World of Grey

In Sally's world everything is equal and fair. Every family in society has the same amount of children, same sized house, same clothes, same rota of jobs. Everything. A perfect world. Or is it? Sal is about to go on a journey that changes everything she's ever known and she is about to find out exactly how far her society will go to keep the peace.


1. Welcome-Home.

Oh, for heaven’s sake. I sighed as the corner of my banner came unstuck for the millionth time in the last ten minutes. I’d got up early this morning so I could get my morning chores done in time to put up my ‘welcome home’ banner that I had spent all weekend making. I’d used up a months worth of my paper rations on the gorgeous red paper from the Ration Station to make it. It had taken hours writing “Welcome Home Adam!” in my newly learnt calligraphy. But now the stupid banner wouldn’t stay stuck. I’d hung it across the first set of bookshelves in library entrance and I could barely reach the top corner to stick it down. I tiptoed again, my fingertips barely brushing the corner, when hands lifted me up into the air by my waist.
“Aagh! Dad!” I cried in surprise.
“Morning sweetheart! Come on, fix that corner up. I can’t hold you here forever, I’m not as strong as I used to be and I’ll be old and useless soon.” I fixed the corner securely in place and my dad popped me down on my feet. I turned around and threw my arms around him.
“You’ll never be old, Dad.” I kissed him on the nose. “Or useless.”
“Your banner looks beautiful honey, Adam will love it. His file says red is his favourite colour. I’ll go fetch breakfast from the Ration Station and if you’ve got the Ration tokens we saved then I’ll fetch the food and we can get started on preparing the feast after breakfast!”
“Thanks Dad! And the tokens are in the box under the main desk, but it’ll hardly be a feast. I wish they’d sent the file earlier, so we could have had more time to save up!” I complained as I reached under the desk to grab the Ration Box.
“Everyone gets their Sibling Arrival File two weeks before their siblings eighth birthday. It is equal and fair.” He said putting the extra tokens into his grey satchel.
“I know Dad, it’s how we’ll survive.”
“Sure honey.” He kissed the top of my head and headed out. Sometimes, my dad talks like he doesn’t believe in all the equality and fairness of our society. I know he does; he must. But sometimes he talks about it with such sarcasm in his voice. I don’t understand it and it worries me a little that the officials might overhear and take it the wrong way.
I shook my head to clear the confusing thoughts away. I’d spent the last year eagerly awaiting my Sibling Arrival File. I’m so excited to finally meet my little brother! I used to dread this day coming, I enjoyed being an only child. But once some of the other kids in the settlements started getting siblings arriving I became jealous. A dangerous feeling, I know. But I didn’t dwell on it as I knew my brother would arrive as well. When you’re born, every child has to spend the first eight years of their life living in the Communes Centre. This way everyone is brought up equally and has the same childhood and so the same education and social norms taught to them. Then on their eighth birthday they get to move in with their families and work on whichever placement that family is on that year. Two families, along with a whole bunch of Officials, run the Communes. I reckon that’s where we’ll be placed next year.
This year was the year that my family got to tend the library. In my opinion, it’s the best job in the whole settlement. I don’t want to change! Last year we had to tend the sheep farm. Ugh, early mornings and tiring work. Not a job I want again any time soon. At least we weren't on waste disposal. Nobody wants that job. Keira and Kieran’s family got that this year. A year of name-calling and the worst job in the village. I like the twins and I feel sorry for them. I was hoping Shannon's family would get that job this year. Normally I wouldn't wish that on anyone, but for her I'll make an exception. She's the most stuck-up girl in the whole village, thinking she's better than everyone else. She's always ruthless to the family on "Shit Service", as she so crudely calls it. She knows her family will get it eventually, but she likes to act like she's above it all. She's completely ridiculous. No one is better than anyone else. We are all the same. We all wear the same plain grey clothes, rota the same jobs, have the same size families, even our hair gets cut and dyed the same after we turn eighteen. That’s why everything works and everyone is happy and equal.
So now, every family has one son and one daughter, lives in the same size houses, wears the same plain grey clothing, has the same amount of food rations and rotas the same jobs. And when we turn eighteen our hair is cut and dyed the same and on Winter Festival, the final day of winter, we hold a ceremony where our lifetime partners are chosen. Then two months after the Winter Festival we move into our new house with our new partner and begin the rest of our lives.
I jumped up onto the main desk in the library lobby and sat crossed legged. I pulled out Alex’s File and opened it to the first page, where a worn photograph of Adam was paper-clipped. He was fairly pale, with big brown eyes. He looked a bit bedraggled, with his choppy, dark brown hair sticking up all over the place. He looked like a daydreamer. He looked like my little brother.
“Sal?!” I jumped at the sound of my name, practically throwing Adam’s File across the floor in shock. It skidded across the lobby floor and landed at the feet of the boy who’d just walked in. “Is that how you’re going to welcome me? By throwing a Sibling File at me?” he said.
“Finn!” I launched myself off the desk and across the room, throwing my arms around him.
