My name is Ronna Deallus.
My faction is Candor.
I do not belong here.
For a faction where the truth is valued above all else, the Candor are strangely reluctant to admit their own flaws. We are taught from when we are toddlers that honesty is the way to peace, that lies and deceit breed fear, chaos and war. Lying to spare someone’s feelings would be sheer stupidity: why hide the facts from someone and prevent them from learning from their mistakes and becoming a better person? Surely it would be kinder to tell them the truth, than to lie and let them carry on in ignorance?
But we are a faction of hypocrisy. We spend our lives pursuing the truth and sparing no one from our brutal honesty, and yet when someone voices honest criticism of our faction as a whole, we suddenly decide it’s okay to pick our truths and leap to the defence of our way of life. We have learnt how to twist the truth when it suits us, and manipulate it so the truth is what we want it to be.
These are the thoughts that fill my brain as I sit in the school cafeteria with my lunch at what has become the Candor table. Before we even sit down I can hear the beginnings of a debate starting up behind me, and my heart sinks a little.
Just once, it would be nice to actually do something fun, something other than what our faction expects of us.
There are five of us today. Alicia, my best friend, sits to my left, her flaming red hair bobbing up and down as she gestures animatedly about some apparently important topic. I can’t imagine she ever doubts the principles of our faction – I am more open with her than I am with most, but I am always careful of saying too much. She is a true Candor, open with her opinions and hell-bent on knowing the facts behind any situation, and making them known to the rest of the world. If I told her how I felt, it would only be a matter of time before the whole faction knew.
My boyfriend Jack sits on the other side of me. Even as he frowns at Alicia across the table and focuses all his attention on whatever she’s saying, he reaches under the table for my hand and interlocks his fingers with mine, sending a warm sensation tingling through my veins. We’ve been friends since we were just four years old and he scrambled underneath the fence between our gardens and popped up in our flowerbed, covered in mud from head to toe. He told me my teeth were too big, I told him he needed a bath, and we’d been best friends ever since – until a couple of months back, when he kissed me in the middle of a school corridor with the whole school watching.
Sometimes, like now, I am perfectly content to sit and study him: the way his hair untidy hair shines gold even under the harsh fluorescent cafeteria lighting, the way his eyebrows knit together slightly when he concentrates, the light behind his dark eyes. I only really feel like I'm truly being myself with a handful of people, and Jack is one of them.
I look away from him before he notices me staring. Tomorrow, the three of us will have our Aptitude test. We will know where we are supposed to spend the rest of our lives. People say the results don’t change anything, that it’s still down to you to choose, but I’m not so sure that’s the case – I don’t know what I’ll do if I get anything other than Candor.
“...which is obviously not the case!”
“Oh really? Well what about just the other day when the bus wasn’t running and I had to walk here, I saw them lurking on the corner of a street and-”
My eyes drift around the room. In the far corner, I almost don’t notice the Abnegation table, all wearing their dull grey clothes – the Stiffs are good at not being noticed. On the neighbouring tables, the red and yellow clothes of Amity contrast starkly with the plain grey Abnegation lot. They’re all smiling serenely, holding hands and singing occasionally. There are never any arguments at their tables.
I find their happiness unnerving.
“So you have one experience like that and you write off the whole lot of them, I see how this-”
Shouts from the Dauntless table attract my attention for a moment. There’s a big group of them spread over two tables, and they’re throwing something back and forth, yelling insults at each other. They’re lying, judging by the ridiculous things they’re claiming they’ve done, and their blatant disregard for the truth unsettles me slightly but also fascinates me. It must be strange to have the freedom to lie, but that freedom traps them into hiding things from each other. I can’t imagine it.
I suppose the Erudite aren’t so different from us. They’re looking for the truth in a way too, except they call it knowledge and aren’t afraid to hide it. They allow themselves to lie for the sake of their vanity though.
“Of course I’m not basing all of this on ‘one experience like that’, don’t be ridiculous!”
The four of them are getting into a heated debate - again. Every lunchtime we do the same thing: we grab our food, make our way to the table we have claimed as our own this year, and begin discussing whatever happens to be irritating us at that particular time – and by discuss I mean argue. It’s pretty civil compared to the shouts coming from the Dauntless table across the room, but calling it “debating”, like we’re supposed to, makes it sound far tamer than it really is.
