Nike had been beginning to have questions. They started small, sparked by a candle of doubt. A fleeting thought about why every new shirt released was never any colour but grey. A small query about whether or not anyone did anything but shop in their free time. A passing wonder about how every advert he had seen on one particular day was for blueberry shampoo. However, Nike was never able to answer them.
That was until he met Mazda. She too had questions, but hers were broader, deeper, and yet more specific. Nike had spent many of his ten-minute lunch breaks walking down the streets of Last City listening to her as she worked handing out pamphlets to people walking by. He was allured by every aspect of her. The book about Greek philosophy always laying on the bench behind her—so different compared to the catalogues that most people read. Her crimson dress that stood out like blood in a greyscale sea of people that never seemed to notice her. But above all she caught Nike’s attention because of her voice. It was confident, knowing, and somehow it managed to pierce the haze of his everyday life.
‘Do you ever wonder why the Buy-All-Means adverts follow us?’ she said once, mindlessly playing with the badge pinned to her dress. ‘Jumping from screen to screen—from phones, windows, cars and then fridges? Or how it is they always seem to know exactly what you want? That one desire suddenly the centrepiece of a new display?’
Nike didn’t have any answers, but he was enthralled by Mazda’s words—her questions latching themselves into his mind. Over time they brought to light things he hadn’t noticed before—things that unsettled him. Like how the adverts changed as he walked past, promoting items that he had been considering buying or had seen earlier in the day. Or how he realised just how difficult it was to actively ignore the adverts, their hypnotic spectrums of colour drawing one’s eyes. Nike had tried to look away multiple times, but found he could only do so a minute at a time.
It was these little observations that kept bringing Nike back to Mazda. Back to the only person who he had ever seen with an actual book or wear any real colour.
One day Mazda had no more questions and no more pamphlets. Instead, she offered to give Nike something he had never been offered before: the truth.
‘You have listened to my ramblings for weeks, Nike—coming here to see me as everyone else just walks on by. There is something inside you that’s different.’ Mazda’s smile was caring, yet her voice trembled with each word. ‘You want to see, right? The answers?’
Nike wasn’t sure what this was about and that frightened him. However, to his own surprise, he nodded. Mazda began to unpin her badge.
‘I need you to listen to me, Nike, and do exactly as I say.’
The moment she took the badge off she flinched and shrieked, as if inflicted with great pain.
‘Are you okay?’ Nike said—the uncertainty in his gut a new and awful feeling.
‘I’m fine,’ she said, her shaky hand placing the badge in his. ‘But you must hurry home. Don’t stop for anyone. When you’re there put it on. It will reveal everything.’ Then, without ceremony, Mazda turned away and disappeared into the crowd.
For a moment Nike forgot her instructions, caught up in the strangeness of her behaviours and request. His attention was soon brought back by a tap on the shoulder. A police officer dressed in a charcoal uniform stood beside him.
‘Sorry sir, but have you seen this woman?’ He was holding a photo of Mazda. Nike felt his hand tightened around the badge.
As Nike entered his apartment, every display screen in there flashed to life. He was bombarded with blaring adverts. Their catchy tunes and slogans following him as he went to the lounge room.
Here, the cacophony of sounds met with the images of new products and special sales that danced across every surface in the apartment, all competing for his attention. Even though it was difficult the first time he tried, Nike managed to ignore them and focused on the badge in his hand.
Staring at it, he hesitated to put the badge on. The fact that Mazda had given him her badge and that she was wanted for arrest had left him reeling. However, curiosity, fear, and a willingness to do as he was told won through. With shaky hands, Nike attached the badge to his shirt.
The moment the pin clipped into place, the familiar chatter of the adverts stopped. The sudden silence was deafening. Never in his life had he been able to hear his own heartbeat so clearly. It was shocking, eerie, and confronting.
The silence was not just audible, but visual. No longer were there dazzling lights or eye-catching colours assaulting his vision with discounted deals. Instead, the parades of imagery on the screens around the apartment were replaced with empty blackness. This reprieve allowed Nike to notice the piles scattered around his apartment.
In one corner was a mass of grey clothes and a dozen different backpacks. In another, a stack of kitchen implements as well as an overloaded box full of medical products. There was a tower of electronic devices, and several overflowing cupboards filled with enough food to feed a state-approved family of four for six months. This wasn’t even half of what he found scattered throughout his apartment.
Looking at the sheer mass of stuff horded and owned by himself, Nike was mortified with what he discovered. Despite spending every credit he’d earned from his seven-to-seven job, he hadn’t used a single thing in those piles. Nike’s stomach churned in disgust.
Buy-All-Means make the adverts follow us, he thought, remembering Mazda’s own questions. To tell us what to purchase. To keep us buying. To make us consume. But why? Processing this cruel revelation Nike moved to the window and pulled back the blinds. Instead of the familiar neon promotions that always displayed on the window, there was clear glass.
Gazing out, he watched the mass of people below moving like grey ants through the sprawling metropolis of Last City. Then, Nike’s eyes were drawn to something beyond. He had never noticed before the shimmering brown hills and mountains that seemed to fully surround the horizon beyond the urban environment. Wanting to look closer, he fished for a pair of binoculars from a nearby pile and held them to his eyes.
He couldn’t believe what he saw. They were not mountains or hills, but piles made up of discarded items: electronics, food, chemicals, clothes. All hardly used—left like trash to rust and rot under a scorching red sun.
Slumping onto his couch, Nike couldn’t fathom how he had never noticed the mounds of abandoned things encircling his world, or how the sun wasn’t the bright yellow he remembered as a child.
Because, he realised, staring across at the black mirror of his television screen, there were always adverts demanding our attention: always offering something new—something exciting to buy. How could one possibly think of anything else with all that flashing before their eyes?
Just like everyone else, Nike had been hypnotised by the promises of ‘more’ and ‘new.’ His vision had been stolen, hijacked, and redirected. The siren songs of the adverts dragging its victims down into a sea of consumption.
You can get anything and everything in Last City, he mocked to himself. That was what he had been told his entire life by Buy-All-Means and their adverts, but as he shifted his gaze to the unnecessary piles littering his home, he wondered at what cost.
Reaching up to the badge on his chest, Nike ran his finger along its edge. If it wasn’t for this tiny device, this ‘Ad-blocker’, would I ever have been able to realise the truth?
This thought fuelled Nike into action. He grabbed a backpack, filling it with only the essentials he would need. Then he left the apartment forever and went in search of Mazda. It was his turn to help her.