by Maria Letterioti
Artist: Marta Mengardo
We were told yesterday in class that we must respect Earth. That means the plants and the animals. The environment, our natural habitat. “We must collect all trash from the beach,” our teacher said. “We must not leave any waste behind, and we have to be considerate of others. Selfishness shall not be tolerated any more,” she shouted, as we rushed to get out of the room.
“Don’t we have services that do that?” I asked mom. “Where do our taxes go?”
“They go to the streets,” mom said as she looked around to the butchered patches of asphalt coming out of the concrete we were walking on. Then she added: “Most of the money goes to the state, not the city.”
“But there’s a state tax and a city tax,” I responded. “Where does the city tax go to?”
She paused for a second as we stood at the subway platform. “Here!” she pointed to the half empty trains going by on the dirty racks. “It goes to our subway system.”
Seventeen minutes later, our train had yet to arrive, so I began chasing the rats around us. “I am trying to feed them these half-eaten burgers, they are no-one’s, they can have them,” I told mom who was doing her darn best to keep me in order.
“Who feeds these rats here anyway?” I asked.
“The subway people,” mom said.
“Nah, that can’t be true. Are they even getting paid enough?”
An announcement that our train line would be further delayed due to subway constructions made us both jump.
“How about we start by collecting the trash here?” mom suggested.
“Is it a waste if I feed it to the rats?” I asked.
“It depends. If it has an impact on the environment, then it’s a waste.”
I gathered all tossed cups and lids and pushed all the visible specs of food to them. By the time I cleaned the platform our train had arrived.
“Your room is next,” mom said.
“That does not have an impact on the environment,” I responded with an added sense of responsibility.
“It does have an impact on my nerves,” mom responded.
Fair enough, I thought. So, I began to clean my room, and then my little brother’s room. Feeling accomplished I went downstairs for dinner. The morning after I would tell my teacher that I had cleaned the subway platform, and my room, as well as my little brother’s room, and that I fed the rats. The teacher was big on environmental causes, and this would quickly turn me into her favorite student. That same night mom and dad had news.
My brother and me would soon welcome a new baby brother. That made us all happy. The next day I had so much to share with my teacher: I collected trash from the subway platform, I fed the rats, I cleaned my room and my little brother’s room. Mom is expecting another baby.
The teacher was startled. Her bright blue eyes stared right into my soul. Then she moved her gaze to the classroom.
“Children, do you know what’s a bigger impact on Earth than polluting the beaches?” she asked.
Chubby red faces including my own shook in confusion.
“Overpopulation. Do you know what this is?” she asked.
Our eyes widened while hers shrank with pure joy. The same joy that I have when I see a pimple about to be popped.
“When the population of humans keeps growing exponentially, our dear planet cannot survive. This is the first, the biggest attack on our environment. We all have a choice now. We do not have to keep pushing for more, do we?” her hand ran past my cold shoulder.
The sun left the sky and clouds covered our school. The only thing shining was our teacher who had seemed to transform into a creature of unimaginable shape.
The bell rang. Louder than usual. We all rushed outside. Mom was there waiting for me.
“So, what did you learn today? Was your teacher proud of all the cleaning you did?”
“Mmm…hmm” I nodded, looking up to make sure no one was following us home.
Maria Letterioti is a short story enthusiast based in Brooklyn. She was born and raised in Greece and has studied linguistics and theater. She has held various jobs in academic publishing, and when she is not writing she enjoys spending time with her furry companion, a tortie blind cat named Tarta.