“Good morning Julia! It’s a wonderful day to be healthy!“ Said the healthy watch on my wrist when I woke up at seven in the morning.
“The year is 2086, the 5th of August. The weather is sunny with the maximum temperature of 29 degrees. What a healthy time to be alive!“
I yawned and turned off the alarm on my watch. I had this watch since I was a toddler. When you turn four years old, the healthy watch, humankind’s greatest invention, is being stamped into your left arm for life. From then onwards you would never be alone. Your heart rate, your blood stream, everything about you would be collected and remembered because the government would want you to live a healthy life no matter the cost. I got out of bed and crossed the room to my desk where the photograph of my grandmother stood in a beautiful silver photo frame.
“Good morning granny.“ I said.
“It’s so kind of you to remember the people who were less healthy. But now off to the bathroom. You have to sanitise and then go to work.“ My healthy watch said and I did as I was told.
My grandmother hated the healthy watches. She always liked to say: Listen to what the government has to say. But don’t believe a fucking word.
I loved her for saying that. But I never dared saying something like her. I guess she was simply braver but maybe it was also because she was born and raised during the age of sickness. That was the time before 2020. Before the virus came for the first time. Back then people didn’t have healthy watches. Unthinkable. They had so called smart phones. They did something similar the healthy watches could do now but were not as highly advanced. In 2020 the virus killed thousands of people all around the world. My grandmother told me that the numbers were not even close to the death rates of wars, other illnesses or world hunger. But all these things were controlled by the governments of the first world countries. They could always decide who would die and who had enough food. But that virus was something unexpected. Something they could not control yet. The virus did not distinguish between rich and poor, between race, gender or sexual orientation. Besides, it was invisible and that was one of the scariest things. All of it was very sad, my grandmother had told me and people were under quarantine for months and then life went back to normal when most people infected by the virus had died.
In the late 20’s the healthy watches were introduced. I wasn’t even born then and my grandmother got one of the first ones but she didn’t like wearing them. Most governments all around the world decided that something like this virus was never allowed to happen again and therefore it was the duty of all citizens of the healthy world to have one. The healthy watch was a miracle. It could detect illnesses and any sickness before it broke out and so many people were saved and lived such long and healthy lives. The life expectancy rose from about 80 years to 120 years as the 21st century progressed. But then the virus came back two years ago in spring in 2084. One afternoon everything changed. Every healthy watch made the alert sound for code purple, a very unhealthy colour, which meant a virus break out. Everybody, young and old, rich and poor had to go home. Back then I lived in a new flat, one of the very modern healthy flats in the city centre. They were designed for a healthy life. Everything inside the flat was white and looked wonderfully sterile. Secure and healthy. My healthy watch told me while I was sitting on my white plastic sofa that all the people with a weaker immune system had been infected with the virus. That was of course all the old people, most of the people who still dared travel around the world and mostly ignored what their healthy watches were suggesting. Because travelling weakened the immune system and was unhealthy. This was what the healthy watches, what the government told you every day. Most of the old people of course were born before 2020, some in the 20’s and 30’s. This time though, not thousands died but millions. And the younger generation could not even say good bye. Our healthy watches had told us that the virus was highly contagious and no one was allowed to go close to any other person anymore. My grandmother died of the virus in 2084. She was 93 years old. She should have lived at least another 15 if not even 20 years longer. It was so sad. I cried for her and her unfinished life for days. It nearly broke me. But then life had to go on. The old suggestions of the healthy watches became the law.
My thoughts faded into my morning routine. I went to the bathroom. First, I washed my hands, brushed my teeth, showered and put on some anti bacterial perfume. Such a healthy scent. It smelled of anti bacterial. Then I put on my clean clothes and lingered for a moment in my bedroom as if I had forgotten something but I didn’t. Normally, I would put on some make up but since 2084 make up was not allowed anymore. It would get bacteria and viruses easier on your face.
When my grandmother had died I inherited the house from her. My mother and my father whom I haven’t seen since the virus break out did not want to live in her house. So I left my healthy flat which, to be honest, I did not really like and was glad to move back into a house that reminded me of simpler times.
