I never knew the hands that made me.
They pour hot liquified plastic into my metal mould. I am one of the millions of malleable bodies solidifying inside the water-cooling tubs that rest on top of the concrete factory floors. We stand next to each other—identical soldiers in formation—waiting until we harden with time. Stuck in boxes, gasping, while we drown in large containers, waiting eternally.
Time is order—that is what I learn while waiting for a change in the deprivation bath. Beyond the metal walls of the tub, I hear the workers’ systematic rhythm echoing and vibrating. Locked onto those sounds, I count each repeating ring, rattle, and rumble of the machines in the background, and the heavy steps and strikes made by my parents. I feel time moving in the drag of their hands. I feel it in my body. My semitranslucent, amber-like skin turns into its settled yellow shape, crystalizing under the stress of the cold water surrounding me.
We are almost ready.
An invading bright light captures the water. Fluorescent bulbs replace the ceiling of the tub. A gloved hand comes down from the sky to extract us one by one from our water womb. I am floating, the weight of the water dripping down my form. But the immediate noises and visions attack me as I ascend into the air, overloading my senses. I miss my muffled consciousness bounded in a metal box.
Most workers around us have masks over their faces to protect themselves from the scent of boiling plastic. Their saggy clothes hang from their small frames. The unmasked labourers carry bags underneath their eyes and wear tight lips on their mouths. Planted down, my feet meet the metal ground beside my fellow soldiers, but the dark water doesn’t welcome us back. We are dragged from one worker to the next on a cart to an unknown destination. My feet tremble.
The ride over the dull concrete floor is relatively smooth, aside from some faint bumps made from the hastily filled-in cracks in the surface. A few bodies on the cart lose their stability, falling and tripping others to the bottom of the tray. I barely manage to endure the shaky grounds until we hit an abrupt stop. Unable to carry myself up anymore, all the standing figures and I crash down into each other. We have reached our destination. Leaning against and beneath each other, I anticipate a couple of hands will put us back in place.
Rested on the right side of the cart is a masked woman sitting at a newspaper-lined table. She is wearing a white lab coat covered in green and brown stains. Other similarly-dressed workers cramp around her table with figurines in their hands. All types of paint, sprays, and brushes decorate their table. The woman ignores our fallen condition and starts selecting bodies from our tray, one at a time, for examination.
Now it is my turn. The two freshly painted toys that went before me disappear from my view. Taking me from the cart, the painter rolls me between her stained rubber fingers to check for deformities in my sculpted skin. Satisfied, her fingertips pinch my feet, and she swiftly flips me over. My face swings over the newspaper articles while she glides a yellowish-green coated brush along my scales. She continues to paint more details onto my body, revealing my fantastical appearance. My pliable body moulds and develops into the image they desire, a predator ready to attack.
She looks me over and then places me on another cart beside the table to dry with the others. I watch as she continues to prod and paint the remaining models—making us into whatever is profitable. In our row, there are more painters like her hovering over their own paper-covered tables, making all sorts of monsters.
After all the other bodies are dry, an unfamiliar person walks in wearing a wrinkled cotton white shirt and a pair of faded black jeans. Unmasked, her face flinches slightly from the toxic fumes of the spray paint that cling to the air. She resets her face into a smile when she greets the painter near us and takes hold of the cart I am on. She wheels us out.
I watch as all the toys before me are entrapped and sealed away, wondering where they will go.
It’s my turn. Where will I go?
“ROAWRRRRR,” I shriek so harshly that the hinges of my jaw burst from the force of my mouth ripping itself open. My teeth press against my opponent’s jaw—he scratches mine while we attempt to overpower each other. The smell of rotting meat between our teeth coats the air. Our bodies chaotically push and slam into each other, both of us looking for an opening to kill. I only bite off a sliver of his neck. My tongue grazes his open wound, clinging to the metallic taste of blood. Salivating on the promise of meat, I find my opp…
“Navraj, food is ready!” A warm, high-pitched voice yells in the background. A woman emerges from the kitchen at the back of the room wearing her flour-dusted beige apron. She carries an overfilled plate in her right hand. The small boy, who clenches me tightly in his grip, uncrosses his legs to stand as his mother walks toward him.
