Who Run the World? Girls by Rachel Caruana
Asher shuffled across the cobbled pavement with short, tentative steps; his head hanging and his eyes coyly lifting every now and again to quickly take in his surroundings. A row of neatly packed, red-brick houses lined the street, with their bold, bright green gardens that proudly drew every eye towards them. These were once humbled houses. Once, cosy houses perfect for a family; a family which Asher used to picture around the dinner table, talking about school, football and weekend plans over a hot meal of roast chicken and baked potatoes. But these houses became cold and boastful now. Each roof was fixed with a broad, rainbow-coloured flag that puffed up with pride with every gust of wind. The Feminists had repurposed the LGBT flag for themselves, and it now flew high on every building, overseeing everything; Washington’s ‘Big Sister’.
Asher did not look at the flags as he made his way down the straight street and turned onto a busier road, peppered with small shops and mini-markets. Walking towards him was a young woman whose fiery locks bounced with each confident stride. Asher stiffened. He could hear his own heartbeat pounding in his ears, screaming a desperate note of warning. Asher’s eyes darted towards the ground as he hunched his shoulders over, like a homeless person futilely trying to trap air to keep himself warm. With his eyes narrowly fixed on his quickening feet, Asher slid past the woman and let out a long, staggered breath. He lifted his chin cautiously and scurried on, without missing a step. He was especially lucky today; there were few women walking at the moment and the guards, stationed at every corner, did not seem to be in a very militant mood. Asher had still not recovered from the previous week’s ordeal, when one of them had dragged a man violently to the courtyard for sentencing. His charge: sneezing in the direction of a wrinkly, dried-out woman who mistook his action as an advance towards her; as if anyone would want to touch that shrivelled, old pile of bones. The gate to the city’s courtyard was always open to the public, and an entire spectacle was made of people like that unlucky sneezing bastard. All the men living in the area where the crime occurred, Asher included, had been taken to the town’s Courtyard and forced to watch the victim’s face turn a deep purple as the life was strangled out of him. They had then been quietly escorted to their district’s XY-Zone before the clock struck seven; just like a modern-day Cinderella story, but with a happy ending for the ‘Evil Stepmother’. Asher’s ‘Fairy Godmother’ had not shown up yet, and until then, he had to live by the stepmother’s rules.
Asher could now still hear the shrill, pink-haired President’s high-pitched voice screeching the new laws on the television, a memory that clung to him like garlic clings to the breath. “All men must return to their designated XY-Zone by not later than nineteen-hundred hours. Failure to do so is punishable by Courtyard Execution. No man is to approach a woman under any circumstances. Failure to abide by these laws is punishable by Courtyard Execution…” But her speech had been cut short by two burly female guards who had burst through his front door and hauled him out to a prison van packed with other male convicts. The van had driven for about an hour before stopping at a rusty gate carved out in a thick, grey wall that spread out further than Asher could see. The gate was flagged on either side with the multi-coloured Feminist emblem and two female soldiers standing rigidly under them, as if the flags’ poles had been shoved up somewhere uncomfortable. That was the first time he had seen the inspiring symbol be used to represent an insidious party of sexist people who, ironically, saw everything in black and white. Men’s sexual orientation or identity did not matter to them; they were men and therefore, rapists.
The Feminists had been smart about their plan; Asher had to give them that, at least. They had campaigned and protested for years before the take-over and had managed to get into the heads of many naïve young women by perpetuating the idea that every man commits sexual crimes; as if sticking one’s penis into a woman who explicitly said “no”, was a rite of passage that all men had to go through and then brag about cockily with their ‘bros’. Their slogan had been “Enough Is Enough”, with the central message being that it is no longer enough to teach boys not to rape, but that boys need to be made not to rape. This had all sounded very vague and ambiguous to Asher, and he had not thought much of it. He had never imagined that the party would be able to infiltrate the Washington society like a cancerous, air-borne virus and brainwash enough voters to elect them into government.
On the first day, Asher had been given a bright orange jumpsuit, intended to make all men stand out like a Christian conservative at a pro-choice rally, and had been ordered to wear the uniform at all times. Each freshly-incarcerated man was also assigned a specific job that ranged from running errands outside the XY-Zone, to putting on shows at the Lincoln Theatre at the request of the women in the audience. Every morning, the prisoners were allowed out after ten to complete their jobs; freed earlier only on those days when an execution was scheduled. A mere seven months had passed since the Feminist movement was handed unlimited power by a flock of brainless sheep, and thirty executions had already taken place across the whole state. It seemed to Asher as if these women were just like spoilt children throwing tantrums; hungry to avenge what they had previously termed, ‘decades of systematic sexism, female oppression and senseless violence against women’. But he also hoped, for the sake of progressing the human race, that this was just something the blood-thirsty politicians needed to get out of their system, and that numbers will gradually dwindle in the upcoming months.