I went downstairs, ate my healthy cereal when my watch announced: “You have your weekly blood test! Please hold still!“
I just looked at my left arm and watched how a little sterile needle came out of the watch like a miniature crane and stung into my skin. It didn’t hurt at all. It was just a drop of blood. The scarlet drop held onto the needle and went back into the watch. I didn’t like it. Red was an unhealthy colour.
“Please wait a minute for your test results. Why not wash your hands in the meantime?“
I did as my watch suggested. By now I was smart enough to know that any suggestion was a rule to be followed.
“Wonderful! You are virus free!“ The watch said cheerfully. “I have also noticed from your blood sample that you are living a very healthy life! Well done! It is also time to make an appointment with the fertility clinic!“
“Sure, can you do that for me?“ I said, already getting into my trainers and opened the door.
“Of course I can. And don’t forget, be careful on the street. The government wants you to be healthy!“
“Sure.“ I said and wondered about the fertility clinic on my way to the bus.
Since 2084, humans were not allowed to make any physical contact with any other human being anymore, which included sex. I used to have a boyfriend in the 70’s. We even talked about getting children but something else always came up. We sort of lived our lives and then 2084 happened. I still miss him a lot sometimes. I told him it would be better not to see each other anymore. It was healthier for both of us. It broke my heart. I hated the government for it. We also did not marry, what we should have done because healthy married couples were allowed to live together, as long as they had separate bedrooms and bathrooms. But I think I would not have managed to live in such a restricted marriage. I would have wanted to touch him, to kiss him. But all of that was so unhealthy, my healthy watch would say. I also missed my grandmother’s embrace. She always smelled of garden and fresh earth. Gardening was of course strictly prohibited since 2084. It was a very unhealthy thing to do and of course the most important thing in life was to be healthy. I missed the scent of fresh earth from time to time though.
Since the virus, the weekly blood test would determine when it was a good time for women to donate egg cells and when it was a good time for men to donate sperm cells. I was 35 years old by now. I really hoped that soon I wouldn’t have to go to the fertility clinic anymore. Surely, by the age of 35 my egg cells were starting to get a bit old. I did wonder from time to time if they had ever used any of my egg cells. My first donation was in winter of 2084. By now there could be a perfect healthy baby in the world. Born and raised by one of the so called mother robots. Because of course, giving birth and raising children would be enormously unhealthy. The last baby that was born naturally was just after the outbreak of the virus. Many women had already chosen in the 60’s and 70’s to have their babies bred in the mother robots. It was safe, clean and healthy. What else would you want in life? And these babies were designed with the perfect immune system and parents could even choose how they would look like. The robot mother womb could produce any healthy feature you would want. Then, at the age of four the children would be picked up by the married couple who still wished to raise children. Otherwise, the children would be raised by the robots. Everyone of them would become a model healthy citizen. Perfect. I didn’t like the thought of it. My grandmother had raised my mother and my mother had raised me. I think I should have raised a child as well. But the virus changed everything.
“Are you lost in thoughts Julia? What were you thinking? That’s your stop!“ My healthy watch reminded me kindly.
“Oh yes of course, thank you. I am a bit tired.“ I lied to my watch and got off the bus.
“Interesting.“ My watch said. “Your heartbeat and breathing does not suggest you are tired.“
I ignored my watch’s statement and went into my office building.
Since the virus I have been working at a firm that designed healthy toilet paper. It had the perfect balance between anti bacterial wipes and toilet paper. I was working in the graphic design department. It was another day of designing patterns to be printed on the toilet paper. It must appear to have a clean look. I had no idea what the firm meant by that but they seemed to like my designs.
“Have a healthy day Julia.“ My friend Anna said.
She didn’t like working here. In fact she didn’t like the life she was living at all. Before 2084, she used to be a free spirit. She still was and I think she knew that I didn’t like my life post 2084 much either. That’s why we became friends. Before the virus, she always went out, met up with strangers, men and women. She even travelled around the world. She was actually quite lucky that the virus didn’t get her. She also loved to watch films and TV shows from the age of sickness. She still mentioned stuff like Friends or Game of Thrones. But all of that was forbidden now. It told the stories of times when people were not living a healthy life and would die young.
“Has Bob shown you the pictures yet?“ She whispered.
