I was envious of Anmia. She was so beautiful, young and healthy. She had pouty red lips that the men cried for and a cute round face that made the elders gush. She had no rashes around her gills, and she wasn’t like me, wasting away to nothing. Gasping in shock, I reached out and grabbed her wrist before she could fall to the ground. Poor thing; she had absolutely no hand-eye co-ordination.
“Oh, Baliu,” she yelped, “I’m so sorry.”
“Oh no,” I chuckled, putting on a nervous smile and straightening her upright, “My bad. What are you doing here?”
“I was looking for you,” her voice was always so soft and dull.
“Well, come in; help yourself to a seat,” I laughed, not putting down my smile for a second. She shyly slinked in and looked around, seeing that there were no seats. Just my dishevelled, dirty bed.
“I’ll stand. Baliu, this room is a mess,” she crossed her arms, “No lady should live in a place like this.”
“Please, Anmia, this is the coal sector, give me a break. What is there to even clean? The bed? Then it’s just going to get messy again.”
“I don’t think you get it. If you lived somewhere cleaner, you might not have that rash,” she said, pointing to my neck. I blushed and turned away.
“It doesn’t matter. It’s just a rash. What did you come here for?” I realised my voice had gone a tone darker, and Anmia stepped back, shyly pressing herself against the wall.
“It’s the elders. They’ve assigned you a new position,” she said abruptly.
A new position. They were finally moving me out of the mines after eighty-odd years. I almost fainted. As the room span, I squeezed my eyes shut, slamming my hand against the metal wall of my cabin. Anmia stepped forward again and this time it was she who was stopping me from toppling over.
“I know, this is big news. You might need a few minutes to take it in.”
Once my head hit the surface of the water I took a big gulp of air which trailed from my gills. My eyes were watering, but a big wide smile erupted on my face.
“Yaaaaahooooo!” I cried, making Anmia jump back and yelp. I screamed into the air, “No more dirt! No more coal! This is beautiful, I can finally be free! Tell me Anmia, tell me quickly! What cushy desk job have they given me?”
So much emotion… So much happiness. It had been so long since I had felt that good. In fact, I don’t know if I had ever felt that good. No more pervy men would slap my ass, no more callused paws from digging too much, no more fungal infections from stepping barefoot in the mud. I was so far into my years and now they were finally letting me become a woman. There had always been a part of me that knew those elders weren’t so bad after all.
Anmia put up her hands to shield her face from my ecstatically swinging fists, squeezing her eyes shut and squealing.
“They want you to teach the primary school in sector 132!” she cried.
I stopped swinging my fists and just like that, the energy in the room died.
Now, they wanted me to spend the next however-many-or-so decades teaching little snot nosed brats to behave? My breath became heavy and laboured. The room spun again and the last thing that I heard before waking up on the floor of my room was an almighty swear.