- زمان مطالعه 35 دقیقه
- سطح خیلی سخت
دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»
این فصل را میتوانید به بهترین شکل و با امکانات عالی در اپلیکیشن «زیبوک» بخوانید
متن انگلیسی فصل
JONAS RODE AT a leisurely pace, glancing at the bikeports beside the buildings to see if he could spot Asher’s. He didn’t often do his volunteer hours with his friend because Asher frequently fooled around and made serious work a little difficult. But now, with Twelve coming so soon and the volunteer hours ending, it didn’t seem to matter.
The freedom to choose where to spend those hours had always seemed a wonderful luxury to Jonas; other hours of the day were so carefully regulated.
He remembered when he had become an Eight, as Lily would do shortly, and had been faced with that freedom of choice. The Eights always set out on their first volunteer hour a little nervously, giggling and staying in groups of friends. They almost invariably did their hours on Recreation Duty first, helping with the younger ones in a place where they still felt comfortable. But with guidance, as they developed self-confidence and maturity, they moved on to other jobs, gravitating toward those that would suit their own interests and skills.
A male Eleven named Benjamin had done his entire nearly-Four years in the Rehabilitation Center, working with citizens who had been injured. It was rumored that he was as skilled now as the Rehabilitation Directors themselves, and that he had even developed some machines and methods to hasten rehabilitation. There was no doubt that Benjamin would receive his Assignment to that field and would probably be permitted to bypass most of the training.
Jonas was impressed by the things Benjamin had achieved. He knew him, of course, since they had always been groupmates, but they had never talked about the boy’s accomplishments because such a conversation would have been awkward for Benjamin. There was never any comfortable way to mention or discuss one’s successes without breaking the rule against bragging, even if one didn’t mean to. It was a minor rule, rather like rudeness, punishable only by gentle chastisement. But still. Better to steer clear of an occasion governed by a rule which would be so easy to break.
The area of dwellings behind him, Jonas rode past the community structures, hoping to spot Asher’s bicycle parked beside one of the small factories or office buildings. He passed the Childcare Center where Lily stayed after school, and the play areas surrounding it. He rode through the Central Plaza and the large Auditorium where public meetings were held.
Jonas slowed and looked at the nametags on the bicycles lined up outside the Nurturing Center. Then he checked those outside Food Distribution; it was always fun to help with the deliveries, and he hoped he would find his friend there so that they could go together on the daily rounds, carrying the cartons of supplies into the dwellings of the community. But he finally found Asher’s bicycle—leaning, as usual, instead of upright in its port, as it should have been—at the House of the Old.
There was only one other child’s bicycle there, that of a female Eleven named Fiona. Jonas liked Fiona. She was a good student, quiet and polite, but she had a sense of fun as well, and it didn’t surprise him that she was working with Asher today. He parked his bicycle neatly in the port beside theirs and entered the building.
“Hello, Jonas,” the attendant at the front desk said. She handed him the sign-up sheet and stamped her own official seal beside his signature. All of his volunteer hours would be carefully tabulated at the Hall of Open Records. Once, long ago, it was whispered among the children, an Eleven had arrived at the Ceremony of Twelve only to hear a public announcement that he had not completed the required number of volunteer hours and would not, therefore, be given his Assignment. He had been permitted an additional month in which to complete the hours, and then given his Assignment privately, with no applause, no celebration: a disgrace that had clouded his entire future.
“It’s good to have some volunteers here today,” the attendant told him. “We celebrated a release this morning, and that always throws the schedule off a little, so things get backed up.” She looked at a printed sheet. “Let’s see. Asher and Fiona are helping in the bathing room. Why don’t you join them there? You know where it is, don’t you?” Jonas nodded, thanked her, and walked down the long hallway. He glanced into the rooms on either side. The Old were sitting quietly, some visiting and talking with one another, others doing handwork and simple crafts. A few were asleep. Each room was comfortably furnished, the floors covered with thick carpeting. It was a serene and slow-paced place, unlike the busy centers of manufacture and distribution where the daily work of the community occurred.
