I followed the guard to the gray door, trying to ignore the “Do Not Engage” sign. My soft-soled shoes were quiet on the broken tile. The guard swiped her ID card in the large lock mechanism on the wall then pressed her thumb against her watch. A glowing code appeared. She entered it into the keypad on the lock. She raised her eyebrows and smirked at me. I looked away from her maroon eyes with deep red flecks and tried to keep from shying away from her. Most of the guards had red undertones in their irises. But many had another color as flecks, and none had the matching, murky undertone and flecks like this one. Some of the color blends I’d seen in the jail’s outer office were quite pretty. Frankly, I’d feel better if this woman were locked in her own cell. But assigning her to guard to someone with a “Do Not Engage” sign immediately outside her cell might make sense. Especially if I was wrong. Or failed.
I twirled the cap around the tip of my pen, clutching my folder to my chest. I watched the guard step back outside of the door and pull it closed. I forced myself to watch through the reinforced window as she rolled her disturbing red eyes. I twitched at the electronic latching of the door. I managed to keep breathing normally and even smiled back. I let the smile wane as I turned to face the dimly lit cell.
The girl sat on her bed along the back wall of her cell. She had wrapped her arms around her knees. Her hair flowed around her head, a cascade of beautiful curls. I’d expected it to be unkempt. They’d made her sound half-wild, unable to be let out of her cell.
Seeing her had me doubting their reports again. She felt older than twelve. The authorities claimed that they didn’t have any information on who she was or where she’d come from. The pen cap hit the floor with the clatter of cheap plastic.
She looked up. “You’re the eye expert.”
I felt my stomach knot as I looked into her uniformly white eyes. I had to swallow twice before I could respond. “Yes. What would you like me to call you?” I kept my eyes on her as I crouched to pick up the cap.
Her head tilted and she released her knees. “I’m Satya, but you don’t need to say my name. You just need to know it. You don’t like that woman either.”
I stood slowly and placed my folder on the table. I twisted the cap back onto the pen and waited while she stared at me. “That’s a pretty name,” I offered.
“It’s my true name. Why doesn’t an eye expert have light eyes?”
My chest clenched. True name? I tilted my head. “Why would a psychologist have light eyes?”
“Because you’re supposed to be good.”
“Your eyes appear completely white. If you are that good, why would they keep you locked up?”
“They don’t think I’m good.”
I pulled out the chair from the table and sat down. “My study has shown that eye color isn’t tied to how good you are.”
“The guards that have lighter eyes are nicer to me. At least at first.”
“What if lighter shades of eyes are just nicer people, not necessarily good? If the person thinks they are nice?”
She pursed her lips, then shook her head. “No, because the guards eyes go dark after a little bit of being here. But they mostly treat me the same.”
“I have some ideas about eyes I’d like to talk with you about, Satya.”
My heart skipped a beat. Her slow smile and those unchanging eyes would have fit in with any horror flick. Which probably meant I was the young lead, ignoring the warning signs but barging ahead anyway. Might as well play the part. I smiled at the girl. I wondered if I was in more danger than I’d ever been in my life. Yet this is where I’d worked to be for eight years. I wasn’t going to run away now.
I opened my folder and took out the notebook. I adjusted the papers. She strained to see what I had on the table.
“Do you want to see what I have?” Can she even see? I remembered she noticed my eyes were dark and kept myself from flinching as she bounced off her bed.
“Sure.” She sat down and smiling a more genuine smile. “You’re better than the others.”
I felt my own eyes narrow. “They’d said I was the first psychologist they’d brought to you.”
She grimaced. “They bring them all the time. They just call them guards.”
“Interesting idea, Satya. What makes you say that?”
“Because they ask me questions the other guards don’t ask. And they’re the ones with the lighter eyes.”
“What color of eyes do most of your guards have?”
She looked surprised. No, she looked surprised that I’d asked the question. “Reds. I don’t like the darker reds. The darker blues are better. And the greens are weird.”
“Do you know what the colors mean?”
She bit her lip. “I’m pretty sure. But you don’t match.”
I tried to ignore the continued tightening in my chest. “I don’t?”
She shook her head. “Nope. Your eyes are darker, but I don’t think you want to hurt me. Why did they let you inside?”
