As I sit in my oasis, I flip through the pages of my beaten-up copy of The Great Gatsby, soaking up my last few hours of imprisoned peace. I should be happy to finally leave this place. Why do I have this feeling that I am safer behind these walls?
The yard bells ring. A blaring nail on a chalkboard type of irritating sound.
Before leaving The Primaries, one must go through a period of transition. Chancellor Titus says it is “For the sake of the community, we must teach these heathens how to rejoin a society of discipline with respect for the higher powers”. There are two phases of transition. Phase One is the cleansing, they cleanse the demons of hatred and anarchy from our bodies through conversion type therapy sessions, showing videos of destruction, and telling us how wrong and despicable we once were to contribute to such monstrosities. They reinforce the idea that our government cares for us all and we must obey the rule of Titus to make our world a better place. Phase Two, for myself, begins today — the departure.
I walk down the grey cemented hallways, staring at the flickering fluorescent lights, not sure why I am not more excited to be leaving this hell hole. I make my way to the “classroom” door that has, in big bold letters, “001” painted on the front as I shove my book into my jumpsuit. During the first two phases, we were all in a different sector of the building, in a room with a single window facing the garden with a picture-perfect view of the weeping willow tree. This room is different than the others. As I step inside the first thing I notice is that there are no windows, only two solid doors, the one where I just stepped in from and one directly on the opposite wall. The room is bare and cold, there is nothing in here other than seats lined up in four rows of eight, a couple of kids scattered amongst them, all talking cheerfully and full of hope for their new life outside the Primaries. I sit here and think about the girl I see in the broken piece of glass by my cell, maybe I should be happy about leaving for her sake. She’d be excited, wouldn’t she?
“Jo! Hey, Joey! Come sit over here!” yelled a boy’s voice across the room.
My thoughts broken, I jumped at the sound of my name and quickly searched for the origin of the sound. I lock eyes with a boy with shaggy brown hair wearing the same grey tattered jumpsuit as everyone else, wishful thinking and optimism flickering in his hazel brown eyes, resting just above his soft inviting smile.
Peter is the closest thing I have to a friend that wasn’t a guard. It was by luck that we both had the same release date, aka our birthday, and were shoved into rehabilitation classes together. We’re both outcasts amongst our personal group of societal deviants, but we found some sort of sanity within each other that made it easier to not have any other friends. Peter got stuck in here after he stole medicine to help his mom who was dying from tuberculosis. He was caught and dragged here after tripping an alarm in a medical supply room. He didn’t even get to say goodbye.
I walk over to Peter and take a seat next to him.
“Hey Petey, happy birthday bud” I said with enough enthusiasm to appease his elevated attitude.
“Happy birthday to you too, Joey! How ya feelin’ about finally getting out of this place!” He knows I hate it when he calls me “Joey”, he’s practically jumping out his seat at this point.
“Yeah, I guess. Pretty awesome!” What else do I say to him? I can’t ruin the one event that has been getting him through the last few years.
“What’s the first thing we should do when they open the gates for us? I’m thinking ice cream to celebrate our big 18. Do they still have that one mom and pop shop near the town center? That place was delicious. Man, I haven’t had ice cream in so long! Well I mean I guess all of us haven’t. Anyways, not the point! We’re getting out of here, we’re getting some ice cream and then going home. Ah we’ve been waiting for this Joey, and it’s here, we made it.” He was talking a mile a minute I could barely keep up.
Interrupting him, I said, “Honestly, Peter, the first thing I want to do when we leave is find somewhere to sleep for the night”, the smile on his face immediately dropped, “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to ruin your parade Peter but I just don’t have anything to go back home to, you have your dad and a house and I have a park bench if I’m lucky.” I dropped my face into my hands, clutching my cheeks hoping I didn’t destroy this boys last few bits of excitement.
“I’m sorry Jo… I didn’t mean to rub it in or make you upset… I kind of just assumed you and I would be going out into the world together. You know? We’d be like Peter and Joey – rebel superheroes who pig out on ice cream and fight crime.” He pulled my hands out of their tight grip, so we could look at each other.
Staring at him I said. “We’re not superheroes, Peter. We’re the villains, remember?” We both paused for a second, then a second later we both erupted in laughter at how outrageous that statement sounded. After we both calmed down, it got quiet, and the lack of hope started to leak through my pores once more.
Peter recognized my expression instantly and said, “Why don’t you just come stay with me and my dad?”
