“Olivia Mayfield.” The deep and surprisingly kind voice of general Harris called her name. She grimaced at hearing her real name; she preferred Olive. As for her last name, well, she never understood the point of last names. All the residents’ last names were Mayfield, why bother? It wasn’t like the last name was relevant to anything. Her legs felt as if they would give out from the tension and her hands clenched into a fist to stop them from trembling. She twisted her brown braids. Nevertheless, she smiled, or at least tried to, and picked her job with trembling hands out of the career box. She was hoping for, well, she didn’t exactly know. Maybe government helper, teacher, even city operation planner would have been perfect for her analytic and planning self. Sometimes other people called her shy, but she tried not to act it. She was considered calm, too. She opened the piece of paper, in which ‘supply clerk’ was written in black ink. She let out a sigh; whether it was a sigh of relief or dismay, she wasn’t quite sure yet. Probably both.
She sat back down and thought about being a supply clerk. The only thing she knew about it was that they organized the needed supplies and rationed them out. How they took care of all those people needing all those things she did not know. And why didn’t we just use computers for that job? It was all a bit confusing. She was relieved that she wasn’t going to be sent to the production grounds, especially oil. Half the teens would pick production worker, and two-thirds of them oil. She had heard stories of endless, grudging work with little rest from the unlucky people that had picked oil production worker the previous year. After all, she was sure that the job of supply clerk was not physically demanding. She hadn’t heard complaints from the job last year. But it was still true that she hadn’t been hoping for this job.
At four o’clock, the peal of the switching bell rang through the city. The once empty streets filled with neat rows of people filing out of their afternoon stations, wearing their uniforms. Olive used to like to count how many different types of people she could see before her class got to the living grounds of the city. But after seeing rows of fruit pickers wearing their flimsy but comfortable work clothes, the government helpers with formal, collared jackets and gray office skirts, and oil workers with black overalls every day, she was tired even from seeing all those white- and blue striped government workers leading the lines. The only government worker she liked was her class’s government worker, M.G.W.sch-74. It meant Mayfield government worker-school-section 74. It was because she was a government worker assigned to school the kids living in section 74 of the living grounds. Again, Olive saw no need for ‘Mayfield’. It’s not like there are any other governments, or communities, or even last names! Why they always put in Mayfield, she wasn’t sure; they never said anything about it. They never do, strangely; they never say anything about the government.
Her class, led by M.G.W.sch-74, who they just call Mary, arrived at living grounds section 74. Mary stopped in front of the first houseroom and a boy stepped up.
“Paul Mayfield, Training, 74-1’s second child, checking in for afternoon switch,” He talked into the door operator. The machine recognized his voice from its data and let him in.
Mary nodded and made a tick on her clipboard. Right, Olive realized, they were supposed to be saying ‘training’ now instead of ‘learning’. One more month and she would be saying ‘working’ at her afternoon switch check-in! She said “Olivia Mayfield, training, 74-3, checking in for afternoon switch,” when her turn came and walked into her houseroom.
The houseroom where her family lived was about six meters by eight. Four beds took up almost half the houseroom. A closet, shelf, stove, and fridge were in the other half of the room, and a small, enclosed space in the corner served as a restroom and shower. It was just like where everyone else lived, at least since The War. There were many stories of what life was like before The War, or what The War was really like. All they knew is that The War wiped every single living thing on earth, except for the very fortunate few thousand people on this island. Beyond the boundaries of the island is such a dangerous wasteland that the island had been completely shut off from the rest of the world. Olive had always thought that history should be better taught, since the history lessons don’t tell them anything about why The War happened and how only they survived it, but they never taught them anything useful. They only learn things about the current society, the dangers of the outside world, the (apparently) fortunate and luxurious life they live, and why they should be thankful for everything. And government workers. And being able to eat canned pineapples once a week.
She was always the first one to be home, every day. Her little sister would bounce in a few minutes later, because the kindergarten was further away than the school. Her mother would arrive in thirty minutes, assuming she had to collect the food ration for the week. She hoped her mother would bring in an egg this time; whenever they lined up for the weekly ration, they were always too late and the eggs would have run out. Well, they wouldn’t have run out if they were lucky, but that only happened about once in five rations. Her father, being the patriarch, would have to work longer hours, while her mother got the two hours of rest in the afternoon before she returned to work to come home at 10 o’clock. The rest had been allowed ever since her mother had her second child, so Olive guessed that it was for her to be with her kids. Many mothers had more children for the benefits; more children meant not just extra rest, but a bigger houseroom and more ration. She was sitting on her bed when she heard someone opening the door, singing a familiar rhyme.
“Thank you, messengers, for delivering the news,
Thank you, production workers, you give us our food,
Thank you, teachers, we’ll learn next to you,
And Thank you, government workers, for everything else you do!”
Olive hated that rhyme, but all the younger ones loved it. Somehow for Olivia, thanking the government workers for everything else just wasn’t right. After all, they only gave out the orders; everyone else did the work. But the rhyme meant that her little sister was here, and she turned to greet her with a hug.
“Hey, lollypop,” Olive said. She liked to call her lollypop. Her sister acted like she didn’t like it, but Olive knew she secretly enjoyed her nickname although she always pouted when she heard it. Sure enough, she pouted.
“My name’s Poppy, not Lollypop.” Her pout quickly brightened into a smile as she remembered what day it was for her bigger sister.
“Olive! What’ya pick? What’s your job?”
“My name’s Olivia, not Olive,” she pouted, mimicking Poppy. She laughed and threw her arms around her cute sister.
“Lollypop, I’m a supply clerk!”
“Awww, that’s too bad,” was her first reaction, seeing Poppy was a very outdoorsy person and would hate to have a job like that. But a smile lit up on her face soon.
“You’ll bring us extra pineapples?”
“Yeah, Lollypop, pineapples for sure!” She laughed. The day was turning out to be happier than when it started.