Jonas was glad that he had, over the years, chosen to do his hours in a variety of places so that he could experience the differences. He realized, though, that not focusing on one area meant he was left with not the slightest idea—not even a guess—of what his Assignment would be.
He laughed softly. Thinking about the Ceremony again, Jonas? he teased himself. But he suspected that with the date so near, probably all of his friends were, too.
He passed a Caretaker walking slowly with one of the Old in the hall. “Hello, Jonas,” the young uniformed man said, smiling pleasantly. The woman beside him, whose arm he held, was hunched over as she shuffled along in her soft slippers. She looked toward Jonas and smiled, but her dark eyes were clouded and blank. He realized she was blind.
He entered the bathing room with its warm moist air and scent of cleansing lotions. He removed his tunic, hung it carefully on a wall hook, and put on the volunteer’s smock that was folded on a shelf.
“Hi, Jonas!” Asher called from the corner where he was kneeling beside a tub. Jonas saw Fiona nearby, at a different tub. She looked up and smiled at him, but she was busy, gently washing a man who lay in the warm water.
Jonas greeted them and the caretaking attendants at work nearby. Then he went to the row of padded lounging chairs where others of the Old were waiting. He had worked here before; he knew what to do.
“Your turn, Larissa,” he said, reading the nametag on the woman’s robe. “I’ll just start the water and then help you up.” He pressed the button on a nearby empty tub and watched as the warm water flowed in through the many small openings on the sides. The tub would be filled in a minute and the water flow would stop automatically.
He helped the woman from the chair, led her to the tub, removed her robe, and steadied her with his hand on her arm as she stepped in and lowered herself. She leaned back and sighed with pleasure, her head on a soft cushioned headrest.
“Comfortable?” he asked, and she nodded, her eyes closed. Jonas squeezed cleansing lotion onto the clean sponge at the edge of the tub and began to wash her frail body.
Last night he had watched as his father bathed the newchild. This was much the same: the fragile skin, the soothing water, the gentle motion of his hand, slippery with soap. The relaxed, peaceful smile on the woman’s face reminded him of Gabriel being bathed.
And the nakedness, too. It was against the rules for children or adults to look at another’s nakedness; but the rule did not apply to newchildren or the Old. Jonas was glad. It was a nuisance to keep oneself covered while changing for games, and the required apology if one had by mistake glimpsed another’s body was always awkward. He couldn’t see why it was necessary. He liked the feeling of safety here in this warm and quiet room; he liked the expression of trust on the woman’s face as she lay in the water unprotected, exposed, and free.
From the corner of his eye he could see his friend Fiona help the old man from the tub and tenderly pat his thin, naked body dry with an absorbent cloth. She helped him into his robe.
Jonas thought Larissa had drifted into sleep, as the Old often did, and he was careful to keep his motions steady and gentle so he wouldn’t wake her. He was surprised when she spoke, her eyes still closed.
“This morning we celebrated the release of Roberto,” she told him. “It was wonderful.”
“I knew Roberto!” Jonas said. “I helped with his feeding the last time I was here, just a few weeks ago. He was a very interesting man.”
Larissa opened her eyes happily. “They told his whole life before they released him,” she said. “They always do. But to be honest,” she whispered with a mischievous look, “some of the tellings are a little boring. I’ve even seen some of the Old fall asleep during tellings—when they released Edna recently. Did you know Edna?” Jonas shook his head. He couldn’t recall anyone named Edna.
“Well, they tried to make her life sound meaningful. And of course,” she added primly, “all lives are meaningful, I don’t mean that they aren’t. But Edna. My goodness. She was a Birthmother, and then she worked in Food Production for years, until she came here. She never even had a family unit.” Larissa lifted her head and looked around to make sure no one else was listening. Then she confided, “I don’t think Edna was very smart.”
Jonas laughed. He rinsed her left arm, laid it back into the water, and began to wash her feet. She murmured with pleasure as he massaged her feet with the sponge.
