For the greater good of WE
Words really can harm you
The alarm sounds. Everyone stands at attention while we recite in unison.
We are all one unified being
For the greater good of WE.
We are Epihanystar. We wear a heart-shaped locket around our wrist with our name engraved in it—one of the requirements of this new society. We are in our mid-twenties and still adapting to this new world in Philadelphia. We remember our childhood, when it was the city of brotherly love.
After the oath, we take our brown paper bag and eat with the others in the large courtyard in silence. Talking is prohibited during dinner. Today is Tuesday and on Tuesdays we get turkey with mash potatoes and green beans. The food is usually bland and harsh to our taste buds. It always leaves behind an unsavory residue that clings to the tongue and hides between our teeth. We eat not for enjoyment but nourishment according to one of the laws.
While we eat, the huge screen in the courtyard lights up and “What can we do to become model citizens?” flashes across it. It ends with this.
To question the law means that there is sickness in the mind.
Inform the councilors if there are signs of this sickness amongst us.
This is in the best interest of our society.
We head back to our room. The floors are squeaky and old, an unfinished mahogany that is striking against the bland walls. Rooms are painted a stark white. Sheets are white. Even our pajamas are white.
As we crawl into bed, we cannot stop thinking. We try to remember the time when there use to be an ‘I’ instead of only ‘we’.
It is 6 pm and the sun is still out while we walk towards the theater to meet Blackbird for our scheduled movie date. The council allows us up to 4 dates before it decides on whether or not we will marry. When did we ever feel this nervous? We wonder what Blackbird will look like. What if the council thinks that we are not suited for each other?
The doors of the theater open, and a council inspector escorts us to our seat. The seats are six inches apart. Our eyes lock in with Blackbird. It makes us uncomfortable, so we look away.
Blackbird is handsome, six feet tall, velvet smooth skin, brown eyes that sparkle under the overhead lights. We say hello without making eye contact and sit down. Council inspectors are seated in the back. We are not the only matched pairs having a movie date tonight. The movie is old, black and white, a comedy, but we do not focus on it.
We do not talk. The first date is only for initial contact. We do not know how Blackbird feels but this is becoming the best experience of this new world. As we leave the theatre, Blackbird smiles. Not just any smile. It is contagious, with lips that are moist and pink. We wonder how those lips taste—a mix of warm butter pecan sauce drizzled on top ice cream.
Since the date, everyday seems like a continuation of the day before and all we can think about is seeing Blackbird again. This time we are not going to be so shy.
The following Tuesday, we meet with Blackbird at the community restaurant. We cannot see any council inspectors but we know that they are always watching. Blackbird pulls out our chair and adds a compliment that makes us blush. We eat from the brown paper bags and make small talk over dinner. What a difference to talk while we eat. It almost feels like we are breaking the law. We look around to be sure none of the council inspectors are coming because we cannot help but smile all the time.
Blackbird works in the other building with the scholars, those of us destined to be doctors or scientists. We work with the creatives, those of us destined to become artists, musicians. Blackbird likes art and we in turn express our love for science.
The council inspectors inform us that our date is over but before we leave, Blackbird slips a piece of paper into our pocket. We are at first afraid. What is Blackbird up to?
In our room, once the lamps are out and everyone is asleep, we walk towards the window where there is some light coming in from the streets. We open the piece of paper. This is what it says.
The government is brainwashing us by preventing individual identity. They speak of doing all that they do to keep us safe. But they are lying to us.
I want you to run away with me. You and I can then become ‘we’ on our own terms.
We turn around. Our roommate Angeldawn is out of bed staring at us.
“What is this piece of paper?” asks Angeldawn.
“Oh, it’s nothing, just a piece of paper,” we say as we crumple it up in our hands and put it behind us.
“Hmm, we do not think so. We will report you to the council. Reading is not allowed in our rooms.”
“There is a chance that we are all found guilty of breaking the law and then we may be no more. Please Angeldawn.”
Just then, a council inspector opens the door. We pray that they do not search us or the room. What will become of Epihanystar?
“What is going on in here? We can hear talking. Why are we awake at this time of the night?”
Angeldawn stares at us. We are terrified. The piece of paper remains crumpled in our hand. We hold our breath. Will Angeldawn tell, or will we keep our secret?
We do not know what to say. We slowly drop the paper to the floor, kicking it under the desk nearby. We do not want the councilors to find the letter and place our lives in danger.
