The inventor put down the newspaper, frustrated. Food sales were skyrocketing and prices flying out of control in Egypt, as was to be expected, during the holy month of Ramadan. The very month people were supposed to be eating ‘less’ in because they were fasting.
This has got to stop. Simple words of advice on the boob tube weren’t doing the job. Something more ‘drastic’ was called for. But what? He needed to have a chat with a friend first.
“So, this is how you stop getting people fat?” the inventor asked his friend, a medical doctor, in his clinic.
“It’s one dieting technique, if you must know,” the doctor said. He was showing him diagrams and photos of stomachs he’d ‘stapled’ – Vertical Banded Gastroplasty (VBG) – to reduce people’s appetites and eating abilities.
“Would it just be easier to staple their mouths shut,” the inventor asked, half-jokingly.
“You know that joke about free speech under Abdel Nasser?” the doctor chided.
“No, afraid that one once passed me by.”
“A guy goes to the dentist for a tooth ache and the dentist tells him to open his mouth. So the patient says, are we living in a country where we are expected to open our mouths.”
A brief chuckle, then a question. “So how did he get the tooth out?”
The doctor continued the story. “They pulled the tooth out through his nose!”
That joke was like a shot in the arm. On his way to his friend’s clinic, walking the streets of Cairo, he’d grown angrier by the minute. People, women specifically, were stocking up on foods they’d never use. Stuff that went bad and got thrown away, in the garbage, instead of being given to the poor. They shouldn’t have bought that stuff to begin with, to save money and to put pressure on the filthy merchants who were driving prices up for everyone. Taking advantage of the holy month of abstinence.
In China, they forced people to eat during the holy month, for the sake of national unity. Here they should do the opposite, for the sake of the national economy. Or so he’d thought till that joke ‘defused’ him. You can’t force people to be righteous. Self-righteous, maybe, but not righteous. And doing otherwise consigned you back to the bad old days of force-fed notions.
Walking home from his friend’s clinic, he caught the commercials on the TV sets being displayed in the shop front windows. Food commercials, typically, and cooking shows and glitzy images of movie starlets and soap opera actors inviting friends and relatives to banquets, with jittery-looking wives worried about their mother in-laws with their judgemental eyes. So much for role models. No wonder the message of the clerics wasn’t getting through. Too much signals interference.
Tripping on a piece of pavement, he focused back on the road ahead.
Then he saw an old beggar, a woman, belching in the street, spitting on the ground. Someone who clearly hadn’t enough to eat, forming a small puddle of water where she spat. It was like watching a baby barfing. That’s when the idea hit him.
A TV set in a shop front window was making an announcement. The exhausted passers-by couldn’t help but slow down their aimless walking in the summer heat to listen in. It was either that or by overpriced goods. And he announcement was from the consumer protection agency.
“Compulsory VBG operations, all at the expense of the Ministry of Internal Trade.” That was the ministry in charge of providing essential items – wheat, vegetable oil, rice – to coops and setting fair prices for these items. “It’s your patriotic duty, your duty as a good Muslim in this hallowed month, to report anyone who isn’t doing his part in the fight against inflation. Any shop keeper overcharging on foodstuffs is to be handed over to the consumer protection agency at once. We’ll ‘fix’ him.” For a second there those watching thought the agency would have them neutered, but the next scene in the announcement had a medical doctor explaining the procedure. The man, in the white lab coat – a blood-stained white lab coat – was holding a stapler in his hand. An industrial-sized stapler!
It transpired that these weren’t any ordinary staples. They were self-powering. Anyone caught charging too much not only wouldn’t be able to enjoy the fruits of his labour, with the VBG operation, but would also have to endure a lifetime’s worth of electronic ‘observation’. If anyone employed by the businessman in question, at a shop or warehouse belonging to his employer, got caught breaking the law, then the owner would get an electric shock in his stomach; forcing him to barf up his ill-gotten gains.
You can’t force people to be religious, on the inside, but you ‘can’ force them to obey the law, on the inside… of their stomach lining.
Emad El-Din Aysha’s first published science fiction story can be found here: https://reconnectingarts.com/2017/05/01/a-detour-in-space-by-emad-el-din-aysha/