Chapter Four

I was sent to live in a boarding school that was located many cities away from my home. Because I had no other relatives, it was considered the best choice for me, for in this particular area, foster parents were no longer used. They thought that giving a child into another's care would cause some sort of burden upon the family, who were legally and psychologically supposed to treat the child as a member of their family. It would be shameful upon a family to have a child raised in a family that was not their own. The stares and whispers the foster parents would endure were too much for the people; therefore, to save themselves from such harmful societal-caused issue, children were often sent away to boarding schools. The government used the child's previous test records as guidance on which to place the child, and since mine were nearly perfect, they decided to send me to Lyusia Academy, where many of the graduates would leave to find successful careers or attend higher levels schools that offered even more to those who are blessed enough to attend the school. How well I was sure to fit in, or so I was told.
A rather thin woman dressed in grey holding a digi-reader had met me after the women in uniform dropped me off in front of an unsightly square metal building. The panels were solar-powered, I could tell from their hideous auto-directional mirrors. I knew the place ran fully on the power of the sun, but the technology they used was quite old. Out of all the other buildings on the street, this one looked the oldest. It was short and much too large to be considered an environmentally friendly building. But I guess, in its time, it could have once been a wonderful monument that symbolized the future of the people in this area. Still, I was more than a little worried as the thin woman took my hand to lead me up the steps. Inside of the building was a large empty lobby room with a single wood and metal desk, behind which a pudgy woman was sitting. But we did not stop to ask questions, and I knew for sure that the thin lady knew exactly what she was doing. She tried to be somewhat courteous towards me, but I wouldn't speak to her. My mind kept playing over possible outcomes from this little trip as she guided me into an elevator. It grunted before it started, which made me worry a bit more. What was with the old technology? After the elevator, the woman walked me passed many cubicles to the back of the room. There were many people wandering about digital papers and pens. Some held tiny devices that showcased entire 3-D structures of buildings and plans, some of which were in languages I did not know. The people all seemed to be tired, with dark bags under the eyes, and I saw more than one person with coffee in their hands as they sat back at their desks. Tiny bleeps and rings let me know there were also many machines at work. The lady led me to a dented, ugly metal door on which the name WILKSON, OJINAMERAJANA was engraved. The last name was rather common for the people of this region, but the first name was northern, probably western. It was a name common to those who spoke Iklani, I thought, and the "oj" at the beginning implied masculinity. I wondered if he was forced to move to this awful place just like I was, but surely he would have moved away if he was an adult. Furthermore, the engraving only proved that he had and will be here for a long time to come. I sadly waited as the lady poked her head in the door to ask if we could come inside. We waited only a few seconds for admittance, and once I was inside, I was not impressed with the room. The ugly mirrors on the outside of the building only meant that there were no nice windows in which to gaze at the city, not that that would have been the greatest view, but surely it would have been considered something. The desk that the man had looked in the same style as the one the receptionist had downstairs and an ugly vomit color couch sat in front of it. There were shelves in which digital files were sitting, and underneath those were tiny bookcases filled with pictures, ugly china, and vases with even uglier shades of green and brown. The man behind the desk was tanner than most people here, and his eyes slanted ever so slightly. Yes, I had been right, definitely not from here. He wore a navy blue suit with a grey tie, much the same color as the lady's dress. He motioned for me to sit and the lady left us alone together in the room after handing him what I assumed was my file. That was when he explained to me that I would be sent to this wonderful academy where I could expand my knowledge and hopefully, one day, be of use to society. How intelligent I was, after coming from so far away, in, apparently, the middle of nowhere. And so, it was safe to assume that this man cared little for the people he was speaking to, and even less did he care if he were to insult people. But perhaps he thought it would go over my head as some kind of friendly gesture? Sure his tone was normal, but the way he looked away and clipped his words seemed to me that he definitely didn't like what he was seeing in me. After all the times I heard people saying stuff to my mom, I knew, even at that age, the difference between true sincerity and kindness from false ones. I lay back against the couch and just listened, not even bothering to speak when he asked me simple questions. I could tell it made him a little upset that I didn't, but at the same time he did not push me. Perhaps he was used to unhappy children coming to his office. He told me how proud I should be, how thankful I should be, to attend such a nice school, coming from my background. After all it was a miracle that I was able to make those high scores, and maybe now I would have the chance to really learn something, or at least that's what he told me.

