Randall is sitting on the counter waiting for everyone to leave. He glances around to confirm he has left no task undone which could be brought up at the last moment and deter him. As the clock strikes four-thirty and the last person leaves the establishment, he picks up his backpack, cross-checks the items in it, and steps out. He scrutinizes his surroundings to make sure nobody sees him. Pulling out his bicycle, he rides away, occasionally checking his rear-view mirror in case he’s followed.
Jonathan is in the middle of a fight. The other person doesn’t seem to understand that he has responsibilities, that people depend on him, his judgment and leadership. He is being pulled down to perform menial, meaningless tasks which according to the other person is his real responsibility. The other person just doesn’t realize what he is being held back from. He has to be the first one to reach the secret location and prepare the agenda for today’s meeting, else there is no dearth of vultures in the society, like Randall, ready to take his position.
Jill finds herself in a bit of a predicament. It’s thirty minutes past four and her meeting shows no signs of ending. She knows she should have cleared out her calendar for the day, but nobody ever takes her seriously when she says she has a busy day planned. How strange is it that her assistant decides what is important for her and what is not? Who made her the boss? This will be the second time she’s late to the meeting and their leader, Jonathan, a small, short-tempered character, will be furious. She looks at the person sitting across her, innocently going about her business with not a care in the world. Jill realizes she needs to get out of there in the next one minute unless she wants to get banned from future meetings.
Upon reaching the secret location, Jonathan finds that he’s not the first one to arrive, but thankfully Randall hasn’t arrived yet either. He is prompted to enter the code at the door.
“Pasghetti” he says, pronouncing it like a child. He tries to remember which idiot’s idea it was to keep that as the code word.
Randall follows him, then Jill. They stand in a line, none of them uttering a single word to each other until they’ve entered.
Mia is extremely worried. She knows she is about to break a rule today which might blow off their cover completely. Nobody is supposed to be accompanied to the secret location by a non-member but Mia had no choice. It was this, or not coming to the meeting at all. And she didn’t want to miss today’s meeting. She gets off the air-conditioned car, anxious, sweating profusely, and asks the man in the car to drive off.
“Leave! Quick. And don’t worry about me. I’ll walk back home.”
The man, curious and confused, drives off only to stop at a distance where Mia can’t see him.
He pulls down the window and spies on his four-year-old daughter, watching her run and climb up Jonathan’s treehouse like she’s being chased by a dog. Randall opens the door for her and she enters, but not before eyeing her surroundings suspiciously.
“What a bunch of dodos.”
He chuckles at his daughter’s weirdness and drives off.
Everyone is seated around in a circle, clutching onto their colorful backpacks comprising their lifelong savings - their piggy banks.
Randall is dressed in a buttoned-up checkered shirt with cargo trousers. The leather belt borrowed from his father isn't doing the best job at keeping his pants in place. Jill counts calories of every meal that she consumes, so much that she slurps diet coke and eats a salad on days her parents order in a pizza.
Mia wears glasses bigger than her face. Her favorite book is the oxford dictionary and her favorite club is the math club. People began calling her "Einstein" ever since a book fell on her face the day she dozed off at the library under the shelves. And Jonathan, the leader, a domineering bully, but sadly not the most quick-witted kid, is in an Avenger's t-shirt but his favorite hero is Thanos, if one could call him a hero that is.
“Mia.” Jonathan starts in a grave tone,
“Did someone come to drop you off? You know the rules. It’s not safe. Our enemies can’t know we are a part of this society. The repercussions could be serious. They might ground us, or even worse, permanently cut off our TV-time.”
Mia shudders. She knew Jonathan will pick on her if he finds out. Her voice shakes as she replies,
“I’m sorry, leader. Last week, while walking back home from school, I got lost and landed up at some Mrs. Lantham's house. She was a nice woman, gave me chocolates and milk but now my parents don’t trust me. They insist on dropping me off everywhere since then.”
"How could you accept chocolates? Don't you know they make us fat?" Jill looks repulsed.
"Yes Jill, that's what is wrong with the story." Randall deadpans.
“Mia, you can’t afford to be irresponsible. The whole point of this society is to find ways for adults to take us seriously. It won’t be possible if we keep doing stupid things justifying their point in repressing us.”
“I-----I am so---sorry.” She stammers.
“And what about you? Why are you late today?” Jonathan turns to Jill without any warning.
“But….. I walked in five minutes after you did, leader.”
“Anyone who enters after me is late. That’s the rule of our society, Jill. What’s your excuse today?”
