کتاب 01 - فصل 08

مجموعه: چهارگانه بخشنده / کتاب: پسر / فصل 8

کتاب 01 - فصل 08

توضیح مختصر

  • زمان مطالعه 5 دقیقه
  • سطح خیلی سخت

دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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متن انگلیسی فصل

Seven

Hello again!” The man’s greeting was cheerful and welcoming. “I thought you’d forgotten us!”

Claire smiled, pleased that he recognized her. “No. But it’s a busy time at work. It’s been hard to get away.”

“Well,” he agreed, “it’s almost December. Lots going on.”

“Especially here, I imagine.” Claire gestured to indicate that she meant the entire Nurturing Center, not only this one room, where the lights were dimmed—it was just past the midday mealtime, and the newchildren were all napping. She and the man spoke in lowered voices. In the corner, his female assistant was quietly folding clean laundry that had just been delivered.

“Yes. We’re getting them all ready. Apparently the assignments have all been made. I haven’t seen the list yet.”

A sudden thought struck Claire. “Do you have a spouse? Could you apply for a child, and then—I suppose this would be against the rules, but—could you choose the one that would be assigned to you?” He laughed. “Too late for that. Yes, I have a spouse—she works over at Law and Justice. But we already have our complete family: boy first, then girl. And it was quite a while ago that we got them. I was just an assistant then. No clout.” “So you didn’t even hint at which ones—?”

He shook his head. “Didn’t matter. They match them pretty carefully. We’ve been very satisfied with ours.”

A sound from one of the cribs caught his attention, and he turned. It grew louder: the fussy whimper of an infant. Claire could see a small arm flail.

“You want me to get him?” the assistant asked, looking over.

“No, I will. It’s Thirty-six again. Of course!” His voice was resigned and affectionate.

“Could I?” Claire asked, surprising herself.

“Be my guest.” The man made a joking gesture toward the crib. “He likes being talked to, and sometimes patting his back helps.”

“Or not,” the woman in the corner interjected wryly, and the man laughed.

Claire lifted the restless newchild from his crib. “Walk him in the hall,” the man suggested, “so he doesn’t wake up the others.”

Holding him carefully, she carried the wriggly, whimpering bundle out of the room and walked back and forth in the long hallway, jiggling him against her shoulder so that he calmed slightly. He held his head up and looked around with wide eyes. She found herself talking to him, nonsense words and phrases, in a singsong voice. She nuzzled his neck and smelled his milky, powdered scent. He relaxed in her arms, finally, and dozed.

I could walk out of here, Claire thought. I could leave right now. I could take him.

Even as she had the thought, she could see the impossibility of it. She had no idea how to feed or care for an infant. No place to hide him, despite her tempting dream of the secret drawer in her room.

The man appeared in the doorway, smiled when he saw that the infant was asleep, and beckoned. “Good job,” he whispered when she approached.

They stood in the hallway together by a window that looked out across scattered dwellings and the agricultural fields beyond. Two boys rode past on bicycles, and the man waved, but the boys were talking eagerly together and didn’t notice. The man shrugged and chuckled. “My son,” he explained. She watched and could see the boys turn left where the path intersected another just past the Childcare Center. They were probably going to the recreation field.

“You’ve got just the right touch,” the man said, and Claire looked at him questioningly. He nodded toward the sleeping infant she was still holding.

“He hardly sleeps. Classic failure to thrive. So they’ve decided not to assign him to a family at the Ceremony. We’re going to keep him here another year, give him a chance to mature a bit. Some newchildren do take longer than others. Thirty-six has been very difficult.

“I take him back to my dwelling at night,” he explained. “The night crew here has been complaining about him. He keeps the others awake. So he spends nights with my family.”

He reached for the infant and Claire relinquished him reluctantly. As she passed him from her arms into the man’s, she felt something. She pushed the blanket aside and looked at a metal bracelet encircling one tiny ankle.

“What’s this?”

“Security. It would set off an alarm if he were removed from the building.”

Claire took a quick breath, recalling the thought she had had briefly: I could take him.

“All the newchildren wear them. I’m not sure why. Who would want one?” The man chuckled. “I’ll take his off when I take him with me at the end of the day.”

The infant slept on, and the man murmured to him quietly. “Good boy,” she could hear him say. “Coming home with me tonight? That’s a good, good boy.”