“No, what pictures?“
“It’s so exciting! His wife works in the department of foreign health regulations and she went to some virus infected countries in the east! Can you imagine! Bob!“
Anna waved for Bob to come over who hurried over to us.
“Show her the pictures!“
“It’s only two.“ He said annoyed but put them on the desk.
In the pictures there was a group of people all dressed in white, standing in front of a big white building.
“Okay…“ I said hardly impressed.
“Look at their wrists!“ Anna said excited.
I took a closer look. They were not wearing healthy watches. I felt hot. I felt I was looking at something forbidden but a part of me longed to jump into that picture and another part of me felt terribly afraid.
“Can you imagine! People there can do whatever they want!“ Anna said excited.
“People there.“ Bob said. “Also have a life expectancy of only 70 years.“
“That’s horrible!“ I said automatically.
“But in those 70 years they can do whatever they want.“ Anna said longingly.
“Be careful what you say.“ Bob said and grabbed the pictures from the desk.
“Ouch!“ He shouted and grabbed his wrist in pain.
His healthy watch had given him a little electro shock.
“So sorry!“ I said. “I think you moved too close to me.“
“Let’s all go back to work now!“ All three healthy watches said in sync and we all did as they commanded.
These little electro shocks occurred quite often. The law was to keep a one metre distance at all times. If you come too close to another person, your healthy watch would make sure you wouldn’t get any closer.
I looked after Anna while she went back to her desk. She really should be more careful about what she says. The security watchers might have her already on their list. People who did not like to listen to their healthy watches were picked up by people all dressed in light blue, a very healthy colour, and would return somehow changed, as if they had been hypnotised. That scared me the most. It was important to think like in the old days but it was simply too dangerous to utter your thoughts out loud.
Back at home I looked at my healthy watch. It was almost time for it to recharge. Every evening the healthy watch switched itself off for 15 minutes to recharge its battery. That were 15 minutes of freedom. My watch made a beeping sound and the little white light went out. I rushed upstairs to the attic where all my grandmother’s stuff was. In these 15 minutes I would always come here, go through her boxes and belongings. I have gone through most of her things already. But last year I had decided to only look at one new box once every month, so discovering old things would last longer. And today was one of those days! I got to open a new box. The treasures I had found in these boxes! Relics from the age of sickness! When people got to do whatever they wanted because it was not defined as unhealthy. I found books in those boxes. Call me by your name, The Hunger Games, Murder on the Orient Express, Middlemarch, The Lord of the Rings, Pride and Prejudice, Conversations with Friends and many more from a time when you could just sit down and read. In these 15 minutes of freedom I always tried to read for 5 minutes. It wasn’t much but it was the sweetest time of the day. It reminded me of times when I was younger and people still got to read whatever they wanted. It was a time before 2084 and the return of the virus. What I did was illegal and if you read a book your healthy watch would know. Your healthy watch always knew what you were doing with your hands.
“Books spark imagination.“ My healthy watch would say. “And imagination is unhealthy. And your goal in life is to be a healthy part of a healthy society.“
This is what we were being taught every day. The light from the window was fading, it looked darker and shadows grew bigger. The attic was a cold place but it was the only place where I felt more at home than anywhere else. I just sat there for a moment with my unopened box from my grandmother. The box revealed a little red, rectangular, plastic box. An unhealthy colour. It was bigger than my two hands. I took it out. I knew what it was! My grandmother used it all the time! It was a radio. A little box to play music! There were still batteries in there, so it might still work. Music, just like books, was forbidden.
“Music sparks imagination. Music is unhealthy.“ My healthy watch would say. “I can play healthy music for you. Designed by the government to keep you healthy.“
The healthy watch would always play the very same melody. It did not have a rhythm. It was just different sounds and noises that were recorded. They did not have any meaning.
