“I remember this one time when you were younger, you threw a tantrum because I didn’t know the answer to this question you were dying to know about,” my mother smiles through small sniffles, sitting on the edge of my bed as I pack for the H.D. I’m leaving in two days now, having sent the letter back with plans of pursuing Law. “You were constantly begging and begging to know, and I just couldn’t tell you. I had no idea myself.”
“What was the question?”
My mother shakes her head. “It’s hard to remember now. Something about... about the windows. Something about the sun. I can’t quite put my finger on it. But you were very pushy with trying to find out. And that’s how you always are, really. You won’t sleep until you’ve found out about that one thing that’s been bothering you all day.”
I fold clothes into the two large suitcases that were delivered to me a few days ago. Even though the response letter brought through informed me that we would be given a batch of every day attire, they still instated that we empty out our wardrobes nonetheless. I plan on taking as much as I possibly can with me; I don’t want to find out that things are too expensive and I’m scrounging around trying to survive alongside intense study.
“I’ll miss you so much.” My mother sobs. That’s the eighth time she’s said that in this past hour.
“I know, Mom. I’ll miss you too.”
Because the barriers between the H.D. and other Divisions are so strict, it means that it’s frankly harder to meet up with family members if you ever make it up there. I am only given one weekend every three months, or semester breaks to come down and visit my mother. I begin to understand how lonely she’ll be, living by herself with only the humming of the television to break silence. The best thing she can do is spend more time with friends or meet up with my grandmother more often. I hope she will be OK. It’s quite bittersweet – she’ll be spending time alone because her husband is out risking his life, whilst her daughter is out improving her own. It’s only fair that it all balances out.
Both of my father’s parents are deceased; his father’s death was due to the war and his mother’s a suicide eight years ago when my father was re-drafted. She had been living with an illness known as melancholia for a very long time which changed her train of thoughts and caused her emotions to plummet to unimaginable levels. It eventually caused her own demise when she walked in front of a speeding train over at the platforms. She was known to be sensitive to life once it began treating her badly. She would be in her early sixties if she were still alive today. I would have loved to know more about her.
A lot of people actually tend to suffer from melancholia once something tragic or traumatic happens in their life. Recharges can keep the body physically healthy but only administered drugs can keep someone from going insane, and they are only to be taken in psychiatric units. Most sufferers of melancholia would be associated with the war –whether a widower or a traumatised veteran, it’s highly likely you would suffer from the illness at some point. It has to be at an extreme level to get to where my grandmother got to. I overheard my mother talking to my father on the phone a couple of days after she passed and she mentioned how my grandmother left a death note before she walked down to the C.D. platform. When I questioned my mother about it, she told me how she decided to keep it safe for my father if he ever wanted to read it. She has always been too emotional to read it herself or aloud over the phone and always felt it would be fairer to let my father read it himself. If he ever returned, that is. Eight years down the line and it is still hiding somewhere in the house.
I reach Liza’s front door at twelve noon once most of my packing is done and my mother’s last crying session is over. Despite ringing the bell around three times within a minute, nobody goes to answer. Liza never told me she was out anywhere, or that she was planning on going anywhere for that matter. The thought that she would just go AWOL irks me, especially due to the fact that I’ll be leaving soon. I suspected she would want to spend more time with me before I left. I’m not sure if it’s her presence that I yearn for, or my narcissistic self just wishes that she yearns for mine.
It’s the weekend and Liza’s job doesn’t require Saturdays or Sundays, so they might just be just hanging about in the Central or somewhere in this Division. I think I might just call her at the end of the day.
I meet up with Vera in the Central and catch her perched on a metal bench in the park. She sits poised in a sheer silver dress with pin-tucked details running down the centre of the skirt. Her long hair is tied into a tight black bun sitting above her head and her newly-cut fringe is immaculately straight, skimming the lashes of her dark eyes.
“Joseph and Janna Ramos are moving up. You know, those siblings who helped to grill you at the first lesson?”
“Ah, those.” I lift my brows momentarily with pursed lips. I don’t know if I can stand seeing anybody else from that class around campus despite the fact that most, if not all of the students will have bagged a position. Only fifty students get the chance to move up annually. Most are from either the Fourth or the Second Division but some outstanding from the Lower are considered every now and then. It’s rare, but it’s possible.
“They’re not as bad as you think. None of them are. Trust me, you’ll get it.”
“I hope so.” I respond. “Who was the redhead guy?”
“Guy Rothstein. He’s the son of a politician. Most elite kids are. Aris’ father was a powerful one before he died. His stepfather is one. Damn, his mother is one too.”
“Wait,” I narrow my eyes. “I still don’t get why he has a stepfather. I thought citizens are not allowed to re-marry; only if their spouse is in jail, or whatever?”
