A Garden of Small Hearts
Welcome to A Garden of Small Hearts, a growing dystopian, sci-fi tale that is different from all the rest.
Table of Contents
A Garden of Small Hearts 1
Returning at Evening
Ali is on the platform. I have seen her several times before, but usually in the morning when we go out or when I am crossing the path by the observation platform. The platform is made of what looks like unfinished boards, a shade or two lighter than pine straw. It stands out against the moss that lines the forest floor and which protects my housemates bare feet. Of course not everybody's feet are bare here, but enough of us do not wear shoes.<p>Ali of course wears sandals. They are a bright gold with thin straps that contrast with the muted bronze sheen of her belt, which bisects a one shouldered cream colored tunic of shiny, thin, soft material that caresses one shoulder and falls to just above her knees, but which is totally modest in its own way. Ali has skinny legs, small pert breasts, a heart shaped face with regular features, and chestnut hair that falls in a shiny caress to the nape of her neck. Her eyes look light colored. Her soft, short dress has pockets with discrete electronics in them. I see her finger them from time to time as she watches us gather.
In the evening every one is scruffy. We've been out in the sun and maybe the sand or dirt as well. If we've gone into town, we have walked a long way. If we swam in the lake or the sea, there is salt on our skin and if we are caucasian, there is grease in our hair. Ali is not close enough to smell us. If her eye for detail is good she can read our mood in our physical appearance.
It is summer. Our clothing is light. Sometimes it is minimal or close to nonexistent. Some of us carry baskets, bags, or packs, but not the majority. If you look carefully you will see we are fairly diverse which is as it should be given that this is the Southern United States. We are young, old (Yes even with wrinkles. Some of us live a long time and can not or will not retard the aging process. Most likely we can not afford it or don't have the connections to have it done at a price we can afford.), and in between. There are sucking babes. There are children with skinned knees. Our clothes are in all colors. </p>
If Ali really wanted to line us up to study us, I would stand out. I have on a printed tunic, swim shorts that coordinate, and flip flops. I am tanned from the sun except for my neck which is slightly burnt. On my feet are sturdy, cushioned, tan, black and brown striped flip-flops. My toes need to be pared and filed. I smell of the sea. What makes me really stand out though is a backpack and beach mat.
Ali, however, is not watching me more than any body else, and I am just part of a normal day's variation in a large crowd that flows like water as it reaches the clearing for the transport rafts to take us in for the night. The sun is low and warm announcing that it will set in about an hour and a half. We'll be inside by then. I am glad I will not have to go out and shop tonight as I did on the first day I arrived here. I am glad there are pots, pans, and other implements to cook a really good dinner. I am not hungry so much as anticipating the the slightly sour smell of the institutional kitchen, the hiss of the natural gas flame on the stove, the bubbling of green pea vegetable soup. The feeling of carrots on a hand grater and the scent of freshly chopped scallions and dill. Pea soup and cole slaw. There is a good, homey feeling in a meal like that. I'll even read a book while I sit.
Then I see that Ali is not alone on the platform. Standing beside her is a man in way too many clothes, charcoal pants that look like wool but probably aren't, a tight fitting pale grey tunic with white braid and silver buttons. His hair is so blonde it is nearly white. His face looks tanned. His hair is cut to a crew cut's stubble that does not blow in the breeze and which also matches his, white, furry brows. Ermine brows, I think. Ali and the man speak softly. I am too far away to hear what they say. I let the crowd push me along.
I tell myself I'm not going to let the presence of what looks like fairly high up and professional security destroy my evening. I have nothing about which to worry except the usual raft of suspicions. I am not a criminal. I have business here. I am a legal resident thanks to Ali and Mama Buttercup.
But if Security is not looking for me, and they well might have nothing better to do, for whom are they searching? I draw a blank and that leaves me more worried. I really don't want someone else' stupidity to pull me down. I don't want stupidity of those with power to pull me down either and the thought of that makes my face hot and my stomach cringe. Goodbye thoughts of pea soup and cole slaw.
