Don’t rush. Everything will still be the same if you take your time. Draw in that long, slow, breath, just like I taught you. Does that feel better? If not, try another. Feel it drag across your teeth and your tongue. Cold for a brief moment. Ask yourself if it’s clean and fresh like you’re the only person who ever pulled it in? Does it taste of clear skies and mountains to you? Or is it old air? Musty and stale like the exhalations of a chain smoker on fifty a day?
I hear all this in my mind after I press play on my in-built hearing loop. I’d rather listen to music, something harsh, loud, and mind-numbing but instead I have Dr Walker’s calm, unhurried tones and I somehow feel obliged to listen.
I try the controlled breathing. In slowly through the mouth for ten, out slowly through the nose for ten. It’s a little strange to begin with. Who breathes like this? I repeat several times in the hope that I’ll get some of that fresh mountain air she’s always talking about. No chance. Like everything else in the God-forsaken place it’s full of filth. The thought of it makes me angry because I remember when something could have been done to put a stop to the downward spiral. Sadly this is not a place where advice is taken and, however many times the point was made, it was systematically ignored. There was always someone, higher up and more powerful, who knew better.
What’s made me even angrier this time around is that I made a two thousand mile journey to be here. I’ve confirmed something in person that I could have confirmed over the InterWebNet and, adding insult to injury, I’ve been ignored; again. This place is beyond redemption and there’s no action I can recommend to save it. Ignoring the clean air directives issued two decades ago was not the best of plans. Some people are not willing to even attempt to save themselves.
So, with that I’m mind, I’m practicing my breathing in the most toxic place on the planet. Why is a mystery to me, but I suppose I have to do it when it becomes necessary. Against my better judgment, I’m stranded in the dead zone of what looks, and smells, like hell. Strangely I’m not feeling very cheery.
Dr Walker is still speaking to me but I can’t concentrate and I switch her off. I’ll try again later. Maybe it will be easier to concentrate when I’m back in my room at the Planetary Resources building, although I doubt it. There the air is so filtered it’s like breathing nothing at all and I only know I’m still taking in oxygen because I’m not dead. Or at least I assume I’m not because I haven’t been visited by the recycling droids and I get the feeling Planetary Resources are more diligent about that sort of thing than some other departments.
Now I’m not concentrating on the slow breathing I think about Tigi. Lucky old Tigi, back in the north. Leaning back in his chair with his feet on the desk, way too relaxed for someone with such an important job to do. He’s probably eating something; he has a passion for old style cooking. By which I mean food that you need to chew. I’ve told him a hundred times that the stuff they churn out in the backstreets is hardly authentic but he doesn’t seem to care and, honestly, I think he’s probably a whole lot healthier than I am.
It’s become a bit of a tradition my trying to guess what he has in his biodegradable lunch pack each morning. When we started our little game I soon worked out that if he narrowed his eyes in a certain way it meant he had some kind of sausage. The same went for holding the box extra carefully in two hands. That used to mean something soft or easy to spill. It didn’t take him long to work out my strategy and now he plays all kinds of tricks on me. He could have anything in that box, from fried seagull legs to a ratburger, and I’m back to guessing again. I miss him and his tricks, although I would never tell him that.
The thought of Tigi and what he considers haute cuisine makes me smile. A first since I arrived two days ago. I’m tired now and it’s an effort to stay outside in the dry and relentless wind. Standing out on the bluff I can see down into the never-ending trough that used to be the Atlantic Ocean and I wonder what it was like when there was still water here. The dust moves across it, swirling brown eddies, the dancing remains of an underwater world. It’s depressing and I don’t need to be any more depressed than I already am. I make a 180 degree turn, which brings Planetary Resources into view, and I walk slowly in that direction. Behind me the sky has turned the colour of lead as another dessicating storm gathers in the east.