“Well I’m guessing that somehow; the same rules may apply if you’re widowed. I mean it doesn’t make sense to say you can’t marry anyone else if your husband is dead, does it? Though it does say a lot about the relationship if you ever do re-marry. And Tionne was literally hitched again in the same year!”
“Whoa.” I sigh.
“I just still can’t get over the fact that there are six children between one woman and two marriages.”
Six children? That’s more than insane. “How is that even possible?” I whisper in awe.
The maximum number of children one couple can have is two. If they’ve reached that limit, the woman is then sterilised to prevent any further pregnancies, which would be branded as illegal. Almost one-hundred years ago, the population had a sudden burst of growth, building and increasing until certain restrictions had to be proposed. This included two-bedroom apartments, with a maximum of four inhabitants in each.
Many pregnancies began being terminated in the early stages, or if too late, some mothers were lucky enough to keep three children. Problems did arise when twins would be expected after a couple had already had their first child, so if this was detected in earlier scans, the Medical Authority would ensure that only one child was brought into the world. It seems harsh, and it is. Nobody would want to deal with the demise of one of their children, however it came about. But this city is getting all too small for many of us. I just don’t understand how the rules do not apply to the Higher Division.
“Well,” Vera laughs. “When you’ve been married to two of the most powerful and rich elite politicians in the entire city, the world is basically yours. Although there are rumours that Tionne’s previous marriage was corrupt and full of abuse. That’s why she was so quick to marry again. Some even say that she killed him somehow, but that’s ridiculous.” She scoffs. “Damn, Aris’ parents sure did have a messed up marriage, didn’t they?”
“This is all news to me,” I raise my eyebrows.
“I’m surprised you’ve never heard this talked about before. Almost everyone knows how messed up the Nestor-Rilams are.”
“Literally. You need to get with the times.”
“Well I’m sorry I’ve been hidden away in the Fourth all my life.” I nudge her.
“But honestly, I’m really excited to see what kind of rules we can break when we go up.” Vera says. “You know, the kind that we would never get away with here. I’m planning on having five children. Once I get the money, I will buy a huge apartment with a pool. And I will lounge around all day, basking in tranquillity. The world will be mine.” She grins.
I scoff. “I’m never having any children. I’m never even getting married.” I shake my head.
“Why not? Everybody gets married. Even if people choose to sterilise, they still get married.”
“...I don’t feel like it. I can’t imagine myself loving anyone enough to glue myself to them for the rest of my life. And children are a pain.”
“Oh, OK,” Vera smirks. “So you’re the adventurous kind. The heartbreaker.”
“No, no. I’m not a heartbreaker. That would insinuate people are actually interested in me.”
“Hugo Alden isn’t your partner?” Vera asks in confusion. “The boy you were with at the ball? I thought you were a couple!”
I burst out in a small laugh, trying to sober myself. “No. Never. I promise you that.”
“What if he offered his hand?”
“He never will. And I’d turn it down.”
“Point it in my direction while you’re at it.” Vera winks before we both erupt in sniggers.
We talk a little more about the lessons before heading back home in the late afternoon.
I wake up to find a garment cover bag hanging on my wardrobe handle. With eyes still adjusting to the morning, I slowly climb out of bed and saunter towards the bag, zipping it open. Inside is a pure white linen sheath dress which looks like it would end at the knees. A small note on the tag of the cover bag reads that it should be worn after showering.
That’s when it begins to click that today is the day of my departure to the Higher Division.
I spend the whole seven minutes in the shower this time as it might be the last time in a long time that I get to. I spend another minute standing stock still with eyes closed afterwards, trying to soak in that by the end of this day, I won’t be living here anymore. My heart begins to pang for my poor, poor mother. Despite our awkward silences during dinner, I think I would prefer to roam in chosen rather than inevitable and uncontrollable silence.
When I enter the living room, my mother is already up, drinking tea on the couch. She’s on the news channel where they have been broadcasting the ‘Higher Graduates’ ever since they were announced. Higher Graduates being the students moving upwards. The second letter I received stated that once I’m up there, we’ll all be taken on a tour of the Division before being briefly interviewed on our positions. Before we even enter the H.D., we’ll go through a few health check-ups and recharges as well as physical modifications in which most are optional. It’s just a way for us to fit in with the fashion code unless we want to stick out like sore thumbs. I wonder how much different they all look if our simple attire would be enough to turn heads.
I offer to make us breakfast, but my mother insists I don’t mess up the clothes I’ve been made to wear. I didn’t know they would come with five-inch heels which unsettle me as well as makes it harder for me to move stably. Most of my shoes consist of comfortable flats; if H.D. attire includes anything that holds my heels above the ground and my toes pointed in an awkward position, I think I might just reconsider the invitation or overthrow the fashion status quo.
