The phrase rang out in two separate tones; one of a clear female, and the other a deep baritone of a guy. Garth and I had decided that we would both say it at the same time so that we didn’t have to subject the other to making it conclusive. To making it final, even though the air was filled with the end.
We weren’t special; our milieu was filled with similar images, albeit clearly more sappy and emotional. I hate to even think it, but the teenagers and young adults around us were more hopeful. Disgusting I thought as I caught Sinclair in my peripherals. He kept on fist bumping Gibran while clearly trying to avoid Angel. I think he’s a dumbass for not just admitting his love for her right now, but I quickly distinguish that thought as I realize it’s hypocritical.
Garth’s sniffle brings me back to our moment, and his face. It’s a face, a beautiful face. I know I’ll be mapping it out in my sleep after we’re all sent off to our respective zones, destined to never meet again. I’ll be remembering it for the rest of my days, aging him in my mind, feeling his intangible presence when we’re both old. Well, I probably won’t even make it till thirty. I want to say that I hope I will, but I’ll be falling into my hypocritical ways again. Out of everyone, I’m the one who knows that I won't best, and they all know it too.
“Gareth. Time to dip” the guard feigns a smile and points his head towards the open gate, already filling with those ghastly coloured trucks. His use of slang to try and accommodate us is horrendous, but I’m more focussed on what came out of his mouth before that. Gareth. Not entirely shocking; that is, technically, his name. But I hadn’t heard him being called that in years. Not since I unintentionally placed his sobriquet as “Garth”, the only version of the name my four year old mind could comprehend and pronounce. Hearing it like this, right now, in such unprecedented circumstances reminds me of how clinical, how organised this whole thing is. Like they’d been planning it for years, masking it with their motto “unity through community.” It brings back all the times Garth and I would argue over the dynamics of the whole system. “You’re being paranoid and stupid about this. They wouldn’t spend so much time, effort and money on this place just to secretly be plotting our demise” would always be his response to my conspiracy theories about this place being covertly sinister.
A loud horn erupts from one of the trucks, the black one, to signal it’s imminent departure. A few people start walking towards it as the strategically placed guards shuffle into motion, trying to look calm while obviously wanting to rush the whole thing up. It's not hard to notice what all the people heading to the truck have in common; they're all coloured, they're all black. It feels like we hardly had any time at all, and I manage to get one last look at Garth before the guard starts getting impatient. I know we had already bid our farewells, but I wanted so badly just to hug him and tell him that I'd miss him. And that I love him. From the forlorn look in his eyes, I could tell that he was feeling the same way, but we had made a promise. One last look from him tells me that he's scared and that I was right all along, and then just like that, he's gone. The black truck closes its doors and the iron gates open to let it through. And then he's actually gone.
First it was the Africans in the black truck, then the Indians in the brown, the Chinese in the yellow, all the races left, except for us. Us, we stayed right here in Gezzelig with the Whites. By Us, I mean the people that they couldn't quite fit into a label, and this meant that our characteristics were hard to judge. Maybe it was the fact that there weren't that many of us, or that even if there were, we weren't fundamentally the same. Either way, they were scared of us, and it meant that we had to stay under their constant supervision. Not that they explained this was the case. They played it off like we were the special ones, and they were here to protect us. But I knew. I always knew.
I feel Sinclairs head turn towards mine. We were lying on the AstroTurf grass in the Green Area, not really knowing where to go from here. Sinclair wasn't my favourite person, in fact, we were happy being enemies, but something at this point of time repressed that for a moment.
“You thinking about Garth huh?” his smooth voice came out more as a statement than a question.
“Not as much as you're thinking about Angelina” I retorted, already tired of talking to him.
“That's not fair.”
“This whole thing isn't fair Sinclair, but you know what? We move on. We move on because that's the only thing we can afford to do.” It comes off more snarky than intended, but I’m too irritated to care.
“I know you’re just projecting or whatever. If you’re just gonna lay down and accept defeat, be my guest” he pushes himself onto his elbows and makes to leave, but his words struck something with me. Did Sinclair actually say something valid for once?
“Yes, I did. Stop judging me all the time” he replies to my question that I had apparently made public, his face a mix of emotions that I can’t quite understand. I never was one for feelings, but a wave of guilty washes over me as I scan his distinct features. If there was anything that we possibly had in common, it was the fact that we were both half Filipino. The only difference was that his counterpart mix was White and mine Pakistani. I don’t really know why, but somehow this common connection didn’t translate into our friendship. Or maybe I was just too closed off to ever give him a chance. Why are you suddenly feeling sympathetic towards him, my routine thoughts inundated my mind, but this time, just for a moment, I dismissed them.
“I know, I- yeah. Sorry about that. I guess, I don’t know. Being a bitch is kind of just my default mode, ya know? Whatever, this shit is fucked. I didn’t really think you felt the same way…”
“Well, you wouldn’t. You barely even talk to me” his voice came out resigned, and I notice the dark circles under his eyes. Had he also not been sleeping since The Announcement?
“Too consumed with trying to find ways to escape from this hellhole I guess.”
“Maybe we could. You and me, we could come together for once and get out of this place. Get back to our friends, and maybe even the world out there” his eyes suddenly lit up, excitedly exploring mine, like he’d been waiting to share this with someone for a while.
I knew we couldn’t, but we were actually having a decent conversation after years. It didn’t feel like the right time to dampen his hopes. It’s never going to be the right time, might as well just let him down easy right now.
