The sun is up now, filtering through the cracks in the boarded windows. I lie awake on the hard mattress. I didn’t sleep. How could I? Today I’ll be taken from here and put into someone’s home as a slave. Happy eighteenth birthday to me.
I sit up and glance around the grimy room. At least forty beds litter the floor, each filled with more kids my age. I wonder how many of them turn eighteen today, like me? I see the girl next to me, crying silently into her pillow. I guess it’s her birthday, too. I heard stories about kids in the ‘before-time’ and how they looked forward to their birthdays because they’d be spoiled with gifts and gain another year towards freedom.
With every year that passes, we grow more and more anxious—more uncomfortable. Unlike the kids in the before time, when our eighteenth birthday comes around, we’re sold to the Fortunates as slaves. The Fortunates run this world, and it’s been that way since before I was born. I grew up with the people in this room. They should be family; instead, they’re strangers. No one wants to get attached to someone who might be here one day, but gone the next. I guess it doesn’t help that the moderators keep us separated most of the time.
A loud siren blares throughout the room, signalling the eighteen-year-olds to line up for the selection, and today that includes me. I ignore the nervous bile that threatens my throat as I swing my legs off the side of my bed and into a pair of black cloth shoes. My big toe sticks out of the top and I cringe. The moderators aren’t going to like that.
Beside me, the crying girl shakily slips into her own shoes and her blonde, tear-soaked locks stick to the side of her face as a result. I give her a small smile, but she’s too distraught to care.
I straighten my grey, long-sleeved night dress and follow the lead of two boys in front of me as they line up against the wall.
“I hear they need more girls, so we should be okay for a few more days—maybe even months.”
Dread slivers through my stomach. The last thing I need is a higher increase of girl slaves. There aren’t a lot of girls in this room as it is. Usually, around spring, the Fortunates throw more parties and require the pretty faces of female slaves. I glance around at the faces that peer from their beds at us as we line the wall. I was one of them last month. What I wouldn’t give to be back in that position… if I had anything to give. It’s cruel to room sixteen and seventeen-year-olds with us. Every few months they watch as a fresh batch of eighteen-year-olds leave the room for the last time. Absolute cruelty.
The siren stops and we all stand quietly, keeping our eyes fixated on the back of the head in front of us. I can hear the big, heavy boots of the moderators as they enter the room and I don’t dare look past the short, curly-haired boy in front of me. The moderators scare the hell out of me, from their shaved heads and long, buttoned up trench coats down to their big, black boots.
“Listen up!” a deep, cold voice calls from the front of the room. “Before you shower for the selection, an announcement is to be made.”
If the fear in the room was minimal two seconds ago, now it’s blasting on maximum, my own immeasurable fear adding to it.
“There is no requirement…” He pauses and my skin erupts with goosebumps as my heart pounds in my ears, spilling blood through my veins at a rapid pace. I’m terrified, more terrified than I’ve ever been in my life, and I wish he wouldn’t drag it on. “There is no requirement for boys in this selection.”
There’s that nervous bile again, edging its way closer to the opening of my mouth. I swallow hard, but it doesn’t go down. Behind me, the blonde girl whimpers and takes deep breaths as she fights to keep her composure. The thirteen girls, including me, shuffle up the wall to form a tighter line as the boys march back to their beds. I’m able to see the moderator now and I allow myself a quick glance. It’s Soyer, the worst moderator of them all. He’s mean, arrogant, and dangerous. His wide shoulders rival the span of the door frame and are almost as thick, too.
“Well, well, girls…” he says, smiling down at us like the Cheshire cat, exposing his perfect, white teeth. “Get in the shower.”
Without a peep, and in a single file, we walk from the room, down the dilapidated hallway, and into the bathroom. The door is shut behind us and we’re left alone. Six girls start crying, including the blonde that sleeps in the bed next to me. The rest of us pull off our night dresses and turn on the showers. To be caught crying isn’t worth the beating.
There are no walls to separate our naked bodies. It’s just one big open space. The water is freezing cold for the first twenty seconds before turning to a semi-warm temperature. Showers are my equivalent of heaven. We aren’t allowed a regular one. Once a week is the shower privilege around here and I plan to make the most of this one. I walk to the small table in the middle of the shower room where a few bottles of soap sit. I lather my body in the cherry scented soap and then pour some into my hand. I run the soap through the knotty tangles of my long hair, separating them as I go, and carefully, without slipping, I make my way back to my shower, letting the warmish water wash away the bubbles and temporarily, my reality.