Everyone quickly filtered out of the room after breakfast, and I was left with a handful of women that ranged from five to fifteen years older than me. I was never close with any of them, and I wondered if they would now be my constant companions. The children had left with their mothers to go to the daycare facility about a mile away where they wouldn’t disturb the remaining worker group. I wasn’t sure where I fit in, and I found myself staring at the women still sitting at the table with a weak smile. I glanced around the room again as I looked for Mother and Sara, but they must have left with the men or the mothers. I bit the inside of my lip as I sat down. I had been counting on spending time with Sara, and suddenly I wondered if being in school was better.
“So what do we do?” I asked, breaking the silence.
The other women looked at each other with wide eyes and slack jaws that showed their surprise at my question.
“Your mother didn’t give you orders?” Paula asked with her brows raised into her forehead.
I shook my head.
“We’re going to the garden,” she said as the rest of the women stood with her. “You can do whatever you want.”
I turned on the bench as they began to file out of the door.
“Wait, where does my mother go?” I asked as I tried to grasp onto the thought of doing whatever I wanted.
“No clue!” Paula replied as she waved and shut the door behind her with a smile.
I ran my hand through my hair as I looked around at the empty dining hall. My questions even alienated me from those that barely knew me. I was sure their brothers, sisters or sons and daughters talked about my questions from school. They didn’t want to have to answer any of them, which right now, was fine with me.
I took a deep breath before heading out the door myself, bursting into a jog and then an all out sprint. I didn’t need anyone, all I needed was the wind rushing through my hair as it spun and twisted into knots at the constant speed. I raced past the field behind the housing units and into the forest that surrounded every inch of my life. I ran until I couldn’t breathe anymore and stopped, dropping my hands to my knees before tipping my head back to look at the canopy above me.
The falling leaves cascaded over me as the wind shook the tree to reveal the gray sky. I moved forward, running my hands over the bark until I found a tree I could begin to scale. I climbed high enough I was able to stick my head above the leaves to see my surroundings. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before—trees, trees and more trees. I could barely see the opening where I knew the house was, and I didn’t want to. I wondered if I kept running if the forest would ever end, and if it did, what I would find. Civilization, another group of people, or more nothingness?
I settled into the crook of the tree. It was more than likely it would be nothing. I closed my eyes as I let my mind wander to twenty some odd years prior, to a world where humans mingled and had real jobs—jobs they chose. Where people were free, but now in this tree, I had the most freedom I would ever have.
Eventually, I got hungry enough to leave behind my solace in the trees. I took my time getting back to the house, only to find it was still empty. I could feel my heart beginning to race as I moved from room to room in the common area before I went to the cupboard and grabbed the mason jar of peanut butter and some bread. I rushed to slop it on before wrapping it in brown paper, grabbing some carrots and water as I thought over my plan in my head.
I wanted to write the things rushing through my mind down; if they wouldn’t let me have books, I would write them for myself. I just needed paper and pencils, which sounded easier than it felt. I could feel the sweat beading down my neck, despite the cool air, as I made my way cautiously to the school house. I didn’t want anyone to see me rushing there and become suspicious, so although my muscles ached to run, I walked with my lunch at a normal pace.
I took a deep breath and glanced over my shoulder as I reached the door and snuck into the dim room. I knew where they were, and I raced across the room to the closet and flung the door open with my free arm. I grabbed three of the handmade notebooks and several pencils with an eraser before I paused, looking down at them.
Would someone notice I’d taken them, and how would I explain what I did with them? I looked at the stack in the closet, along with the box brimming with pencils; I doubted they would notice. If they did it wouldn’t be for quite some time.
I stuck my head out the only door and then raced towards the forest with my stolen goods. I knew if someone was looking for me they would easily hear me crashing through the forest, but as I glanced over my shoulder I didn’t see any one. I slowed as that thought sunk in.
Where was everyone?