“But Roberto’s life was wonderful,” Larissa went on, after a moment. “He had been an Instructor of Elevens—you know how important that is—and he’d been on the Planning Committee. And—goodness, I don’t know how he found the time—he also raised two very successful children, and he was also the one who did the landscaping design for the Central Plaza. He didn’t do the actual labor, of course.” “Now your back. Lean forward and I’ll help you sit up.” Jonas put his arm around her and supported her as she sat. He squeezed the sponge against her back and began to rub her sharp-boned shoulders. “Tell me about the celebration.” “Well, there was the telling of his life. That is always first. Then the toast. We all raised our glasses and cheered. We chanted the anthem. He made a lovely good-bye speech. And several of us made little speeches wishing him well. I didn’t, though. I’ve never been fond of public speaking.
“He was thrilled. You should have seen the look on his face when they let him go.”
Jonas slowed the strokes of his hand on her back thoughtfully. “Larissa,” he asked, “what happens when they make the actual release? Where exactly did Roberto go?” She lifted her bare wet shoulders in a small shrug. “I don’t know. I don’t think anybody does, except the committee. He just bowed to all of us and then walked, like they all do, through the special door in the Releasing Room. But you should have seen his look. Pure happiness, I’d call it.” Jonas grinned. “I wish I’d been there to see it.”
Larissa frowned. “I don’t know why they don’t let children come. Not enough room, I guess. They should enlarge the Releasing Room.”
“We’ll have to suggest that to the committee. Maybe they’d study it,” Jonas said slyly, and Larissa chortled with laughter.
“Right!” she hooted, and Jonas helped her from the tub.
USUALLY, AT THE morning ritual when the family members told their dreams, Jonas didn’t contribute much. He rarely dreamed. Sometimes he awoke with a feeling of fragments afloat in his sleep, but he couldn’t seem to grasp them and put them together into something worthy of telling at the ritual.
But this morning was different. He had dreamed very vividly the night before.
His mind wandered while Lily, as usual, recounted a lengthy dream, this one a frightening one in which she had, against the rules, been riding her mother’s bicycle and been caught by the Security Guards.
They all listened carefully and discussed with Lily the warning that the dream had given.
“Thank you for your dream, Lily.” Jonas said the standard phrase automatically, and tried to pay better attention while his mother told of a dream fragment, a disquieting scene where she had been chastised for a rule infraction she didn’t understand. Together they agreed that it probably resulted from her feelings when she had reluctantly dealt punishment to the citizen who had broken the major rules a second time.
Father said that he had had no dreams.
“Gabe?” Father asked, looking down at the basket where the newchild lay gurgling after his feeding, ready to be taken back to the Nurturing Center for the day.
They all laughed. Dream-telling began with Threes. If newchildren dreamed, no one knew.
“Jonas?” Mother asked. They always asked, though they knew how rarely Jonas had a dream to tell.
“I did dream last night,” Jonas told them. He shifted in his chair, frowning.
“Good,” Father said. “Tell us.”
“The details aren’t clear, really,” Jonas explained, trying to recreate the odd dream in his mind. “I think I was in the bathing room at the House of the Old.” “That’s where you were yesterday,” Father pointed out.
Jonas nodded. “But it wasn’t really the same. There was a tub, in the dream. But only one. And the real bathing room has rows and rows of them. But the room in the dream was warm and damp. And I had taken off my tunic, but hadn’t put on the smock, so my chest was bare. I was perspiring, because it was so warm. And Fiona was there, the way she was yesterday.” “Asher, too?” Mother asked.
Jonas shook his head. “No. It was only me and Fiona, alone in the room, standing beside the tub. She was laughing. But I wasn’t. I was almost a little angry at her, in the dream, because she wasn’t taking me seriously.” “Seriously about what?” Lily asked.
Jonas looked at his plate. For some reason that he didn’t understand, he felt slightly embarrassed. “I think I was trying to convince her that she should get into the tub of water.” He paused. He knew he had to tell it all, that it was not only all right but necessary to tell all of a dream. So he forced himself to relate the part that made him uneasy.
“I wanted her to take off her clothes and get into the tub,” he explained quickly. “I wanted to bathe her. I had the sponge in my hand. But she wouldn’t. She kept laughing and saying no.” He looked up at his parents. “That’s all,” he said.