A pair of guards are due to arrive at midday to collect me, so I go through and check all of my luggage for the millionth time in fear of forgetting anything crucial. I remember to take a notebook and a pen with me for any other of Osscarte’s lessons that I plan on going to.
I haven’t heard from Liza since I knocked on her door and my attempt to call her later that day, which to this point is more concerning than annoying. I checked her whereabouts on the citizen database as a last resort last night but nothing came up. It’s like she’s been wiped out of the system completely. I was hoping she would say goodbye to me at the platforms but unless she makes a surprise appearance, I highly doubt I’ll get to see her. This sinks my heart – I wonder where she is.
The men arrive at twelve o’ clock exactly as I sit in anticipation with the bags in my hands. My mother opens the door to them standing tall and broad in grey suits. Not much is said during my exit; each guard takes one of my bags whilst my mother hangs around behind us before we all stride down the corridors. I feel superior for once in my life; putting together the sleek white dress and being escorted by guards together creates a feeling of self-importance.
When we arrive at the platform, there are a big group of other Higher Graduates and their families hovering around hugging, crying and chatting with each other. It’s like the war departure all over again. Except girls are also leaving and everyone is sporting formal white attire. I spot the brother and sister duo talking to who I assume to be their mother. It seems like they are comforting her whilst she sobs uncontrollably. Like my own mother, she’ll be spending her days alone from this point on.
“You need to call me as soon as you can,” My mother says in a soft, hushed, weak tone.
“I will. I promise I will.”
“I mean it. I know it will be a lot of fun and games up there, but don’t get distracted. I need to know you’ll be alright.”
“I love you so much.”
“I love you too.”
She kisses my forehead, gripping too tightly to my head. I feel her heartbeat on my chest; frantic, desperate, lonely.
The train arrives - a large, sleek machine that runs faster than most other trains in the city. It’s used for important travels such as this one or trips that elites may make. Before boarding, I give my mother a quick kiss. She waves at me through the window where I was assigned to sit. Twenty-five students in total were chosen as Graduates in the Fourth Division; half of the total amount. Twenty chosen from the Second. Five chosen from the Lower.
The Ramos twins sit on the chairs across my aisle, looking solemn. Their facial expressions mirror each other down to a T, it’s unnerving. The girl, Janna, looks up at me. “Hi.”
“Hello.” I respond, looking back out of the window on my side. Parents and siblings wave furiously and present bittersweet smiles.
“How are you feeling?” She asks, like a mother.
“...I’m feeling OK. You?”
“No. I’m so scared.”
I scoff. “Scared of what?”
“I don’t know... I just feel like I should be scared of something. My instinct is quite the attention seeker. Always giving me a funny gut feeling.”
“I feel it too.” Joseph pipes up.
“I don’t get why.” I respond to them. The platform speakers erupt inside and outside of the train. One minute until departure. I glance back at my mother, looking small and hopeless. “I’m sure it will all be fine.” I utter, still paying attention to everyone outside. I wave my mother a last goodbye before the train begins to pick up speed.
“Osscarte talks so negatively of that place it would be hard to think otherwise.” Janna says.
“Doesn’t Aris live there? And he’s fine, isn’t he?”
“He doesn’t enjoy it there either. Both of them don’t. They believe that there is too much freedom of undirected speech, he says.”
“And what’s wrong with that?” I ask.
“It gives bad people the chance to have power. It gives unintelligent people the power to teach others. So they say.”
“Oh,” I sigh. The lights in the tunnel fly past into a blur. The train has less than two minutes to its destination – the Higher Division lifts.
“Can I just quickly ask – why is Osscarte mainly referred to as Osscarte and not his first name?”
“Oh,” Joseph chuckles. “That’s just his persona. His preference. Only his wife can really call him William, right?”
“I guess.” I fiddle with my fingers.
Once we’re off the train, we are split up into groups of five to be sent up the lift each group at a time. I watch as the first group walk into the metallic double doors and their past lives close on them. They disappear up the elevator. When it’s my group’s turn to enter, I pay attention to how Janna seems to be mumbling prayer under her breath with her eyes closed. Either she’s afraid of lifts, or the place at the end of the lift.
Once the doors close and we start to move up, that’s when I get the feeling that maybe whatever Janna and Joseph was saying was true. However, it did come from the lunatic himself, Osscarte.
There’s something about his beliefs that I really want to doubt –they just seem so far-fetched and fabricated.
But there’s also something that I feel compelled to believe in. What it is, I really don’t know.
I’ll find out sooner or later.