He turned away, still murmuring, and took the newchild back to his crib. Watching and listening, Claire thought she heard the nurturer whisper a name. But she couldn’t quite make out what it was. Abe? Was that it? It sounded, she thought, like Abe.

Eight

Claire didn’t attend the Ceremony. Almost everyone in the community did, every year. But each facility needed to leave someone in charge, and Claire had volunteered to stay at the Hatchery. The Birthmothers, the Vessels, were exempt, and so Claire had not attended the two previous years either; and now she found that she didn’t have much interest in the two-day event anymore.

The Naming and Placement of Newchildren was always first on the program, so that the infants could be taken away and cared for during the remaining hours, and wouldn’t be disruptive. Claire would have wanted desperately to attend the Ceremony if her own child, Abe (she was trying to think of him now by the name she had overheard) were to be given to a parental pair. But it would be another year for him, and she had little interest in watching the placements of the others.

Neither did she care much about the Matching of Spouses. Like Claire, most people found the Matching boring—important, of course, but with few surprises. When an adult member of the community applied for a spouse, the committee pondered for months, sometimes even years, making the selection, matching the characteristics—energy level, intelligence, industriousness, other traits—that would make two people compatible. The spouse pairs were announced each year at the Ceremony and shared a dwelling after that. Their pairing was watched and monitored for three years, after which they could apply for a child, if they wished. The Assignment of the Newchild, when they received one, was actually more exciting than the Matching.

Thinking about it as she wandered the halls of the empty lab, so quiet and unoccupied today, Claire found herself wondering, suddenly, if she would be able to apply for a spouse. As Birthmother, she had not been eligible. But now? Rolf, her coworker, had put in an application and was waiting. And so had Dimitri, she’d heard. Could she? She wasn’t old enough yet. But when she was? She didn’t know. The regulations for ordinary citizens were so clear, so well known, so carefully followed. But Claire’s situation was unusual. And she had been given very little information when she was dismissed and transferred to the Hatchery. It was as if they had lost interest in her. They. She wasn’t even sure who they were. The Elders. The committees. The voices that made announcements over the speakers, like the message this morning: PLEASE GATHER AT THE AUDITORIUM FOR THE OPENING OF THE CEREMONY.

She glanced at the time. It was late morning now. The spouses would be paired, the newchildren named and assigned. Soon there would be a lunch break, with tables set up and lunch packets distributed, outside the Auditorium. Then they would reconvene for the beginning of the Advance in Age and the rituals of growing older.

The younger children were presented in groups: all the Sevens, for example, receiving their front-buttoned jackets; the Nines, brought to the stage and given their first bicycles to great applause. Haircuts for all the Tens, with the little girls losing their braids, and then the sweepers coming quickly to the stage to remove the shorn hair. But the Advance in Age Ceremonies usually moved quickly along, to applause—and some laughter as well, because every year someone burst into tears for one reason or another, or felt compelled to show off on the stage and did something foolish.

Claire had participated in those rituals throughout her childhood. She didn’t mind missing them now.

The Ceremony of Twelve, which would begin on the second morning, was always the highlight. Here was when the unexpected could happen, as the children received their Life Assignments. It had always been fun, watching the Assignments given out. Until her own, of course.

Well. It was in the past. But she was happy not to be there today, in the audience, watching as other young girls heard that they too had been found fit only to breed.

It seemed odd, the silence with everyone gone for the day. There was not much, really, for her to do; she was simply required to be there, to be certain nothing went awry. But everything—the temperature in the labs, the humidity, even the lighting—was carefully calibrated and controlled. Claire checked the screen of her computer periodically for incoming Hatchery messages, but nothing was urgent.

She glanced through a window at the supply boat that was moored at the dock. It had arrived at a bad time. With the Ceremony taking place, they would have to wait two days before they could unload. Probably, she realized, they’d be happy to have some time free of work. She wondered what the crew was doing on this unexpected vacation. She had watched them previously, and heard them, lifting and stacking and carrying and directing. Their clothes were different; they didn’t wear the loose-fitting tunic of the community. And they spoke with a slight accent, an inflection that was unfamiliar.

Claire had never been curious about those from Elsewhere. It was part of the contentment she had always known. Here had always been enough.

Now, through the window, she stared at the heavy-laden moored boat and found herself wondering about its crew.

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