The little girl turns around the brown and gold card attached to the book, the card which designates its cost. She glances at the question momentarily before staring up at her mother, a woman who simply says, “If you want the book, you must buy it yourself. I cannot answer for something you want.”
The little girl gives out a huff and reads the question aloud. “What is the general translation of the Latin phrase ‘Carpe Diem’?”
I know the answer to the question, it is a simple one for such an exquisite book—a new edition of the Grimm Brothers fairytales. It is a book I crave for, since I’d had to sell my old, 21st century edition to gain more knowledge to buy food, and so I will that the little girl get the answer wrong, as horrible as that is.
“Um . . . Seize the . . . moment?”
I can’t help but internally cheer, though I know that as soon as I go to buy the book a new question will be on that card—the question for the price for anything depends on the knowledge boundaries of the person. The little girl only received a question about Latin because she’s probably in the middle class of society—only middle and upper receive lessons in Latin.
But Carpe Diem is one of the most easiest phrases to learn, so I don’t understand why I knew it—me, who lies in the working class of society due to my parents knowledge—and this little girl did not.
Now, however, the card buzzes to sound that the little girl has got the question wrong, and she puts down the book and turns away—we only receive one try at buying things, and if you get the question wrong you can’t go to the buy the item until thirty days have passed.
I place down my own book, which I have been flicking mindlessly through whilst watching the girl, and walk over to the stack of the books she was in front of. I pick up the leather-bound, gold-clasped edition of the Grimm’s fairytales and turn over the card.
The small, flat screen on the card flashes back on, and the words ‘Place chip over’ blare up at me in green writing. I’m not a fan of green. With a quiet sigh I position the book against the crook of my right elbow and push up the left sleeve of my dress. Identification chips are always placed in the wrist of the arm of the hand you do not write with—and I’m lucky to have a chip, those under the breadline don’t have chips because they don’t attend schools or have the ability to read and write.
I hover the part of my wrist, just to the left side of my vein, over the screen and wait for it to be identified. After a couple of seconds the light of the screen changes from black to blue, so I move my hand away to see the photo that had been taken of me last year on my sixteenth birthday, on order of the City Council—since sixteen is the age of adulthood here—and my name underneath—Sophia Carter. I’m seventeen now, I have a job, I am expected to marry and buy a house and start my own family when I’m twenty-one. I don’t want that life.
The photo flashed away as quickly as it showed up, instead being replaced by a question in capital green letters. I really hate green.
I don’t read the question out loud, because that would look stupid given I’m alone and in a busy shop, even though I have to give my answer out loud.
The colour that has connotations of love and anger is what?
This is such an easy question.
“Red,” I say.
The card glows dark blue, the cities colour for correctness, as the colour has connotations of knowledge and power—dull yellow is the colour for wrongness, as it represents sickness and jealously. Jealously is not allowed here. Not in a city run by knowledge and colours.
Once the card has completed my transaction—there is no money, as that stopped many years ago—I pick up a bag from the side of the stack and drop the book carefully into it.
I catch the 5:06 tram from the main station to the station at the gates to the houses of the working class, and jog down the maze of streets to the section for the C’s—the city is divided into sections, ranging from A to U, as the sections denote your ‘grade’ in the city (like the grades of those tests taken at the old high schools and colleges), and your grade marks your surname (that’s why my name is Carter, we’re a C grade family).
On my street there are a group of children playing out in the light of the sunset, running around in a carefree manner, some kicking a football whilst others mess around with a skipping rope. I used to be like that.
There are no lights on in my house, a regular corner terraced, which is something I’m used to, my mother works late hour shifts as the PA to an A grade councillor in the heart of the city so she doesn’t home till eight. But she doesn’t start work until ten, so it’s fine.
I open the gate and step through the front yard, walking up to the front door, and fish my single key out of my jeans pocket. I never carry around a bag—I don’t own one, and even if I did I have no need for one.
As soon as I’m through the front door, I close it and flick on the light switch. I kick off my shoes and peel off my jacket. I head straight upstairs and into my room, tapping on my lamp because I don’t have a ceiling light and the bulb is bright as it is, and sit down on my narrow bed. My room is sparsely furnished, a bed, a dresser, a wardrobe, a chest of drawers, and a desk and chair.
Luxury isn’t given to C families. Instead we are given necessity.
But we do have electricity from a generator out in the back yard, and hot water, so I should count my blessings—D grade families can choose to have either and below those have neither.
Speaking of hot water, after placing my new book on my only shelf, I move into the bathroom and start to run myself a bath. I’ve been out all day, working in the city centre as the receptionist of one of the big companies—as is one of the normal jobs for C’s—I just need to relax before I eat something, go to bed, and start it all over again tomorrow.
The bathroom is simple, it is practical. A bath, a basin, a toilet, a small, mirrored cabinet over the basin. A small, foggy window. Tiled walls. A heated towel rail. Two towels, one smaller towel we use to dry our hair, two toothbrushes and one tube of toothpaste, two razors, one plastic tub to wash our hair with, two sponges, one bottle of shower gel, and two bottles of shampoo.
I strip out of my simple black dress and underwear; uncoil my hair from the tight bun it’s been in, and sink down into the warm water of the bath, allowing my muscles to finally relax. Sometimes I wish I was in a different grade, just so I would be allowed massages.
But I can never be in a different grade, so I don’t know why I wish. Knowledge is inherited, so children only have the same, or a little more, knowledge than their parents.
Then why do I seem to have so much? Why do I know things I shouldn’t know, knowledge outside the boundaries of my grade? I shouldn’t know anything about Greek Mythology—that’s only taught to B’s and above—or any Latin outside the little phrases everyone knows.
Then why do I know it?
I set out a frustrated sigh and sink underneath the surface of the water, keeping my eyes open until they started to sting.