Everybody was the same.
Everybody woke up at the same time, ate the sambe breakfast and wore the same clothes. Everybody went to the same school, worked their pre-assigned job, had their pre-assigned friends. They were told where they could live, how many children they could have and who they could marry. It was perfect.
But perfection, as most people know, is only skin deep.
Be de beep. Be de beep. Be de beep.
The alarm went off promptly at 7 a.m. Just like it did yesterday and it'll do tomorrow. I ate the same breakfast, took the same shower and wore the same clothes. I left at the same time, took the same train and worked the same work. Had the same lunch, took the same break and left at the same time.
The same people were at the same platform waiting for the same train. Took the same train to the same stop and walked the same way to the same building and the same apartment. Then came something that wasn't the same. It took me off guard and, at the time, I didn't realize the significance of it.
It was a cat. Probably doesn't seem like much, but people weren't allowed to have pets and any strays were caught and euthanized. Despite everything I've ever been told ("if you ever come across an animal, don't touch it and call the police") I picked up the cat. It mewed a tiny mew and nuzzled my hand. It couldn't have been more than a couple days old. Maybe even a couple hours, I wouldn't know. I picked it up and took it into my apartment.
It was sparsly furnished and everything was neat and tidy. There was a day-old newspaper on the kitchen/dining room table so I set it up in the bathroom for the kitten to pee on. I of course didn't have cat food, but I remembered from school that cats ate meat and kittens drank milk. I didn't have any milk (I was allergic) so I had to go buy some.
It was only a couple blocks from my apartment to the store. It was kinda chilly so I kept my jacket tight by my sides in the failing light. The streets were nearly deserted; it was nearly curfew. I quickly got the milk (amid strange looks from the cashier since I never had before) and hurried home. I'd've been in BIG trouble if I had been caught outside after curfew; "If you are outside after curfew, you will be jailed for a minimum of 30 days and fined $500". I managed to slip into my apartment building JUST as the chime started. Phew, that was close.
The kitten mewed a little hello as I entered the apartment; I was so used to coming home to an empty apartment that it kind of startled me. It was actually a nice change from my usual solitary existence. A few years ago I thought of maybe having a relationship but there was so much red tape that it just wasn't worth it. You have to file a request for a spouse, then after you get someone assigned to you, you follow the courtship guidelines, date for the allotted amount of time, have a guideline wedding and a guideline marriage... it was all very regulated and impersonal. Before my parents disappeared they would tell me the story of how they met and fell in love. I never did find out what happened to them.
I got a little saucer from a nearby cabinet, poured the milk and put the little saucer on the floor. All the while the kitten swirled around my legs anxiously. As soon as I put the saucer down the kitten practically pushed my hand out of the way so it could get to the milk. "You must've been hungry little guy." Before long, the bowl was empty and the kitten mewed for more. It drank 2 more bowls of milk before walking over to a spot warmed by the setting sun, curling up and going to sleep.
Things were still the same outside, but inside the kitten made things interesting. I couldn't tell if it was a boy or a girl so I tried to give it a name either a boy or a girl could have. I finally decided to call the kitten Riley, like my best friend from elementary school (she had disappeared just like my parents). I would walk in the door and Riley would mew a little hello. Before long it stopped startling me and I came to look forward to it. My world wasn't so lonely anymore.
Occasionally someone would come to the door; usually the government police making their rounds. They weren't allowed to enter unless there was a bona-fide reason to do so; luckily Riley stayed quiet and out of sight. Once they would leave Riley's shenanigans would begin again. The world lost it's coldness. Instead of intimidating and foreboding it was becoming warm and inviting like long-awaited spring after a harsh winter.
Riley grew from a scraggly little kitten into a beautiful cat. (S)He kept his/her tiny mew. Outside was the same monotony, sleep work repeat sleep work repeat, but Riley made life interesting, diverse. I still worked the same work, ate the same food and walked the same way but Riley made me look forward to my days. No longer were thcey devoid of substance.
I settled into a slightly different routine; of course I still did what I was told, but I kinda bent the rules a little. When I could, I started taking a little "me" time (which was unheard of). I couldn't have fun outside because if I had been caught I'd've been in a LOT of trouble. Most of the time I just stayed home and watched TV but a couple of times I managed to go to the beach (the tough part was fooling the cameras by making it LOOK like I was going to work. Never knew when someone was watching).
