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"I am a plastic bag" by Lorna Collins

My name is Gavin. My claim to fame is that I am reusable. I can be filled with shopping, time and time again. Multiple use is my raison d’être, my nous, as it were. This makes me environmentally friendly.

I’m a hard worker, with strong edges. I’m just waiting for someone to pick me up and use me. I’ve been waiting a long time. I was born (or made) in a sweatshop on the edges of Mumbai, India. In the sweatshop, they make plastic bags, amongst other things. There is a Tesco factory here, where several million workers are promised corrupted employment. They work in the factory for twenty-seven hours, every day.

Reusable plastic bags are made by the workers, who squeeze liquid plastic into a machine with a firm pressure, as though they are oozing white cake icing out of a nozzle. The machine then flattens the liquid plastic into the shape of a bag. There is a short moment for the newly born bag to dry, before it is cast aside onto an endless pile of perfectly identical, blank bag brethren.

I came out the other side of this rather uncomfortable process as a clean plastic bag – neat and durable. Then I was printed with the Tesco logo and label informing my recipients that I am recyclable, reusable and, I believe, very friendly for the environment. Well worth my 20 pence price.

Finished and complete, I was plonked on another pile of identical reusable bags, chucked into a humongous container and transported to Slough, a dense town somewhere in southern England.

The other bags and I are identical siblings. We are stuck in a dark, brown cardboard box. I sit in between Glenda, on my right, and Geraldine on my left. We are the ‘G’ box. We stay closed and silent in this box for a long time. I talk a lot, to no one in particular; I am practising how to sell myself. I read all the terms, conditions and warnings about using plastic bags, which are printed on the inside of the box. I know exactly how environmentally friendly I am (and am not). I realise there is a fault in my ingredients: I am made of non-biodegradable plastic. I should never be thrown away! I must be reused, again and again and again. I learn that humans should be wary of placing me over their heads, since there is the potential for asphyxiation. I realise that I have more power (both good and bad) than anyone ever knew. I have the whole world at my plastic parameters. If only someone would open the box and use me.

I mumble a lot, although Glenda, Geraldine and the other bags are silent. I know she does not say much, but I feel particularly close to Glenda. I feel we are part of the same substance; I feel compassion for her silence. I know I can read her thoughts. I reckon we have conversations – silent ones – through the plastic veneer that separates and joins us together. I could be making this up, but my instinct tells me that Glenda and I are intimately twined.

One day, a young-ish human comes over to the storage capacity at Tesco’s, Slough. He picks up our box and throws it (us) haphazardly over to the self-checkout tills.

“’Ere we are,” he says. “Use these.” The young lad is called Dave. He is 17 years old. Working at Tesco’s is his fourth job. He has been here for approximately two months. He is working his way up the ladder of promotions (currently at the bottom, but ever hopeful). Today, his task is to refill the reusable bags in the shop.

I am very excited about this happening, and so is Glenda (I am sure of this). This is our time to shine. Geraldine and the other bags are silent; it’s almost as if they aren’t alive, which is ridiculous. Everything is alive.

All of us are thrown out of the box and plonked in a pile next to the self-checkout tills. The air around the supermarket is stinky and close. I am reminded of the factory where I was made. I flap my handles to generate some breeze. As I lift up, I immediately notice that the middle of my bag form, my heart, is still attached to Glenda’s heart. We are conjoined, we are Siamese twins, as close as can be. A fault yet an asset. I am deeply moved; I will never be alone.

“Glenda,” I say. “I knew it – we are together forever; our hearts are one. You are my Siamese twin!”

Glenda replies, “I was wondering why I had an itchy chest. You realise that when they find out that we are conjoined, they will tear us apart. One of us will have their heart removed, and be discarded thrown away as rubbish, and the other will have a double beating heart, but remain alone, overwhelmed by grief.”

“Or,” I venture, “we will be upheld as unique and brilliant, always reusable Tesco bags.”

Whilst Glenda and I consider our fate, we do not notice that we are taken up (together) and used by a random shopper. The random shopper is a middle-aged woman named Smokey, on account of the grey-purple eyeshadow and eyeliner she applies to her vision organs’ exterior, every morning at 6 am. Smokey is a dark, mysterious Gothic woman. She knows all there is to know about death and destruction. She writes lyrics about these things.

Smokey is in Tesco’s for her weekly shop. She has, on this occasion, unfortunately forgotten her shopping trolley, so she has to purchase a new bag to hold the items she wishes to buy. She’s not very happy about this because she thinks it is a waste of money. She could buy a packet of dry pasta or a tin of baked beans for 20 pence, rather than wasting it on a plastic bag. But this is the situation. Smokey picks up the nearest reusable bag in the pile next to the self-checkout till. She notices that this is no ordinary bag; it is extraordinarily good-looking, shiny and shimmering in the glistening light of the electric bulbs above her.

Yes, she has picked me up. Smokey immediately notices that I am attached to another bag. “What is this?” she wonders. “Two for one? Excellent value for money.”

I peer at this human. She has long dregs of coarse, matted, black hair. She wears knee-high leather boots with 6-inch heels, a tartan kilt, and a hot pink crop top (in the middle of winter). Glenda and I, we love this human. She gives us meaning. We leave the pile of bags who shriek at us, “Good luck! Have a lovely life, be used and be happy!”

This is my chance to make it in life, with my Siamese twin. We are still attached. I hope we are attached forever.

Smokey is buying some interesting items, I notice. Two boxes of matches, a toothbrush, a packet of forget me not seeds, three tea towels, baked beans, sourdough bagels, mayonnaise, a shoe cleaning kit, a travel hairbrush, and some dog biscuits.

