Once upon a time, a young man lived the life of a day laborer in a large city in Southeast Asia. He lived alone in a small apartment made of four concrete walls and a concrete ceiling. The floor was covered by square ceramic tile with the same gray color as the concrete. It made the room feel as it lacked any dimension. There was a small window for ventilation above the door. There was a small separate bathroom with a squat toilet in the floor and a water spigot above a large plastic tub next to the toilet. The plastic tub was used to collect water to flush the toilet and also served to store water to be used to take a shower with the aid of a small plastic bowl inside the tub. There was also a circular plastic bowl on the floor he used for washing clothes. A small bag of detergent stood, somewhat crumpled, next to the bowl. A small hole in the wall at the rear of the bathroom allowed excess water to drain to the barren dirt surrounding the room. A mirror with a plastic frame and a small shelf below it was placed on the wall opposite the large plastic tub. The shelf below the mirror was crowded with the laborer’s assorted toiletries. A white towel hung from a hook on the back of the bathroom door and was used after a shower or to wipe water after a quick splash to the face and hands after a long day of work. The laborer had pounded nails into the cement wall so he could hang his clothes on hangers to dry after washing them.
The main room of the apartment was adorned with the barren existence of a day laborer. There was a small mattress encased in plastic, a round pillow, and two flimsy cotton blankets. A pair of rubber slippers were placed on a mat next to the door. There was also a small wooden table and plastic chair. A small blue ceramic flower vase was placed on the table. Next to the right rear leg of the table stood two plastic one-liter bottles of water, one of which was half empty and capped by a red plastic coffee cup. Next to the left rear leg of the table was a small plastic trash can, a short bamboo-handled broom, and a dust pan with a wooden handle. A small electric fan, which was connected to the only outlet in the room, was placed near the mattress. There was one light in the main room. It was a light bulb suspended from the ceiling by a black electrical cord. A switch by the door served to turn the light on and off. The laborer’s modest personal belongs were strewn haphazardly about the room. Some of his clothes were on the bed or draped over the chair by the desk. An open canvas suitcase that contained the bulk of his clothes and some faded black and white pictures of his siblings and parents occupied the space at the foot of the mattress. He kept a small ‘money’ purse that had a belt to attach to his waist on the table next to the vase.
One day, after carrying bricks for twelve hours, the day laborer walked back to his apartment from the brick factory. While walking, the day laborer noticed a small brown sack on the branch of a leafless bush. Curious, he broke off the branch with the brown sack and decided to put it in the vase on the wooden desk in his apartment. The day laborer looked at the stick and the brown sack attached to it and thought it to be the same as a bouquet of roses in relation to his otherwise bleak existence. He showered and put on his sarong for sleep wear. He turned off the light, lied down on his mattress, put the round pillow in the crook of his neck and drifted off to sleep.
Little did the day laborer know was that he had brought to his room the cocoon of a moth that was soon to emerge from the cocoon. The next day, the day laborer woke early in the morning, turned on the light, showered quickly, dressed and left his apartment to walk to the brick factory to see if there was work available that day. When the day laborer left his room, he neglected to turn off the light.
About an hour after the day laborer left his room, a transformation was taking place inside the cocoon. The wings of a moth were pushing against the walls of the cocoon in an effort to escape from the sack and begin to stretch its wings and complete the change started from its earlier existence as a moth caterpillar.
The moth strained with all its might and its wings exploded from the confines of the cocoon. The moth fell to the table and he began to take notice of its surroundings. The first thing the moth sensed was the bright light bulb suspended from a long black cord. The moth noticed some small gnats and flies circling the light and was elated to be born in a place where food would be so easy to obtain. The moth, with its wings outstretched, flew towards the light bulb only to fly too close and fall to the floor because of the intense heat.
Then, much to its surprise, the moth heard the light bulb speak to him. The light bulb said, “You stupid moth, don’t you know about the dangers of my species and that the heat of my existence can extinguish you as quickly as you were born? If you want to come near me and dine on others seeking the spell of my light, you must do it carefully!”