“Yeah, maybe we could.”
I lay awake, staring at the ink embedded into the lavender wall. I remember the Elders being confused by my choosing of such a light colour, considering my personality wasn’t the prettiest. Regardless, they had painted it to my request all the same, brainwashing me even then to believe that they had my best interests at heart.
I silently scoff, still staring at the words that taunted me every night.
Dutch, adjective ° convivial, cosy, fun, quaint, or a nice atmosphere. Time spent with loved ones, seeing a friend after a long absence, or general togetherness that gives a warm feeling. Community.
In black ink, in every room. Always reminding us why they chose to call this place Gezelling. Reminding us that they saved us. That they control us.
That’s only your opinion. My thoughts, trying to confuse me again. I’m solid in my belief though. I knew that it would always come to something like this. As I continue to stare at the definition of our home, my mind wanders back to the beginning. Me, as a toddler, trying to figure out why I was being taken away from my actual home, my parents, and everything I knew. Why I was being taken to this huge area with fake grass and daunting halls and other kids just like me, some a bit older, but never too old. Why, after 14 years, I was still here, but without the people I had known since that time. Without Garth.
Of course, when we were all older, the few adults in this place who we were told to call the Elders satisfied our primitive questions.
Parents, the virus has taken an immeasurable amount of lives, and finally, after a gruelling two and a half years, we’ve found the vaccine. Granted, it’s a bit unorthodox, but we believe that this will be even more effective than our usual ones. Not quite a vaccine in the sense of needle piercing skin, but something more...under your skin. Something that allows our children, the leaders of our future, to fight this off and anything else like it for the rest of their lives. In essence, to acquire an immunity like no other. May we present to you; Gezelling, a place where they can all grow up together, with no foreign diseases, nothing from the outside world that can hinder their progress. No adults, save from a few professionals, to transfer anything that shouldn’t be in a child’s system. A place where they have everything they need and more; a first-class education, access to every medical facility, nature, and most importantly, social interaction. There’s immunity in our community. Changing the world for the better. Unity through community.
And we had all just accepted it. How could we not? We didn’t have the resources, or any reason to doubt their constant kind smiles and encouraging words. For a while, I had accepted it too, quickly settling into my new “home”, socialising like I was meant to. Getting to know my peers, and through that, finding a best friend in Garth and an enemy in Sinclair. We were all doing the same thing, including Sinclair who’d aligned himself with Gibran from India and Angelina from Spain. It didn’t matter that we didn’t all look the same, it had never even crossed my mind. All that mattered was that we were all together, until our cohort turned 18. Turned into adults. And that’s when my growing suspicion over the years revealed itself in the form of The Announcement.
Wow, it’s amazing to see how much all of you have grown. It feels like just yesterday that you all arrived and made this such a beautiful place to stay in. Well, we’ve been planning something huge for some time, and we thought that since you’re now all of age, and legally adults, your place in this community has come to an end as you know it. Don’t worry though, you’ll still be a part of the society, just not in the way that it’s been running. Our other societies are full, and we need space for the new cohort. Due to this, we’ll be assigning all of you to our various community zones, based on your similarities. You have a week to pack your things and say your goodbyes. We’re so excited to start this new journey with you.
Little did we know that “similarities” was code for our race, something that was only revealed to us a day before departure. They told my group separately that we were lucky enough to stay at this base community, and that all would be revealed in due time. Hitherto, I don’t know the exact reason for this change, but I had suspected that something of the sort was definitely going to split us apart. The more I thought about it that week though, the more I thought it had been part of an evil, bigger master plan all along. Something along the lines of all of us becoming too close, too open to making change if we came together. They needed a way to keep control over us lest someone, someone like me, figured out that their whole “unity through community” facade was a disguise for controlling the new world they wanted to shape after the virus. The perfect excuse. Someone like me and Sinclair, who they had been secretly keeping watch over these past years, who didn’t have common patterns with each other. In fact, we were the perfect archetype; teenagers of similar enough genes, yet enemies in their mindsets. We may have been on different pages, but our friend groups suggested that we weren’t affected by looking different. People like us needed the most attention, because we could be the ones to bring this whole thing down if we worked together. The Anonymous to their White Supremacy.
My brain hurts like it usually does when I think too deep about my conspiracies. They’re not conspiracies. Or are they? Shut up, I need to sleep. Remember that last week, when Garth finally understood the premise of what you’d been suspecting the whole time? What a dick, right? Maybe this is for the better. What if they kill you? They’ll probably kill you halflings, right? You’re the most rebellious of all the groups. Ha, living until you’re 30, forget it. What a joke.
I will my mind to stop thinking, even though I’m aware of thinking about not thinking, and it makes my brain hurt even more. It doesn’t work, but I do eventually fall asleep. My final thoughts take the form of a dream in my subconscious.
Sinclair and I approach the border, glancing behind our backs frantically. They aren’t that far behind, we’re sure of that. Zones glow all around us, fenced off by large pillars and tall iron gates. We want to go back for all our friends, there’s nothing more we want to do, but we know that there’s hardly any time. They’ll be here any minute. With a knowing look and a combined sigh, we break through the border and step into the world, the real world, not the faux Gezzelig.
It looks the same, but the grass actually seems real, and the air smells different. I breathe it in, and say “hello.”
And for some reason, I know that Garth, still in that world, feels my presence. I know that he’s not mad at me, and that he too will someday find a way out with the rest. I know that he says it with me too.