“You have been selected as Chosen.”
That was all that was said. That was all that was ever said. All that need be said. She arose from her work and followed the foreman as she was expected to do.
She sat facing one of the few bare spots on the wall near the only window. A small window that looked out on the nearly empty street. The walls of the room were surrounded by words in large lettering. Words of the Council. Words she had heard spoken as far back as she could remember. What little she could remember with any clarity.
She had lost track of time presently, but assumed it to be mid afternoon. The streets were empty because the People were at work. An orator continued to read from the ‘Book of the People’s Council’ from his kneeling posture on the other side of the door in the opposite wall.
“The will of the Council is the will of the People.
The will of the People is to do what is right on behalf of the People.
To do right is to do good.
It is the will of the Council to do good for the People….”
He continued to read on as all orators had always done. His voice blended in with the faint voices of the orators crossing below in the street.
“The desire of the People is to do the will of the Council.
The will of the Council is to do the will of the People.
The will of the People is to do right.
To do right is to do good on behalf of the People…”
The words seemed to echo through her head more than usual, but she seemed to hear the words even less than when she was at her job – a job that was assigned by the direction of the Council. She heard the sounds now. When she was working, it was background noise.
‘The orator reads from the Book of the People’s Council to re-enforce the will of the Council. The will of the Council is to do the will of the People. The will of the People is…‘
These words came to her thoughts now, even though they were not the words being read by any of the orators she could currently hear. They came to her from memory. Something she had heard once at a Council gathering. Occasionally the Council held such gatherings to elaborate further from the non-orated texts of the rules of the People’s Council.
“To question the will of the Council is to question the will of the People.
The will of the People is to do what is good and right.
To question the People is to question the right.”
She wasn’t sure if she was hearing the words as read by the Orator at the door or echoing through her thoughts. ‘One was not to question the good and the right,” she thought to herself.
‘Thinking to herself!’ She blushed and hung her head. ‘They were right to have selected me as Chosen,’ she thought. ‘Community members do not “think for one’s self.”‘
“To do good is to do on behalf of the People.
A member of the Community must do on behalf of the People.
A member of the Community must do as directed by the Council.”
These words did not come from the door but a voice she could hear in workshop across the street. These particular words were no longer necessary to be read for the ‘Chosen’. She was no longer directed to ‘do’. She could only sit and think. People did not think in the Community– People simply ‘did’. ‘A member of the Community does on behalf of the People,’ she found herself recalling out of habit.
She could not help it. It was all people thought. It was all people heard. It was read in all shops while labors ‘on behalf of the People‘ were undertaken. One was not afforded time to think. A Community member was not expected to think except as to what was necessary to ‘do’. To do for the benefit of the good. To do for the on behalf of the People. To do at the direction of the Council.
The words were not separate. They were always spoken together. They were always read together. They were always read period. Now all she could ‘do‘ was to listen. She had nothing to do with her body and thus nothing on which to focus her actions and thereby pre-occupy her mind. She was thinking. She never thought except to think about what she was doing. Doing on behalf of the People. Doing at the direction of the Council.
When she had risen from her work upon being told she was selected as Chosen, she had been directed here. No one really knew where the Chosen went before the Declaration. No one knew what occurred when they were guided away. No one needed to know. To be selected as Chosen was the will of the Council. The will of the Council is to do the will of the People. The will of the People is to do what is good on behalf of the People.
She could no more stop herself from thinking in the words of the Book of the People’s Council then she could stop herself from thinking about those words now. They were the only words she knew, the only words anyone ever heard. There was not time for talking when there were things that needed doing. Needed doing by the Council. Needed doing for the good of the People.
Community members were simply to hear the words and to do. To hear them and to….
She knew there was some other concept there, but she had never stopped – had never been allowed to stop – to think of it before. Community members were not supposed to think about it they were to just… hear? No. She did not have a word for it. She had never heard such a word for the concept she now had.