I can see all this because although Glenda is full of these items, my role currently seems to be as a bystander and observer. I am currently empty.

“Are you okay, Glenda?” I murmur.

“I must say,” she replies. “It’s simply marvellous to have a role in life. To be filled with items, to be needed in society. What about you, empty hang-er on-er? What are you going to do with your life?”

“I am protecting you,” I say. “This weird human must know that. Here I am – I will protect the human, but most of all I will protect you.”

“How on earth will you do that?” asks Glenda. “You’re just a…”

At this moment, Smokey grabs hold of Glenda’s handles and hauls us both out of the shop. I blink in the bright Indian summer sunlight. My heart, still attached and beating with Glenda’s, rushes on faster.

‘Welcome to Slough’ I read on a sign we pass. I am full of wonder. I look over to Glenda. She is waning and drowning with all her contents. She has never carried anything before. It’s too much.

“Take care, Glenda. Don’t drop anything!”

Smokey fastens Glenda’s handles through the handlebars of her motorised broomstick. I’m still attached to Glenda, so not left out. Smokey mounts the broomstick like a horse, and revs up its motorised engine.

“Vroom vroom…”

I did not know that motorised broomsticks existed before this enlightening moment. I did not know I could fly. This is an epiphany. As Smokey powers up her broomstick, we soar and cruise through the sky.

Glenda’s handles are stretched to their limits because she is holding so much weight with Smokey’s shopping. I inflate, as air rushes into my volume and fills me up. I have a weightless but inflated mass – full of air, dancing like a balloon in the wind. I feel like I’m at the silent disco, held – my heart beating with Glenda’s heart, but lifted, elated, free.

“I feel very queasy,” says Glenda, quietly. “I have closed my eyes, so I don’t have to see where we are going. If I open my eyes, I think I will be sick. I was not built for this. The weight I am holding is dangerous, I am about to break…”

“No,” I reply, ignoring my sister’s warning cry. “This is the best day ever. We are flying in the air on a broomstick. Has any reusable Tesco bag ever done that before? We are unique, we are perfect. Conjoined Siamese twins, flying on a broomstick. Together forever…”

As I say these powerful touching words, Smokey drives her motorised broomstick through a huge gust of wind. This wind vent blows very hard. The broomstick, laden with its challenging load, can hardly move through this turbulent section of powerful air. “Vroom vroom, come on, broomstick!” shouts Smokey, revving the engine. “We’ve got to get home so I can have my tea. We are running approximately four minutes behind schedule. Come on!” But the broomstick is not coming on. The wind is winning. “Hahaha!” bellows the wind, who has never felt so strong in their long, arduous life. “I will demolish you.” Glenda is bouncing around, pulled down by gravity, yanked this way and that by the wind’s rough embrace. “I can’t take this much longer at all,” she says. Her voice is becoming quieter; she is whispering. I can hardly hear her, but I feel what her heart—our heart—is saying, all of a flutter. “Hang on my dearest sister Glenda,” I say to my beloved. “We just need to get through this rough patch. Look – Smokey is trying her best to keep us balanced and secure. We are nearly there!” In an instant, the rough, angry wind gives one enormous belch of hot air, growling and hissing. Smokey’s broomstick gives up entirely. It rears up and shudders, blown away by this aggressive windy air. Smokey grabs hold of Glenda and leans down low on the handlebars, to secure both her shopping and her balance. But I am left to fend for myself. Only my - our - beating heart connects me to safety. I find myself suddenly, completely overwhelmed. The wind enters my flapping bag-ness and fills me up. I am a taut balloon, growing so tight. I’m at the edges. I can’t scream, I can’t shout, I’m completely taken over by this totalitarian air. This can’t go on. Soon enough, there is a small “pop” sound, followed by a “fizzzzz”, as I break off from my Siamese twin and fizzle out. I fall to the ground, somewhere completely unknown. There is a hole in my centre, where I was once attached to Glenda. She has all of our heart. I am left alone, flapping lamely in the breeze. I mope.

The days go by. I do not find out what happens to Glenda or her shopping. I never see her again. I try to retain some sort of hope about my future, but it is not up to me. Nature takes her course. I remain wounded, open, and dreadfully sad. There is no conceivable ending. It will take over one hundred years for me to eventually break down, and even then, I will continue to tarnish the environment. Nothing good will ever happen again.


Oh dear. Gavin the plastic shopping bag is now heartless piece of rubbish. He has become what he was made to prevent. But one day, drifting across a polluted piece of sludge, Gavin meets Stacy. Stacy is a discarded brown paper bag. She is biodegradable – Gavin’s dream substance. As the clouds empty themselves, Stacy becomes moist. Her clammy brown paper sticks to the hole in Gavin’s middle, filling the place where Glenda once was. They may be litter, but Gavin and Stacy are wedged together now. Clasped in an unlikely but deeply passionate embrace, a whole new world has opened. The two bags have never known anything quite like this before. Gavin is for the first time glad that he is made of plastic. When Stacy’s brown paper starts to dissolve, as it inevitably does, Gavin squashes her into the far bottom corner of his plastic cavity. She is safe and dry here; she will not erode. They squeeze together and are conjoined for a very, very long time.

Lorna Collins is an artist, filmmaker, writer, journalist and arts educator. Amongst other books, she is the author of 'Squawk: A Book of Bird Adventures' (Pegasus: Vanguard Press), a curious, hilarious, illustrated collection of short stories for children. Lorna has written articles about mental health, the NHS, creativity and art in 'The Independent', 'The Guardian' and 'The British Medical Journal'. In her TEDx Talk, “How Creativity Revived Me", she talks about how art helped her recover from a severe traumatic brain injury and many years of mental illness.

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