“I delve into the pain and hurt of others, so maybe that’s why my eyes are a deeper color.”
She looked at me, her eyebrows raised. “That’s not why they’ve lost their light.”
I blinked and grabbed my pen. “Right. That’s what they believe though.” Dammit. I’d been thrown off my game.
“Okay. But that’s not why they’re dark.” She crossed her arms and sat against the back of the chair. “They’ve lost even more light since you’ve come inside, and I didn’t tell you anything.”
“I’m aware of pain, even when it’s not said.”
Her eyes narrowed. “I don’t think I want to do what you want to do.”
I swallowed. “What do you think I want to do?”
“You want to rescue me.”
“Wouldn’t you like to be outside of these walls?”
“Maybe. But they say everyone is afraid of me.”
“Those of us who know you exist were taught to be afraid of you.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe you should be.”
“Satya, I would like to set you free. See you outside these walls. I will protect you.”
“Can you protect the world?”
I twirled the pen while my mind raced. “Why would the world need to be protected?”
“I don’t know. But that’s a question I have.”
My eyes narrowed. “That’s a question you have?”
“Yeah, you know, the questions that come into your head when you see someone?”
“What question did you have when you saw me?”
She looked at me like I was stupid. “I just asked them.”
I blinked and thought back. “You asked about my eye color and if I could protect the world.”
I was not impressing her. I needed her to want out.
“Why do you want me out?”
I studied her and argued with myself. It was a familiar debate. I’d had it during undergrad and into my graduate work. I still didn’t trust myself. “The world needs you.”
She shook her head and leaned with her elbows on the table, chin cupped in her hand. “Your eyes lost more light.”
I opened my mouth, then shut it again. My stomach relaxed and I nodded. “I’m right about what eye color means. And you’re not who they think you are.”
“You’d have to tell me what you think.”
“I guess it’s really the vibrance of the shade that I’m looking at. The lighter the hue, the less the person is hiding.”
“What does it mean that your eyes keep losing light?”
I changed tactics. I needed control of the conversation again. “Don’t you want to see the world? Do you know that there is so much more to the world than this?”
“Of course, silly. I want to feel the ocean under my toes and watch the tide come in. But I don’t know why you want me to see it.”
“I want to free you. We can go to the ocean first.”
She shook her head at me. “Your eyes keep getting darker. I don’t trust you anymore.”
I started to feel desperate. “My eyes turned dark because I am going to release you. And then I will protect you. They don’t know that.”
Her eyebrows furrowed above those pure white eyes and it was all I could do to match her gaze. Then she asked, “Why do you think I need your protection?”
I broke the gaze and let my shoulders drop. She’d won. “Because when you are free, Satya, you will destroy the world.”
Her gaze seemed to hold mine, pinning me in my chair. “But I don’t want to destroy the world. Why would you want to release me if I am going to destroy the world?”
I bit my lip. I hadn’t planned on this conversation. I kept with honest. She’d know if I was lying. No, she’d know if I was being manipulative. “Because when you ask questions with that innocence intrinsic to you – with no attachment to the outcome, with no concern about the consequence of speaking the truth – that is a power that will break this world.”
She broke our gaze and sat back in her chair. “Why will asking questions break the world? That doesn’t make sense. Questions are how you learn.” Then she frowned. “You are hiding something else. Even while you spoke the truth.”
I’d already come this far. I kept going. “It’s not that I want the world destroyed. That’s just what will happen if I get what I want. But first I wanted them to believe that I was the best so I could meet you. And I am the best. Just not because I understand our eye colors and how they reflect our core motivations.”
She paused a moment. “Why are you the best?”
“I am the best – well, really just better than them – at manipulating them so they see what I want them to see.”
“It’s wrong to lie to people with truth like that.” It felt like she studied my eyes before continuing. “You said your eyes were darker because of the pain of others.”
It felt like an accusation. “And they are. But that pain is what has driven me to sit here, with you, Satya.”
“My eyes are white. You told me, and it felt true, that it’s because of my questions and the way I don’t care about the outcome of speaking Truth. I do care, which is why I speak it with kindness. I care because it is also true that I’d destroy the world. But you haven’t told me why you want me freed.”