In the box there were other things too. Very flat round plastic discs. They were CDs! Now that was something from a time when even my grandmother was just a young girl. Before everything was digitalised. She must have kept it all those decades. But of course she had. She loved to dance when she was young. Another thing that was forbidden of course. I looked at one of the CDs. I nearly had forgotten about their existence. Last time I saw one, was when I was just a child. It felt like, as if I was a traveller in the age of sickness and I would be the one to discover a new animal species or an old shipwreck in the sea. I could not believe I was holding CDs in my hands! I wiped off the dust from one disk and put it in the radio. I had seven more minutes. Smoothly it went inside the opening and I pressed the On button. I desperately hoped it would work. Little symbols came up on the tiny screen. The CD had twelve songs on it. I pressed Play but nothing happened. Maybe the CD was damaged. I pressed the Continue button. Maybe one of the other tracks was still working. Track Two. Nothing. Track Three. Nothing. Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine. Nothing. Ten. Music started playing! I could not believe my luck! I turned down the volume so that only I could hear it, scared it might be too loud. It was a woman singing a song. Beautiful, rhythmic, no words could describe her. She was a singer from the age of sickness. I remembered my grandmother listening to her all the time. Especially during the last years of her life. She always used to say that music wasn’t unhealthy but that it was freeing. And it did feel good listening to the song. I wished I could remember the name of the singer. But it didn’t really matter. I was able to listen to her voice. The song was so beautiful. The sweetest thing I have heard in two years. It had so many beats, it was so alive, filled with emotion. It was like a rainbow after rain, breathing in the fresh air after sitting inside all day long. And I knew whatever would happen to me I could never, would never forget the song’s lyrics: “Freedom, freedom, I can’t move, freedom cut me loose, singing freedom, freedom, where are you, cause I need freedom too. I break chains all by myself, won’t let my freedom rot in hell. Hey! I’ma keep on running cause a winner don’t quit on themselves.“
I listened to the song a second time. Then I had one more minute left. I had to go. I pressed the Release button and carefully, like the most precious thing in the world, sparkling brighter than a diamond, shimmering more beautiful than gold, I put the CD back into the box. I couldn’t wait for tomorrow evening to hear the song again.
Next day at work Anna didn’t come in. After an hour working on new prints for toilet paper I looked up at Bob. He was standing in front of my desk.
“The security watchers took Anna this morning before work. Just so you know… And don’t ask any questions.“
I nodded, tried to smile but I couldn’t. I was terrified. I could feel the ice cold fear within my bones, afraid my healthy watch could sense it.
“Anna is fine. She is just getting a healthy update and will be back at work tomorrow.“ Our healthy watches said in sync.
Scared, Bob looked down at his own watch. Maybe he blamed himself for her disappearance. He shouldn’t have shown Anna the pictures. It had triggered something within her that was dangerous. But then again, she had said things she shouldn’t have said out loud.
She will be fine, I kept on repeating to myself knowing that she wouldn’t be.
“Julia, your heart rate is up. Are you feeling unhealthy?“ My healthy watch asked friendly.
“Thank you, I am fine.“
There was nothing else I could say. The healthy watch, they, would know anyway if I was lying or not.
This evening when my watch was recharging, I listened to the song again. I soaked up every beat, every word: “I’ma wade, I’ma wade through the waters, tell the tide don’t move, I’ma riot through your borders. Call me bullet proof. Lord forgive me, I’ve been runnin‘, running blind in truth, I’ma wade, I’ma wade through your shallow love, tell the deep I’m new.“
I had listened to the song two times and I still had four minutes left. I went back downstairs again and wrote my favourite lyrics of the song on a piece of paper. It felt so forbidden. You were not allowed to write except if it was for work. After all, there was no need to write things down. Your healthy watch remembered everything for you.
I folded the piece of paper, went into my bedroom and tugged it in the back of the frame of my grandmother’s photograph. Only I would know where it was. It felt so forbidden. So unhealthy. I loved it.
At night I had difficulty sleeping. I turned around in my bed and had to think of Anna. I hoped she would be back tomorrow. I wanted to know that she was fine, that there was nothing to worry about. But what I feared even more was, if she returned, would she still be Anna or someone else? What would they have done to her?
“Do you have trouble sleeping? It is unhealthy not to sleep Julia.“ My healthy watch said.
“Please be quiet. I am trying to sleep.“ I tried saying the words relaxed.
I didn’t want to start a conversation with my healthy watch. I hated it. I repeated the lyrics of the song in my head. I wished, I wished so badly I could sing the song out loud. Scream it out into the night. But my healthy watch was listening. They were listening. The people who had Anna. The people we never got to see but knew that they were there. Shadows in the dark night that could not be seen. Was it really the lethal virus that made all of this happen or was it something else? Eventually I fell into a restless sleep.