Playtime is over. Reality presses deep into my green, spray-painted, six-inch rubber body—a pebble to the real Tyrannosaurus rex. But for a moment, I was living.
The boy drops me onto the hardwood floor alongside my playtime enemy, a Spinosaurus toy that was just resting in his other hand. His familiar hands greedily grasp his dinner plate, leaving me to starve. Some rice and red lentils drop over the side of his tilted glass dish while he dashes to the couch to eat. A few pieces of fallen grains stick to the T-Rex graphic on his grey shirt. His mother sweeps us away from the distracted boy and tosses us into a bin teeming with other plastic and mechanical toys. Crashing down, I fall through the cracks between the synthetic bodies and toy vehicles.
My life depends on other people’s minds, as I attach to any tiny thread of memories or fantasies to stay alive. I adapt. Still, I am a piece of plastic, meaningless until I am found again.
Thump. The bin tips over, and all the toys drop and scatter across the floor. A not-so-familiar, gigantic man towers over our tiny frames, plucking me from the rest of the group. My small, rigid body dangles between his squeezing fingers as he carries me away. I am living, but no longer a toy playing in someone’s imagination. He sees me as decoration, to be seen but not touched.
The dense clouds wrap before the moon, leaving only shimmers of light peering through gaps in the sky. The night reveals the boundaries of my physicality: grounded into the wood and unable to play. I am vulnerable to the abuse of the open skies; I will never feel the warm embrace of hands wrapped around me again. Neglected, I stand alone on the edge. I can never gain autonomy, willingly submitting to the minds of others any chance I get.
Curiously watching behind the clouds, the moon is complicit in my suffering. I am suffocating in the hollowness of the earth. Its blotted skies and still air capture me in their deep breaths. Silence rings over me. I am aware of the artificial air swallowed inside me, trapping a void within my imperishable cage of plastic flesh.
It has been a few days since being ripped away from my plastic tomb. Reborn again with nails decorating my ankles and tail. I am pinned down onto the handrail of the backyard deck, watching the house in front of me. Static against the world’s fleeting moments buzzing around. One day, the weather’s constant pressure will slowly chip away at my body until I crack, and then I will breathe for the first time.
Slowly, the clouds drift apart, brightening the earth’s surface. The wind is more alive than it was a few moments ago, whistling gently along the delicate contours of the dying plants in the garden. The powerful fragrance of decay travels across the autumn night’s breeze. My pseudo-skin stiffens from the chill as I notice a flash before me. Behind the glass doors, two floating, pensive eyes emerge, silently watching me. The eyes glow with the moonlight. Their stare, a cold comfort resting on me like a weighted blanket in the middle of a snowstorm. The icy gaze scorches my body, numbing me. I avert my eyes.
The moon dimly illuminates the inside of the house, revealing the outlines of their body. Their flesh turns grey, like traces of candle smoke lingering in the dark. I imagine biting into their shadowy skin, my cavity overfilling with their blackened ash. How fitting would that be? To carry life’s crumbs within my polymer jaw and digest a fate I can never taste.
Opposition—in and out. Standing still inside the warm house with their intact skin protected behind glass doors. I look back to their fluttering eyes, glossier now, filling with water. Will their skin crumble if a tear falls out like a tide on a sandcastle? With their unshed droplets and midnight skies, it feels like I am drowning in that metal womb all over again. Our eyes meet again, and I do not look away.
Comfort—that is what I bring. All my life, I was a product built upon the image of children’s storybooks and imagined histories, a simple fantasy controlling and taming me. My mass-produced, over-consumed façade made me invisible and devalued. Standing here on the ledge, I will always be a piece of plastic, a cheap dinosaur toy fastened to the wood. I can become something bigger—no longer hidden from the world, remembered—but only if I embrace the limitations of my stiff carcass.
Maybe then, I will live.
Design Editor (Volume 49) | email@example.com — Manjot graduated with a specialization in Art and Art History in 2022. She previously worked as the design editor for Volume 48. This year she will continue her role as design editor and looks forward to creating and sharing more art. As she navigates her newly graduated status, she spends her time designing, reading, and watching TV shows.