The enemy had been deployed. Lily watched from a safe distance as it twitched, taunting her. The light fell on it and it sparkled, contrasting the earthy tones of the ground it clung to. A breeze picked up, and it skipped seemingly innocently closer to Lily. She was just about to rid herself of the villain, when two third form girls came into view. Interested, Lily took refuge behind a tree and observed.
As the girls came closer, Lily saw that the girl furthest from her was scuffing her feet on the ground. Lily was outraged when she made a special effort to lift her foot just a little bit higher in order to narrowly avoid contact with, and therefore escape having to dispose of, the cling wrap. The girl immediately fell back into her scuffed stride.
Headed in the same direction as the two girls was a teacher. Surely, thought Lily, she would pick it up. It was the staff, after all, that encouraged a litter-free environment for the students. As the teacher approached, she caught a glimpse of the glimmering cling wrap, and Lily could see that she was annoyed with herself for failing to ignore it. Supposedly, now that she couldn’t ignore it, the teacher would have to pick it up – but she didn’t. She continued onwards, except the plastic wrap clung to the heel of her shoe. The teacher was getting highly frustrated at this point, and after conspicuously wiping the cling wrap off her foot, she looked around to see if anyone had seen her. Satisfied that no one had (she hadn’t seen Lily), she resumed walking. Lily would have been amused by this, if she hadn’t been so angry at such ignorance. She sighed and picked it up herself.
On her way to class, Lily imagined an army of plastic privates, commanded by man-made marshals, marching beneath the feet of the ignorant people who created them. Suddenly, they would raise their artificial arms and strike.
After school, Lily walked home via her favourite route, the beach. Aside from all the litter, which seemed to sprout overnight even after Lily had picked it up the previous afternoon, the beach had an element of exotic wonder – a place where one’s imagination could be free and limitless. The salty air was crisp and the sand sinking beneath her feet reminded her of the power of the earth. She was at its mercy. Lily felt insignificant beside the sea, and she liked it. Everyone seemed to want to leave their mark on the world, but Lily thought it better if she came and went just as if she had never been there at all.
To her left was the sun, low in the afternoon sky, reflecting on the ocean and winking at her merrily as the tips of far-away waves rose and fell rhythmically. To her right were haggard, ill-constructed houses, protruding from the land like warts, with iron forged against its will into large, ugly sheets, galvanized to shine defiantly against nature. From her left came the fresh music of the earth: the crashing of waves, the racing of sand under the command of the whipping wind, the rustling of the toe-toe and the calls of sea-birds. The intruding soundtrack of man came from her right: sirens, screams, screeching cars.
Cars. Lily pictured them exhausting toxic gases into the atmosphere and the sky gradually turning red from the ever-increasing global temperature. She shuddered. Lily trudged up the sand dune to her house, with the warm sun behind her, and yet another ‘wart’ ahead.
That night, Lily dreamed of a world that became so polluted that all the dust, fumes and smoke collected high in the sky and formed a thick, compact layer that encased the earth. The world was incubated and dark and everyone blamed everyone else until everyone died. Lily woke with a start. Her curtains were closed. She got up and pulled them, before opening the window too. The moon soaked her floor with a creamy light. She breathed in the chilled air of the night. The sky was framed by her scarlet curtains which somewhat minimised the brilliance and wonder of the stars and the expanse of the infinite space. But Lily felt better now that her room did not seem entirely synthetic.
When Sunday came, Lily went for her weekly walk to the city gardens to reflect on the past six days. She always took a rubbish bag and thin metal rod that had been sharpened slightly at one end. It took her about half an hour to walk there, so she always encountered plenty of litter on the way, but in spite of this, on her way back, fresh litter would have appeared anyway, like on the beach.
The first piece of litter, as always, was a shiny red Coca-Cola can. Lily had calculated that, on average, she would pick up eleven Coke cans on her walk. As she stabbed it with her sword, it crippled and allowed itself to be thrown into the rubbish bag. Lily pretended that each piece of rubbish represented a human fault, such as intolerance. She found that it was easier to rid herself of a mental impurity in a physical way rather than emotionally, meaning that if she cleansed the environment of litter, she would feel like a better person, and both she and the community would benefit.
Today, Lily decided that Coke cans were going to be dishonesty. She also decided that the next different piece of litter would be cruelty. Lily laughed when she came across a Hollywood gossip magazine, with its pages strewn through the gutter. As she stabbed the magazine leaves, she added compassion to her growing list of virtues.
Matching litter with a human vice proved quite enjoyable. By the time she got to the gardens, she had a fast-food wrapper with greed, someone’s tattered planning diary with disorderliness, general litter (like unidentifiable bits of plastic) with carelessness and many more. If Lily added up all the qualities she had gained, she could definitely count herself a better person.
Quite a number of people went to the gardens on Sunday, but there were a few regular people that were nearly always there when Lily was there: An old man occupied a small rectangle of smooth, well-mown grass where he played Pétanque alone. A morose-looking girl of about thirteen sat on the middle of three swings, barely moving but for the slow, gentle sway of the swing. Her dyed black hair hung limp over her face and she never looked up at anyone. Lily often wondered what she was thinking. A young, playful mother with her two little boys played hide and seek among the trees around a small pond. Their laughter was like honey, rich and sweet, but natural. And then there was Lily – an aloof teenager with an odd style and long, loose brown hair. She had rosy cheeks from the exercise and cool air, and her rubbish bag slung over her shoulder and metal litter rod in her hand contrasted the usual stereotyped teenage girl’s attire.
She emptied her rubbish bag’s contents into the bin. To Lily’s surprise, only three Coke cans tumbled out. She felt a sense of confidence and success. The old man looked up at her and gave her a smile of approval.
“You’re a model for the new generation, kid,” he said. Lily grinned, and then sat on her bench in the sun. A leaf fell off an oak tree and it fluttered, spun and danced until it hit the ground and was still. That was the kind of litter that Lily liked.
She closed her eyes and drifted into a daydream. An oak tree bowed and held out a branch. Lily shook it and accepted a crown-like wreath of acorns and twigs from a sparrow. She looked up to the sky and it went from red, to violet, and then back to its original blue. The artificial army had fallen into a huge gaping rubbish bin where they banged on the walls, angry that their plan had been foiled and Lily peered in and laughed at them. All the toxic fumes and screeching noises went back into the cars. The soft drink cans, full to the brim with dishonesty and deceit, were slain and disposed of. And rogue pieces of cling wrap, well, they were sucked up by a massive vacuum cleaner called Lily.
There was still good in the world. It wasn’t a rubber band ball yet; it hadn’t quite succumbed to the destructive intelligence of mankind. Lily just wanted to push back the plastic front back as much as she could. She wanted New Zealand to pursue the perfect image, that is, “clean and green”. Natural.
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