After all was said and done, the lady in grey came to retrieve me and she handed me and my file off to yet another woman, who was told to take me to the Academy. She was kind of small for her age, although she was quite young. Her hair was a mousy brown, which was the same color of her eyes. She smiled hesitatingly at me as she held my hand. We went into the parking lot, where she picked out a car that looked similar to the one that had taken me to the building. It was a long trip, but I would not rest, no matter how many times the lady insisted. I think that maybe she just wanted me to sleep so she would not have to pretend to keep up a friendly conversation with me. I could tell though, that she wasn't mean about it. She looked a little young, and her voice squeaked more than once out of nervousness; the young lady didn't know how to handle me. It was almost like she was afraid, so I thought maybe that this was also her first time doing something like this too. She tried to ask me questions about how I knew so much, and if I had benefited from going to school through "the system" instead of physically going. I answered only when I had to as I watched the scenery as it went by. I wondered how my life would change now that I really was all alone in this world. Now, surely, there wouldn't be a single person that could understand me. I cried, as silently as I could, to try to hide it from her, but I knew she knew. She stopped trying to talk to me then and once even tried to touch my hair, but I pulled away. She did not bother me for the rest of the ride there.

I unfortunately had no idea what became of my family's things or the servants. I never kept track of where they went or even their numbers and names. I did, however, request to have my official papers forwarded to me about the death of my parents, an inheritance, if there was any, and anything else I would need. I was rewarded with birth records, a student passport, and a small sum of money that was left in their accounts after the costs for their deaths. I did not receive anything more, but I never pressed the issue. I figured that I was probably not allowed to delve into the files for a ridiculous reasoning, probably being my age. I decided that I would wait until I was older to press the issue. And so, I was left, downgraded, to low class materials, but I did not really mind. I could survive with very little, and the thought of learning new, interesting things gave me a bit of hope.

The building itself was remarkably pretty compared to all the other buildings in the area and was even made of a nice thick, white stone. It was kept in a nice condition and cleaned very well for having so many kids inside. It was a bit surprising to me that it was so nicely done, and that made me think that maybe living here wouldn't be so terrible. The building was 3 stories tall with a high, arched entryway in the center of the building. Rows and rows of enormous windows decorated all sides of it and a nice green lawn grew out front. There were many teachers, who taught in a college-style way with amphitheater seating, and a variety of classes to choose from. They tried to encourage kids to take classes that would help them most with whatever career paths they wish. When I first arrived at the academy, I did not see who was in charge. I was handed over to a regular clerical assistant, who took me to my room. She sat me down and told me a bit of the rules for the place and showed me what a normal schedule would look like. She told me that if I had not decided what kind of career path I wanted, I would be given a general education schedule. I told her that I preferred social studies over sciences, and she made a few changes to my schedule before showing my first classroom to me. Along the way, I noticed that robots were vacuuming the grounds, and I commented on it. The lady told me that the robots were normal here since they did not have any maids or anything. I liked that idea since I figured with all these people, the place would by noisy enough without maids running around everywhere. I also thought that it would be cleanlier and that was probably why the place was so well taken care of here.

Most of the younger kids were to sleep with roommates in a tiny room that was essentially split down the middle with a mirror-double of the furniture: two side tables, two beds, two dressers, two desks, and two closets. I was told that when I was older I would most likely be given my own room, if I was lucky. The closets were a bit amazing and new to me. I was used to advance washing systems that took moisture from the air around us, but our closets could be closed air-tight and had a control panel on the outside. They cleaned themselves without the use of water, right inside the closet, and I loved never having to put my clothes down a shoot again. Furthermore, the colors were set to earthen bold colors with cream-coloring for the walls. There were a couple main halls and even an enormous dining area, but a lot of the kids chose to eat outside in the nice air. Our bathrooms were shared bathrooms, something that I would experience for the first time in my life. I wondered what my parents would have thought of me being here in this place, this supposedly amazing school, where I had to share a bathroom. My father would have thought it was nasty, and my mother, preferring to stay by herself, would tell me just so and that I would have to get over it, probably to pretend that I was in a different era. And so, I did pretend. We thankfully had individual stalls for our bathing areas, but we could hear everything around us. As the girls chatted about how appealing the boys looked, I pretended that I was off in another country, in another time, where perhaps just after the Dark Times. People gathered together then in large groups and did everything together, mostly for security, since numbers were always good, just like the ancient natives of the world.