“Can you describe the strongest feeling in your dream, son?” Father asked.
Jonas thought about it. The details were murky and vague. But the feelings were clear, and flooded him again now as he thought. “The wanting,” he said. “I knew that she wouldn’t. And I think I knew that she shouldn’t. But I wanted it so terribly. I could feel the wanting all through me.” “Thank you for your dream, Jonas,” Mother said after a moment. She glanced at Father.
“Lily,” Father said, “it’s time to leave for school. Would you walk beside me this morning and keep an eye on the newchild’s basket? We want to be certain he doesn’t wiggle himself loose.” Jonas began to rise to collect his schoolbooks. He thought it surprising that they hadn’t talked about his dream at length before the thank you. Perhaps they found it as confusing as he had.
“Wait, Jonas,” Mother said gently. “I’ll write an apology to your instructor so that you won’t have to speak one for being late.”
He sank back down into his chair, puzzled. He waved to Father and Lily as they left the dwelling, carrying Gabe in his basket. He watched while Mother tidied the remains of the morning meal and placed the tray by the front door for the Collection Crew.
Finally she sat down beside him at the table. “Jonas,” she said with a smile, “the feeling you described as the wanting? It was your first Stirrings. Father and I have been expecting it to happen to you. It happens to everyone. It happened to Father when he was your age. And it happened to me. It will happen someday to Lily.
“And very often,” Mother added, “it begins with a dream.”
Stirrings. He had heard the word before. He remembered that there was a reference to the Stirrings in the Book of Rules, though he didn’t remember what it said. And now and then the Speaker mentioned it. ATTENTION. A REMINDER THAT STIRRINGS MUST BE REPORTED IN ORDER FOR TREATMENT TO TAKE PLACE.
He had always ignored that announcement because he didn’t understand it and it had never seemed to apply to him in any way. He ignored, as most citizens did, many of the commands and reminders read by the Speaker.
“Do I have to report it?” he asked his mother.
She laughed. “You did, in the dream-telling. That’s enough.”
“But what about the treatment? The Speaker says that treatment must take place.” Jonas felt miserable. Just when the Ceremony was about to happen, his Ceremony of Twelve, would he have to go away someplace for treatment? Just because of a stupid dream?
But his mother laughed again in a reassuring, affectionate way. “No, no,” she said. “It’s just the pills. You’re ready for the pills, that’s all. That’s the treatment for Stirrings.” Jonas brightened. He knew about the pills. His parents both took them each morning. And some of his friends did, he knew. Once he had been heading off to school with Asher, both of them on their bikes, when Asher’s father had called from their dwelling doorway, “You forgot your pill, Asher!” Asher had groaned good-naturedly, turned his bike, and ridden back while Jonas waited.
It was the sort of thing one didn’t ask a friend about because it might have fallen into that uncomfortable category of “being different.” Asher took a pill each morning; Jonas did not. Always better, less rude, to talk about things that were the same.
Now he swallowed the small pill that his mother handed him.
“That’s all?” he asked.
“That’s all,” she replied, returning the bottle to the cupboard. “But you mustn’t forget. I’ll remind you for the first weeks, but then you must do it on your own. If you forget, the Stirrings will come back. The dreams of Stirrings will come back. Sometimes the dosage must be adjusted.” “Asher takes them,” Jonas confided.
His mother nodded, unsurprised. “Many of your groupmates probably do. The males, at least. And they all will, soon. Females too.”
“How long will I have to take them?”
“Until you enter the House of the Old,” she explained. “All of your adult life. But it becomes routine; after a while you won’t even pay much attention to it.” She looked at her watch. “If you leave right now, you won’t even be late for school. Hurry along.
“And thank you again, Jonas,” she added, as he went to the door, “for your dream.”
Pedaling rapidly down the path, Jonas felt oddly proud to have joined those who took the pills. For a moment, though, he remembered the dream again. The dream had felt pleasurable. Though the feelings were confused, he thought that he had liked the feelings that his mother had called Stirrings. He remembered that upon waking, he had wanted to feel the Stirrings again.
