Crossed(4)

By: Ally Condie


“We could go view the painting on the port,” I tell them. The one port in camp sits humming over in the main hall, large and listening.

“No,” says Indie. “It’s too late.”

It’s true; we’re supposed to stay in our cabin after dinner. “Tomorrow during breakfast, then,” I say.

Indie makes a dismissive gesture, turns her face away. She’s right. I don’t know why it’s not the same, but it isn’t. At first, I thought it was having the picture that made it special, but it’s not even that. It’s looking at something without being watched, without being told how to see. That’s what the picture has given us.

I don’t know why I didn’t carry around pictures and poems all the time before I came here. All that paper in the ports, all that luxury. So many carefully selected pieces of beauty and still we didn’t look at them enough. How did I not see that the color of the green near the canyon was so new you could almost feel the smoothness of the leaf, the stickiness like butterfly wings opening for the first time?

In one swift motion, Indie brushes the pieces from my bed. She didn’t even look to do it. That’s how I know she cared about losing the picture, because she knew exactly where the fragments lay.

I carry them to be incinerated, my eyes blurring with tears.

It’s all right, I tell myself. You have other, solid things left, hidden under the papers and petals. A tablet container. A silver box from the Match Banquet.

Ky’s compass and the blue tablets from Xander.

I don’t usually keep the compass and the tablets in the bag with me. They’re too valuable. I don’t know if the Officers search through my things but I’m sure the other girls do.

So, on the first day in each new camp, I bring out the compass and the blue tablets, plant them deep, and come for them later. Besides being illegal, they are both valuable gifts: the compass, golden and bright, can tell me which direction I need to go. And the Society has always told us that, with water, the blue tablet can keep us alive for a day or two. Xander stole several dozen for me; I could live for a long time. Together, their gifts are the perfect combination for survival.

If I could only get to the Outer Provinces to use them.

On nights like tonight—the night before a transfer—I have to find my way back to where I planted them and hope I remember the spot. This evening I was the last one inside, my hands stained dark with dirt from a different part of the field. It’s why I hurried to wash my hands; what I hope Indie didn’t notice with her sharp eyes as she stood behind me. I hope that no traces of soil fall out of the bag and that no one hears the musical chime, the sound of promise, as the silver box and the compass bump into each other and against the tablet container.

In these camps, I try to conceal the fact that I’m a Citizen from the other workers. Though the Society usually keeps knowledge of status confidential, I’ve overheard conversations between some of the girls about having to give up their tablet containers. Which means that somehow—through their own mistakes or those of their parents—some of these girls have lost their Citizenship. They’re Aberrations, like Ky.

There’s only one classification lower than Aberration: Anomaly. But you almost never hear of them anymore. They seem to have vanished. And it seems to me now that, once the Anomalies were gone, the Aberrations took their place—at least in the collective mind of the Society.

No one talked about the Rules of Reclassification back in Oria, and I used to worry that I could cause the Reclassification of my family. But now I’ve figured out the rules from Ky’s story and from listening to the other girls speak in unguarded moments.

The rules are this: If a parent becomes Reclassified, the whole family does, too.

But if a child becomes Reclassified, the family does not. The child alone bears the weight of the Infraction.

Ky was Reclassified because of his father. And then he was brought to Oria when the first Markham boy died. I realize now how truly rare Ky’s situation was—how he could only come back from the Outer Provinces because someone else was killed, and how his aunt and uncle, Patrick and Aida Markham, might have been even higher up in the Society than any of us realized. I wonder what has happened to them now. The thought makes me cold.

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