Although she understood that her thinking had ‘changed’, she could not separate when it had. Did it change from lack of things to ‘do’? She was sure the lack of ‘doing’ effected her thinking now. But was this the reason she was now selected as Chosen? She had no concept of logic or deduction. Deduction was not necessary to follow direction. Deduction was not needed to do as the council instructed. But her mind seemed to understand that changes in her thinking which ‘followed’ the act of being selected as Chosen did not precede the event itself. What had changed? She could not quite recall ‘why’…. why? The word hung in her head for a moment.
Not even in the Council gatherings, nor at the Declarations themselves was it ever spelled out as to ‘why‘ someone was selected as Chosen. But it was understood within the words of the book. One was picked as Chosen for not doing as the words specified, for not following the will of the Council. How had she not followed the Will of the Council? She tried to remember but the days all blurred together, the moments are not specific. All moments are directed by the Council. All actions are for the benefit of the People. She had always tried to follow their will before. She had always tried to do good.
The orator happened to read the words in a timely manner drawing her attention as she thought this. “It is the will of the People to do good…”
‘Yes, she had tried to do good.’ Her thoughts continued, ‘but one does not ‘try’ to do good. One must simply do it. One does not question what is good. One does not work to do good. Doing is good. Good is just… well just good!’
She began to consider the alternative. ‘If “doing” is good and she is not doing good, but simply “trying” to do it….,‘ but her attention was distracted mid thought. She caught sight of a crew of laborers now coming down the nearly empty street through the narrow window. They were leaving their workplace to go for their afternoon meal. Behind them marched the foreman who doubled as their workplace orator. As always, he read from the Book of the People’s Council as they walked from the workshop toward the lunchroom.
She spotted faces she recognized. Not ‘friends’. She had no concept of friend. Friends were not necessary to do right or good. Friends were not in the interest of the Council. The interest of the Council is…
Her thoughts broke off as she saw a young blonde boy and the thought occurred to her for the first time that the boy was attractive. She did not think the word ‘attractive’ but she thought he looked ‘good’. There was no need for ‘attraction’ to do good, so there was no word for it in the words of the Community.
She thought, ‘it was not good in a way that is good for the People, but in a way that is good to “her”’. She turned her head away from the window in disgust at her own thoughts. One does not think for themselves. One thinks for the good of the People….
‘But I am no longer asked to do for the People,‘ was the thought that interrupted the recollection of the council words and her glance involuntarily wandered back to the window to look for the good-looking boy. But the boy had already vanished into the lunchroom.
Still, she could picture his face in her mind. This took her by surprise as it was not something a member of the Community was expected to do, to remember one of the People in detail. Community members only needed to know what another was directed to ‘do’ and only when they needed them to do something to assist them in what they were doing. A member of the Community did not need to know what other People’s distinct features were. Distinction was not necessary to do the People’s will. Therefore distinction was not the will of the Council.
“That which is not the will of the Council is not good for the People.
The will of the Council is to do the will of the People.
And the will of the People is to do what is good.”
She couldn’t even sort through her own mind to tell if the words came from the lips of an orator in the present or in the past. A member of the Community did not need to tell the difference. The words of the Book were all the People needed to know, all the People needed to think. All that was necessary to do – to do what is good.
The thought hadn’t even occurred to her to shout out to the boy. A member of the Community does not shout out to others. A member of the Community has no reason to shout out to others. But something inside her considered it in retrospect now. It was not specific to the boy per se. But to contact. He was no one, just another face of another member of the Community. Just one of the People. Socialization was not necessary to do the People’s will. Doing was all the People were expected to do, all the People were allowed to do. What socialization did happen, occurred in the process of the doing. Only when it was necessary to do as directed – to do the will of the Council.
No, she did not crave to see the boy or anyone else specific. To her everyone was essentially the same. Everyone did – did for the public good. Everyone was the same. She just craved contact. Any contact. She looked up at the orator, but he droned on and on like a machine.
“The Council directs what the People do.
The will of the Council is to do good for the People
The Council directs the People to do what is good…”
She recalled being met by a member in council clothing when she had first been brought to this place. Before she had been left in this room. He had explained to her – amidst phrasing that may as well have been read from the Book – that those selected as Chosen were not to do things such as shout out. That it did not serve the people to do anything while she was here. It was the will of the Council for her to be here for Review.