Then, in the same way that his own dwelling slipped away behind him as he rounded a corner on his bicycle, the dream slipped away from his thoughts. Very briefly, a little guiltily, he tried to grasp it back. But the feelings had disappeared. The Stirrings were gone.
“LILY, PLEASE HOLD still,” Mother said again.
Lily, standing in front of her, fidgeted impatiently. “I can tie them myself,” she complained. “I always have.”
“I know that,” Mother replied, straightening the hair ribbons on the little girl’s braids. “But I also know that they constantly come loose and more often than not, they’re dangling down your back by afternoon. Today, at least, we want them to be neatly tied and to stay neatly tied.” “I don’t like hair ribbons. I’m glad I only have to wear them one more year,” Lily said irritably. “Next year I get my bicycle, too,” she added more cheerfully.
“There are good things each year,” Jonas reminded her. “This year you get to start your volunteer hours. And remember last year, when you became a Seven, you were so happy to get your front-buttoned jacket?” The little girl nodded and looked down at herself, at the jacket with its row of large buttons that designated her as a Seven. Fours, Fives, and Sixes all wore jackets that fastened down the back so that they would have to help each other dress and would learn interdependence.
The front-buttoned jacket was the first sign of independence, the first very visible symbol of growing up. The bicycle, at Nine, would be the powerful emblem of moving gradually out into the community, away from the protective family unit.
Lily grinned and wriggled away from her mother. “And this year you get your Assignment,” she said to Jonas in an excited voice. “I hope you get Pilot. And that you take me flying!” “Sure I will,” said Jonas. “And I’ll get a special little parachute that just fits you, and I’ll take you up to, oh, maybe twenty thousand feet, and open the door, and—” “Jonas,” Mother warned.
“I was only joking,” Jonas groaned. “I don’t want Pilot, anyway. If I get Pilot I’ll put in an appeal.”
“Come on,” Mother said. She gave Lily’s ribbons a final tug. “Jonas? Are you ready? Did you take your pill? I want to get a good seat in the Auditorium.” She prodded Lily to the front door and Jonas followed.
It was a short ride to the Auditorium, Lily waving to her friends from her seat on the back of Mother’s bicycle. Jonas stowed his bicycle beside Mother’s and made his way through the throng to find his group.
The entire community attended the Ceremony each year. For the parents, it meant two days holiday from work; they sat together in the huge hall. Children sat with their groups until they went, one by one, to the stage.
Father, though, would not join Mother in the audience right away. For the earliest ceremony, the Naming, the Nurturers brought the newchildren to the stage. Jonas, from his place in the balcony with the Elevens, searched the Auditorium for a glimpse of Father. It wasn’t at all hard to spot the Nurturers’ section at the front; coming from it were the wails and howls of the newchildren who sat squirming on the Nurturers’ laps. At every other public ceremony, the audience was silent and attentive. But once a year, they all smiled indulgently at the commotion from the little ones waiting to receive their names and families.
Jonas finally caught his father’s eye and waved. Father grinned and waved back, then held up the hand of the newchild on his lap, making it wave, too.
It wasn’t Gabriel. Gabe was back at the Nurturing Center today, being cared for by the night crew. He had been given an unusual and special reprieve from the committee, and granted an additional year of nurturing before his Naming and Placement. Father had gone before the committee with a plea on behalf of Gabriel, who had not yet gained the weight appropriate to his days of life nor begun to sleep soundly enough at night to be placed with his family unit. Normally such a newchild would be labeled Inadequate and released from the community.
Instead, as a result of Father’s plea, Gabriel had been labeled Uncertain and given the additional year. He would continue to be nurtured at the Center and would spend his nights with Jonas’s family unit. Each family member, including Lily, had been required to sign a pledge that they would not become attached to this little temporary guest, and that they would relinquish him without protest or appeal when he was assigned to his own family unit at next year’s Ceremony.
At least, Jonas thought, after Gabriel was placed next year, they would still see him often because he would be part of the community. If he were released, they would not see him again. Ever. Those who were released—even as newchildren—were sent Elsewhere and never returned to the community.