Just another way we as a faction have decided it’s okay to lie to ourselves.
“That’s totally stupid, isn’t it Ronna?”
Damn. Alicia has caught me off-guard. I have absolutely no idea what today’s argument – debate – is about.
“Haven’t been listening but you’re probably right,” I say
Alicia rolls her eyes. “You’ve been completely out of it all day, it’s not like you.”
She’s right. The Aptitude test has been weighing heavily on my mind lately, and the weight gets heavier by the day. It’s not the test itself that worries me: it’s what it might tell me.
I am filled with uncertainty and my grey doubts have no place in the Candor world of black and white.
Christina saves me from having to tell them what’s wrong. “We’re talking about the Factionless. Jack’s sitting on the fence a bit, but me and Alicia are trying to make Peter see that he’s an idiot,” she says with a glare in Peter’s direction. There is no love lost between the two of them, and I think he’s only sitting with us because Jack sort of likes him and the rest of us tolerate him, unlike the other Candors in his school year. He and Christina are in the year below us, so they won’t have their Choosing Ceremony until next year.
Jack sees right through my silence, as he always does. “Looking forward to tomorrow, Ronna?” he asks, his gaze piercing.
I pause for a moment before I answer. I’m not sure how I feel. I have no idea what to expect from the test: talking about it is strictly forbidden, much to the annoyance of our faction. But I know that it will influence my decision, and at least I will come out of it with a bit more of an idea about the place that suits me best.
I nod and turn to look at Jack. “Yeah, I am.”
Jack’s words are a statement, not a question, so I say nothing. He’s right, but I don’t particularly want to have this conversation on the bus home. It's always crowded, but today it seems worse than usual. We’re standing up, squeezed between people on their way home from work and a couple of Erudites with their noses stuck in their books.
“Come on Ronna, talk to me. What’s bothering you?” he asks, not letting me get away with keeping quiet.
“Aptitude test, I guess,” I say quietly. I look at him, and see the concern in his eyes. I feel bad for making him worry, so I smile at him. “Can we talk when we’re off here?”
He smiles at me but it’s a smile tinged with worry. “Yeah, course we can,” he says.
We stand together in silence until we reach our stop. He doesn’t even wait until we’re off the bus to start the interrogation. “So what is it about the Aptitude test then? You worrying about what it’s gonna say about you?”
I mull the question over before I reply. “I suppose I am, yeah. I mean, I know it doesn’t have to change anything but...I don’t know how I’d feel about going against my results."
I sigh. Without looking at him, I say, “Honestly? I don’t know what I want. I mean, I....” I trail off, uncertain of how much to tell him, but then I remember that this is Jack I’m talking to – I can say anything to him. “In an ideal world,” I say slowly, “I’d like to be a doctor.”
“But-but that’s an Erudite profession, Ronna. Candor don’t do that kind of thing.” Jack looks baffled. I’ve never told him this before, so it must come as a shock to him – not only do I want a career I’ve never mentioned before, but there are things I haven’t told him.
“Yeah, I know, I did say in an ideal world. I enjoy science and I want to help people in some way and I... I don’t know.”
I can't put the swirling mess of my thoughts into words. I think Jack can tell, because he just nods and wraps an arm around my shoulder. His closeness is comforting, and for the first time today I feel calm. But the anxiety comes swimming back again when another thought crosses my mind.
If I leave Candor, I’ll lose Jack.
I wake up on the morning of my Aptitude test with my stomach in a knot. I lie as still as I can, trying to soothe my nerves, but the knot isn’t going anywhere. I roll over and look at my clock on my bedside table. 4:30 am. I groan and pull my blanket over my head, and try to go back to sleep.
I must doze off for a little while, because when I wake light is coming in through my bedroom window. My mother has come in with a tray of breakfast, and the warm smell of coffee fills my nostrils. I push myself up and watch her look through my clothes in my wardrobe and pull out a couple of tops and skirts. She notices me watching and smiles, coming to sit on the end of my bed. I shuffle up towards her and she pulls me close for a hug.
