Things Like Night

January 21, 2008
By Mike Chen, Pleasanton, CA

Ivan woke up and looked at his clock. It was almost six o’clock: time to get out of bed, get dressed, and go to work at the Factory. Three hours of sleep, twenty-one hours of work– that was how the city functioned. That was how everybody contributed.

The Factory was a large, transparent dome in the center of the city. Inside this dome, several thousand workers could be seen laboring at various projects. From far away, they looked like busy little ants inside an ant colony.

It was still early when Ivan reached the Factory. The sun was shining as bright as ever, and it warmed his back as he stood in front of the huge dome, admiring its grand architecture. The rays of sunlight were reflecting off its glass structure, filling Ivan’s eyes with a lustrous gleam. He imagined what the city would be like without twenty-four hours of sun. He imagined what it would be like without the sun to guide them always.

The sun was a gift to the city, the preachers preached. There was no crime in the city, because the sun revealed everything. There was no famine in the city, because the sun provided a constant source of food.

Today was almost just like any other day, except the sun fell from the sky late during Ivan’s shift.

The workers were unaware of the sun’s descent until it became unnaturally dark inside the Factory. The sky had turned grey, but clouds were known to have this effect upon sunlight– sometimes blocking it out for seconds at a time. But this time, things were different.

John, the man who worked at the station across from Ivan’s, was the first to point out that the sun was falling from the sky. He called Ivan’s name and pointed at the horizon. Ivan looked in the direction that he was pointing– it was the first time he had looked up since he had started on his six o’clock shift.

As he finally registered what was happening, Ivan started trembling. He tried to gather his thoughts– he tried to come up with a rational explanation of why the sun was falling from the sky. But he couldn’t think of any reasonable explanation. He couldn’t think at all.

One woman down his row started sobbing. She had noticed too.

“What’s going on? Why is the sun leaving us?” the woman whispered, choking back her tears. Most of the workers at the factory didn’t pay any attention to her, besides Ivan, John, and a handful of their colleagues who had noticed. She gathered her voice and spoke louder this time– “What’s going on? Don’t you see!? The sun’s leaving the sky– what’s happening to us? D-don’t you realize?”

More workers looked up for the first time since they had started their shifts. The sight of the sun disappearing beyond the horizon bred fear in the factory. One worker shoved what he was working on under his station and ran home, flustered.

“We’re lost! We’re nothing without the sun! The city is nothing without the sun!” one man bemoaned.

The manager came running down Ivan’s row. “As you can see, the sun is falling from the sky. We don’t know what’s happening– nobody does. We have to stop working. You must leave the Factory. We don’t know what will happen to the Factory now that the sun is gone. Leave– go home. We will survive… The city find a way, even if the sun isn’t with us anymore.”

Ivan left the Factory and groped his way into bed. It was too dark to see anything, but when he crawled under the covers, he felt a little safer. This all was too surreal. In all of his life, the sun was the one thing he could always depend on. It would always shine. It had shined for all of his father’s life, for all of his grandfather’s life, and for all of his grandfather’s grandfather’s life. So why was it falling from the sky now?

His first thought when he woke up was: am I dreaming? The sun poked into his window and warmed his face as he lay in bed. He sat up and rubbed his eyes. What a terrible dream! He smiled, then laughed. The sun hadn’t fallen from the sky. It had always been in the sky, still shining, still brightening the world with day. And he had been so terrified!

He arrived on time for his shift at the Factory. John eyed him as he walked to his station. Ivan sensed that John was very tense.

“Do you know what happened?” John asked. “I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a dream. My dreams are never that vivid. Don’t pretend like you didn't notice. The sun fell from the sky yesterday, and all these people,” he made a gesture indicating the colleagues on his left and right, "don't care."

Ivan cringed. Had it all been real? “I thought it was just a dream… I can’t believe this. Did it really happen?”

“It wasn’t a dream. Or else we would have all had the same dream.”

The manager came walking towards them, and John retreated back to his own station. Depending on the manager’s mood, they could be cited for “disturbing the work environment.”