Then I got a bit of a shock via a seemingly normal phone call.
Ring ring. Ring ring.
I picked it up and acted like I had just woken up. "Hello?"
"Citizen number 45106." It wasn't even a question. They knew I was the only person there.
"It has come to our attention that you have been taking an unexcused leave of absence."
Crap! "I've been sick..."
"We have received no report of illness from your appointed doctor."
"I, um..." my mind was absolutely racing "... I didn't want to infect anybody else."
Silence. Crap! "You have 14 days to either report continuing illness to this office or report back to work."
Phew! "Affirmative." *click*
As I put down the receiver I was absolutely shaking like a leaf. That was WAY too close. Two strikes... The next step would be a police search and probably an arrest. I had gotten cocky and it nearly gotten me caught twice. I couldn't afford to take any more chances.
For a while I settled back into my old routine. Work, train, home, work, train, home. Riley settled down as (s)he got older. Life resumed it's usual hum-drumness. But I had gotten a taste of different, and I wanted more. I couldn't toe the line anymore and that saddened me more then I thought it would. Life wasn't acceptable anymore.
It had been a couple of weeks (maybe?) when the sun really returned and started to warm the sleeping earth underfoot. Birds started re-appearing, chirping their happy little songs. I wanted to be outside. But I was stuck doing some kinda busy work that was probably gonna end up in a drawer someplace. The sunshine and warmth beckoned me... Come outside... Come outside... I shook my head. You know you want to... I have to finish this work... You can finish it later... I fidgeted nervously... Why waste this beautiful day... I tried to fight it, but next thing I knew I was grabbing my jacket and tying my shoes and out I went.
I got some strange looks from passers-by: if someone was out walking it was because they were going to work. Everyone did what they were told when they were told. No one went for a walk just because. Out of everything I had done, just that simple act could've gotten me in the most trouble; well, skipping work was worse, but even this tyrannical government had double jeopardy (sort of). It's the 1 thing the people wouldn't let them take; I think the government was okay with that because the people typically didn't get to use it: once they had you, you were theirs, and you were guilty. It didn't matter if you actually were, if they thought you were guilty you were guilty and you were never heard from again.
I shoved my hands in my pockets, kicked a rock, drew my arms a little closer when I got a little chilly. I passed some police officers, and while I technically wasn't doing anything wrong, it sent a shiver down my spine. Just act normal... I suddenly became very aware just how LOUD my breathing was. It was like a locomotive full of cats in heat. I thought for sure they were going to stop and arrest me but to my great surprise they just kept walking. I almost wanted to whistle but I didn't know how, and even if I did that would've DEFINITELY gotten me in trouble. I just whistled in my head.
Around the block then back up to my apartment. Riley mewed a little hello; almost like a little "congratulations". I couldn't help but kinda hop and giggle a little; every time I managed not to get in trouble (even for something as simple as whistling) it was exhilarating. But these little rushes, these little bits of defiance were starting to go stale. There was something BIG I was considering, but I didn't even know if it would work. As far as I knew, this was the entire world, and if you went any farther you'd fall off the edge.
For a couple weeks I appeared to be just another obedient little worker bee, but behind the scenes I was like some defiant renegade bee. I planned what I hoped would work but I really had no idea; even though I had managed to skip work before I had always been back in time for my absence to go (relatively) unnoticed. I had gotten a little slap on the wrist, but if they even got an inkling that I was planning to defect I would've been in SO much trouble. Thankfully numbers were on my side: the government had so many other people to keep track of that my oneness didn't really register.
It was just another day, with the same shuffle to the same train to the same work. Even though the faces were familiar and I didn't know any of their names. That actually saddened me the most about leaving: this hodgepodge was the closest I have to friends and we've probably said maybe 5/10 words to each other in about 15 years. I almost wanted to sit down with a couple of them and just chit-chat but I didn't have the time. My stop (for work, at least) was coming up. Action!
With Riley (thankfully quiet and still) safely tucked in my briefcase, I got off the train and started to walk towards work. The coldness of that morning nipped at my heels, as though trying to tease me inside and distract me from my ultimate goal.
For a ways I went with the crowd, but slowly I began to peter off and double back to the train. Even though I had done this a few times before I was nervous; I was lucky those cameras weren't being watched those times. I hoped my luck wouldn't run out.