This evening I have forgotten about how much I hate riding The People-vator as we used to call it up north. In five days I figured out the service entrance back inside. There are two of them, one into protected lands and one from the road. I like the one on protected lands better. I think there are more entrances. I curse myself for not going to look for the service entrance, but I tell myself there was no reason to use that entrance and I shouldn't use it unless I have a reason. I forgot about The People-Vator which in this part of the world is a floating alabaster raft on which about sixty souls stand. They stand even if they have babies in arms or are stoop-backed, shriveled up, old people. I remember I knew an artist who liked to draw the shriveled up kind of old people. I think about her now as I crowd in with people who smell of sun, sea, sweat, woods, and oddly full stomachs and lotions. These last odors are the only ones that are not tolerable.
I stare at the ground. I don't want to feel The People-Vator moving. It does not jolt or bump, but it whirs and I hate the vibration. I stare at a woman's light blue cloth covered shoulder. Her skin is tan and aged by the sun, but she hasn't begun to shrivel and wrinkle yet. Her hair is stiff, blond, straw. We begin to move faster, gliding over the grass and under extremely big trees. The trees grow bigger. There is a cave at the end of the space between them, grey stone and a huge black maw.
The maw engulfs us, and the Vator abruptly picks up speed as it rushes down a tunnel and then lurches upward and then rushes again in a direction that I think is perpendicular to the first, but I would have to see coordinates or a map to be sure. I'm not sure. I close my eyes tight. The rushing lights in the tunnel and later the bright mosaic design put there to amuse the Vator-riders make me sick as they move by. I take a few furtive glances. Then we stop. My legs feel like water.
It takes me a few seconds too long to hear the whirr of troubled conversation all around me. I open my eyes, hoping we can get off, but instead see only the grey blue and red glass design that indicates we are almost there, but floating in a tunnel on a big white raft with one raft ahead of us and one just below. "What gives?" is all I can think.
Next to me, a slim, caramel skinned girl in a yellow strapless tunic/dress shifts from one foot to the other. Does she need to pee? Her companion with long, black hair and a purple tunic with faint diamond damask print and matching shorts underneath whispers something in her ear. The girl in yellow shakes her head. "It's just going to land on somebody's head," I hear her say.
"Don't worry. If it does they'll toss it. Either way it's got to be gone."
"Why today?" moans yellow dress.
"Someone's probably sitting on them or maybe one of them found his wife with somebody else or maybe his lover. Life isn't fair, girl. Just toss the junk."
"How'm I goin' to get to the edge of the raft?"
"I'll take care of it," purple takes charge and two bundles from yellow. She then squeezes and pushes her way through the tired crowd. Yellow is left by herself staring at the raft. She shifts from one foot to the other some more. No doubt she it tired and antsy. I think of cooking supper. It is such an innocent thought and so far away.
I hardly notice purple coming back. "Just take a deep breath, Angel hun'. It's going to be all right," she pitter-pats. My arm aches from standing with a beach mat underneath it, but our raft is in no hurry to move. Finally, the Vator above us vanishes and ours begins to rise. My gorge rises with it. I squint my eyes shut just in the nick of time.
A male voice booms inside my head. "Please walk through the barrier ONE AT A TIME. PUT ALL BAGS ON THE TABLE FOR INSPECTION." I wish that I had tossed my backpack and beach mat over the side of the Vator. I tell myself that would have been wise, not that I have much to hide. Any one can come looking for me and find me and learn about me. I shift from foot to foot like yellow. "You girls are making me all nervous," purple complains.
"This is nerve wracking," yellow complains back. Security takes a long time inspecting every one who walks through their barrier, or is it a cordon? I was not sure. I was not sure for whom they were looking? I know it could not be me. As I said before, what I am doing is not criminal, unless you really want to change and stretch definitions, and if you do that, you'll find me all right.