“Review follows being selected as Chosen. Review will determine the good. Review will examine the right. It is the will of the Council to do the will of the People. And the will of the People is to do what is right on behalf of the People,” he had told her.
He had given no explanation of ‘Review’. Just that it was the Council’s will that any selected as Chosen under go Review. Since she was selected, she would undergo this Review. “It is the will of the Council that you wait here as part of Review. The Council directs you to wait. You are to do nothing while you wait. Nothing that is not at the direction of the Council. It is the purpose of the Council to do the will of the People.”
At that he had left, the orator was summoned and here she remained. Alone. Alone with her thoughts.
She suddenly realized that not only was a Community member never left unoccupied with tasks that would allow them to think. Community members were never left alone at all. Every task, every transition between tasks, eating, sleeping, even trips to the bathroom were all done with others. But now she was alone. ‘To be Chosen is to be alone,‘ she thought. She was not sure she liked being alone, but suddenly realized she didn’t really like being with the others either. At least not the others in the Community – not when ‘others’ all blended together.
‘There would be no real difference being here,‘ she considered, ‘if only I had something to do. Something to occupy my time. Something to keep me from thinking. Thinking is not in the interest of the good.‘
She looked down upon the floor. Not even a spec of dust or dirt. Someone must have cleaned the room. Someone always cleaned the rooms. It was something that needed to be done. Needed to be done for the good for the People.
She looked up to the words on the wall. She had read all the words many times already. She had read them over and over to occupy her mind. She had read them until she could not stand to read them any longer. She knew them all but she read them anyway. She did not want to read them any longer. Did not want…
‘One does not want,‘ she thought but now couldn’t help cracking a slight smile. She smiled because of something underneath it. Something she would have called ironic had she known of the word irony. She suddenly realized that she actually ‘wanted’ to think these things. That some part of herself was enjoying it.
‘One does not enjoy,‘ she thought now and almost laughed out loud. She had to resist the urge. She had never had such an urge before. She had never laughed, no less out loud. Laughing was not necessary – not necessary to do what was good – good for the People. She looked up at the orator, but if he had noticed any change in her composure he had not been distracted from his machine like recitation from the Book.
She knew not what they would ‘do’ if he had seen something and communicated it to another. She had already been selected as Chosen. What else would they do? What else could they do?
No, they did not make clear what happened after a Community member was selected as Chosen. Sometimes the people came back to work after the Declaration, sometimes they were never seen again. A member of the Community does not question the will of the Council. A member of the Community does not need to know what happened to such people. A member of the Community only needed to know what the Council was directing them to do next. To do on behalf of the People.
As she was thinking of these things – yet still trying not to think these things – she became aware that her focus had become fixed on something. She glanced briefly over her shoulder but the Orator just read on as always, focused on the Book. She looked down at her shadow. Her body was between the Orator and what she had seen. She returned her eyes to the thing.
Right at the base of the wall near the corner of the recess that led to the window was a small, barely noticeable crack in the plaster of the molding. A crack that made a half circle intercepted by the floor. The floor and the walls were perfectly clean and smooth here – smooth all except for the crack. She shuffled her body a little closer to the window frame and reached down toward the crack.
Inserting the tip of her fingernail she found it fell loose of the molding rather easily. She carefully picked it up and pulled it closer to her face being careful not to let the gesture be visible to the orator. It was just a simple piece of plaster. A small chip. But it was a flaw. It was a deviation from the monotony of this place. It was something to do.
She stared at it for close to a minute, tracing the edge with her eyes, following every curve, gauging the thickness as it tapered to a thin edge and widened again, but only to the thickness of the fingernail she had used to dislodge it. She continued to look it over before she noticed it.
As she flipped the small chip over in her hand, being careful not to damage it, she could just make out a very thin, very faint layer of dust on the backside. On one end of the dust, she could see a slight fingerprint. It was undeniable. It was the mark left by a human finger. But why was it there?