“Don’t worry about today, honey,” she says, her voice soft. “Whatever happens, you get to choose where you end up, okay? Today doesn’t have to change anything, and I know you know that already, but I just want you to hear it from me. And if your result is one you don't think you want to hear then don't worry about it. Your future is your own.”
I nod and lean my head on her shoulder. I wish I could sit here all day, all week, forever, but I can’t. We get up in unison, and she holds me closely before I can move away.
“I won't ask you what you get today. I know you're not supposed to say anyway, but if I asked you then I think you'd feel like you have to tell me, and I won't do that to you. I don't want you to have to tell me," she says, her voice saying more than her words alone. She knows how I feel about having to be completely honest all the time. She knows I feel uncomfortable. And she won't make me say anything, even though that's completely against our faction's beliefs.
How can I consider leaving my faction if it means leaving her?
"I love you, honey,” she whispers.
I cling to her tightly. “I love you too,” I whisper back.
We wait to be called in to our tests in the cafeteria. Unlike yesterday when the room was full of shouting and laughter, today the atmosphere is far more subdued. Barely anyone speaks, although we sit at the same tables as we did yesterday. It’s just Jack and I at our table: Alicia has already been called in. We are both distracted, but having his hand in mine is reassuring.
A woman dressed in Abnegation grey calls my name from the other end of the room, and my heart leaps into my throat. Jack gives my hand a squeeze and I smile at him, and I get up slowly and walk towards her, trying to appear calm. She looks at the floor and speaks so quietly I barely hear her when she asks me to follow her.
We go into a room reserved for the tests, and I am asked to sit in the chair in the middle of the room. The woman – whose name is Suzanna, she tells my in a voice not much louder than a whisper – sticks an electrode to my forehead, and fiddles with what looks like hundreds of wires, then attaches an electrode to her own head. She works quickly and silently: she has clearly done this many times before.
She passes me a small bottle with a clear liquid in it, like water but thicker.
“Drink this,” she says, not looking at me. I don’t want to drink it. I don’t want to go through this test. I want to run out of this room, the whole building, and never look back. I want to run home to my mother and never go anywhere again. But I can’t. Leaving is not an option.
I swallow the contents of bottle, and my eyes flutter shut.
When my eyes open, I feel as though days or just milliseconds have passed. I am no longer in the cool testing room, but I’m back in the cafeteria. There is a knife in front of me and a big piece of cheese. I look at them in confusion for a moment before I hear a voice say, “Choose.”
My head whips round but I can see no one. I am alone in the room. I look back at the table and hesitate. How should I know which object I should choose?
“Choose!” the voice says again, louder and more insistent. I hesitate again, but I reach out and grab the knife. There is a creaking noise behind me and I spin round, not knowing what I’ll see behind me.
A dog is baring its teeth at me and growling. It barks twice, loudly, and my heart starts thudding. It moves towards me, slowly at first but gathering speed, and my mind whirs. I do not want to use the knife on the dog. But I have just seconds to decide what I’m going to do.
With a jolt, I remember Jack’s old dog from when he was little. He was a tiny thing, nothing like this dog, but I can hear Jack’s voice in my head, telling me how to approach him. Just get close to the floor. Don’t rush. Go slowly. Put your hand out to him. There you go!
I put the knife down and lower myself to the ground, and put my hand out. I try not to look at it in the eye, but I watch it out of the corner of my eye. I’m just beginning to think that I was stupid to put the knife down when I feel something wet on my hand. I turn to see the dog licking my hand, and I laugh in relief and pat his head.
“You’re a big softy, aren’t you?” I say, but as I do, I hear a child’s voice from across the room – this cafeteria is a hell of a lot bigger than normal, a voice in my head says – and the dog turns towards her with a snarl. I yell out but the dog starts running, so I grab the knife off the floor and throw myself at it, but before I reach it the room dissolves around me and I fall to the floor of a bus.
A man is sitting alongside me with a newspaper in his hands. I know the man on the front but I have no idea why. Suddenly the man pushes the paper into my hands.
“Do you know this man?” he demands, showing me the picture. The headline above it says that he is a murderer, and I feel deeply uncomfortable. Every Candor instinct I have is telling me to tell the truth, but somehow I know the man will hurt me if I admit that I know the man.