Jill is flushed. She considers lying and telling Jonathan that her bicycle broke down, or she had a potty emergency but something about Jonathan’s strong glare makes her blurt out the truth.
“Martha set me up on a playdate. I’m sorry I shouldn’-”
“Again?” Jonathan roars with anger. “Why do you let your nanny plan playdates on the days of the meeting?”
“She never listens to me. Every time I tell her I have something important to do, she tells me I’m a kid and that I have nothing better to do than sleep and poop, like I’m a two-year-old or something.”
“Well, you have yourself to blame for that, Jill. You’re so naive.”
Jonathan shrugs in disdain and returns to his seat.
Nobody likes Jonathan. He is rude and condescending. He thinks he’s above all, the most mature member of the society but in reality he’s the one who gets punished the most at home and everyone knows that.
Mia had once witnessed Jonathan’s mother spank him by the stairs in the middle of a dinner party. Jonathan swore her to secrecy later on.
Jonathan never picks his toys, cleans his room, or eats his vegetables and although he keeps saying that everyone else is naive, kids like him are the real reason why they all had to create this secret alliance in the first place, why no adult takes them seriously. The only reason he is the leader is because the secret location belongs to him.
That lucky, “the bad word parents ask us never to say”, Randall thinks.
“Where is Justin?” Jonathan questions after going through the attendance sheet.
“I called Justin before leaving.” Randall acknowledges,
“He can’t make it today.”
“Why is that?”
“He hasn’t completed his homework. He has a test due tomorrow.”
“Great. One more excuse. I don’t understand why none of you care about the severity of our cause. Our enemies are making our lives hell, dictating every aspect of our lives, forcing us to do tasks we don’t want to do and yet you all take our gatherings so casually. We have to find a way to balance our lives and our involvement in this society, else we'll be oppressed forever. ”
Everyone nods in acknowledgment.
“What’s the agenda for today’s meeting?”
“Ridiculous rules by grown-ups”
“I can go first. So-” Randall starts speaking when Jonathan cuts him off.
“I am the leader. I’ll go first.”
Randall grunts in reply. He has some dirt on Jonathan which will definitely ground him for at least a month, if revealed to his mother. Randall's just anticipating the right moment to do so which would induce maximum damage.
“So point number 1: Why do our parents always ask us to clean our rooms? I mean, if I’m okay with my toys lying around, it should be nobody else's business, right? This unnecessary task takes up a whole day and that's twenty-four precious hours of our lives down the drain. And more importantly, why don’t parents clean their rooms before telling us to clean ours?” Jonathan speaks with indignation.
Mike, who is the plumpest kid in the society, very wise but hardly speaks out of fear of Jonathan murmurs,
“But our parents do keep their rooms spotless. In fact, they keep the entire house tidy. It’s only reasonable we clean our rooms at least.”
“Whose side are you on, Mikey?” Jonathan is infuriated. “Do you want to be a traitor? Do you want to get kicked out?”
“But he is right.” Mia backs Mike up. “They do clean the whole house. My mum replaces the sheets in my brother's room every other day. I’m not sure but I think Dylan still pees in bed.”
“ See? It’s common for us to still pee in bed and wear diapers if Dylan does it too.” Jill butts in.
“No, it’s not.” Randall laughs. “I stopped peeing in my bed when I was two years old.”
“Nobody likes a boaster, Randall. Shut up!” Jonathan uses the opportunity.
“Back to the issue. Raise your hands if you want the point of room cleaning up on the board.”
Only Jill raises her hand while everyone else sits cross-legged on the floor, and sips onto their small tetra packs of orange juice with straws.
“Fine,” Jonathan grunts. “Who’s next?”
“Bedtime.” Jill chimes in, unbottling her kale smoothie. “My bedtime right now is seven-thirty. It’s causing me a lot of difficulties.”
“Well there is my favorite cartoon that airs at eight and since I’m not allowed to watch it, I have to tape it and see it the next day during my allotted TV time, which makes me miss another one of my favorite tv shows.”
“Hear, hear.” Mike adds on to it. “Even my bedtime is seven-thirty. Once I proposed a negotiation where I could have a later bedtime and more tv time in exchange for completing my homework before time. My father said, I signed an agreement upon my birth, which clearly states that until 18, I can’t make any changes to my schedule.”
“Do you believe him?” Randall asks skeptically.
“I guess so. He once told me in confidence that mum and he also signed an agreement because of which she can't leave him, and for the past one year, every day after dinner, my mum screams that she'll leave him if he doesn't do the dishes but she hasn't. So, I guess, it's pointless trying."
Everyone nods in understanding.
