I stare at the family photo hanging above the television, taken when I was six and my father returned from combat after four years. He was twenty-nine, with big, tired, brown eyes and a head full of untameable wavy dark hair. My mother sits with a falsely fitted smile, painted with red lips. Her hair is parted and curled into a victory-roll style, shining under the lighting. I sit between my parents with my hands in my lap and my back straight, after copious demands to keep a professional posture. My smile is wide yet tight-lipped and closed, mixed somewhere between my mother’s tiny, shut grin and my father’s big, hopeful smile.
My parents met in their Senior Seminaries aged nineteen. The legal age range for marriage in the Northern Empire is approximately between eighteen years of age, and fifty-five - my parents tied the knot two years into the marital range, both aged twenty.
I came into our world two years subsequently, and four years into the fertility range for women - between eighteen and thirty. This is a much smaller scope, due to the maintenance of health being more crucial in terms of looking after your children.
I was apparently a wailer of a baby, bawling day in and day out. Silence in my parents’ apartment was rare for a long time, until I began to hush down in my second year of life. It was when my father left for combat that I really became quieter throughout my childhood.
They settled into a Fourth Division apartment when I was a few months of age after I had lived with my mother and widowed grandmother on a different complex floor. My grandfather had been killed in combat, just a few months before his forty-fifth birthday. A few months before his discharge. It seemed I was like a sunrise in the windows when I was born, shedding light into the dark tunnel of my grandmother’s misfortunes. She still lives in the same apartment a few levels down, and I visit her occasionally when I’m tired of my mother’s silence and the conversations that eventually lose spark between Hugo and I.
I lie on my couch, basking in the quiet of the apartment. My mother is out buying food for our ration, and the hum of the television ahead begins to lull me to sleep. My heart is heavy, though I don’t cry. Two hours ago, I bid Hugo farewell.
A throng of people congregated at the platform station in the East Wing of the Central Division, where a train was due to pick up the apprehensive, reluctant young men and drive them to the outskirts of the Division where they’d take a secluded elevator to the H.D. The announcement and following instructions regarding the mass departure was vented from a voice in speakers around the platform.
I didn’t want to cry around anybody, despite the tears falling in abundance all around me. I hugged Hugo just before he entered the train with his luggage, and after he made an emotional farewell with his parents. They promised to come and visit him shortly, as many of his other relatives reside up there. They have much easier access to that part of the city, whereas most citizens need a sufficient amount of money and a valid reason for going up.
I can remember digging my head into Hugo’s shoulder and squeezing my eyes tight enough to restrict any tears. I regulated my breathing and tried straightening my quivering lip. And he kept repeating, I’ll see you again, don’t worry. I will. And I just nodded, afraid that my voice would sound like a wavering glitch if I opened my mouth. It’s funny how I spent the first few years of my life constantly crying, like it was a hobby. Now, it’s more of an inconvenience. I try not to be emotionally swayed by much. It doesn’t look good on me.
We had made a lot of small talk before our parting at the platform, bringing up the power cut at the E.O.I. ball a few days ago which rendered people temporarily blind, panicking in a blackout. It lasted for around thirty seconds, immediately after Vera was escorted out of the event. Power cuts, though not frequent, are known to happen in the city occasionally. Sometimes the electricity isn’t always at its best; trams can sometimes stop abruptly halfway through journeys, or Division park lights might flicker from time to time. It was quite a surprise for a blackout to happen at such a big event; they only ever really happen in small bouts, or places.
It dawns on me that the Career Trials are beginning tomorrow morning, and I have to be in the Central Division much earlier than I would normally leave my house. It dawns on my how much I’m not looking forward to the future, whether it be the next few weeks, or my life in general. In the pit of my stomach, I sense negativity unfolding; a series of fateful events coming up. It could be the rising death toll in the war. Maybe Hugo and many other men dying. It could be my father’s possible death.
I just have this impulse to find an outlet – a place where I don’t feel so restricted, so demanded of. A place where rules and rations don’t exist.
I think back to the secret lessons in the L.D., and how Eric won’t be there to attend them. This shrinks my motives, but curiosity still takes over. I decide I’ll try my best to find out what it’s all really about. It can’t be too harmful, can it? I mean, what more is a group discussion between adolescent peers that isn’t about Math or Science in particular?
And maybe enlightenment is what I’m really yearning for.