“I – I –“ I stutter, uncertain of what to do. I gulp, and say, “No, I don’t know who he is.”
The man still looks angry but there is desperation in his eyes. “Please,” he says, “please, if you know him you can save me, you can save my life!”
I feel like my chest is being gripped in a vice. If I tell the truth, I save his life. If I lie, I save mine.
I breathe in deeply, and nod. “Yes,” I say quietly, “I know him.”
My eyes open and I find myself back in the testing room. Suzanna is standing a short distance away from me, and for the first time she is staring directly at me. Her eyebrows are drawn together slightly and my stomach drops as I realise - she looks worried.
“Is everything alright?” I ask, my voice abnormally high.
She jumps, startled, and her eyes fix on a spot on the floor again. She pulls the electrode from my forehead in silence.
“What did I do wrong, what’s happening?” I ask, my voice rising in pitch and volume as my chest tightens in panic.
“There is nothing to worry about, your results are just ...unusual,” she says softly. “I’ve only seen this once before, but I think....”
She trails off and sighs. I wait nervously for her to continue, my palms sweating.
“You picked a knife in the first simulation. That suggests Dauntless, but your reluctance to use it suggests Amity, but your quick thinking in approaching the dog as if it were friendly is more like Erudite behaviour. You were prepared to use the knife on the dog to protect the child – that would rule out Amity for me and put you closer to Dauntless.”
She pauses for a moment, letting the information sink in. I don’t know what to make of any of this.
The woman takes a deep breath before she carries on. “Then you got into the second part and that was puzzling too. Your unwillingness to tell the truth at first seemed to rule out Candor, but you told the truth in the end which is a sign of Candor and possibly Abnegation. It’s difficult to give you a profile....”
She pauses again, and looks through some notes on the table in front of her. At last, she nods to herself. “I believe you are what’s known as Divergent. You won’t have heard the word before,” she says, in answer to my questioning look, “and you are not to use it outside of this room. It is unusual and can be dangerous, so you keep this information to yourself. I think you are suited to three factions: Candor, Erudite, and Dauntless.”
The blood has drained from my face, and I feel like I might break down in tears at any moment. Three factions. This isn’t supposed to happen in the Aptitude tests. You are supposed to come out with a definite answer, one way or another. You’re supposed to know where you belong.
I get up from my chair, and thank Suzanna. She acknowledges my thanks with a nod, and I leave the room even more uncertain than when I came in.
I wake up late on the day of my Choosing.
It’s a bad start to the day – being woken by the shouts of my mother an hour after I was planning to get up, was not how I wanted to start what could be my last day as a Candor. I stumble out of bed, nearly tripping over my sheets as I make my my way over to my wardrobe.
"Ronna, we have to leave in ten minutes, what's taking you so long?" my mother calls from downstairs.
"I'll be there in a minute," I shout back, quickly pulling a simple black and white striped dress out of my wardrobe. Unlike when people outside our faction use the phrase, I mean it literally - I pull my clothes on and run downstairs within sixty seconds.
I must look pretty dishevelled when I get downstairs, because my mother comes out of the kitchen with a frown on her face and a brush in her hand.
"Come here, honey," she says, and she pulls me into the kitchen and pushes me into a seat. She puts a plate down in front of me with a chunk of bread on it and a glass of orange juice, and stands behind me to brush my tangled chestnut hair into a simple ponytail.
"Now, I know I've said this before," she begins, "but you need to hear it again. You have to make a decision for you today, not for anyone else. We're not Abnegation, it's okay for you to think of yourself. You know what happened on my Choosing, don't you? You know I - are you going to eat your breakfast or just stare at it?" she says, momentarily distracted by the fact that I haven't touched my bread.
"Yeah, yeah, sorry," I say, but I'm not hungry in the slightest.
"Okay, where was I? My Choosing, right. I wasn't born into Candor: I was in Amity, you know that bit. I loved my parents very much, and I wasn't friendless or lonely, but something about the whole faction was just stifling. I felt trapped. And then when I had my Aptitude test, it opened my eyes. I didn't belong in Amity. I could go anywhere. I wanted to go somewhere where I'd be free to be me, where I could be honest about how I was feeling and not lie for the sake of keeping the peace."
