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Cobalt and Kerosene


Can you see the aeroplane? White rocket sawing into space.


We are somewhere over Afghanistan – our plane splinters over crumpled mountains. A cave shepherd frowns at the sun, his goats fleeing downhill. He can see the aeroplane.


Look at us all. Jostling for the arm rest as the aluminium rattles round us, in our flying pipe. All folded in rows, tightly packed and ordered. Every space is for sale and there is no leg room. And at the front of the tube, the even richer spaces, where there is some leg room.


Through the headphones we hear the echo of a dead woman in an airtight room, singing an old song in London. Her voice competes with the drone of air-regurgitation and makes us more alone. When she stood at the microphone, and fumbled with her own headphones, she was told to relax by the men at the sound-desk – think of your first love. A boy in school, cool and young… he smiles back. You can hear it in the lyrics. The singer once toured the world in an aeroplane.


And everyone is in their own world, totally isolated in this container in the air. They moan about discomfort and try to waste the time. It is impossible to sleep. Food arrives. It too, tightly packed and plastic. The potato, which was frozen, arrived in prefab packets, trucked from the shipyard where it was shipped from Shanghai, where the assembly-line dished its pulverised mash into its slot and machines sealed it, a long way now from the dirt brown ball that once grew beneath fields as far as nations, plant-wrenched from the soil by a hand that collected a wage weekly from the governing offices of the Ministry of Agriculture. And the farm-worker who spent her wages on soup to feed her old parents and clothes to clothe her school child, after washing insecticide from her hands at the warehouse before walking to the market; she too saw an aeroplane flying, high above the spraying fields.


There are two chunks of beef meat in the microwave pie. Just below the back of a bloated cow’s rear legs, the chunks were cut. The jungle on the hills still stood in patches around the barren pens and the endless herd stirred the shitty dust as they mooed to receive their cornfeed from the fertilized plains of America. A fleet of trucks dumped the powder and returned to their country. The lone wrangler surveyed his pasture from his newly acquired helicopter. And of course he filled in the forms of the slaughterhouse which dealt with the butchery. And the meat was chewy and tasted of antibiotics. The passengers eat what is coming to them; it is not bad for aeroplane food. It fuels our flesh. The cows flee the helicopter.


A baby screams from the back as the coffee is poured down the aisles. You can’t get real coffee up here. The farmer in Kenya farms the coffee beans, as the law is that is what he farms. When there is no rain his family starve and the coffee still gets sold. He has heard of, but never seen, an aeroplane. The coffee is real to him.


The border of the window shows a square of sky; the borders invisible; the borders between us. That keep some in cages; some in aeroplanes. The border of the little screen that has a little world.


Passengers close the window shutters – the sunlight screens their screens. You can get Wi-Fi now, even up here – somehow a satellite receives the signal. When was the satellite launched into space? We will never know. From space you can see the planes encircling in cloud beneath the veil of atmosphere. 


On our devices we watch films filmed in Los Angeles. The actors in each studio repeated their lines a hundred times, and one of those times we got it. They flew to the premieres in aeroplanes. We watched them on the news on our devices. Our devices do it; we do not think how. A guy in New York knows it. He does not explain. He flies to the islands at Christmas in an aeroplane.


As long as it works it works. Indifference to how, ignorance to what, and denial to why. The fucking reading light won’t come on. I asked for semi-skimmed milk in my tea. They only have movies from up until 2015. The flight is fifteen minutes delayed. But the fuel still burns in the jet-engines…


What a journey it had of it! In trucks and tankers from Saudi Arabia. Originally purchased at cut price from the oil-fields of north Iraq. The fighter by the black flag guarded the deal. Crucifixes burning behind them – oil burning heathen flesh. The desert aflame – black smoke and black turbans. Aeroplanes fly over elsewhere, unleashing their burdens elsewhere. Here the deal goes down.


The fucking battery is running low on our phones. The charger-ports don’t work properly. We complain to the stewards who say they can’t fix it. The cobalt was fixed in our phones by small hands in China. The cobalt was shipped to China from the polluted port of Mumbai. The cobalt was dug from the rock in the Congo. And down the mine a child chips away, lit by a kerosene lamp – the same kerosene distilled from the fields held by the terrorists that fuels the jet-planes. But there are no jet-planes down here. Just darkness and cold picks. Just rock and cobalt. And a black child mining.

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