Next day at work Anna was back. Nervously I went over to her desk. It looked very tidy. Very much unlike her. She normally had stuff and paper lying around. Today everything looked neat.
“Anna?“ I said carefully.
“Julia! It’s a wonderful day to be healthy! Isn’t it!“ She said cheerfully, looked at me but somehow it felt like she was looking through me, not at me. She looked so healthy this morning. She radiated health.
“How was your healthy treatment?“ I asked nervously.
“It was wonderful! I think we should all have one once in a while.“
I tried to smile but I couldn’t.
“You know what they told me?“ She said even more cheerfully.
“What did they tell you?“
“Our healthy watches will soon be replaced!“
“What do you mean by replaced? We cannot live without them. They are our healthy guidance.“
“Well of course they are but the healthy watches will be replaced by healthy glasses! Soon, our healthy glasses can tell us just like our healthy watches what to do. But the best new thing about them is that they can also tell us what to see! At all times! And they will be directly connected to our brains so they can make sure that we think healthy at all times! I signed up for the prototype! Isn’t it a wonderful time to be healthy and live a healthy life?“
“Yes, it is!“ I said cheerfully with tears of terror in my eyes.
I went back to my desk and continued working. Anna had died. She was alive and healthy but she had died.
I couldn’t wait to go to the attic this evening. To listen to that song from the age of sickness for 15 minutes. That was it. What it meant to be alive for 15 minutes. And if I could live for just 15 minutes in the age of sickness and then die of the most painful illness I would gladly do it. What was a healthy long life without living it? It was as good as death.
I walked up the street to my house and saw a light blue car standing in the street. I stopped. I knew what was happening. Somehow I had not been careful enough.
“Go on.“ My healthy watch said kindly. “Did you really believe when I was recharging I would not know exactly what you were doing? Besides, you have been feeling a bit sick in the last couple of days. It’s good for you to have a healthy treatment. You will be healthy again in no time!“
But I couldn’t take another step. I was mortified. Two kindly looking men in light blue clothes approached me. They looked so healthy. I kept repeating the lyrics in my head: Freedom, freedom, I can’t move, freedom cut me loose, singing freedom, freedom, where are you, cause I need freedom too.
I couldn’t remember what happened to me next.
“Good morning Julia! It’s a wonderful day to be healthy!“ My healthy watch said cheerfully waking me up. “The year is 2086, the 9th of August! Today, it will be sunny and the maximum temperature will be 28 degrees. What a healthy time to be alive!“
“What a healthy time to be alive indeed!“ I said cheerfully.
I got up, went to the bathroom and started my morning routine. I felt so healthy! It was a wonderful morning. But then something felt odd. I was so healthy but somehow I felt I was missing something. I got dressed and was about to go downstairs to get my healthy breakfast when I had to stop and I had to look at my grandmother’s photograph. Something didn’t feel right. Something felt unhealthy.
“Are you alright Julia?“ My healthy watch asked kindly.
“Yes of course, I just have to check something.“
“Sure! But don’t be late for work. That would be unhealthy.“
I nodded and went up the stairs to the attic. Somehow I felt I was expecting something to see but there was nothing there. The attic was completely empty. There wasn’t even dust on the floor. It was all clean. It looked very healthy. I went back downstairs and into my bedroom again. I looked at my grandmother’s photograph again. She looked very healthy. It was so horrible that the virus took her at the age of only 93. She should have had at least 15 if not even 20 more years to live. It was so sad! I picked up the photograph in the frame to take a closer look. Something was odd. There was a piece of paper tugged in the back of the frame. I took it out, unfolded it very quietly so my healthy watch wouldn’t notice. I read the words in my own handwriting not remembering when I wrote them: Healthiness, Healthiness, I can’t move, healthiness cut me loose. Singing healthiness, healthiness where are you? Cause I need healthiness too. I break sickness all by myself. Won’t let my healthiness rot in hell“
“That sounds very healthy!“ I said cheerfully and I put the piece of paper next to the photograph of my grandmother.