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Yanjanani L. Banda | The Red Envelope

After eight hours of mopping floors, emptying trash cans, and wiping messes in places they shouldn’t be, I am happy to return home. Past the manicured lawns, high rise apartments, and the iron gate boundary into the village of the forgotten.

My house sits at the far end of a dark street road called Joy. The houses are as lifeless as their occupants who work long hours hoping to make enough to pay for the boost.

The sun has moved behind me when I arrive on Joy Street. I walk past Mr and Mrs Moyo’s carcass as they sit down to dinner. The glow of a candle illuminates the gloom on the faces of husband and wife getting on in age. I fear they might be next. At least, their never-present sons will finally have an opportunity at life with the paycheck.

It would be best for them to get the message together. That way they are united in death as they are in life.

Then there’s Alinafe’s shack with her annoying little twin boys. She prays every day that her ex-husband a couple of villages over will get the red envelope before her. That way her boys can get a chance at immortality in the high-rise apartments on the other side. Then there’s my house. A shanty little thing with a bit of life leading up to its doorway. Roses and lotus flowers planted in memory of my David. He went a little too early from my life. Cancer got him at thirty-two, making me a widow at twenty-six. Two years before science figured out how to stop aging and extend life indefinitely.

Ten years on, I still mourn my David like it was yesterday. We would have loved forever together.

You must qualify for the boost to stop aging and live forever. But with every person that qualifies, another must die to keep the surplus population in check. When you are chosen to die, your descendants receive a huge paycheck for their trouble. The government’s way of making the process as humane as possible.

At the door, I reach into the mailbox and remove the stack of envelopes I have neglected for a while. Bills. My sister and brother don’t write anymore. Not after they pocketed the paycheck for our mother’s death. They said I was as good as dead mourning my David the way I did. They, on the other hand, still wanted to live.

We have not seen each other since. Seven years of neither hellos nor goodbyes.

I place the envelopes on the table and maneuver in the dark to the cold and dingy bathroom where I soap the clammy parts of my body and wipe them down with a towel soaked in water from the now rusted iron pipes. A gurgling of light brown I take care not to put in my mouth. Then I light a kerosene lamp and get busy at the gas stove stirring baked beans to go down with the stale piece of bread.

When I sit down to dinner, a color catches my eye. I have to move closer with the lamp to make out its shade. A red in the mix of white, blue and khaki envelopes.

My hands shudder a little as I tear into it, my exhaustion replaced with a mixture of joy and anger. Joy to finally be reunited with my David. Yet the anger overtakes me. Because with my death, someone who will never know of me receives the boost that grants them immortality. With my death, my sister and brother win again. Because as my only surviving relations, they receive the paycheck for my government-orchestrated demise in the cold white room I have mopped these past eight years. Readying it for others that have gone before me. Preparing it for myself. With its strapped gurney, the flickering fluorescent lights, and the injection.

As I stare at the plate of the now sour baked beans, I wonder if they will ever think of me.


Image: Lucas George Wendt Unsplash (remixed)

Yanjanani L. Banda
Yanjanani L. Banda
Yanjanani L. Banda is a writer from Malawi. Her work has appeared in the Bristol Short Story Prize 15th Anthology, Quilled Ink Review, Brittle Paper, Afritondo Magazine, Kalahari Review, and Spillwords.


  1. Vivid pictures and spoons of emotion, the reader walks and eats with the writer, it’s almost like a captivating movie. Great talent, great story.

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