No cops when I reached the platform. I breathed a sigh of relief. I sat near the back of the train as people went about their business. Few people spoke, but when they did it sounded forced and regimented and uncomfortable. Like they were tired, like they wanted to talk about something else but they couldn't, not with the cameras. I wondered what it could be: maybe a secret love that dare not speak it's name? Who knows.
"Last stop," the PA warbled overhead. I had opened the briefcase a little to let Riley stretch but now I had to close it again. Riley looked at me with woeful eyes; all I could do was mouth "sorry" as I closed the lid. The train screeched to a halt and I briskly stood up with everyone else. No one seemed to be in any particular hurry as the mass seethed towards the door.
It was still just a little brisk. My steamy breath hung in the air for a moment like a dream and dispersed just as quickly. Of course a patrol was there but as long as I didn't seem too suspicious they didn't really have any reason to bother me.
"Hey, you!" My heart froze and my legs turned to jelly. I started to turn around as the police officer rushed past me towards someone to my right. Only then did I realize that I was getting light-headed because I was holding my breath. I took a couple big gulps of air and headed towards the street.
My head cleared as I followed the crowd like a sheep to slaughter. Off to work, busy busy busy with some meaningless task that was just gonna end up in some file cabinet in a basement in a building nobody goes to anymore. Just another form of control; if you keep them busy they won't have the time/energy to question you. I almost envied them; ignorant of the world and happy with just so.
As I had before and probably never would again I went with the crowd a ways before slowly splitting from the group and heading down some deserted side street. Even though there had police at the station there weren't any following me. I was actually really surprised: all my life I've been told that they were always watching, always there, diligent and omnipotent. Their over-confidence would be their downfall.
When I was absolutely sure, I let Riley out so (s)he could stretch his/her legs. Even though (s)he hadn't made a sound yet I shushed him/her: although everybody SHOULD be at work there will be some police roaming the streets looking for straddlers like overpaid hall monitors. If they caught you... I didn't even want to think about that.
Hide behind corners, rush rush, double back, sneaky sneaky sneaky. I was probably being overly paranoid but no one had ever tried something like this before (at least as far as I knew) so I didn't even know if it could be done. Eventually I made my way back towards the station. The trains didn't even run during the day (what was the point? Everybody was already at work) so I hopped down from the platform and started to follow the tracks.
For a ways the tracks cut through the city proper before reaching the outskirts and meandering lazily through the countryside. Even this tyrannical government with all it's control and propaganda couldn't squash the beauty of nature. The morning warmed into day as I went, and as the light shifted the landscape twisted and danced. The trees became belly-dancers and the grass became children playing tag. The breeze picked up and with the roasty smell of impending summer.
Just ahead Riley became virtually enamored with a stray leaf the breeze had blown into his/her path. The breeze would die down a little until Riley got close and little puff of breeze would blow the leaf a little farther. I could smell the salty dampness as we drew closer and slowly I could hear the waves crashing into the sand.
I stopped. This is the farthest I ever got and I just didn't know if you could go any further. I hadn't fallen off the edge of the world yet... I guess just trying wouldn't hurt; I mean, I'd be dead, but at least I had the courage to ask. All my life I had been told not to ask, just to follow because they said so. I couldn't really even wonder; I think that's why they kept everybody so busy. If they're busy with some inane task, they won't have to stop and think and sow the seeds of rebellion.
I kept the ocean to my right as I continued along the coast. Honestly I had no idea where I was going. I passed a couple of cottages and while I wanted to stop I didn't; those cabins looked lived in so I couldn't very well live there. So I continued.
As I went the cabins became more and more scarce. The sun was hanging lower and lower until it was barely a sliver over the horizon. Just my luck: I came across an abandoned-looking cabin that seemed to stand guard over the waves. When I tried the door the handle initially froze from rust before giving way.
While there were no humans around there were plenty of birds and bats that had made their way in through a couple broken windows. Everything was covered in a light layer of dust and there were the occasional droppings but other than that it actually wasn’t that messy. The sounds of their wings echoed a lonely, cavernous kind of echo. At first it was a little foreboding.
Riley brushed against my leg and mewed. I picked him/her up and I just knew: this was home.
Everybody was the same.
Everybody but me.