Being extra careful not to jostle anyone, I pull myself onto the already packed bus. I’m lucky my work shift finishes earlier than some others or I would have to walk home.
After paying the bus fee, I look around at all my mirror images, searching for one in particular. It’s a stupid joke. Thanks to our tattoos being so small, I wouldn’t be able to find Alice even if she was right in front of me. Feeling stupid, I let out a high-pitched whistle that Alice invented for us to find each other in a big crowd.
Everyone on the bus stares at me and I feel my face growing hot as I search for the raised hand that should be up in the air. I walk down the aisle searching amongst the many faces until I hear a whistle to match mine and look up the far back where a girl waves her hand around. There she is.
“We really need to figure out another way to get each others attention,” I grumble as I sit down beside her.
“I’m open for ideas,” she bites into an apple as the bus shudders to a start. “We don’t have many options.”
She’s right. We don’t. We can’t go on looks since everybody is a replica, we can’t go on tattoos thanks to them being so small you have to be standing in front of someone to read it and we can’t even go on the clothes we wear. It’s the government’s latest project. They’re trying to figure out if people are more peaceful when they get to choose what they wear or if they’re more peaceful wearing what they’re told. I stare down at the latest outfit we were forced to wear. Black shirts, black slacks and black sneakers. I hate how dark they make us. I wish, for once, we could wear a bright colour.
Alice watches me for a while before grinning.
“See? I told you! There’s nothing else. It’s amazing we even have this little thing to go on.”
She starts rambling on about her latest job, a secretary, as the bus bumps along the road. I only slightly listen because I already know what it’s like to be a secretary. We all do.
Here in The Chocolate Society, everyone gets a fair go. We alternate jobs which mean on one day I could be a plumber and on the next, I could be running a whole company. While I hate switching each day, I do admit it’s a good idea.
“What did you have today?” she asks as she finishes off her apple. “I forgot.”
“School teacher,” I roll my eyes. “It was awful.”
“Were the kids misbehaving?”
“Alice, who does that anymore? Of course they didn’t. I just.. Got frustrated a lot. There’s really nothing to do as a teacher.”
“I do admit it was one of the most boring jobs I’ve ever done. Why do we even have schools?”
“Probably to give kids something to do while we’re all at work.”
“Probably,” she sighs before changing the topic. “I saw that guy again.”
“That one on the corner of Centenary Street, remember? He’s always there and it’s starting to creep me out.”
“How did you know it was him? It could have been anyone.”
She looks flustered and I’m sure if she was white coloured, her face would be red.
“I memorised his bar code,” she whispers.
“Seriously? Alice, you stalker!”
“Ssh,” she hushes me as a few girls around us turn to look. “Keep it down.”
“Why would you do that?” I hiss at her. “You know you’re only meant to memorise those your close to.”
“I had to check. I’m telling you, it’s weird. Once, I sat outside that little coffee place to watch him and for ages he just stood there.”
“He turned and walked down the alley.”
She starts picking at her fingernails and I know there’s more to the tale.
“You didn’t,” I gap at her and she glares back at me. “That is so stalker like, Alice.”
“It was my choice and besides, you’re not the boss of me. I can do what I want.”
“If he caught you, what would you have said?”
“Well he didn’t,” she sticks her tongue out at me. “When I turned down the alley to follow him, he was gone.”
“Good,” I settle back into my chair. “Why are you obsessed with this guy? Alice, if you have a crush on him, there are certainly plenty others like him.”
“He’s different,” she chews on her lip and looks out the window. “I’ll show you one day.”
I don’t bother fighting her off. Alice will do what she wants to do and that’s okay.
I’m cooking dinner for my family when dad walks into the kitchen smelling of herbs and spices.
“How was work today?” I ask as he leans down to kiss my head.
“I’m sick of all the food, obviously,” he runs his hands through his dark brown hair before smiling. “Not yours though. You’re a great cook.”