Father had not had to release a single newchild this year, so Gabriel would have represented a real failure and sadness. Even Jonas, though he didn’t hover over the little one the way Lily and his father did, was glad that Gabe had not been released.
The first Ceremony began right on time, and Jonas watched as one after another each newchild was given a name and handed by the Nurturers to its new family unit. For some, it was a first child. But many came to the stage accompanied by another child beaming with pride to receive a little brother or sister, the way Jonas had when he was about to be a Five.
Asher poked Jonas’s arm. “Remember when we got Phillipa?” he asked in a loud whisper. Jonas nodded. It had only been last year. Asher’s parents had waited quite a long time before applying for a second child. Maybe, Jonas suspected, they had been so exhausted by Asher’s lively foolishness that they had needed a little time.
Two of their group, Fiona and another female named Thea, were missing temporarily, waiting with their parents to receive newchildren. But it was rare that there was such an age gap between children in a family unit.
When her family’s ceremony was completed, Fiona took the seat that had been saved for her in the row ahead of Asher and Jonas. She turned and whispered to them, “He’s cute. But I don’t like his name very much.” She made a face and giggled. Fiona’s new brother had been named Bruno. It wasn’t a great name, Jonas thought, like—well, like Gabriel, for example. But it was okay.
The audience applause, which was enthusiastic at each Naming, rose in an exuberant swell when one parental pair, glowing with pride, took a male newchild and heard him named Caleb.
This new Caleb was a replacement child. The couple had lost their first Caleb, a cheerful little Four. Loss of a child was very, very rare. The community was extraordinarily safe, each citizen watchful and protective of all children. But somehow the first little Caleb had wandered away unnoticed, and had fallen into the river. The entire community had performed the Ceremony of Loss together, murmuring the name Caleb throughout an entire day, less and less frequently, softer in volume, as the long and somber day went on, so that the little Four seemed to fade away gradually from everyone’s consciousness.
Now, at this special Naming, the community performed the brief Murmur-of-Replacement Ceremony, repeating the name for the first time since the loss: softly and slowly at first, then faster and with greater volume, as the couple stood on the stage with the newchild sleeping in the mother’s arms. It was as if the first Caleb were returning.
Another newchild was given the name Roberto, and Jonas remembered that Roberto the Old had been released only last week. But there was no Murmur-of-Replacement Ceremony for the new little Roberto. Release was not the same as Loss.
He sat politely through the ceremonies of Two and Three and Four, increasingly bored as he was each year. Then a break for midday meal—served outdoors—and back again to the seats, for the Fives, Sixes, Sevens, and finally, last of the first day’s ceremonies, the Eights.
Jonas watched and cheered as Lily marched proudly to the stage, became an Eight and received the identifying jacket that she would wear this year, this one with smaller buttons and, for the first time, pockets, indicating that she was mature enough now to keep track of her own small belongings. She stood solemnly listening to the speech of firm instructions on the responsibilities of Eight and doing volunteer hours for the first time. But Jonas could see that Lily, though she seemed attentive, was looking longingly at the row of gleaming bicycles, which would be presented tomorrow morning to the Nines.
Next year, Lily-billy, Jonas thought.
It was an exhausting day, and even Gabriel, retrieved in his basket from the Nurturing Center, slept soundly that night.
Finally it was the morning of the Ceremony of Twelve.
Now Father sat beside Mother in the audience. Jonas could see them applauding dutifully as the Nines, one by one, wheeled their new bicycles, each with its gleaming nametag attached to the back, from the stage. He knew that his parents cringed a little, as he did, when Fritz, who lived in the dwelling next door to theirs, received his bike and almost immediately bumped into the podium with it. Fritz was a very awkward child who had been summoned for chastisement again and again. His transgressions were small ones, always: shoes on the wrong feet, schoolwork misplaced, failure to study adequately for a quiz. But each such error reflected negatively on his parents’ guidance and infringed on the community’s sense of order and success. Jonas and his family had not been looking forward to Fritz’s bicycle, which they realized would probably too often be dropped on the front walk instead of wheeled neatly into its port.
