by Rachel Watts
This is the second brain-space retrieval claim form Jasmine has filled out this month. The first one was lost. The form, not the brain.
As far as Jasmine knows her neural capacity is still where it has been for the past 20 years. Inside someone else, a rich person who can afford the lease. It’s there filtering and processing whatever rich folks put into their minds. It’s none of Jasmine’s business what that might be – she signed a waiver. For 20 years she gave up all custodial rights to the grey matter. But now, the lease has expired. That rich person, whoever it was, will have to find another storage solution. She can claim hers back. She can be whole.
So here she is again, logging date of birth, date of donation, tracking numbers, claim references, all in triplicate.
Through the window, under the shade of a huge jacaranda tree, other claimants stand in a despondent cluster. The Office of Bio-Organic Storage Transfers is open for business 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are so many people to process. Brain-space is big business. The queue could be anything from four to six to 16 hours long. Often people give up. But as time goes by, your brain needs that space back. The world is saturated in information. It drips from screens and circuits, and over time becomes a torrent. The brain-space Jasmine needed at 19 is nothing compared to the processing she needs to do at 49. She needs her neurons.
Everyone takes a number. Forms against a wall just inside the door. Orange plastic chairs line up in rows, filled with waiting claimants, all gripping a paper ticket. Some are sleeping, their heads lolling down, quiet snores emanating. Smokers take their tickets outside to chain smoke. The jacaranda is gripped by a bougainvillea vine, and is slowly being strangled.
Watching the smokers, Jasmine finds herself wondering if cigarettes damaged brain space. She has been hoping for years that hers had been leased by a teetotaller. Praying it wasn’t installed inside a Crysalis user. She guesses the wealthy would have better, cleaner means to get high, but she still can’t help but worry. She feels protective of her neurons, like they’re her children, out there in the world. She hopes they’ve been taken good care of.
She grits her teeth as she fills out the Reason for Claim field, blue pen tracing an indentation on the cheap paper. She still has the original donation form, her carbon copy version, grey scribbles faded and distant after the intervening years. She was desperate back then, young, too young, and living on the street. Hugo, her partner at the time, suggested they both make a donation for the cash. But the Office of Bio-Organic Storage and Transfers wasn’t interested in his brain once they found out about his drug habit. Hers though, that they eyed eagerly. She sat in a small interview room as a Transfer Ethics Assistant discussed her reasons for donating. The assistant asked about her lifestyle, her hopes for the future, with a skin deep concern for Jasmine’s wellbeing playing about her lips. And then, after surgery and a truncated recovery time, Jasmine had the 10,000 credits in her account, a vial of painkillers, and a case number.
She and Hugo paid a month in advance for a damp flat, where she was visited by a community nurse occasionally as her mind healed. Hugo had a never ending list of errands to run, which in her drugged state she barely processed. She lay in bed, listening to the neighbours fighting, only the footsteps and violence trundling up and down the halls outside her door for company. The cash bought them that door, which kept the pounding steps and fists at bay. After it healed the scar was barely visible. The cash was equally insubstantial – there one minute, and after Hugo had paid his debts, and collected a supply of Crysalis, evaporated. As did Hugo in the end, when the cash ran out.
Gripping her completed form, Jasmine takes a seat on a grimy orange chair, watching the numbers tick up to those that matched her ticket. Around her sits a throng of equally glum looking claimants, each with their little paper token, their ticket to ride.
The Claims Office is nowhere near as polished as the Donations House. When Jasmine went to donate she was given free coffee and sat in crisp air-conditioning on a comfortable couch, with posters on the walls proclaiming We Want What’s Best for You in reassuring cursive font. Now, twenty years later, she waits in an office filled with plastic chairs and filthy linoleum, a creaking ceiling fan overhead. The air is oppressive. Dense and slumber inducing. Three grey faced officials sit behind tall desks, stamping forms and directing claimants through to the next room. Each claimant approved for the next level of processing approaches the doors with trepidation. The eyes of the entire room follows them, waves of yearning crash against the grey office walls, as the doors slide open on silent rails. Everyone just wants to be whole. Jasmine needs to go through those doors so badly. She has been waiting for four hours.
She is sleepy by the time her number is called, it is called twice and the woman in the chair next to her nudges her awake. She approaches the desk bleary eyed and vague. Wordlessly sliding the claim form across, she watches the official peer at it with disappointment, as though Jasmine had delivered a stinking dog turd.