This drew her attention and focus and now her thoughts raced. She didn’t fight them like she had fought the other thoughts. ‘A fingerprint can only be made by a finger. Someone at some time had touched this chip. Yet the floor is spotless, the walls are smooth. Smooth all except the faint line of the crack surrounding this chip.’
If someone cleaning had seen the chip, they would have ventured to fix it – no, they would have brought it to the attention of their foreman from the Council, and the foreman would have directed them to fix it – fix it for the good of the People. Had they not noticed it, it would have been left in place. Yet this chip had been seen, been removed, been touched – touched with a human finger – touched and then put back. Put back on purpose??
The thought perplexed her. It made no sense. There was no good in it, no benefit to the People. No benefit to the Council. Yet someone had done it. ‘Someone had…,‘ she paused as she thought the words as they seemed inconceivable. ‘Someone else had defied the will of the People.‘ She didn’t even realize that her thoughts included the word ‘else’ – a thought that would have, had she noticed she had done it – equated to an admission of complicity with the defiance. Instead, she suddenly became aware of another likelihood. Someone else selected as Chosen had been in this room!
Suddenly she didn’t feel as alone, even though she was. Suddenly she held in her hand the connection she was craving. A connection greater than any connection she had previously experienced with the people with whom she worked. Worked for the good of the People. No! This chip, this small flake of plaster was not dislodged for the public good. This flake was not put back at the will of the Council. This flake was once held by someone in her place, perhaps sharing the thoughts that she has now. Perhaps experiencing the same confusion and conflict she felt as she thought – as she enjoyed thinking, but as she did not enjoy the obvious turmoil with all she had ever heard. That such thinking was not deemed ‘good’.
She continued to stare at the small flake – for how long she did not stop to consider. Many many thoughts raced through her mind. She was not stopping, or at least not as often, to consider the defiance of those thoughts as she held it – as she connected with this mere piece of plaster.
She traced the edges of the chip with the tip of her finger when another thought occurred to her. ‘This someone, whoever had touched this chip before… they must have examined it as closely as I am now. They must have also spent as much time looking at every aspect of it. They must have examined it in as intimate of detail. Yet they left a fingerprint, albeit a barely perceptible one, on one edge.‘
Although she had no way of knowing it for certain, she couldn’t help but wonder if it was intentional. It led her to a single thought. Being careful not to disturb the scarce white powder that outlined the impression that was already there, she moved her own finger over the other end of the flake, lightly touching the surface and lifting it off. There it was – her own mark. There were now two distinct sets of prints that could be seen in the gray plaster on the back side of the thin flake of wall.
She held it for another few seconds there in her palm feeling a sense of both unity with whoever had previously touched the thing but also feeling something akin to a condemnation. As though the mark signified a pronouncement of her guilt. Guilt against the public will. Guilt of defiance before the Council. Despite this feeling she lowered the chip just as carefully as she had removed it and eased it back into it’s place on the wall, rubbing the paint side with her finger until it was again only a miniscule line, all but unnoticeable at the base of the window recess.
She turned her body to place her back against the wall, her fingertips still lightly over the spot on the wall that hid her shame and her act of rebellion. ‘Did this mean she was not good?‘ The words somewhere passed through the back of her mind, but now she just focused on her breathing. It seemed incredibly loud in her ears. So loud, it seemed, that it would give away her act and show as her guilt.
The Orator still sat, and still read. She hadn’t heard him the entire time. Her face was flushed, her skin was hot and no doubt red. She concentrated on calming herself and in doing so continued to focus on the task of breathing. Just breathing. Trying to breath normally.
‘Normally?‘ she thought. ‘What is normally?‘ but quickly returned to breathing. She was not used to all this thinking. Again, she would have attributed what she felt to confusion had she known a word to assign to it. Instead she just focused on being less confused. Less excited, another word she had never been granted. More normal – whatever that was. As she continued to breath and began to calm herself back down her exhaustion from the whole ordeal as well as the experience with the flaw in the wall and the connection to some unknown predecessor overtook her. Before she knew it she had fallen asleep.
