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When James woke up in the morning, he did not speak to his fellow Workers. No one spoke, because to speak your mind is to sin. James tried to keep his mind as blank as he could but the unspoken sins kept rising up to meet him.
There were 100 people in the room, their beds lined up in columns. James' was on the column closest to the right wall, so he saw the beds of everyone else. He wanted to tell them to go back to bed, that it was too early, but it was already ten minutes into their breakfast time.
James lifted his legs to the side of the bed and straightened his back as he had always done. He put on his shoes and let his shirt fall onto his back. James used to hate those clothes, with their disgusting off-white colors. At first, he'd tried to wear his own, but then by some change of heart, he found that he loved them. He still didn't know why. His best guess was that the Leaders didn't think he needed the information.
All the men walked in a line out of the bedroom to the dining hall while James thought about his unspoken sins. Your hair is too long, he thought about the man to his left, I don't like your face, he thought about another. None of the men could hear his crimes, but he tried to make them known of his distaste.
It's dark today. Do we have to go out when it's dark? James knew it was a horrible crime to wish not to work, not to contribute to the Workforce, but who could punish him for his thoughts??
"You're too stinky, I don't like your eyes, your nose is disgusting, All of you look horrible and ugly." Everyone looked at him with shock, but James kept spooning green beans onto his platter. Only when he turned around did he realize he'd committed his last sin for all to see.
Don't speak of it, James said with his eyes. That was the only way the Workers communicated, and a very effective one at that. The other Workers turned away and continued to eat their beans.
At 5:00 in the morning, all the men filed out to the streets and began their work. It was a tedious task, the one assigned to them., keeping the streets clean. There was a shed at each intersection with brooms and blowers, and every day the Workers took their tools from there. The streets had wide sidewalks so there was more space to clean but they got up early so they could finish before dinner.
James worked on the 260th quadrant of town, where the leaves were gray and shriveled. They crumbled whenever he tried to sweep them up, which was a pain, but he made do. Through all of his years as a Worker, he had learned the correct way to hold a broom, with your lower hand pressing down and your upper pressing up. It made work a little more bearable.
James liked to think of the other Workers as shrimp, dancing across the stones in the sidewalk. It was a curse, his brain, his damned creativity, but it was funny. He had to stifle a laugh every now and then so as not to become a Pupil at the Reeducation Institute. If you spoke out of line, it was simply ration cuts. For a laugh, you got pain.
The first time that a laugh drifted into James' ears was a long time ago, he couldn't tell how long. It had been business as usual and James' head wasn't crowded with the sins it was today. He had gone to his corner with a broom, prepared for a hard day of work. Back then, he had a partner. It was a stout man, with a rough beard. Few Workers had beards. The man had committed a heinous crime, one that even James dared not to commit: He had whistled. It was a horrible treachery but James couldn't help himself. He opened his ears to the man's whistling and let it warm him up.
A few weeks after the man's offense, James had come upon his corner one day to find that he was alone. There was no partner, no musical lilt in the air. It had been long enough, and they reeducated him. James couldn't cry, no, because he hadn't really known the man, but he did feel sick to his stomach. He refused his extra portions and even starved himself.
In the darkness, as James lay in bed trying to fall asleep, a voice came to him. It wasn't any voice that he'd heard before, but a deep voice. The words rang out in front of him, the stops and fricatives rolling into his ears. Who are you? He pondered over the voice, then found himself at a sudden halt. His words weren't their own, no, but the voice spoke them.
James wanted to scream, to rip the voice from his brain, but then a warmth settled over him. It was an odd feeling, something entirely new to him but not unknown. He settled into the voice, realizing its entirety. The deep tones had felt odd in his mind, but he now felt a kinship to them. The voice was not any voice but James' voice. It was the first time James had heard a voice.
You have a deep voice... I... I have a deep voice. James felt the word 'I', the new meaning shocking his brain. He had never thought of himself in the individual before. Did his thoughts echo through the minds of others? I like cheese. I don't like your hair. I really hate mice. James tested it out, thought all horrible things about all manners of people, but they never responded or even glanced at him. He was free in his mind, free to speak and to insult and to prefer and to love and to cherish and to hate. It was his own, the mind, and he found that he loved it. There was nothing that could make him separate from it.