The moth stared quizzically at the white light encased in glass suspended by a long black cord and said, “You are alive? You can speak?” The bulb replied, “Well you just heard me with your own ears didn’t you? Of course I am alive!” The moth was utterly confused. He said, “But you have no mouth, no legs, no way to move, other than hanging from the ceiling. I do not understand the nature of your existence at all!” The light bulb replied, “You stupid moth, must you understand the nature of existence based only on your physical form? I know that I am a strange being but I will try to explain. My life is a creation of the humans who inhabit this planet but even they are not aware of my own existence.”
The moth was more confused than before and he said to the light bulb, “You mean you were created by others but those who created you are not aware you are alive?” The light bulb replied, “Yes that is the nature of my existence. Those who created me would never think of having a conversation with me or that I possess the intrinsic qualities that they feel are the indicators of ‘life’.”
The moth wanted to learn more about the light bulb and said, “Please tell me more so I can try to understand the nature of your being.” The light bulb elaborated, “The humans who created me did so as a convenience – to bring light to darkness – but the implications were enormous and changed the very society of those who created me. They also failed to understand the nature of my existence. Inside the white glass, you see, is my ‘soul’. The humans call it a ‘filament’. The black cord gives me the energy for my existence. However, the humans can decide when the energy will flow to make my filament glow so it has a bright white light and when the energy will stop and my filament will sleep. When the energy flows to my filament, I can feel the pulses of energy – on and off – just as your heart beats to make the blood flow through your body.”
The moth was doing its best to try to understand the nature of the light bulb but it was very confusing and beyond any experience he had known even when he was just a caterpillar before its sudden transformation to a moth. The moth then asked the light bulb, “If humans gave you life, will you live forever?” The light bulb replied, “There are several ways I can die. One is for the glass surrounding my soul to be broken. When this happens, my soul is also broken. My soul also has a measured existence of uncertain length. Just as the humans who invented me, my soul is worn by the switches of energy on and off. At some point, my filament can no longer produce light and I die.”
The moth said, “Is it possible for us to be friends? The nature of our existence is so different!” The light bulb replied, “You have the freedom of flight and you have the necessity to find food each day to survive. My bright light can give you the opportunity to find food but you dare not fly too close to stay alive. You have learned that already. Otherwise, we are the same in that we will live and die. I don’t see why we can’t be friends.”
The day laborer returned to his apartment after working a 12 hour shift at the brick factory. It was 7:30pm when he arrived. While walking to his room from the brick factory, he had bought a bowl of rice covered with slices of steamed white chicken and gravy at a small restaurant. He ate it with a plastic fork as he walked. Before he opened the door to the apartment, he noticed that light was coming from the vent above the door. He cursed to himself realizing that he had neglected to turn off the light when he left in the morning. The day laborer was tired and knowing that leaving the light on would increase his electric bill, he became angry over his own negligence.
He opened the door, took off his rubber slippers, left them on the mat by the door, and walked toward the wooden table. He removed his belt and purse and started to place it on the wooded table. As he did so, he noticed that the brown sack on the wooden stick had opened and he was quite puzzled by its appearance. He pushed the image out of his mind. He was very tired and in a foul mood thinking about his electric bill. He went to the bathroom, undressed, filled the bowl for washing clothes with water, added some detergent, and put his dirty clothes in the bowl to soak overnight. He then showered, dried off with the towel, brushed his teeth, covered his hands with coconut oil and ran his hands through his thick black hair and briefly combed it. He then removed his sarong from a hanger placed on one of the nails on the wall. He wrapped the sarong around his body and was ready to sleep.
When he was ready to lie down on his mattress, he noticed a moth on the wall above his bed. It was leisurely raising and lowering its wings. Seeing the moth increased his already irritated mood and he thought about the damage the moth could do to his clothing or blankets. He attempted to grab the moth with his hand but the moth escaped his grasp and flew towards the ceiling and began to circle the room. The day laborer grabbed a shirt that was hung on the plastic chair and started to swing the shirt in a circular motion from his raised right arm in hopes that the shirt would strike the moth or cause a whirlwind that would throw the moth to the floor so he could dispose of it easily. Indeed the shirt caused a whirlwind, but it caused the moth to be blown to the surface of the light bulb where it briefly rested before falling dead to the floor. The day laborer then grabbed the moth by its limp wings, opened the door and threw it on the ground. He closed the door, turned on the fan next to his bed, turned off the light, and went to sleep wondering whether he would have a job the next day or not.