“What about others? I know my parents are awake till late at night after they tuck me into bed. I once saw them watching a horror film on tv because they were hiding under the blanket and my mom was screaming “Oh God! Oh God!”, Jonathan says.
“Why was she calling out to God while watching a horror film?”
“My mother says, always remember God when you’re scared and you won’t be anymore.”
“Okay. So, later bedtime.” Jonathan concludes while writing that on the board.
“He misspelled the word time.” Jill mutters to Randall.
“Oh, yes. I once overheard Jonathan’s mother tell ma that either he has dis-sex-ia or he’s plain stupid.”
“I think it’s the second one,” Jill responds chuckling. After a little pause, she asks “What does dis-sex-ia mean?”
“What next?” Jonathan speaks up before Randall could answer. “Is there anything you would like to add, Mikey?"
“Yes. Nobody answers our interrogations. The most prevailing response we get is, you’re too young to understand.”
“Questions like what?”
“Questions like, what’s the purpose of life. Why are we all here? Why are there so many rules? Why do we have to do things we don’t like. Why does life get difficult and mirthless as you grow up? What all do we have to achieve before we die?”
There’s dead silence everywhere. Mia stares down at her juice box, her glasses falling off slowly, while Randall looks out of the window. He sees a bunch of two-year-olds lying in their cribs trying to trap flies in between their palms. Suddenly Randall is envious of them. Jonathan lumps down onto the floor dropping his chalk with a dramatic effect as if he suddenly comprehended the real mission of his superhero, Thanos. Nobody speaks. The only sound looming over them is that of Jill slurping her kale smoothie.
After a few minutes, Jill speaks up. “What is mirthless?”
Mike sighs. He wants to put his head through a wall. “You know, Jill, Jonathan might be right about you. Do you sleep through classes or something? No wonder your nanny doesn’t take you seriously.”
“Hey, at least I’m not a turkey ball like you.”
“Jesus Christ, Jill. We’re not LA models. Kids are allowed to be chubby. It's called baby fat.”
“ Oh yeah? Then how come you get bullied at your preschool?”
“Because of people like you who care more about how they look than knowing the meaning of words like mirthless and dyslexia.”
“Okay calm down, there is no need to turn against each other.” Jonathan butts in. “We’re all in this together.”
He turns to Mike.
“Now, err, Mike, I don’t have questions like that. I don't think any of us have questions like that. Maybe umm, you should talk to someone? But, yes. That is a good point. It’ll add it.”
“Ask the meaning of life.” Jonathan jots down.
Mike slaps his forehead.
A phone rings and everyone gasps. Jill quietly pulls out her flip phone from her backpack and answers it while others stare at her in awe.
“Okay, mum. I’ll be home in ten.”
She has a smug look on her face.
“They gave you a phone?” Mia finally crushes the silence.
“Yes. For my fifth birthday. Now, who’s the immature one?”
She grins widely revealing the noticeable gap from where two of her teeth fell out.
“Gosh Jill. What are you even doing in this meeting then? You don’t need us.” Jonathan is both furious and jealous.
"Yes. What she needs is extra tutoring." Mike adds.
“It’s fun to meet secretly. It’s like living two lives.” Jill answers ignoring Mike.
Mike sighs in a corner.
“Besides," Jill continues. “I still need to extend my bedtime. Holidays are around the corner, and I can’t keep up with all my shows if I sleep so early.”
“Wow. Such big dilemmas. You poor little lamb.” Mike reprimands.
Jonathan breaks the cold staring competition between Mike and Jill.
“It’s dinner time. We have to conclude this meeting. Also time for weekly donations. Please place two dollars in my piggy bank before leaving.”
“Two dollars? But last week it was one. Wasn’t it? And besides, what do you even have to do? Just let us have meetings in your treehouse.” Randall is enraged. But he is also hoping this would an opportunity where everyone defies Jonathan and wishes for another leader.
“It has become increasingly challenging for me to take time out of my daily schedule to make minutes of these meetings, prepare agendas for the coming weeks, monitor our success rate, and plan more tactics. It’s taking up my homework time and last week my mum cut off my allowance because I was awake past my bedtime.”
Everyone clicks their tongue in sympathy.
Jill pours out all the money from her piggy bank and starts counting.
She hands Jonathan four and a half dollars. Mike is about to tell her that when Jonathan glares at him.
“Now time for our oath.”
All the kids stand up and hold hands. Mike is having trouble standing up while Randall is struggling with his pants.
“Together we fight our enemies and together we gain freedom from this tyranny. We strive to make this world a better place for all the innocent ones, for who we slave.”
And they disperse one by one.