She sighs, and sits down opposite me at the table. "I know what it feels like, Ronna. I understand. You're a clever girl, like your father was. You have his brain. He thought he could put it to good use as a politician, so he stayed here when he made his choice. But you, you're not into politics, I know that. Your family and friends are here, but you have an Erudite mind. You could become a doctor, honey. You're clever enough. But you can't do it here." She pushes my uneaten breakfast out of the way and takes my hands in hers. "You have to do what's right for you, honey. Not what you think is best for your friends, or for me. I'll be okay if you go."
My eyes fill up with tears and I look down at the table. I know she's telling the truth. She has never lied to me, not once. Not even when I was four, and I asked what had happened to my father and she told me he had been killed in a car accident that had probably been his own fault, not even then did she try to hide the truth. She has always been totally honest with me.
"I don't want to leave you, ma," I say quietly, calling her 'ma' like I did when I was little and couldn't say 'mother'.
"I know, honey, I know. But you can't stay here if it won't make you happy."
She squeezes my hands, then gets up and looks at the clock. "Ronna, we'll miss the bus is we don't leave in the next minute or so. Are you ready to go?"
No, I'm not. I never will be. "Yeah, I'm ready."
She pulls me into a warm hug. "Then let's go," she says, the crack in her voice the only sign that she is not as calm and collected as she looks.
I still do not know what I will choose, to which bowl my feet will take me, where my blood will fall. I can only hope that when I get in there I will know what to do.
My mother is a calming influence on me, as usual, but even her presence alongside me on the bus to the place where the Choosing is held cannot make my pulse return to normal.
It feels like an eternity, that bus journey, but I find myself outside the room for our ceremony in the blink of an eye. I join the line of soon-to-be initiates in silence. Jack stands a short distance ahead of me, and my heart twists when I see him. It's almost as if he feels me looking, because he turns around and catches my eye. He smiles at me but his eyes don't match the smile. He knows that I don't know what I'm going to do, and he looks like he's going to say something, but before he can say a word we are let into the room and he has to turn away.
As we file into the airy room, my breathing quickens a little, and I tap my fingers against my legs. I have never understood why people say they have butterflies when they’re nervous: there are moths inside my stomach, big ones, fluttering around and chewing up my insides. I follow the rest of the Candor group to our seats. With our black and white clothing, we look like pieces on a chess board.
I am oblivious to everyone and everything around me. Someone is talking about the importance of factions, but I cannot see them properly, nor can I even hear the words coming out of their mouth. I am surrounded by people but I feel lost and completely alone, my terror forcing me into solitude.
The man starts reading out names, and I am brought back to reality. Alicia's name is the first to be called, and she walks up to the Candor glass bowl and cuts her hand above it without a hint of hesitation or doubt. I am not surprised in the slightest - I couldn't see her anywhere else.
More names follow, people from other factions - their faces are familiar, but I do not know them. A boy from Abnegation is the first transfer, surprising us all by moving to Dauntless. It sends a silent shockwave through the room, but before I can really register it my name is called.
I stand up, and walk into the centre of the room. The flames of Dauntless are directly in front of me. On my left, I have the bowl of Erudite water, and on my right I have the glass for my home faction, Candor.
My hands shake uncontrollably, but I know what I have to do. My mind is frozen, but my feet take over and I find myself standing by the water of Erudite. I can see my mother's face across the room, her eyes sad but not surprised, and she nods at me. I blink back the tears that suddenly make my eyes prickle, and make the cut on my hand that will make me an Erudite initiate.
I walk over to my new faction holding back tears. I sit down and see Jack's face opposite me, hurt but not shocked, and my eyes keep travelling from him to my mother. Knowing that they're upset is the worst possible feeling. I suddenly feel horribly selfish: I have chosen a future without them, and for what? A more difficult initiation? A career I might not even be cut out for?
But when I catch my mother's eye again, she has forced the sadness from he face. She doesn't smile at me, but she nods, and mouths the words "I love you" at me. A lump rises to my throat as I mouth the same words back, but some of my uncertainty fades.
She thinks I'm doing the right thing. My mother believes in me.
I have to believe in me too.
I am Ronna Deallus.
I am brave.
I am intelligent.
I am Divergent.
I will choose my future.