As he slept, the day laborer began to dream. In the dream, a giant moth had landed on the laborer’s chest as he way lying in bed. The moth was so big; he could feel the weight of the huge insect on his chest. The moth would intermittently raise and lower its wings and he could feel the wind swirl around his head and upper body. The moth stared ominously at the day laborer with its large protruding compound eyes in which the laborer could see multiple images of himself. The moth’s antennae danced on the laborer’s bushy black eyebrows sending a chill down his spine every time they touched him. In the dream, the laborer finally spoke and said, “Why are you here? Why have you come to threaten and frighten me with your presence?” The moth replied, in bursts of words that seemed to flow from its proboscis. “You caused my friend to kill me! Why? You brought me to your room. I thought you wanted me to be comfortable here.” The laborer was totally perplexed and said, “I have no recollection of bringing a moth to my room. You have chosen the wrong person to blame for your death at the hands of your friend!” The moth replied, “Do you remember breaking the branch off the small bush with the small brown sack attached and bringing it to your room and putting in the vase on your desk? That small brown sack was me!” The laborer replied, “I have never heard of such nonsense. What are you talking about?” The moth replied, “You are ignorant of the life cycle of insects like me and your ignorance caused you to act with malice towards me and you caused my friend to kill me! When you came out of the bathroom and saw me on the wall above your bed, you had no idea that it was me who had emerged from the brown sack on the branch in your vase. You could only think of me as a nuisance and not a guest you had graciously brought home with you!”
The laborer, startled by the vivid nature of the dream, sat up in his bed in a cold sweat. He thought about the moth he had killed before sleeping and wondered if it had managed to survive the ordeal given the nature of his dream. He got out of bed and walked towards the door. He turned on the light and opened the door. He saw that the moth’s limp body was still lying on the ground outside. He felt somewhat relieved and wanted to go back to sleep. He shut, locked, and bolted the door. As he reached for the light switch, the bulb’s light grew more intense and then exploded sending hundreds of small shards of glass to the floor. As the bulb exploded, the laborer thought he heard a wail of grief coming from the ceiling. With no light bulb, the room was plunged into darkness.
The laborer no longer thought about whether he would work tomorrow. He squatted on the floor with his arms folded on his knees and went into a depressed state. He wondered how he could safely return to his mattress and sleep without the shards of glass possibly injuring him. He also reflected on the strange dream about the moth. The moth in his dream knew the laborer had killed such an insect before he slept. But he could not comprehend the manner in which he could have caused the moth to be killed by a friend. How and why, he pondered?
The laborer finally decided to keep his slippers on his feet and find his way to the plastic chair. Upon finding it, he shook it and hit its legs on the floor with the seat tilted forward to remove any glass shards that may have been on its surface. He then sat in front of the desk and carefully and lightly wiped the surface of the desk with his right hand to remove any glass particles that may have landed on its surface. He then folded his arms on top of the desk and rested his head on his arms. His head was next to the blue ceramic vase that held the branch from the bush with the empty brown sack. As he drifted off to sleep, he was puzzled by the crime the moth claimed he committed. He thought about the forces of nature that caused his bizarre dream and how a moth could have found a friend in his room when he was its only occupant.
The broken branch from the bush in the vase on the desk where the cocoon once rested, the dead moth’s crumpled body outside the door in the dirt, the shattered glass from the light bulb, its shards the pieces of a broken soul, the day laborer’s vivid, very unsettling dream, his unease, the darkness that engulfs his simple, bare essentials room, locked and bolted. This is the sum of his desolate and lonely life, as comfortable as his work allows, and a place to call home. Things have fallen apart at a cosmic level unknown to the laborer but are still held in place, eerily, in the laborer’s world but with questions aplenty whispering in the silence.