Crossed(9)By: Ally Condie
I have to try, even though I don’t think this tired gray man has any answers for me and the hope I had seems to be slipping away. “I want to know more about the Glorious History of Tana Province.”
A pause. A beat.
The man draws in a breath and begins to speak. “Tana Province has beautiful geography and is also renowned for its farming,” he says, his voice flat.
He doesn’t know. My heart sinks. Back in Oria, Ky told me that the poems Grandfather gave me could be valuable, and also that asking the history of the Province was a way to let the Archivists know you wanted to trade. I’d hoped it would be the same way here. It was stupid of me. Perhaps there are no Archivists in Tana at all, and if there were, they must have better places to be than waiting for closing time in this sad little museum.
The man continues. “Floods sometimes occurred in Tana pre-Society, but that has been controlled for many years now. We are one of the most productive farming Provinces in the Society.”
I don’t look back at Xander. Or the Official. Just at the map in front of me. I tried to trade before and it didn’t work then either. But the first time it was because I couldn’t bring myself to give away the poem Ky and I shared.
Then I notice that the man has stopped speaking. He looks at me directly. “Is there anything else?” he asks.
I should give up. Should smile and turn away to Xander and forget about this, accept that the man knows nothing and move on. But for some reason I think suddenly of one of those last red leaves holding on against the sky. I breathe. It falls.
“Yes,” I say softly.
Grandfather gave me two poems. Ky and I loved the Thomas one, but there were other words, too, and those are the ones that come to me now. I don’t remember all of it, that poem by Tennyson, but one stanza comes back to me clear in my mind as though it were written there all along. Perhaps it was the man’s mention of flooding that brought it back:“For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.”
As I speak the words quietly, the man’s face changes. He becomes clever, alert, alive. I must have remembered correctly. “That’s an interesting poem,” he says. “Not, I think, one of the Hundred.”
“No,” I say. My hands tremble and I dare to hope again. “But still worth something.”
“I’m afraid not,” he says. “Unless you have the original.”
“No,” I say. “It was destroyed.” I destroyed it. I remember that moment at the Restoration site and how the paper fluttered up before it went down to burn.
“I’m sorry,” he says, and it sounds as though he is. “What is it you were hoping to trade for?” he asks, a hint of curiosity in his voice.
I point to the Outer Provinces. If I can just get to them, there’s a slim but real chance I can find Ky. “I know they’re taking the Aberrations there,” I say softly. “But I want to know exactly where and how I can get there. A map.”
He shakes his head at me. No.
He can’t tell me? Or he won’t? “I have something else,” I say.
I angle my back so that neither Xander nor the Official can see my hands; I reach into the bag. My fingers brush the foil of the tablets and the hard surface of the compass at the same time and I stop.
Which should I trade?
Suddenly I’m dizzy, confused, remembering the time I had to sort Ky. The steam in the room, the sweat, the ache of the decision pressing against me . . .
Stay clear, I tell myself. I glance over my shoulder at Xander and meet the blue of his eyes for one brief moment before he turns back to the Official. I remember Ky looking down at me from the air-train platform before they took him away and feel again the panic of time running out.
I make up my mind and reach into the bag, pulling out the item for trade. I hold it up just high enough for the man to see, trying to keep my hands from shaking and attempting to convince myself that I can give this up.
He smiles and nods at me. “Yes,” he says. “That is worth something. But what you want would take days—weeks—to arrange.”
▶ Also By Ally Condie
- · Crossed