“Nearly twenty years to the day,” Jasmine says with a brightness she doesn’t feel. “Hopefully it will be second time lucky for me, the last form was lost.”
Even as she does it she doesn’t know why she is trying to start a conversation. The official, a middle aged woman, simply lifts one eyebrow and fixes her with a long look.
“Oh, it’s fine, these things happen, it’s a big office after all.” Jasmine’s smile hurts. The official looks at her for a moment longer, and redirects her attention to the paperwork. Jasmine drops the smile and twists her fingers around each other. The waiting, the forms, they have challenged her right to the edge of her cramped brain space. Her mind throbs.
“Says here you made the donation at a suburban office,” the woman monotones. Jasmine isn’t sure if it’s a question or not, but nods helpfully anyway.
“Suburban donation is a different claim form,” the woman says. Jasmine looks at her dully.
“This form is pink,” the woman continues, with great effort, as though Jasmine were a small child. “You need the green one.” She waves her hand toward the racks of papers by the door.
“Fill out another one and take a number.”
Stunned, Jasmine collects her paperwork and wanders over to the forms, glancing at the bougainvillea throttling the flowering tree outside. She feels a sudden kinship with the jacaranda. The air is stifling. She fills out a new form. Takes a number. She waits. The wait is eternal. The desperation thick as the air around her. Periodically a number is called out mechanically through tinny speakers. Jasmine watches as, sitting on the floor, a woman opens a hamper and starts to dish out noodles and soup from a thermos. A row of power outlets bristles with chargers for mobile phones. Outside the smokers puff away.
Six hours later, she stands in front of the same dour official, who gazes at the new, green, claim form with a dejected air.
“Twenty year claim, then?” she intones.
“Yes.” Jasmine’s smiles have gone extinct. She has been at the Claims Office for twelve hours.
“I must remind you that under the Bio-Organics and Fluids Transfers Act that the Office of Bio-Organic Storage and Transfers takes no responsibility for any damage done to bio-organics during or after their lease including, but not limited to, damage, destruction, loss, theft, permanent disability or death. Do you understand?” the woman glances up at Jasmine from her computer screen.
“Do you want to proceed with the claim?”
The woman strikes the papers with a stamp, rather more violently than Jasmine thinks necessary, and hands it back to her. She thrusts her head in the direction of the silver sliding doors.
“Go through,” she says.
Jasmine turns to the sliding doors, eyes wide, as a hush falls over the waiting room. Every face swivels towards her, the ceiling fan groans in the sudden silence, as she approaches the gleaming interior. Somewhere, behind those doors, is the final approval, the final reinstatement of her neurons, the piece of her that has been out in the world all these years. Anxiety trills through her. She feels the longing of the people sitting in the orange chairs, she senses the desperation of the smokers outside, she catches a glimpse of the pale purple jacaranda blossoms as the tree struggles on. They all seem to will her forward and she is swept up in their desire, their wish to be whole. The doors open automatically as she steps in front of them and, after a slight pause, Jasmine swallows hard and steps through, into a quiet, warm room.
The doors close silently behind her and an official is there to greet her. Even before he speaks her hopes are quashed by the oppressive air, the stillness, the mood of long evaporated hope in the room.
“Claim form?” he says, holding out his hand.
Jasmine hands it over, her heart in her mouth. Her storage space, part of her, somewhere in the building, slumbering under deep electronic refrigeration.
The officer scrutinises the form.
“You need a Twenty Year Claim form and a Bio-Organic Rights Waiver Form,” he nods at yet another bank of forms to Jasmine’s right. “That’s the blue one and the red one.”
Jasmine’s eyes follow his gesture to the forms lining the wall, she takes in the green plastic chairs lined up in rows, filled with waiting claimants, all gripping a paper ticket. Some are sleeping, their heads lolling down, quiet snores emanating.
“Fill them both out and then take a ticket,” the officer continues. Behind him a man is serving what looks like beef stew into a bowl out of an electric slow cooker. A clutch of children gather around with plates in hand. Across from him a woman with a set of knitting needles and basket of wool measures an infant with a tape measure. Jasmine is gripped with envy for the small child’s wholeness.
The officer hands Jasmine’s paperwork back and as she takes it he leans in to whisper conspiratorially.
“I have to warn you, you’re in for a bit of a wait.”
Rachel Watts is a freelance writer, book reviewer and avid reader. She writes atwww.leatherboundpounds.com.