It took longer than I’d want to admit to force myself to meet those pale eyes. “I don’t want to know if I’m lying to myself. And you would tell me that.”
“Why wouldn’t your choices be honest if you want the truth?”
“Because I want all of the people who refuse to see the truth to see you. Assuming you are who I think you are. I want them to be unable to look at themselves in the mirror without having their own lies stripped away.” I bit my lip. “But I don’t know what lies I have.”
I watched her studying me. I wanted to defend myself before she could speak. Instead, I forced myself to wait. To listen.
“Why do you want people to know Truth?”
I stared at my pen. I traced the outline of the caricature. It had been made when my eyes were a calm blue-gray, before they turned navy. My brother had captured my smile. It’d been a nice smile. I never asked how he’d made a pen for me, but it was the best graduation present I’d been given. The pen was a bittersweet memory. He’d been killed that summer. I closed my now-deep-blue eyes as the memories came flooding back. The police and Courts had never given me the answers I wanted. That I needed. I’d been driven to understand the mind and our motivations. That’s when my interest in our eye color began. That’s when I’d heard about the dangerous girl with white eyes.
“I want people to understand why they do things. Why they hurt others. Why other people hurt others.” I looked away. I tried to keep old memories from coming to mind. Instead, I saw myself at ages from elementary school to as recent as yesterday.
I broke the silence. “The guards change because of your presence.”
“Are you still going to free me?”
“It will destroy me.”
“Maybe it has already.”
“Maybe we all need to be destroyed.” I studied her, curls framing her face, white eyes staring back at me.
She spoke first. “You know that, as soon as I am released, they will try to kill me.”
“There’s no way you’re twelve.”
“No.” She smiled at me, letting the last pretenses drop. “I am much older than twelve. No one is able to free me. Every time I am freed, people die.” She reached across the table and took my pen. I let her. “I’m moved every twenty years, give or take. That’s all anyone can handle my presence. You’re right, you know. That it’s my presence, not my questions, that changes people.”
“Why wouldn’t truth make our eyes lighter? Why do our eyes turn darker, rather than lighter, when you’re around?”
“Because you hold tighter to your beliefs. You push me away. Until violence erupts. A war happens. People break free. And then someone moves me. Your brother captured your essence well.” She handed my pen back to me before walking to the door and looking out the window. “If they left me in one place, people would get used to me. To Truth. But someone powerful is always afraid of my power. And then someone else moves me to keep me alive. Many leaders have believed I’ve been killed. And always, people go back to their lives. They go back to their beliefs.”
She turned to face me as footsteps sounded down the hall. “I cannot clearly grasp why someone would not want me. I can follow the reasons. I can follow the rationalizations. But I cannot feel the drive that comes from deep inside, the drive that seeks to kill me so they can hold onto a lie that can never give them what they want.”
She returned to her bed, crawled back into the corner and wrapped her arms around her knees. “I am not a twelve-year-old child. I was present when the first lie was told. When someone first decided to believe what they desired more than Truth. You cannot free me. You can only free yourself. And then remember, I cannot be restrained. I am always present.”
My mouth snapped shut when the lock turned in the door.
I scooped the papers back into my folder and clutched it to my chest. I studied the pen in my hand and I looked at the girl. At Satya.
Her eyebrows softened, as if her eyes held compassion for me. “Appreciate it. And remember.” Something shifted and she once again appeared to be a twelve-year-old girl.
“Come on, doc. Let’s go.”
I swallowed and turned, keeping my gaze on the ground. I stepped through the doorway and continued down the hall.
“Yep, didn’t think you’d find what you were looking for with her. She’s wrong, that one. Hate being around her.”
I waited at the next door, pressing my back against the wall, as the guard with the deep, maroon eyes with red flecks came up. I wondered what lie she’d been telling herself. And for how long. She smirked at me as she waved me through, followed, and then secured the door. She unlocked the safe in the wall and handed me my belongings.
“Thanks. Just through those doors?”
Cool air hit me as I stepped outside. The rain would be starting soon. I hurried to my car. I checked the side mirrors, then glanced in the rear view as I began backing out. I slammed on the brakes. My eyes matched the blue gray of the sky. They no longer matched my navy jacket.