from any boardroom and adjust the suit's color to create a halo around the business leader.
Barshana smelled the smoke first but, by this time, it was too late, the flames were spreading across the factory floor.
A dozen women ran for the door.
They should have known.
The women were always sealed in the workroom. Each night before they could leave, they were strip searched and checked for any swatches, wires or microchips.
A minute of sheer pandemonium spread in shrieks as the women slapped the door. The delusion that the fire alarm would unlock the door faded. The women created a battering ram with a ream of metallic fabric and pounded the door.
Sweet, quenching water burst from the ceiling, bathing the women and beating back the flames.
The doors open and a row of guards race into the room to check on the sewing machines. Guards dried each with large electric blow dryers and inspected them for signs of damage.
Each of the high-tech 3D-printing sewing machines cost $83,000. More than Barshana would make in 12 years. And according to the guards priorities, more than her entire life.
These machines were precious and irreplaceable.
The women were not.
The women tended to their wounds and, after the machines were fixed, were ordered back to work.
* * *
As the trucks inch closer, Barshana turns to the woman next to her, Sharukha, and squeezes her hand, remembering how this woman's simple kindness after the fire changed the trajectory of her life.
Barshana smiles, realizing that if they are going to die today, at least they will die together. She stares up at the drones that swirl above her, hoping that other humans around the world would see her kind face and hear their pleas.
A dozen tanks roll between the factory trucks and the women. Out pop a group of mercenaries who focus their weapons on the protestors.
Disbelief washes over the women as these weapons come into clarity... AK-67 assault riffles and bazookas, all painted hot pink.
Hot pink berets crown hardened faces while hot pink uniforms wrap around their bulging, muscular bodies.
This mercenary for hire organization was born out of a union-and-skull-busting detective agency. Their ranks were formed from guards who escaped working for dictators in brutal police states. These were wanted men in their homelands who could only retreat further into the shadows of society to survive. Many gored their faces and others underwent massive plastic surgery to evade detection. They sandpapered their fingers, removing their fingerprints.
These men worked for the Pinkerton Protection Services, humanity's premier capital protection agency. As regions destabilized and as governments fell apart, large corporations needed the assurance that their goods and workers could move around the planet, unmolested. From mining palladium in Siberia to rubber in the Congo, the end of the nation-state meant that corporations didn't know who to bribe or which military structure would protect their interests. Owners needed safe assurances. And this international army for hire sprouted to fill these cracks in the social structure.
A bubbly woman's voice squeaked in the agency's holocommercials.
After a few genocidal scandals, the company, formerly known as Blackwater, underwent a complete rebrand to create a much fuzzier and softer image. The rebrand did nothing to change the torturous slaughters they enacted, but it did give their corporate clients and the media an excuse to feel these weren't just your average murderers-for-hire.
The hardened faces sneered beneath pink berets, waving their weapons. The Boujee media sang their praises. These were the hardworking reindeers at the frontline on the War on Christmas. The little Boujees cheered as they watched their pink rangers on the 'cube.
“On Danger, on Cancer, on Lancer, on Fixin, on Bomb-it, on Putrid, on Donner-party, on Blitzkrieg!” The Boujee kids sang.
As their guns cock, the hand to Barshana's right squeezes her tight and yells.
“We will never give up!”
Sharukha was her guide, her hero, the conscious not only of this nation but of all humanity.
And in ten minutes, Barshana would taste her blood.
* * *
Four years before this day, Sharukha Khan, the fair and lovely lily of Bollywood, was brought to the boardroom of Singh-Lee productions. Before her were the most important movie producers on the subcontinent.
She is being waisted. This is the term for all actresses whose midsections bloated past box office appeal. Sure, in her twenty years of acting, her metabolism slowed and the subcutaneous fat deposits grew in her hips, thighs and breasts, which were acceptable, but also in her midsection and ankles, which were inexcusable.