Somewhere in her dreams the voice of an unknown orator read the words:
“To be normal is to be like everyone else.
To be normal is to do the will of the Council.
The will of the Council is to do the will of the People.
The will of the People is to do what is good on behalf of the People.”
They were not words from the book but they could have been.
Her dreams were not much different from her waking moments. At least not much different in content. She worked. She walked. She ate. It was all she knew. It was all anyone knew. It was all that was allowed. It was all that was necessary. So it was all she could dream.
But the connections in dreams are not an even, seamless flow like moments experienced while awake. One moment she was sewing a glove, the next she would look down upon a tray of food. A moment later she was walking between the buildings, then was seated again at a bench organizing parts into a feed tray for one of the machine presses. In actuality, although the transitions were erratic, the resemblance to the waking world wasn’t much different. Her life not much unlike her dreams had no significance. No significance beyond… ?? Again, this required a word she did not have for a concept she had never before considered.
The next thing she became aware of was a hand lightly shaking her shoulder. Stooped over her was a man. He was dressed in a robe that signified he was from the Council. The orator still sat behind the closed, metal barred door to the room, continuing to read from the Book. But it seemed to her he was reading softer than he had before. She could hear no sounds from outside and realized that the room, and the world outside was dark.
She had rarely seen the streets at night. Everyone was worked non-stop all day. Everyone was exhausted by the time they were allowed to sleep. As far as she knew, everyone slept. She had never been allowed to sleep during the day and just became aware that she had done it on this day. The only time the People were out after dark was walking to the sleep quarters after the work for the day was completed and for the purpose of the Declaration.
She glanced outside the window briefly in fascination at the silence. At the darkness. The only activity that could be seen were a small number of people in Council robes preparing the central square for the Declaration. She had never looked upon the empty streets at night. It had never been allowed. It was not necessary. It was not the will of…
She looked back to the man. His face was expressionless. This was generally the case with members of the Council or their representatives. It was generally the case for everyone. As he caught her eyes he stood up a little. In his right hand he held a lantern which provided the only light in the room. The yellow light cast shadows around the room and across his face. It gave an ominous look to his features as well as to the words on the walls.
“I am here as part of Review,” was all he said at first. He turned to walk a few steps across the room and she became aware that there was a small stool placed there now where before the room had been completely empty. He sat down on the stool and set the lantern on the floor. He crossed his hands on his lap and sat there for a moment, almost seeming to be waiting for her – but to do what?
She realized she had slept cramped up near the recess and thought briefly of the crack. But she didn’t turn to look. His eyes were focused on her’s. He did not seem occupied by anything else. His expression remained lifeless and communicated nothing. But she still had the sense that he was watching her every move.
She had the perception that whatever she said, whatever she did, was somehow being watched, perhaps for whatever purpose the process of ‘Review’ was designed. She thought to keep her face expressionless as well, but this was not a difficult thing to do as it was what was normal to do.
There was that word again – normal. Somewhere in the back of her mind a thought from a dream sat just below perceptibility, but she focused on the moment and on the man. The man from the Council.
She was not sure what he waited for but she straightened her posture where she sat against the wall to turn her body directly toward him. She knew not if he expected her to speak or if he was waiting to see if she would. She could think of nothing to say so she said nothing and just returned his gaze.
After a few more moments had passed, and with no further expression he asked “Do you know why you are here?”
She looked at him but showed no indications of any thoughts in particular. She thought of the only answer she could think as she was still coming out of her sleeping state. “Because I have been selected as Chosen.”
She phrased it as a statement and not a question. His expression still remained as it was before but he took in another breath before speaking again. “But do you know ‘why‘ you have been selected?” he seemed to pause to separate the use of the word ‘why’ from the rest of the question. Something about it rang in her ears but she did not stop to ponder what. Something about the way he said it made her think that something in this particular question was the entire focus of Review. That it wasn’t just the question and whatever answer she might give to it, but how she answered it and what words she used.
