Year 2018, in a huge mountain dumpsite in the big metropolitan city, a plastic bag was just waking up. Her name was Sanda. She had a very bright red color with white vertical stripes that made her look very attractive and different from other plastic bags. She stands out in the dumpster.
“Good morning friends!”, she greeted her neighbors who were in different state of sleepiness.
“Good morning Sanda”, Flimsy answered. Flimsy was a very thin and transparent plastic bag who just arrived in the dumpster a few days ago. She immediately took a liking on Sanda and did not separate from her since then.
“I do not see what is good in the morning”, grumpy Styron answered them. Both Sanda and Flimsy lived very close to Styron. Styron was a bulky box who has been in the dumpster many years earlier than Sanda and Flimsy. He was always grumpy and did not talk much. He lost most of his body in the many years since he was thrown away by a fish vendor.
Sanda was not feeling her usual self as well. She did not sleep well the previous night because the rains just started again and she was busy keeping herself dry. Even as she was opening her eyes, she was already dreading the scene she was going to see. But she woke up anyway.
The rain has not stopped since last midnight. If anything, it actually has become a steady downpour and the wind has picked up. Sanda looked around and saw many of her neighbors – plastics, papers, rubbers, small sticks- all very wet and some have started flying around the dumpsite.
“Oh no, it must be another typhoon”, Sanda muttered to herself. Typhoons often visit the dumpster at this time of the year. Sanda and her neighbors became used to it and even learned how to fly when the wind blows hard and swim too when needed. But today is different. Sanda’s two hands were stuck in between many other garbage that arrived in the dumpsite in the past days. As such, only her body and bottom were being flapping with the wind. Bored that she could not fly high as in the past, she went closed her eyes again.
The next time Sanda woke up, she felt the water has risen. A flood! Sanda saw that many of her neighbors are already floating in the murky water. Her one hand had somehow become untangled from the rubbish while she slept and was already swimming automatically. Her other hand was still stuck but was slowly becoming loose from the pile of rubbish. The water was becoming higher by the minute and just a little while later, Sanda was being carried away.
She called out to Flimsy and Styron.
“Where are you?”
Styron was still sounding bored although his voice was louder. “There was no need to shout. Flimsy and I got tangled with each other and we are just behind you”, he added.
Sanda, Flimsy and Styron were being swept away by the flood. Away from the dumpster. Away from their home. Away from Sanda’s home for the past ten years. Styron’s home for the past 20 years. Flimsy’s home for the past 7 days.
Sanda felt being flushed down the mountain of garbage with other rubbish. There were a lot of them, probably tons! “The floodwater is higher than usual”, Sanda noted as she scurried to make sure she does not lose her friends.
Glug! Glug! Glug! Sanda alternately drank and spewed the dirty water in and out her body. Somewhere along the way, one of her hands was torn apart and she swam with just one hand. She was still intact although she felt some holes and small gashes in different parts of her body. She kept swimming down the mountain of garbage to the busy roads of the city. She competed with the many cars and people plowing through the flood until she got stuck in one ditch.
“Sanda! Are you here somewhere?”, she hard Flimsy calling out not far from where she was drowned.
“Yes, I am here somewhere beneath some rubber tire and mud”, Sanda answered.
“I am still hugging Styron so he is with me too”, Flimsy said.
When the floodwaters became higher, it pushed all the mud, stones and rubbish in the waterway and so the three friends rushed through water holes, the sewer and into a huge river. Styro, with his broad broken body, did not remove Flimsy’s hands around him but made sure he swam near Sanda. So the three of them swam and swam. And swam. And swam for days. Until they reached the open ocean.
Sanda looked at her companions.
Flimsy was almost torn to pieces. She was badly damaged. Big cuts, small cuts, long incisions, short ones. She looked like a funny gelatin with many hands. “But I survived”, she chirped cheerfully.
Styron on the other hand, looked almost bored as usual. He looked as good as he was in the dumpster. Except that he was more polished. His rough edges were smoothened and he looked a lot cleaner. If he did not look so gloomy, Sanda though Styron looked almost handsome!
Sanda looked around. They were in the open ocean. The skies above have cleared into a beautiful clear blue color. The rain stopped and the sun was up. The farther they swam in the ocean, the water became clearer too. All three of them clung to each other while being swept by the waves further away from land.
Then one day, while they were passing by a school of fish, one curious young fish started talking to them. To Flimsy specifically.
“Hey, my name is Tina. What is yours?”