Here too I must confess that my algorithms were licensed to these studios. First my mirages filled out the Bollywood film crowds with lithe yet buxom bangle-clad background dancers. And then I became the soundtrack for Bollywood. Indian films had a long history of using the same singer for their musicals and Sharukha's films were no different. After the death of Asha Bhosle, who dubbed 12,000 songs for 900 films, I took over as the voice of Bollywood. When Sharukha's mouth opened to sing, it was my voice that poured out, encouraging all viewers to fall in love with this film, and urging them to convince their friends to see it. Sharukha was seen just as a sari-clad body with batting doe eyes.
But on this day, she would find her voice.
“You're finished, Sharukha-Jee” Mahatma Singh says with a smile, fat streaking down his face as he bit into a steak. “We've paid for every diet, trainer, resort, except you won't accept the most effective procedure.”
“I refuse to have my internal organs shaved any further!” She screams.
“Then that leaves us with no other option than to terminate your contract. Now, if you go gracefully, we will give you a small token to help you kickstart your next career.” Singh slids a check for $100,000 to her, dabbed with steak grease.
“Don't toy with me, boys! That's a pittance of what I'm worth to you! I made you!”
“Audiences have soured on you. You're worthless! Compared to Cyndi-jee, you've lost your sparkle.”
“You know those are just holograms!”
“Enhanced humans!” He corrects her as he swallows a spoonful of mashed potatoes. “Just the natural extension of your photoshopping and plastic surgery”
“You fools. I can tell everyone that they're faker than my orgasms.”
“You signed an ironclad nondisclosure, we'd be happy to ruin you financially if you squeal.” Singh spits through his dinner. “Plus no one cares! They come to us to escape reality. They delight in the fantasies we create. They live for our deliciously absurd Bollywood Realism.” He rubs a napkin across his glistening jowls. “So what do you say Sharukha-jee? Will you use the funds for a finishing school or a perfume line?”
“All I have to say is 'I want to spread your lotus soft legs and savor your warm gulab jamun insides.”
Singh squirms at her words.
“What the hell is this smut?” Arjun Lee, Singh's partner, finally speaks up.
She projects holograms of hundreds of explicit messages onto the wall.
“'I wanna lick your tangy cunt juices from my fingers while you moan. Adja! Sharukha-jee! Adja! I'll be your dirty Disco Dancer.'
“That's right, I've got hundreds of dirty messages from you two. And your money man, Azim Hinduja? I know he only loves a hijra's soft breasts and firm cock. I've got no problem with third gender love... but I'm not so sure if his wife will feel the same.
“And since none of this sexual harassment is covered in my NDA, you will give me ten times your offer and sprinkle some movie magic on my next career.”
“Which is?” Singh responds drolly, dropping his knife and fork.
What these men never cared to realize was what filled Sharukha with passion. The men used her rags-to-riches story as PR gold for the studio's marketing department. She was raised by her grandmother in Dhaka after her parents died in a car crash. With poise and a sharp intellect, Sharukha won scholarships to pay her way through boarding schools in London. But this tale of triumph glossed over the driving force in her life: the gnarled fingers of her grandmother from decades sewing in a factory and how she would clench her cheeks each night and say to her.
“Don't forget us. Make money, become famous, but use it for the betterment of us all.”
And here she was. She had built the public image and now the money to finally make a difference.
“So gentlemen, I'll take your tongues tied to mean you agree to my terms. Great doing business with you.”
She adds another zero to the check, slides on her sunglasses and saunters out the door.
* * *
The following spring, Sharukha began her campaign for Prime Minister of Bangladesh. She went were no candidate would. With the halo of fame around her, she brought cameras and kicked her way into garment factories, pouring spotlights on the conditions and stories of the women who worked inside. With each hand she shook, she felt her grandmother smiling on her.
Her tour de pants was also politically prudent. As more men were exported to work construction in the booming city-states, women and garment workers made up a supermajority of the electorate.
Sharukha came to the Triangle Shirtwaist factory the day after the fire. Afraid of any more bad press, the owners let her in. She moved through the crowd, shaking hands when one set of blistered hands grabbed her. She looked down at the woman who won't let go, but is muted, too afraid to talk.