Finally the Nines were all resettled in their seats, each having wheeled a bicycle outside where it would be waiting for its owner at the end of the day. Everyone always chuckled and made small jokes when the Nines rode home for the first time. “Want me to show you how to ride?” older friends would call. “I know you’ve never been on a bike before!” But invariably the grinning Nines, who in technical violation of the rule had been practicing secretly for weeks, would mount and ride off in perfect balance, training wheels never touching the ground.
Then the Tens. Jonas never found the Ceremony of Ten particularly interesting—only time-consuming, as each child’s hair was snipped neatly into its distinguishing cut: females lost their braids at Ten, and males, too, relinquished their long childish hair and took on the more manly short style which exposed their ears.
Laborers moved quickly to the stage with brooms and swept away the mounds of discarded hair. Jonas could see the parents of the new Tens stir and murmur, and he knew that this evening, in many dwellings, they would be snipping and straightening the hastily done haircuts, trimming them into a neater line.
Elevens. It seemed a short time ago that Jonas had undergone the Ceremony of Eleven, but he remembered that it was not one of the more interesting ones. By Eleven, one was only waiting to be Twelve. It was simply a marking of time with no meaningful changes. There was new clothing: different undergarments for the females, whose bodies were beginning to change; and longer trousers for the males, with a specially shaped pocket for the small calculator that they would use this year in school; but those were simply presented in wrapped packages without an accompanying speech.
Break for midday meal. Jonas realized he was hungry. He and his groupmates congregated by the tables in front of the Auditorium and took their packaged food. Yesterday there had been merriment at lunch, a lot of teasing and energy. But today the group stood anxiously, separate from the other children. Jonas watched the new Nines gravitate toward their waiting bicycles, each one admiring his or her nametag. He saw the Tens stroking their new shortened hair, the females shaking their heads to feel the unaccustomed lightness without the heavy braids they had worn so long.
“I heard about a guy who was absolutely certain he was going to be assigned Engineer,” Asher muttered as they ate, “and instead they gave him Sanitation Laborer. He went out the next day, jumped into the river, swam across, and joined the next community he came to. Nobody ever saw him again.” Jonas laughed. “Somebody made that story up, Ash,” he said. “My father said he heard that story when he was a Twelve.”
But Asher wasn’t reassured. He was eyeing the river where it was visible behind the Auditorium. “I can’t even swim very well,” he said. “My swimming instructor said that I don’t have the right boyishness or something.” “Buoyancy,” Jonas corrected him.
“Whatever. I don’t have it. I sink.”
“Anyway,” Jonas pointed out, “have you ever once known of anyone—I mean really known for sure, Asher, not just heard a story about it—who joined another community?” “No,” Asher admitted reluctantly. “But you can. It says so in the rules. If you don’t fit in, you can apply for Elsewhere and be released. My mother says that once, about ten years ago, someone applied and was gone the next day.” Then he chuckled. “She told me that because I was driving her crazy. She threatened to apply for Elsewhere.” “She was joking.”
“I know. But it was true, what she said, that someone did that once. She said that it was really true. Here today and gone tomorrow. Never seen again. Not even a Ceremony of Release.” Jonas shrugged. It didn’t worry him. How could someone not fit in? The community was so meticulously ordered, the choices so carefully made.
Even the Matching of Spouses was given such weighty consideration that sometimes an adult who applied to receive a spouse waited months or even years before a Match was approved and announced. All of the factors—disposition, energy level, intelligence, and interests—had to correspond and to interact perfectly. Jonas’s mother, for example, had higher intelligence than his father; but his father had a calmer disposition. They balanced each other. Their Match, which like all Matches had been monitored by the Committee of Elders for three years before they could apply for children, had always been a successful one.
Like the Matching of Spouses and the Naming and Placement of newchildren, the Assignments were scrupulously thought through by the Committee of Elders.
He was certain that his Assignment, whatever it was to be, and Asher’s too, would be the right one for them. He only wished that the midday break would conclude, that the audience would reenter the Auditorium, and the suspense would end.
As if in answer to his unspoken wish, the signal came and the crowd began to move toward the doors.
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