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In the distant future, Plastic Bag meets Diamond on Henderson Island, a plastic-strewn landmass in the ...
2019-05-29 10:00:00
short story

The Tale of the Plastic Bag

Illustration by Tomek Kozłowski
The Tale of the Plastic Bag
The Tale of the Plastic Bag

The Plasticozoic Era is upon us. Land and seas are strewn with vast amounts of plastic. On the small island of Henderson in the Pacific Ocean, which used to teem with life, Plastic Bag meets Diamond and begins to tell her story. The story was written down by Joanna Rudniańska.

Read in 7 minutes

This occurred in the distant future, over many oceans, lands and aeons...

“Is there anyone here or am I alone?” asked Plastic Bag. “Hey, I see you. You there, I’m talking to you. There’s no light, but you’re reflecting it. You, little fellow. How are you doing that?”

“I’m a diamond,” came the reply, unexpectedly strong and resonant.

“A diamond? How did a diamond end up here? Who left you here?”

Diamond didn’t reply.

“Well, what are you doing here, shiny stone?” shouted Plastic Bag, puffing herself up slightly, or perhaps inflated by the light breeze carrying dust over the wasteland.

“Watch it,” said Diamond. “I don’t know who you are, but I’d appreciate a little respect. If our world still existed, I’d be an exceptionally valuable item.”

“Our world!” said Plastic Bag with disdain. “You must mean the humans’ world, but I’m a plastic bag. Sure, I owe them my existence, but nothing else. They melted a few polyethylene granules so I could be born, but they didn’t think about the fact that I’d live for all eternity.”

“A plastic bag, eternity? I guess you haven’t heard the famous saying: ‘Diamonds are forever’. But there you go, you’re only a bit of plastic!” said the Diamond, choking with laughter. “You see, my dear, we’re in totally different leagues. I’m a million times more valuable than you!”

“Not anymore, Mister Diamond. There’s no one here who’d be willing to pay as much as a single bitcoin for you,” said Plastic Bag. “But even back then, when you were worth a fortune, I was more valuable. Because I was unique.”

“You? I’m the one who’s unique. No two diamonds in the world are the same. But the humans produced millions of identical bags!”

“I was unique,” repeated Plastic Bag, and she lost herself in her memories.

It went quiet. And it remained the same, nothing happened or moved – well, perhaps the wind blew occasionally, but even that wasn’t certain – night didn’t fall, nor did day break, it was neither light nor dark, time ceased to be perceptible, and when Diamond spoke, it was unclear whether a few minutes had passed, or a few years, or a whole century.

“Go on then, spit it out,” said Diamond. “You’re clearly dying to tell me your story. I can listen, although it won’t mean anything to me anyway. I’m the hardest in the world. Nothing moves me.”

Plastic Bag wafted upwards slightly and fell to the ground.

“I’ll tell you. Even if my story doesn’t move you, you might learn something, as you always can from stories that don’t contain too many lies. My innumerable sisters and I were made from polyethylene granules. When I looked at the world for the first time, I saw people in masks and gloves, and I felt the slash of the knife that separated me from the strip of plastic on the revolving roller. My sides and handles were welded with hot metal, and suddenly I felt how nice it was to exist in a defined, limited shape. I became something, fully integral, a separate object. Along with my four hundred and ninety-nine twin sisters, I was packed tightly into a box and transported to a shop. I was lying at the very top and I hadn’t even had a chance to look around before I was entrusted with two bottles of bourbon and found myself out on the London streets. For the first time, I saw houses, cars, neon signs and lights reflected in the wet surface of the road. I was afraid that I’d break and drop the bottles on the pavement, but somehow, we got there – me, the two bottles of bourbon, and the man in the green cap who was carrying us. We travelled up to the twelfth floor, to a big room with paintings, easels and a terrible mess. The man in the green cap took the bottles from me, drank half straight away and started to paint. He painted all day, all evening, and half of the night. At dawn, he opened the second bottle, and stretched me over an easel.