“Mama-jee, speak!” Sharukha tried to assure her.
Barshana looked up and caught the concern in this celebrated woman's face and the dam breaks as she gushed her life's tragedies. Her mother was crushed in the Rana Plaza factory. She was widowed when her husband died after he was snatched by unscrupulous construction traders.
As Sharukha pulled Barshana in for a hug, the cameras snapped pictures. The next day, news and social media carried the image of Sharukha embracing this haggard woman. This became the enduring image of her campaign and consecrated her as the daughter of the movement for garment workers and a voice for the oppressed.
* * *
Eight months later, Sharukha won in a landslide, beating out the candidate handpicked by the garment factory owners, a former soccer star, Kinng Kumar. Even Kumar's high-production campaign ads with Snoop Dogg couldn't help his poll numbers.
As she took the stage for her victory speech, she held Barshana's hand and thanked her.
“Sisters, daughters, mothers and sons of Bangladesh. For the past 50 years, the leaders of the world economies have stolen our men to build walls, condos, islands and resorts, from Metropolis to Arab Disney. They have trapped our precious, short lives in low-wage labor in garment factories. On top of this, their crush for clothes and travel have destroyed our atmosphere. Their actions have raised the temperature of our planet, melted the glaciers and caused the oceans to rise, flooding our streets and sinking our cities, all while they retreat to their climate-controlled bubbles.
“We deserve more than sympathy! We demand reparations. Climate Reparations! We contributed only 1% of the total greenhouse gas emissions which have warmed our planet, but we feel the effects more painfully than any other country on Earth. If we do not receive emergency international aid, we will be destroyed.
“I have promised that I will fight for you, for your families and for Bangladesh. But I will need your help. Only together can we convince the world to turn back the tide of climate oppression and save not only us but all of humanity.”
Long after the glitter dropped and the balloons popped, the international community scoffed at any sort of responsibility. It was clearly all their fault. They had been born in Bangladesh and born into the lowest caste in the Boujee system.
Sharukha spent her first months in office on an international tour. In a white sari, evoking innocence, she visited the leaders of the city-states and remaining nations. She stood patiently, listening to their superficial woes. She put her acting skills to use as she faked concern when these leaders complained about how difficult it had been when the air conditioners for their dome broke down for an hour or how terrible yacht traffic had become when they sailed up the Hudson or the Thames. When she found an opening, she stung with Mother-of-a-Nation guilt. As she saw a wave of sympathy wash over them, she moved in with her mathematically-precise appeal. Since the United States contributed 32% of the greenhouse gas emissions, it and its City-States should pay for 32% of the repairs her nation and others hurt by climate change needed.
Her pleas were met with collective hand wringing from the different world leaders. The twenty-minute meetings ended with eager photo-ops and shallow promises. Every third leader sniffled crocodile tears when she explained how 6.7 million of her citizens had already died and that another 11 million would die in the next five years because of rising sea levels, flooding and the diseases these would bring. They'd shake her hand, pat her shoulder, smile to her face and stab her back as she walked out the door, leaving her nation in disaster.
The weeks rolled into months as her nation sank. Literally sank. The whole nation was expected to be underwater by the year 2100.
Even after she won humanity's most important consolation prize, the Nobel Peace Prize for her badgering, no nation budged. She had to act. She had to do something dramatic to shock the world to understand and feel her nation's existential misery.
And then jingling bells flooded her mind.
“Christmas!” She yelled at her next cabinet meeting. “Let's shut down Christmas!”
As the other nations like India and China pulled themselves into the middle class, Bangladesh still had the cheapest manufacturing base for the world. Even though the climate severely threatened the landscape, international corporations had carved out Special Economic Zones in Bangladesh, pouring concrete to construct factories and create safe structures on this sinking land.
All together, Bangladesh would provide 65% of the Christmas presents for all Boujee girls and boys. Sharukha and her cabinet knew that this was the only power they held over anxious Boujee parents.
They could hit them right in the feels, using the sentimentality of the season of giving to convince the Boujees to save her people.
