کتاب 01 - فصل 09

مجموعه: چهارگانه بخشنده / کتاب: پسر / فصل 9

کتاب 01 - فصل 09

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  • زمان مطالعه 10 دقیقه
  • سطح سخت

دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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Nine

That lunch was pretty awful, wasn’t it?”

Eric entered the lobby of the Hatchery with the others at the end of the day. The group was noisy and laughing, obviously happy to be finished with the hours of ritual, sitting, paying attention, politely applauding.

“It wasn’t so bad,” one of the other workers replied. “Just wasn’t enough of it! I’m still hungry.”

Claire was seated at the receptionist’s desk. “It’s almost time for dinner,” she told them. “How was the Ceremony?”

“Fine,” someone said. “They got all the way through the Elevens, so there’s only the Ceremony of Twelve left for tomorrow morning.”

“Good. It went smoothly, then. No children misbehaved or had a tantrum,” Claire said, laughing.

“Nope. No surprises at all,” Edith told her.

“Except maybe for Dimitri,” Eric announced.

“Dimitri?”

Everyone chuckled. “He thought he’d be assigned a spouse. He was on the edge of his seat. But they didn’t call his name.”

“Oops. That means he has another whole year to wait,” Claire said.

“Or more!” Eric pointed out. “There have been people who waited years for matching.”

“Well, it’s for the best,” Edith commented. “There probably wasn’t a good match for him available this time.”

A young man whose name Claire didn’t know had been listening. “He only applied for a spouse because he wanted a dwelling,” he said. “He’s tired of living in the dorm.” He turned, seeing Dimitri come through the door. “Even though he gets a special suite, for being director. Isn’t that right, Dimitri? You’re sick of the dorm, right?” Dimitri crushed the program he was carrying into a wadded ball, and tossed it at the young man. “I’m sick of living with you, that’s all!” He grinned, picked up the paper where it had fallen, and tossed it into the trash receptacle.

They hung their jackets on the row of pegs beside the front door. “Everything quiet here, Claire?” someone asked.

She nodded. “A couple of the boatmen came ashore and went for a walk. I saw them strolling along the river path.”

“Those guys are so odd,” Eric commented. “They never talk to anyone.”

“Maybe it’s against their rules,” Claire suggested.

“Could be. Elsewhere probably has completely different rules.”

“Actually, talking to them might be against our rules. Has anyone checked?” Edith asked.

Everyone groaned and most of them glanced at the large monitor on the receptionist’s desk.

It occurred to Claire that she could check on the rules and answer her own question about whether she could apply for a spouse. But did she care, really? Enough to make her way through the lengthy index and perhaps find her answer in a sub-subparagraph or footnote? Probably not, she thought.

The loud rasp of the buzzer summoned them all to the cafeteria for the evening meal. She rose and found her place in the line. From a window in the hallway, she noticed two members of the boat crew lounging on the deck of the vessel. It was heavily loaded with crates of cargo, and the two young men sat side by side, leaning against a sealed container. Each of them held a small cylinder to his mouth, and it appeared that they sucked smoke from it and then blew the smoke into the air. It was an odd custom that she had not seen before, and she wondered what its purpose was. Perhaps it was a medicinal inhaler of some sort.

The line moved forward. Conversations, laughter, and comments interrupted her thoughts. Claire approached the stack of trays, took hers from the top, and saw that Edith and Jeannette had saved a seat for her at their table. She moved ahead, holding her tray out to the serving person behind the counter, and put the boat crew out of her mind.

“What was the Naming of Newchildren like?” she asked them after she had sat down with her tray of food. “Were there any surprising names?”

“Not really,” Jeannette said, “except I was startled to hear that one, a boy, was given the name Paul. That was my father’s name.”

“But they can’t use the same name twice!” Edith said. “There are never two people in the community with the same name!”

“But they do regive names,” Claire pointed out, “after someone is gone.”

“Right. So that means my father is gone. I was surprised to hear it,” Jeannette said.

“When did you see him last?” Claire asked. She could remember her own parents, but it had been several years, and details about them had begun to fade.

Jeannette thought, and shrugged. “Probably five years. He worked in Food Production, and I never go over that way. I see the woman who was my mother now and then, though, because she’s in the landscaping crew. Not very long ago I noticed her trimming the bushes over at the edge of the recreation field. She waved when she saw me.” “Nice,” Edith said, offhandedly. “You want the rest of that salad? Can I have it?” Jeannette nodded, and Edith reached for the half-empty plate that had been set to the side.