I unfortunately had no idea what became of my family's things or the servants. I was left, downgraded, to low class materials, but I did not really mind. I dedicated my life to just merely existing, going to school like a good girl, and never getting into trouble; I refused to keep more than one "friend" at a time, and often, even then, I refused to speak to anyone when it came to my feelings. Quite soon, the other students realized that it was not worth it to try to get me to play their games or study with them, and they gave up, avoiding me at every turn as if I was some disease. I did not hate these people, and I had not purposely chosen to avoid them. Still, my personality was something of a nuisance to them, and they left me to my own life. Eventually, I heard the rumors about me and my family, which hurt me more than falling down a flight of stairs, but I began to live with it. These awful, cruel comments nearly always involved me as some kind of perpetrator to their deaths, or perhaps they just didn't want to live with such a strange child, who surely must have caused some kind of misfortune upon the family. The things they said were so atrocious, I wondered where in the world they came from and how someone could have possibly thought them up in the first place. There were some occasions on which I knew that others were speaking badly about me, with their leering eyes and covered whispers into one another's ears. Over time, I was able to bite back the rush I felt, the feeling that made me want to yell at them or to cry, but it only made me distance myself more from them. I had thought that they were not worth my time if they could say these things that were so horribly untrue. That being said, boys were never a part of my schedule, and when social opportunities came knocking, I went to lock the door. The teachers, on the other hand, seemed to enjoy me, probably because I gave them the least amount of trouble for I never really questioned too much nor did I make many mistakes. It was not surprising or difficult for me to do well in my classes and never had been.

The school itself was actually decent, with a few expensive materials here and there, such as marbled flooring. The walls were all pretty much painted white or a dull blue since the teachers insisted it kept us calmer. In the center of the school in between the classrooms and the dorms grew a wonderful garden, again because the teacher insisted it would encourage nice, calm actions only. The teachers did what they could to make us behave, and on most occasions would push more homework on us than any other school I had heard, just to keep us all in line. I had heard a rumor that the major reason behind as to why they did what they did was to keep up their excellent regional scoring. They were paid higher as the school produced better scores, and I thought there was nothing wrong with that if it were true. At one time I had spoken with a teacher about this rumor, and they said it was partially true, that the more money they got from the government, the better materials they bought for us students. However, I had also heard a rumor that the reason why they pushed the work on us was due to a small fight among students and faculty that happened before I had arrived there. I did not ask a teacher about this rumor since I felt that it would be prying into sensitive memories. Both ways, the work that we did was busy work, and I used that to my advantage and as an excuse to not have a social life. Sometimes, I even requested extra work on top of the huge pile already assigned, especially during holidays and parties. I had always thought learning to be fun, and I took full advantage of the vast sources of materials that we had at the school. When I was younger, I had shown my mother that I was talented in learning languages, and so I continued to learn more languages and dialects while in school. I longed for more people in which to converse with for practice, experience, and testing the knowledge that I had gained. However, it was rather rare to find anyone with knowledge of the languages besides a hand full of teachers, and once I did find someone, they usually could not hold up a conversation or read the language but knew only a few words. It was always interesting and surprising when I could find a few of these people since most of them learned a few phrases or words through native relatives. I took the words and phrases and expanded my knowledge of the languages. But I always hoped that I could find someone who knew a bit more. Furthermore, I was interested in the historical papers and cultural data that the school kept in its library. Our school had many sister schools across the country as well. If our school did not offer a certain piece of information, I could easily request that information to be sent from one of the sister schools and would have it the next day. I buried myself in knowledge, the one thing that I still cared for and loved, the one thing that I had left in the world. On weekends, students were allowed to visit their parents, if they had any, and many people would often disappear during the weekends only to reappear ready for class on Mondays. This heightened the differences between me and my fellow classmates as they saw how I never left the school, not even for a day. Rumors always swelled up about me, and new students tended to look rather afraid of me. I kept my face buried in my data reader and continued on my way.