“I am Flimsy and these are my friends Styron and Sanda.”
Tina got more curious and started asking strange questions to Flimsy. “Flimsy, what happened to your tentacles?”, she said.
“Tentacles?”, Flimsy looked down her torn body and said, “I don’t have one. No tentacles”.
“Did it hurt?” Tina asked referring to Flimsy’s cuts.
“Hurt? No! We do not feel any pain” Flimsy answered.
“It is good you are still alive after the many cuts and holes in your body”, Tina said wondering.
“Oh, but we plastics, we never die”, Flimsy shrugged. Tina was just preparing to answer when many things happened all at once.
Flimsy was still looking at Tina and she was wondering what tentacles were…
Styron and Sanda were about to explain to Tina that plastic bags live forever…
A large fish came from their opposite direction, opened his mouth wide and swallowed up Flimsy and tearing Sanda’s hands in the process…
“Help!” Sanda shrieked.
Styron grabbed Sanda by her other hand and swam quickly away from the commotion. By the time Sanda and Styron gathered their wits, the school of fish already left them and the big fish that ate Flimsy was nowhere in sight. Flimsy was gone! Eaten by the fish!
Sanda and Styron kept swimming day and night. They did not talk for a few days after Flimsy was gone. They just swam. They did not stop. The waves were stronger and the ocean seemed to have become more alive. They missed Flimsy.
One day, in order to kill time, Sanda kept initiating a conversation but Styron was not inclined to answer. So Sanda started telling stories about herself while Styron listened.
“I was born in a small plastic manufacturing company in 2008. I had hundreds of thousands of siblings. Same red color, same white stripes. There were a lot of us”, Sanda said dreamily.
“Then were divided by the thousands. Some of us were sold in big markets in the city. Some went to the provinces. Some were sold all at once. Some were sold one by one”.
Sanda was such a good storyteller that Styron found himself asking questions.
“How did you end up in the dumpster?”, he asked almost shyly.
“I was sold in a very busy market. Where they sell meat and fish. A woman used me to bag some meat and vegetables. Then when we got to her house, she dropped me into the waste basket. The next day, I was moved to the dumpster”, Sanda said.
“As simple as that?” Styron wanted to hear more.
“But that was it. That was how I came to the dumpster”, Sanda said.
“Now, it is time you tell your story”, she coaxed Styron.
Styron was a man of few words. In short and choppy sentences, he said he used to work in the fish market too. He worked for almost two years. By sheer accident, he fell down and his body was broken into two. Then he was thrown away in the dumpster that very same day. He never saw the other half of his broken body hence. End of the story.
After that, both plastics floated and let the waves carry them. Then they slept. For a long time.
“Styron, we are nearing land!” Sanda shook Styron.
Styron struggled to open his eyes. He has been lulled by the waves and he thought he would never wake up and see land.
He looked around and saw that they are indeed nearing an island. A big, colorful island. It was so much alive and it was… full!
They swam around the island to find a best place to land on. They saw all kinds of rubbish- rubbers, plastic bottles of different shapes, plastic bags, construction materials, electronic wastes, refrigerators, different toys, food packaging, nets… The rubbish went on and on. Styron and Sanda looked around some more, for a land to hang on to.
But all the residents there welcomed them warmly. “Come, come with us”, they said. “We always have space for more visitors and residents here”, they chorused.
The island looked like there was a party going on. It was led by a monster sound system created by the waves. It was playing loud music! There were lots of dancers too- of different ages, colors, sizes, races, languages, nationalities and shapes. Wow! But this island was an island of diversity, openness and acceptance!
Year 2019, Sanda and Styron arrived in a totally strange country. A country with no land. An island the middle of the ocean where a titanic amount of rubbish made up a large country. They found their own country. They arrived on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. ###
(P.S. According to the Ocean Cleanup, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is “the largest accumulation of ocean plastic [offshore] in the world.)
Helen Biangalen-Magata is an indigenous woman and a mother of two boys. As a child, she loved listening to stories, mostly from her grandmother Talebya and grandfather Joaquin. When her parents wanted to teach her something, they told stories. If they wanted to encourage her, they told stories. If they want to reprimand her, they told stories. Short stories, long stories, funny stories, love stories, and inspirational stories, she listened to them all.
Helen sees stories out of the most common things and events around her. She wants to tell stories that convey the strength in the weak, the beauty in the ordinary, the power of the poor, and the love in this broken world. Short stories, long stories, sad stories, stories about humanity and reality, she tells them all.