“Paul’s a handsome name,” Claire said, feeling a little sorry for Jeannette, though she didn’t know exactly why. “It’s nice when they reuse a good one. I remember back when I was a Ten, they named a newchild Wilhelmina, and everyone cheered, because everyone had been fond of the previous Wilhelmina before she entered the House of the Old. So when she was gone, it was nice to reuse her name.” “I remember that. I was there,” Edith said.

“Me too,” Jeannette recalled. “Nobody cheered when they named the new Paul. But I think there was a feeling of satisfaction. People liked my father,” she said. “He was nice. Very quiet. But nice.” They finished their meal in silence. Then, at the sound of the buzzer, they stacked their plates and began to tidy their table.

It was dusk. The others were tired after the long day of the Ceremony. Anticipating another day of it tomorrow, they had drifted off to their rooms early, after the evening meal. But Claire found herself restless after the day indoors. She decided to take a walk.

The path along the river was shaded and pleasant at this time of day. Ordinarily she would have encountered others walking, and exchanged greetings. But no one was out and about this evening; it had been a long day for them all. Claire wandered beside the water until she approached the huge bridge. It was forbidden to cross it without special permission, and she had no idea what lay beyond, on the other side. There was nothing visible but trees. It was simply Elsewhere. She had heard people say that occasionally, though rarely, small groups were taken to visit other communities. But perhaps it was just a rumor. Claire herself had never known anyone who had seen Elsewhere.

Standing at the base of the massive concrete supports that formed the foundation for the bridge, Claire measured it with her eyes. The barge that was now moored by the Hatchery must have barely fit beneath.

If she crossed the intersecting road here, she would continue along the river path and pass the large barn that housed official vehicles. Citizens made their way around the community only by bicycle, but large deliveries were transported by trucks, and sometimes maintenance required heavy equipment. It was all stored here. Claire remembered a few years back, when she had been a Ten or a Nine, the boys who were her age-mates had all been fascinated by the vehicle barn. They had, almost all of them, yearned to be assigned a career involving transportation so that they could be trained to drive the equipment.

But it had never interested Claire, and it didn’t this evening. She turned onto the main stretch of road and walked to the northwest, away from the river, with the central plaza spread out on her left. She passed the Auditorium, which stood at the end of the plaza; earlier in the day the community had gathered in throngs on its steps, and they would be there again in the morning. But now, at dusk, the plaza was empty and the large building that dominated its southwest border was quiet and seemed unoccupied.

She realized that she was walking toward the Nurturing Center. She could turn left there and continue on past the Infirmary and the Childcare Center, making a large loop that would take her back to the Hatchery.

“Hi there!”

The man’s voice startled her. The entire community had been so still. But looking up, Claire saw the bicycle stopped at the corner of the plaza. She recognized the nurturer who had been so pleasant to her during her visits. She smiled, waved, and walked toward the corner where he waited, one foot on the ground, balancing his bike.

He put one finger to his lips as she approached. “Shhh.” Then he gestured toward the back of his bicycle, where a carrying basket had been attached. As she came near, she could see that there was a sleeping infant in the basket. “Finally he’s asleep,” the man whispered. “I’m taking him home for the night.” Claire nodded and smiled down at Newchild Thirty-six.

“Were you at the Ceremony?” the man asked.

She shook her head. “I volunteered to stay at the Hatchery. I’ve been to enough Ceremonies.” She kept her voice lowered, as he had.

The nurturer chuckled softly. “I know the feeling,” he said. “But it was fun for me today. Part of my job is giving the newchildren to their parental units. The new mothers and fathers are always so excited.

“I’m glad we get to nurture this one for another year, though,” he added, reaching to touch the edge of the basket. “He seems pretty special.”

Claire nodded in agreement, not trusting herself to speak.

“Gotta go,” the man said. He placed his right foot on the uptilted pedal of the bike. “Tomorrow’s a big day for my family unit. Our son’s a Twelve this year. Lots of nervousness and apprehension.” “Yes, I’m sure,” Claire said.

“Come visit us again at the Center? We’ll have a new batch of newborns arriving soon. And this guy will be there too, of course! His playmates will all be gone, to their new family units, so he’ll enjoy visitors.” “I will.” She smiled at him, and he set off again on his bike, toward the area of family dwellings. Claire stood there watching the little basket jiggle gently as the bicycle moved along the path. Then she turned away.

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