While the chicken roasts in the oven, I head up to my bedroom which is located directly across from my parents. It isn’t very big, but then again, no room is. All houses are exactly the same shape and size now. If I were to walk into someone else’s house by accident, I wouldn’t know it. Not really. Our furniture is the same, the colouring, the layout and even the food. We’re not really allowed anything to symbolise it’s our own home, but that’s okay I suppose.
I close the door with a kick and assess the mess that I need to clean up.
Not bothering to make the bed this morning, the white cover and sheets are sprawled here and there. I slept through my alarm and hey, I wasn’t worried where my blankets would end up.
Taking the cover off the dresser and the sheets off the floor, I quickly shove aside more of the black clothes so I can keep my focus on the task ahead. I’m easily distracted. I wish I could play some music as I work, but I realise how stupid that sounds and quickly shove the thought aside. There’s no music anymore.
By the time I’m finished making the bed, stacking the clothes and studying tomorrows work requirements, I deem the chicken cooked even before I make it into the kitchen. Out of all the jobs I have ever done over the past three years, the ones involving cooking have been my favourite. It’s like an art, really.
I pull the roasted chicken from the oven, inhaling the smell. Its day four of the chicken meat so I’m not sick of eating it yet. However, I worked out that by day ten, I’m usually hateful of any meat. Out of all the government’s decisions, I think the meat swapper has been the worst.
Brought in years ago, the meat swapper has supposedly “boosted the economy”. I’m not sure how rotating meats every month boosts the economy, but I don’t get to argue the decision. We don’t have choices here anymore.
Lasts months meat was lamb, a meat I’ve always hated from the day I first tasted it. Something about the smell makes me want to hurl every time I encounter it, but when you’re starving for protein, there isn’t much you can do. When the boxes arrived with our first load of chicken, I nearly cried. It was a welcoming sight.
As I lay it on a platter, I vow I won’t let myself hate it. Chicken beats lamb any day.
Mum walks into the room as I’m laying out the plates and cutlery. I don’t say it, but she looks awful. Her face looks pale and her hands quiver at her sides. I don’t have to ask what job she had today.
“Hey mum,” I smile and try to brighten the mood. “I made a chicken.”
“Looks good,” she rubs her hand across her forehead.
Swallowing back another question, I quickly assemble the vegetables we’ll eat with the meat (at least them we get to choose) and lay them besides the meat plater.
I call for dad and he wanders in the room with a smile. Then he meets mums eyes and I see his smile slowly slip from his face. She shakes her head, but he still wanders over to give her a hug. I consider looking away to give them some privacy, but I don’t need to. They don’t go all romantic when I’m around and I’m sure mum’s not in a very romantic mood right now. Can’t say I’m blame her.
Let’s just say, I’m dreading the day I’ll get rostered on for the job. You have to be twenty-one so I still have three years yet. Hopefully, something will change by then.
“How was your day?” dad asks me politely as he spears a potato. “You had a teacher’s job, right?”
“It was boring,” I admit. Hopefully the people listening in won’t care. “I’m not very good at teaching.”
“I’m sure you were great,” he reaches out to squeeze my arm with a smile. “What job do you have tomorrow.”
“That should be fun . You were always good at maths.”
I don’t need to point out that everyone here is good at maths.
I’m stacking the dishes to be washed up when mum, sitting at the table, bursts into tears and covers her face. I lower the fork I’m holding and walk around the table to sit beside her. Not saying anything, I pull her into a hug.
“How many?” I whisper quietly. The surveillance teams can’t hear whispering and since I’ve made sure to cover my face with her hair, I doubt they can get a lip reader to work out what I say.
“Six,” she whispers back with a sob. “Six little babies.”
My gut sinks at the thought, but I have to stay strong for my mother. There’s nothing I can do about it anyway.
I’m pulling away, but my mum pulls me back even tighter.
“Something has to change, Eliza. I can’t keep doing this and nor can the others. Those girls that we... They didn’t want it. It isn’t fare they’re forced into that.”
The topic is unnerving me and making me sad so I pull out her arms after one more quick squeeze.
“I know, mum.”