“Oh, so you are happy to see me?” he said, chuckling as he hugged me back. Finn was my best friend. I was friends with most of the kids my age in the village but not like with Finn, he’s always been like a brother to me. We were in Communes together and we have the same birthday so we left Communes together. We tell each other everything and we know each other better than anyone else in the world. I hadn’t seen Finn all month. He got his Sibling Arrival Form last year, and he was ecstatic about having a new little sister. He’d always acted like he didn’t care about Sibling Arrival, but I could tell how happy he was the day Amy came. He loved her more than I thought anyone was capable of loving anything, and I adored her too. She was the bubbliest, happiest little girl I’d ever met. With curly black hair and shocking green eyes and the most beautiful smile, she lighted up every room she went in. But Amy died last month. Natural causes, we were told. But Finn’s Dad, Trevor, went mad with grief, starting shouting around claims that the Officials had killed her. Poor man, I’d always liked Trevor. So Finn has had to stay home with his family all month, I would have gone to see them but I didn’t want to intrude.
“We turn eighteen in less than a month Sal! Are you excited?!”
“Definitely! And then soon it’ll be Winter Festival and we’ll get our Lifetime Partners chosen!”
“Yeah... Hey! I like your banner Sal! I told you that Calligraphy Course would be useful.” Finn said, quickly changing the subject. He keeps avoiding the subject of Lifetime Partners; he has been for the past few months. Maybe he’s worried he won’t get chosen. The look on his face every time I bring it up stops me from asking him about it. He looks unbearably sad. Like he’s losing a part of himself. When in actuality he will be gaining another half to him; his Lifetime Lady.
“Whoever your Lifetime Lady is, she’ll be the luckiest girl in the whole village.” I said, desperately trying to cheer him up.
“Really? Would you want to be Lifetime Partners with someone who was already in love?” he said. He was standing close to me now, looking intensely into my eyes. Finn had the most beautiful midnight blue eyes. So this was what he was all upset about?
“You’re worried your Lifetime Partner might be in love with someone else? That’s silly Finn. We know not to fall in ‘love’, because love doesn’t guarantee a lifetime. Nobody will have fallen in love, because they know it’s pointless. And anyway, if one of the girls in the village was going to be in love, it would have been with you anyway, because you’re my best friend which makes you the best guy in the village!” I looked into his eyes, desperately hoping I’d cheered him up even a little. He closed his eyes and sighed deeply.
“Never mind Sal, you’re right. I was being stupid.” He pulled me into a hug and rested his chin on the top of my head whilst I buried my face in his neck. It was such a familiar comfortable position; it instantly relaxed both of us.
“Finn, my boy!” my dad exclaimed as he walked trough the library door and put the two crates of food on the Main Desk. Finn released me and went over and hugged my dad. “How’s Trevor doing?” my dad asked gently.
“He, um. He’s doing alright. Still going on about conspiracies and whatnot. He’s making it hard on my mother if I’m honest.” My dad gripped Finn’s arm.
“He can’t be blamed, it’s hard on everyone. Send our love, won’t you?”
“Of course. Hey! What’s with all the extra food?” Finn said as he examined the two crates of food.
“Finn, my little brother, Adam, is coming today.” I reminded him.
“Oh yes, of course. The banner.” A haunted look passed over his face.
Of course. Amy. He must be remembering her Arrival Day. It was such a fabulous day. It had been absolutely tipping it down with rain all week long. Then the morning of her Arrival, we woke up to glorious sunshine. She could even charm the weather. My family went round to Finn’s house and we had a joint meal to celebrate. Everyone fell in love with Amy within seconds of speaking to her, she was undeniably adorable. “Do you and your parents want to come round and we can eat together?” my dad asked Finn.
“Oh please Finn! I’ve barely seen you all month and I’ve missed you!” I begged.
“I’m not sure whether Dad will be feeling up to it, but I’ll ask. I know my mom has been dying to get out the house and see her Sally flower.” He said, winking at me. Finn’s mom always called me Sally flower, she claimed it made me sound endearing. I loved his mom, she was like a second mother to me and she was one of the kindest people I know. She looked a lot like Finn, with his dark hair and defined cheekbones. But she had beautiful big green eyes; like Amy’s.
“Awh Finn, I’ve missed your mom so much. Tell her how much I’d love her to come, okay?” I said, giving him a quick hug. “And give her my love if she can’t make it!”
“Of course Sal. I’m sure they’ll come but if not then I’ll come by myself, okay?” he said as he turned to leave.
“You’re the best Finn, love you!” I called out, as he left. I turned to my Dad, “Do you think they’ll come?”
“Just depends how they’re feeling sweetheart. But I’m sure as soon as Finn tells them that you asked, they’ll be round in a shot.” He kissed my forehead. “I’m going to go check on your mom, you start breakfast.”
My mom had been away on a Placement for about 8 months. Every now and then in our village one of the women are sent on Placement to another village. Nobody really knows what happens. At Communes we were told that they go to learn about other villages but no one ever seems to talk about it when they come back. I thought my mom would be different, but she wasn’t. She got back and she was barely holding herself together, she looked absolutely distraught. She collapsed into my dad’s arms and burst into tears. She’s been lying in bed ever since, looking as though someone has torn a part of her away. I don’t know what they see on Placement, but I do know that I never want to find out for myself.
I suppose thinking about it; there are a lot of things I’m ignorant about. Like I have no idea what’s outside the boundaries of my village. Sure, we’re told there are other villages but no one ever seems to say more than that.


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