At long last, we approach the barrier. Three or four junior security goons in charcoal unfiroms with silver masks and helmets as reflective as well polished mirrors make us get in line and slowly walk through a bottleneck. I watch a beefy male guard who has a bitter odor and who is at least two heads taller than I am, go through my backpack and then unroll my beach mat. He asks about my books. I have a good explanation. He rifles the pages, being thorough, doing his job. I roll up my beach mat and stand before an officer in a grey tunic. He is older than the blond one who stood next to Ali. He has a computer spread out on his table. He has folded it in half and set it up so the output and keyboard looked wavy and garbled from my side of the table. Seeing the images and ripple and smear makes me sick to my stomach.
I stare at the ground and hardly hear him bark: "NAME!"
"Yahanna," I answer.
"What?" asks the officer.
"Y-A-H-A-doble N-A." The officer then asks if I know my National Identification Number. I recite it. The computer on the table swirls as it forms an image only the officer can read. I look away. I'm not sick any more. I'm too frightened. I try not to think about everything that can go wrong for no good reason.
"You are sure a long way from home," the officer sighs. "What are you doing here?"
"I start at at Georgia Southern in two days."
"Your records say you are twenty-five years old."
"This is graduate study in pedagogy. I'm working on an MAT so I can teach school."
"All right...PROCEED!" The officer must realize he is spending too much time with me. As I have said before, I am no criminal. Well, not yet anyway. I walk past the cordon down the nondescript, white corridor, into a lobby disguised as a meadow with indoor grass, and a huge magnolia tree and a shrub with summer blooming camelias the color of a pink dove, if doves were pink.
I walk down a shorter passage on the far side of the meadow lobby. This passage forms a T and I turn left. I emerge in the courtyard of four brick buildings. The building on the far side of the courtyard is mine. My area that I share with several other women in in the rear on the third floor. I enter through the big glass door to the lobby with two story ceilings and halls leading to other areas. I smell soap and something sour. This building always smells this way. I climb the curving, wide, central stairway and turn right. Mama Buttercup is in a giant, hot pink, chaise-divan with her legs up. She has grown gross as in fat in middle age. Her fleshy face nearly hides her eyes. Her hair is strawberry blond.
"Security is sure keepin' everyone a long time today," she greets me. She wants information. I'm darned if I know what is going on.
"How was the reading?" Mama Buttercup pries gently.
I shrug. I feel less like a fish out of water. I have some idea what to expect when classes start. When classes start everything will be a relief. No, that is not true. I can't go back to Ithaca. "Did the police raid the kitchen?" I ask Mama Buttercup.
"No, they're not raiding for drugs this time."
"Then what happened."
"I don't know yet. Are you going to cook tonight?"
"Don't see why I shouldn't. You want me to shop for you in the morning don't you?"
"I'm not even thinking of it now. You are lucky that the gods don't make you hungry to be a mother."
I wonder what that is supposed to mean. "Did someone miscarry today?" I ask.
Mama Buttercup makes a little expression half way between a pout and a smile. "That's a curse you know. We're not cursed yet," she tells me. I head back toward the kitchen. I have to click through a biometric lock to gain admittance. Kitchens with their stoves, refridgerators, and freezers are great make-shift drug labs. Their knives make fine weapons. My previous house manager had to vouch for me via letters sent ahead of me like my things so that I could have "kitchen privileges."
Tonight, the kitchen is quiet and deserted. I wait for the motion sensor to turn on the lights. When it doesn't, I clap my hands over my head hard. It's an old trick. It works and the lights switch on. Usually there are signs of human activity in the kitchen in the early evenings even if I am there alone. Today it looks like no one has come through the place all afternoon. I ponder that. I also feel relieved that the officers were not looking for me. Of course they won't have to sift through a whole building to find me when and if they come for me. "It's still if," I tell myself. In fact, it may always be if.
Statesboro, Georgia USA