The walk to the bus is a daunting one. Every step takes me farther away from my dad and home and closer to the bus. My legs feel heavy, as if my body is nothing more than deadweight. I no longer feel youthful and supple, a woman in the making. I feel as if I’ve lost something precious this morning, my hope of a future that might’ve been even though I was unsure of what it held for me.
Anything is better than the forbidden lands.
Boarding the bus, the metal of the door is cold as I take hold of it to steady myself. It looks much the same as the ones used for transport in the metropolis and neighborhoods. Only, this one has the blue and yellow lights mounted on the roof to show it’s an official vehicle.
I recognize the guy sitting in the back. He’s in my class, and unfortunately, we share the same name. It’s because of him everyone calls me Jai, so there’s no confusion between the two of us.
Mom named me Jasper because I was born in March, and it’s my birthstone.
Shoot, I didn’t take the pendant I got for my thirteenth birthday.
When I walk down the aisle, Jasper Thomas looks relieved to see me. I concentrate hard, so I won’t show him I’m scared out of my mind.
I take the seat in front of him. I’ve been taught not to interact with men from a young age. It’s to protect my virtue and keep myself pure.
Always obey and remain chaste.
If a woman breaks the most important virtue of all, chastity, she is banished. To be banished and called impure is the worst thing to happen to a woman. You’re no longer pure to marry or bear children.
No, there are worse things. This. Being ripped away from Dad and sent out into the forbidden lands. This isn’t right!
“Just the two of us so far,” Jasper whispers from behind me.
He never talks to me unless he has to. Hearing how nervous he is, makes my anxiety spike. I wish he would rather keep quiet.
Ignoring him, I scoot closer to the window. Taking the window seat keeps me from sitting between people, but it will only be the seven of us today, so I guess it doesn’t matter where I sit.
The bus jerks then pulls away from the curb. I watch as families turn and head back into their houses as we drive past them. They’ll have breakfast, then go on with their day as if nothing happened.
I wonder what Dad will do. Will he continue as usual and prepare himself some oats before going to work?
I have to force myself not to glance back to see if he’s still standing on the porch.
Will he miss me?
‘It’s not a virtuous thought,’ I reprimand myself. I must have courage, as per the virtue of humility. I must sacrifice myself as per charity.
I straighten my spine and lift my chin, struggling to calm my emotions.
We stop by a house, and I can’t keep from looking at the family stealing a quick goodbye hug.
Everyone is taking risks today.
I watch as two boys say goodbye to their father.
“Mr. Demetrius,” Jasper’s voice cracks. “It’s Mr. Demetrius.”
After a freak accident in the laboratory, Mr. Demetrius lost his left arm, and since then, he’s been our science teacher. I watch his wife hold their sons. It’s not right that Mr. Demetrius has been chosen because he has a family to care for.
Climbing onto the bus, he offers us a tight smile as he comes down the aisle. I try to smile, but I think I fail because he quickly squeezes my shoulder, then sits down next to Jasper.
“I’m not ready to die.” Jasper’s words come out in a rush.
Completely failing to hide his emotions, his breaths are so fast it sounds like he’s been running. I suppose he’s not hiding his emotions because he’s leaving the ecocity.
He should be careful. He can still be banished, though.
“We’re not going to die, Jasper. The deviants aren’t barbaric. We have been honored by being chosen,” Mr. Demetrius tries to offer words of comfort.
I haven’t thought about death. I only wondered about finding Mom, should I ever get the opportunity to go into the forbidden territory. I haven’t thought about what lies behind the boundary marker of our ecocity’s dome. I haven’t been brave enough.
“Why have none of the other crusaders returned?” Jasper asks the question I’ve thought of quite often since Mom was banished.
In my heart, I never really thought the day would come when I would be chosen.
I didn’t even feed my glofish this morning.
“Because they’re still out there working to save deviants. It’s a vast land.”
I wonder if Mr. Demetrius truly believes what he is saying.
The bus stops again, this time outside Ruth Hosea’s house.
What? Two women? Why?