Two months before Christmas, she ordered all ports closed. No cargo ships were allowed to enter or leave until the leaders of the United Federation of City-States and other nations negotiated reparations for climate change.
“You've saved your people in climate-controlled cocoons but you've left us to die.” She said in a video to all heads of state and released it to the media with the perfectly sensational headline: “Christmas Held Hostage.”
“Its too late to stop the changes to the environment. We have to adapt or die and we're pleading with you. We can only survive with your help! You have the money! You have the resources! You have the millions of miles of open land we could relocate to. We're pleading with you to save us from the misery you have created!”
Her requests were received like all mild nuisances, ignored until forgotten. But as Christmas approached, the anxiety she caused crescendoed.
“Someone has to do something!” The Boujees demanded. “Someone has to save Christmas!”
Sharukha had a minuscule army and navy, but she did have a nation trembling on the edge of annihilation.
She launched the War on Christmas as a people's movement. And they showed up! On the first day of non-violent action, 3.5 million women and men flocked to the coastal towns and blocked the roads between factories and ports.
When one truck rammed through a picket line, killing 23 women, their movement won international sympathy points. Sharukha and Barshana wailed. Was their sacrifice worth it? How many more deaths would there need to be? They had let those women die. But they also realized they had no other choice, millions will die by the end of the next monsoon season.
At first, the Boujees mostly ignored these threats. International trade arrangements and shipping routes were too dull for them. But as weeks progressed, tensions turned to violence. In malls throughout the United Federation of City-States, Boujees fought each other over scarce presents, punching other parents to prove they were the most loving.
As their children looked on, a mob of Boujees elbowed a memaw in the face to make her drop a Flurbie3000TM. Another group curbed-stomped a pepaw as he walked to his car with the last VR-gaming console. A few of the more spry moms showed their Christmas spirit by rabidly clawing their neighbors' delivery drones out of the sky and stealing their packages, hoping one would have the perfect present for their children, or at least a new pair of Jimmy Choon shoes (size 9, double wide). Packs of women stalked the rows of empty shelves at Neiman Marcus, foaming at the mouth when they heard the squeak-roll of the stock boy and his cart coming down the aisle.
“Get him!” They leapt on him and tore his clothes, grabbing the cart's contents and abandoning any honor among these vigilantes as these den mother wolf packs attacked each other.
* * *
On the twelfth night before Christmas, Barshana screams as she saw the news drones flying away.
“Oh Allah! No!” The women cried and screamed, realizing their only connection to the outside world has just been severed.
The Pinkerton army was given the command to exterminate the roaches that threatened Christmas. Large speakers were hoisted on the backs of their tanks. A bright, shimmering sound of Christmas boomed from these, drowning out the cries of the women as a track played Mariah Carey and a gospel choir singing, “All I want for Christmas is You.”
The sounds of their gunshots were blocked by the song's Christmas cheer, just in case any drone could still hear. With heatseeking bullets, the army slaughtered the protesters in under 17 minutes.
Derilique ZüLander, a model turned assassin, fired the shot that pierced Sharukha's heart. The blast threw her body on top of Barshana. As Barshana tasted the metallic sting of her hero's blood, she knew she had to run to survive. Barshana ducked behind the line of crumpling bodies and ran until she reached the port's edge and dove in.
She doesn't know how to swim, but lets the current throw her into the foundation of the dock. She clawed into the concrete as she felt the trucks rumble overhead.
* * *
The massacre will not be televised.
All that the Boujees saw was a Christmas conga of carrier ships chugging from Bangladesh to the Boujee lands. The one hundred ships were decorated with sparkling Christmas lights and giant wreaths. The first ship had a Santa's sleigh perched on the bow. The elated Boujees cry as they watched this caravan of Christmas on their holocubes, relieved that their favorite shopping holiday had been saved.
As the ships rolled into Metropolis, a supercentenarian Mariah Carey jumped on top of Santa's sleigh, wearing a one-piece bedazzled red bathing suit, and lip synced her Christmas hits.
Inside each ship, a team went to work, deep cleaning the bloodstains off all the clothes and toys.