She was still not sure what being Chosen meant so she could not imagine why she had been selected to be subject to it. She again gave the only answer she could think of, but not without picking her words carefully. “Because I have done something that is not the will of the Council. Something that is not good for the People.”
She stated it as a statement of fact. It was the only reasonable conclusion. But to her it was as much an inquiry as a statement as she was still unsure if that really was the reason she was here even if it seemed the most likely cause.
“What was it that you did?” was his response, which neither confirmed nor denied the assertion.
She thought about it for a moment but the question had no resonance. She had no answer for it. She could think of nothing to say. She said simply. “I do not know.”
He moved his hands down to the sides of the stool and swayed back briefly taking another long breath before returning his hands to crossed upon his lap. Despite the change in his posture, his expression and his actions gave nothing away as to his thinking. Nothing except a slight perception on her part that whatever it was he was expecting to see in her, her behavior or her answers to his questions, he was not finding it either. If he was seeking an answer to something, she had not yet given it and he had not yet found it. Not one way or the other.
He continued to look at her with his impassive countenance and she returned the look with similar focus. They looked upon one another for what seemed like a long while when finally he seemed to break as though he was waiting for something to signify what he was seeking but she had not delivered it.
“Do you remember anything specific that occurred before you were told that you were selected?”
This caught her by surprise as it was not something people asked, not even members of the Council. Remembering anything, no less something specific, was not something mentioned or discussed – not outside of the directions for a specific task. It was not of benefit to the People to remember specific things. It was always assumed a Community member needed to be told. Even when being directed to a particular task, even a task someone had done an uncountable number of times before, they were always told the instructions in the same manner that the Orator read from the Book. Even the word remember was so rarely used that it was barely recognizable and required her to think harder to ‘remember’ what it meant. You either knew something or you didn’t. You were either told something or you were not.
Her surprise must have shown through her composure, but she did not get the feeling that this was a bad thing based on his response to his question. Some of his stiffness seemed ever so faintly to relax a little as though it was expected in some way. As though it was an issue the Council was seeking to clarify by way of Review. Whatever it was, this change to even the slightest bit more of a casual stance made her presume this meant it was a ‘good’ response on her part.
So many of these thoughts were going through her mind, she hadn’t even stopped yet to consider the question itself. In fact, her surprise was to the question. The reality unknown to her was that he perceived her surprise as lack of recognition, an inability to remember. The reality unknown to him was that her confusion, or whatever of it had shown, was to the act of it having been asked at all.
Although she had at least thought of the moment when she was told she was selected as Chosen, her focus upon that moment was on the recollections after it was said. Almost as though all before it did not matter or had not existed. In a manner of speaking it hadn’t. Before she heard those words there was no reason to remember. There was nothing worth remembering. Before it had happened she was simply doing as she had always done.
Try as she may, any events before that moment seemed to be vacant from her memory even though many things immediately after were crystal clear – so clear she could still recall the musky odor on the man who escorted her out and still hear the crunching of the gravel under his boots as they walked down the street. As though it had happened but a moment ago. But before that?
It was as though those words, “You have been selected as Chosen”, had suddenly turned her brain on. Turned it on for the first time. Anything before it, the days, weeks and years which had preceded that moment were just a blur of similar moments such that they all blended together into a timeless smudge.
She gave the only answer she could give. “No.”
He let out a long breath and even seemed to give the slightest hint of a smile. He uncrossed his hands and set them lightly upon each leg, pausing a moment before reaching for his lantern and his stool and walking toward the door. At his direction the orator stopped his reading and set down his book momentarily to open the latch on the door. He turned briefly toward her.
“It is the will of the Council that you wait here until the Declaration,” and simply turned to walk out of the room. The orator non-ceremoniously closed the door behind him and resumed his reading.
For a short while she pondered those events but could neither make heads nor tails of anything from it. Thinking about it, assuming what it all meant, made her head hurt to think of it. She could get nothing from it – there was nothing to get. She decided to focus her attention instead on what was occurring outside the window.
(continued in Part 2 – Declaration)