“Hey you two! Isn’t it enough that the Factory has lost thousands of dollars to the darkness? The blackout lasted twelve hours. Twelve hours without sun! Twelve hours without working! We must make up for the Factory’s lost time. Get working!” the manager shouted at them.

After the manager walked by, John whispered to him, “Doesn’t anybody care? It’s going to happen again. Something is wrong. The sun is… broken.”

Sure enough, it got dark later into Ivan’s shift, and the workers were sent home again. Ivan went to his brother’s house. He hadn’t seen his nephew and two nieces for several years. They were still children, but they had grown since he had last seen them. They were scared. School had let out, and they were alone at home– Ivan’s brother was evidently still working. Ivan spent the rest of the “night,” as people were now calling the absence of sun, at his brother’s home.

The next day that Ivan went to work, he arrived in the middle of his manager giving a speech.

“This blackout won’t leave us anytime soon. It appears that, uh, the sun is adopting a pattern now instead of shining all the time. So we have been forced to cut back on hours. From now on, there will be only twelve hours of work and twelve hours of rest. The Factory and other companies are all suffering losses. Some of you may already be aware that the city’s food supplies will be diminishing from this anomaly. So food rations will be tighter than ever– in direct correlation to how much we can all contribute to the city. Thank you for listening. That’s all– we must return to work now.”

The woman further down his row was crying again. John waited until the manager was out of sight before walking over to Ivan’s station.

“So, how are you holding up? How is your family doing?” John asked him.

“I… don’t have a wife or kids at home. Yet. I spent the night with my brother and his family. He has three children– my nephew and my two nieces… They were all doing fine when I left home. How about your family?” As the question left his lips, he realized that in all the six years that he had worked at the Factory, he had not bothered to get to know John.

“It’s nice to spend more time with them. With my wife and my two sons. I enjoyed last night.” John smiled and cocked his head nonchalantly to one side– to check if the manager was anywhere near their row. “It’s a beautiful word– ‘night’. Some people are appalled at what has happened to the sun. But I think it’s all for our own good.

“You know, last night, I spent about an hour staring up at the sky with my two boys. The sky looks so different without the sun. It’s really quite beautiful. There’s a bunch of white dust scattered across the sky, and it’s really majestic.”

When Ivan left work that night, he made a point of looking up at the sky. It really was as grand as John had described. Perhaps these pinpricks of light were the trails left by the sun as it made its descent each night. Perhaps the sun was gradually deteriorating and leaving pieces behind. Either way, every dot glowed like a tiny piece of sun– it looked as though the sun had splintered into a million pieces and scattered across the sky.

He spent most of that night outside with his brother’s family. As the hours passed, the darkness no longer left them with an empty feeling inside. This emptiness– the vacancy in the sky that the sun had left behind– was filled with the love that grew among them. The love that grew with the time they spent time with each other.

Many weeks passed by in similar fashion. Without the sun shining twenty-four hours a day, it seemed like people were changing. They were becoming friendlier. People were less concerned with their work and more concerned about each other. His coworkers at the Factory chatted quite often– and even the managers were engaged in small talk every now and then. His colleague John seemed to have inspired a trend.

The nights were beautiful, but nothing could replace the sun. The sun filled Ivan’s body with warmth– something that night could never do. He loved the sun so much more now that it disappeared for twelve hours each day. Night only made day more treasured.

Two months later, a young, brilliant man named Alessandro invented a fake sun– small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, and cheap enough to hang above every station in the Factory. The city returned to twenty-one hour workdays and everything was back to normal again. It was a victory hailed by the leaders of the city. The people were so happy that they celebrated in the streets of the city for all of the three hours that they had off work.

“See, things worked out. We found a solution… We will always find away to keep contributing to the city,” his manager spoke during his celebratory speech.

Ivan was quite disappointed when he heard of this new invention. But he didn’t wallow in grief; rather, he was occupied mostly by his work these days and didn’t have the time to dwell on things like night.

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