Shaking this thought out of his head for the time being, Asher now approached a snug little shop, squeezed in-between blocks of apartments. He remembered this being a controversial sex shop that had also sold pornographic magazines and movies, for the especially nostalgic. Asher had never bought anything from it, but he had gone in once or twice before with Greta, and had laughed at the ridiculous toys and over-the-top movie plots. The shop was now a wholesome book store that sold novels exclusively written by females; spitting in the face of all the ‘chauvinistic male pigs’ who dared allow a consenting female adult to do what she wants with her body and then make a disgusting film that only panders to a male audience. Greta would have laughed at the idea. Asher could picture her face now; doubled over, clutching her ribs, blood rushing to her cheeks, and eyes glittering with tears. She straightens up again but the colour has escaped from her face. Her velvety brown eyes are wide with horror as she stares, frozen, straight into Asher’s own confused eyes. Greta parts her dry lips and lets out a frenzied scream that rings deep in Asher’s ears.
He blinked and somewhere behind him, a guard was blowing furiously in her whistle, probably about to reprimand a man for loitering or looking suspicious.
Asher was being increasingly haunted by the idea of Greta being eaten up by the Feminist agenda, and that, were they to meet today, she would only see a nymphomaniac ready to charge at her. He hadn’t seen Greta since their last lecture together, two days before he was thrown into the XY-Zone, and was now tirelessly conjuring up possible scenarios in his head as to what must have happened to her. He wasn’t sure what he feared the most: that she had been taken to the Training Centre and was found to be unmalleable, or that they had actually succeeded in brainwashing her and that she would now hate him like every other woman. That she had been taken to the Centre, he was sure of. Or at least, he had tricked himself into believing it, because the alternative would mean that she had never been resistant to the Feminist cause and might have actually given them a vote. This did seem far-fetched to Asher, however. They had grown up together and he knew Greta like the back of his own hand. She preferred the company of men; no gossiping, no cattiness, no drama, and she never considered herself a Feminist. Asher had often teased her about sharing the same sex as those crazed, extreme Feminist who branded men as the enemy, and Greta would agree, cheekily adding, “A penis makes everything better.”
He missed the raspy chuckle she would blurt out at her own jokes, and he could almost feel his heart sink at the idea of her now being scared of him.
Asher gulped down the lump forming in his throat and trailed on, now only a block away from the Fertility Clinic where he was required to deposit his monthly sperm sample. Asher smirked to himself; no matter how hard they wanted it, women could not get rid of men completely. He sniggered softly as he imagined women’s faces scrunching up in disgust at the clumpy liquid being squirted inside them. He pictured them lying obediently on the cushiony chair in their Gynaecologist’s room, praying to any god that would listen that that would be the last time they had to make any sort of contact with a man’s by-products. Unless, of course, the woman was later cursed with a baby boy and had to wait eighteen years until he could be legally purged to the XY-Zone.
Asher was now in view of the Clinic. It was mounted with half a dozen flags as well as two massive posters draped over the façade of the building, displaying a picture of a woman lovingly looking down at her cradled baby. Asher was about to cross the street when to his right, from within a small alley-way, he heard a stifled, whimpering noise. He paused in his tracks.
Asher scanned the streets and the pavement behind him. Women were casually lugging around grocery bags or chatting leisurely with friends. A few scattered, orange-clad figures slumped around, avoiding eye-contact. One guard on duty was talking to a young woman while another guard was posted further down the road from Asher. He peeped into the alley and saw a shadow tremble from behind a large rubbish skip. The sobbing became clearer now and Asher guessed it was a lost child. He took a step forward, but then hesitated, “What if it were a girl?” The child’s cries grew more urgent and Asher feared that he – for he hoped the child was a he – was hurt, so he gambled on the child being male and approached the skip.
The crying stopped abruptly. Two bulging blue eyes stared up at him, wide with alarm. Asher examined the child for any cuts or pressing injuries and, finding none, gently hazarded the question, “Hey, Sweetie, are you hurt?” The child was gripping a railing just beside the skip, shocked into stillness. Asher tried again, this time with slightly more confidence, “It’s okay, I won’t hurt you. Have you lost your mother?” There was what seemed to Asher, a full five minutes of silence and calm oblivion before the child started screaming, “RAPE! RAPE! RAPE!”
Asher went white and a shiver shot down his spine. There was no way out of the dull alley, other than the same way he had entered, and that would soon be swarmed with guards and vengeful women. Asher crumbled to the floor in defeat, as if his bones had become dust and within seconds he was surrounded. His hands were cuffed tightly behind his back and he was being yanked upwards and prodded forward by thick batons.
Asher looked over his shoulder and glimpsed a petite woman kneeling down and lightly stroking the child’s arms. “She will soon be safe”, he mused as he was thrust out into the blinding sunshine. The whole city will soon be safe.