“Since there is no answer, all will be punished and will go to the building of corrections where all will study the law for two weeks alone and in silence. After the two weeks of study, all will meet before the council and then it will decide whether all will return to the rest of society or not.”
Angeldawn does not make eye contact as we leave the room. We know that Angeldawn is angry and maybe afraid, but we are grateful that we do not speak of the piece of paper.
We get to the chambers and Grand Master is there. Angeldawn still refuses to make eye contact.
“Grand Master may we speak?” We say.
“We are the cause of the disturbance. Angeldawn woke because of this.
“Angeldawn is this true?”
Angeldawn looks at us for the first time. “Yes.”
“Then Angeldawn return to the room. Epiphanystar, await transportation to the building of corrections.”
Our legs are still shaking while we wait but we are glad that Angeldawn is not facing any form of punishment. Our days must be spent studying, except for the three times during the day when we are reminded through loudspeakers that we are to become model citizens.
At the end of week one, we meet with the council. A group of elderly white men, some wearing glasses and others so old that the folds on their faces and hands are like wrinkles in clothing.
“Recite the first 40 laws!”
“Law #1, Thinking and the writing of thoughts without proper authorization is illegal. Law #2, We are all the same, no man better than the other and to think differently is illegal. Law #3, We shall follow all the laws of the society without question as it is our primary responsibility as citizens…”
We go back to our room where we await further instructions.
A council member enters the room. They tell us that they are impressed with the progress that we are making and that we will get to leave early. This is the best news and we are beyond elated.
We join the others at the courtyard for dinner. We see Angeldawn at the park and we apologize and agree to keep the piece of paper a secret. The good thing is Angeldawn is unaware of what was written on the paper. We now fear only that the council will take Blackbird away from us.
The next day we return to work still thinking of Blackbird. Our heart is growing fond of Blackbird and something feels like it is missing. We hope to see Blackbird soon even though our buildings do not mix.
On Friday afternoon right before the alarm sounds, a council inspector approaches us and informs us that the council is giving us permission to continue to date Blackbird. They believe that the time in the building of corrections is enough punishment and that we are proving to be good citizens of the society.
Our heartbeats become flutters and deep inside we smile for we cannot show any signs of joy on the outside. Tomorrow we will meet Blackbird again.
At 6 pm, we reunite with Blackbird at the community restaurant for dinner. We want to run and hug Blackbird, but it is forbidden. Public display of affection especially for unmarried citizens is a sin punishable by death. We sense concern in Blackbird’s eyes, but our smile is enough assurance that we are ok.
“It is a date,” we say in response to Blackbird’s question.
This is the response we get in return,
A night we will always remember
When the moon will be full in the sky
It will light up the way to our hearts
Free it from all chains
For we are one and soon one we will be.
We know what that means and we agree. We will meet again at the annual dance. The only time of the year when everyone can mingle. On the night of the dance, we will escape with Blackbird.
We say our goodbyes as we normally do with a smile. Everyday till the dance, there is an internal battle between fear and excitement. The latter always wins.
It is the day of the dance. Blackbird meets us at the gate. We are aware that all is well and our plan is in motion. Once the dancing begins at 10 pm, Blackbird’s roommate Sandkist will distract the council inspectors. We are to exit the courtyard first and Blackbird will follow behind a few feet away. Walking together will bring unwanted attention.
This we do and, as we walk, we can hear our heartbeat getting louder, almost wanting to break through our chest. We can see the moon. It is exceptionally bright as if making it a priority to be there to light our path. We do not look behind because Blackbird is following, and we trust that it is so. Then Blackbird grabs our hand, and we begin to run. The feel of blackbird’s hand sends an electric shock through our body. The air feels energized and our body searches for a meaning to this unfamiliar feeling.
Blackbird stops abruptly, looks behind to ensure that all is clear. We are all sweating. Blackbird bends and scrapes off dirt from the ground which reveals a rusted and oval metallic plate. We remove the plate and there is an opening. Blackbird motions with his hand. There are some stairs, so we make our way down and Blackbird follows behind.
Inside is dimly lit and we are immediately hit with a moldering smell which makes our eyes teary. The further we go, the less pungent the smell becomes. After a few minutes we stop briefly. We hold hands and we can feel the heat from our sweaty palms which is comforting.
There is no turning back. As we run, we remember the times before this new society when we once spoke of ourselves as ‘I’. So ‘I’ will break the chain securing our heart-shaped locket and say goodbye to Epiphanystar.
About the author
Ali has found a renewed passion for reading and creating. It is now a form of expression for her– another creative outlet which she works to improve upon.