‘Do you want to be the most precious plastic bag in the world?’ he asked, and he started to paint on me, which was exciting. I became more and more colourful; on one side he painted a city, and on the other side an animal with a single horn. When he’d finished, it was already afternoon. He went out onto the balcony, lifted me up high and looked at me in the bright daylight. London sprawled beneath us.

‘It’s my best work. You’ll hang in the Tate, you’ll see,’ he told me. Just then, the wind blew and plucked me out of the man’s hands, filling me with air and lifting me up over the city. It also blew away his green cap, and for a moment we were flying together, the green cap and I. I flew and I flew, until I landed on a square lawn in front of a small, pink house. That’s where I was found by Luiza, a little girl. She took me in her arms and said that she’d never seen such a pretty plastic bag before, and that unicorns were her favourite thing in the world. And I liked Luiza. We spent many happy years together, in fact we were never apart, we went to school, music lessons, the library, I carried her books and her notepads, and when she was sleeping, I lay near her, on the chair, and looked at her. Thanks to Luiza, I got a decent education and I got to know all the books she was reading. But one day it came to an end: Luiza’s new housekeeper simply threw me in the bin. I started to travel over land and sea, avoiding those huge containers with ‘Plastic’ written on them, of course, because reincarnation doesn’t really appeal to me. Perhaps it’d be nice to become a new bag or another plastic item, but I had to save the picture painted by the man in the green cap – in other words, my individuality. I had a whole host of adventures, I even spent six months in the belly of a whale, until I ended up here, in plastic Mecca – on this coral island, which has become the destination of maritime pilgrimages for plastic items. Back then, it was already a mountain of plastic, and I found it hard to believe that here, flowers and trees used to grow, and migratory birds and turtles had once found shelter. It was here, on Henderson Island, that I saw the dawning of the Plasticozoic Era, when it was revealed that we, PLASTICS, are everywhere – in the air, the water and the earth, in animals and humans, and even in their food. We’ve built rocks, islands and archipelagos – take Trash Island for example, the first country made of plastic to be recognized by the UN. I looked at it with pride, feeling a part of this wonderful venture in which we have all participated.”

Plastic Bag fell silent, and some time passed again, a little or a lot.

“And then...” prompted Diamond.

“You know perfectly well,” said Plastic Bag. “It all ended. Even time. Supposedly it’s still here, but nothing happens, it’s always grey, motionless and the same. I wonder whether the humans will return someday.”

“You’re thinking about that girl, Luiza, I know,” said Diamond. “And I’m thinking about my friend, an old man who won the lottery and bought a blue diamond at an auction in Geneva. That diamond was me. Oppenheimer Blue. That’s what I’m called, because the name of my purchaser wasn’t made known, and I like it that way. The most expensive diamond sold at auction, over fifty-seven million dollars. Set in a platinum ring. He truly loved me. We lived a modest life, in a studio flat in Brighton Beach. Whenever we went to Tatiana Restaurant, my friend would put a white cotton glove on his left hand to protect me. That’s why the regulars at Tatiana called him White Glove. Only at home would he uncover me, look at me and touch me. He’d read the newspaper through me – because you can see letters through a real diamond. We used to read together. Until one day, he fell down in the bathroom and died, and I slipped off his soapy finger and hid in a gap in the flooring. I had various adventures after that, too. I lost the platinum ring, but the memories I cherish are those of my friend, White Glove. You know, I was thinking: we’re actually similar, you and I. We both arrived here from the depths of the Earth, you from the oil well, I from the diamond mine. And we’ve both experienced love. You miss Luiza, don’t you?”

Plastic Bag didn’t reply. But she has plenty of time, and maybe one day she will.


Translated by Kate Webster

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Joanna Rudniańska

is an author of short stories. Some of them are about things that are too unbelievable to happen until they actually happen: about the war, the Holocaust, the atomic bomb; the destruction of life on Earth by people. She was awarded the Janusz Korczak International Literary Prize. In 2007, her book “Kotka Brygidy” (Brygida's Kitten) received an honourable mention from the Polish section of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). She bakes unrivalled bread.