“What, like live with you?” I spurted out in shock.
“Yeah, we have a spare room, at least from what I remember. My dad is a cool guy, I bet he would love to have you.”
The last of the group started to file in, the once muffled murmurs of conversation grew louder and louder with the onset excitement of eventual release.
“I don’t know, Peter, doesn’t that seem kind of weird? I doubt your dad expected you to bring something home from prison.”
“No, no, no, don’t worry about it. Trust me, you’ll be eating burnt water and frozen lasagna in no time. Living like true royalty!” Peter was staring off towards the ceiling, his hands up like they were supposed to be watching their lives play out like a movie.
“Oh wow, burnt water, my favorite…” I tried to put as much enthusiasm into that one statement as I possibly could.
It isn’t the burnt water or frozen lasagna that was making Peter’s offer unappealing, it was the thought of a family being together. I tried scanning my mind for a memory, just one memory of my family eating together, eating anything at all, and I couldn’t remember a single thing. It is as if that with every moment that flutters by, the memories I once had of my mom and dad seem to get fuzzier and fuzzier. Only that painful night remains…
The door to the room opened with an aggressive push, startling everyone enough that there was not a single conversation left to be heard. A woman walked in with her hair tight in a bun, not a hair out of place. Her name is Mrs. Stanovich, she has been our teacher throughout the first phase. She wore a brown dress that fit like a burlap sack with black heels that clicked and slid off her feet every time she took a step. Peter and I liked to bet our nonexistent money on when she would finally crack a smile or even a grimace; It’s been one year and, so far, we’re both losing.
Mrs. Stanovich clicks to the front of the class and throws her files down on the desk. After a minute of shuffling around her papers, she stops and peers up at all of us, sneering through her thin spectacles.
“Good morning, children,” she says in the most apathetic way, “I know you’re all just pleased with yourselves now that you have finally repaid your debt to society. We can’t wait to get you out of here either, officially someone else’s problem once more. Now when I call your name, please line up against the wall in order. You will be given an immunization and then escorted to your designated departure bus.” She began reading off names one by one. Peter and I had unknowingly been clutching hands the entire time in anticipation. His name was eventually called, and I felt a sense of panic as his hand slid away from mine.
“I’ll meet you at the bus stop, Joey.” He gave my hand one last squeeze and then proceeded to his own line.
For a list of just over 30 people, it seemed to take hours to get all the way through. I sit waiting and waiting and waiting to hear my name, but it never comes. Suddenly, the monotonous roll call stops.
“Alright children, hurry up get in line, be quiet, let’s get this over with.” Mrs. Stanovich sets her files down and ruffles through some more papers. Shock begins to flood my body with confusion. I see Peter looking around, trying to see why I am not in a line yet, his line is shuffling down, almost all pushed out to the loading docks.
I get up to say something but am cut short, before I get a word out, by a loud, “Oh!” as Mrs. Stanovich picks up another piece of paper.
“Ms. Josephine?” She looks around the room searching for me.
“Yes! I’m here,” The blood is beginning to fill my face once more, “Which line should I go to?” I stare at her blank face waiting for a reply.
“Oh no, Josephine, there has been a special request that your departure be postponed. Chancellor Titus himself would like to see you.”
My system flooded with panic, fear, and anxiety. The memories of terror engulfed my body enough to strip the breath from my lungs, I started to back away in disbelief and terror.
Mrs. Stanovich screeched, “Guards! Take her to the transport, the Chancellor would like a few words with her.”
Two men grabbed onto my arms, squeezing so tight I lost all feeling. I knew I had to fight back but I couldn’t budge their iron fists. The only thing I could do was scream.
“Peter! Peter! Peter don’t let them take me!” I scream for my friend to aid me. Kicking and screaming he tried to claw his way towards me.
“No! Jo! Don’t take her! What are you doing with her!” Guards are holding him down he can’t reach me. With one swift swing, a guard knocks Peter unconscious.
A sound that seemed to echo for miles is the next thing that left my mouth. I screamed for help, for Peter, for anyone to save me from the fate of seeing the one man that destroyed my family, the man that destroyed me. Something sharp stuck me in the nape of my neck. I tried to keep kicking, tried to loosen the grip of the guards from my body, but things began to become dark. I was disoriented and starting to lose consciousness.
I incoherently whisper, “Please, no”, as my last desperate cry for help as I fade into the darkness.