On my 16th birthday, only 5 years after my mother's death, I awoke to a small parcel, which I almost knocked over at first, at the foot of my bed, and I immediately thought how could anyone know my birthday was today because I hadn't thought I had told anyone before. Looking at my roommate, still snoring away across from me, I grabbed the parcel and slipped off into a quieter, more private, place to open it. I decided on going in the bathroom stalls, which were down the hallway in the dorm, and after locking myself in, I opened the gift. Inside there was a note that read, "Natalia Clearwater, I believe this belongs to you." My nose crunched up as I saw my whole name written out, something I have never let anyone do; I was simply called Tal or That Girl, which I was very happy to reply to when someone asked something of me. As I folded the note back up and slipped it into my nightgown's pocket, I wondered who could have sent me the gift, and then I saw what the "gift" was: a silver chain at the end of which was a single diamond. I picked it up, wondering who would send jewelry, but as I turned it around to stare at its face, my heart picked up in a sudden rush of panic. G.C. were the initials carved into the stone's surface, and I knew at once that this was no ordinary string of jewelry, but it was, in fact, the final existence, the final trace, of my father. It was a cultural thing, to burn the body of the loved one and use most of the remains as energy, but a small percent was normally left to give back to the family as a perfectly made diamond. I almost screamed when I realized what it was and dropped it, but I caught it before it could touch the ground and raised it to my chest. Where I came from, it was not our custom, but it was the custom of the place where he had died. I wanted to cry all over again as the memories resurfaced in my mind and shame overwhelmed me because I felt that it was a terrible thing to do to someone you cared about, but as I held it closer, I couldn't help but feel that it was real and that meant that I couldn't just throw it out because I was appalled by the idea. It would be like throwing out my father, and I had already, shamefully, betrayed him once. I could not allow myself to do it a second time. I wiped my nose, washed up, I wiped my nose and walked back slowly towards my room, still clutching the necklace to my chest. As I rounded a corner, I struck something hard and fell back, dropping the necklace, and I cried out as I saw it bounce lightly on the floor a few feet away from me. I remember thinking for a moment that I had just gotten it, and already I had caused shame to my father, then I was reminded that I had fallen for a reason. I quickly came back to the world as I looked around me to see a boy sitting nearby rubbing his forehead. His hair was a soft brown, and his skin lightly tanned. He wore the normal school uniform, I noticed, and had not changed into his nightly attire that the school provided. I didn't bother to wonder why that was so. I quickly muttered my apology as I reached for the necklace and stood up. He raised himself up a moment after, and after he removed his hands, brown eyes stared down at me. He was only an inch or two taller than I was, I realized, but he looked[R1] a little younger than I did. He told me it was okay and asked if I was all right, before I saw his eyes travel to the necklace in my hands.

"Hey, is that…oh, I'm so sorry, Tal." I felt the pity in his eyes before I saw it, and it immediately made me angry; I bit my lip instead of speaking my mind and moved away from him. I heard his voice travel down the hall after me, but I did not quite listen to what he had said but turned into my room to throw myself onto my bed and pull the sheets over my head as if it would block out the voice. I cried silently as I thought of my father until dawn broke, and a new day began, meaning I was forced from my bed to join everyone else at breakfast time. A week or so passed uneventfully as I got used to the idea of having a piece of my father, literally, hanging around my neck. At first, I thought it would be more of a blasphemy than a compliment or something and instead gathered a tiny box and some special wrapping paper to place it in and hide it underneath my bed; however, I couldn't bring myself to lock away the one connection I had to him, for some reason it just felt like I would be betraying him. Therefore, I placed it around my neck and hid it underneath my nightgown because I did not want anyone to start asking me questions or giving me pity glances. One day I sat on my bench outside the main building with my legs folded, and my tiny tray of food on my lap as I prepared to eat lunch. The sun was barely peeking out from the clouds, and other children were off playing their daily game of tag a little while away from me. I was sitting in front of the gardens, my usual place, but this was not a usual day, for, after only a moment of quiet, a greeting from someone who had obviously decided to eat at the same place interrupted me. I glanced over to see the boy whom I had almost plowed over in the hallway when I had received my gift. I did not say anything back, but stared down at my food, suddenly uninterested in eating anymore, but I forced it into my mouth anyway. It tasted stale, rotten almost, even though I knew that it was not, but I got up and threw it out regardless. The food in our cafeteria was made fresh daily. I returned to the seat to gather my bag, ready to leave, but when I turned, I felt a sudden weight on my shoulder and everything in my bag plummeted to the ground beside me. I gritted my teeth as thoughts of how terrible this scene was while I squatted down to pick up my belongings. I saw something move ahead of me, and I quickly stated that I did not need any help, and luckily, he obeyed; however, he stood above me, watching me while I finished gathering my stuff. I stood up and looked at my bag, noticing a seam had ripped. I wanted to call out to the world that it was being very unfair to me lately, but I only mentally yelled at everyone, including the person standing in front of me. I looked towards him, ready to meet any stupid remarks he had, but I noted that he had seen something. I checked myself over and noticed that the necklace had fallen out of my dress and was now shining where anyone could see, which annoyed me greatly, but I could do nothing about it since my hands were already full.

"I just wanted to check on you. I thought maybe you could have used someone to talk to," he said slowly. I bit the inside of my lip as I looked down and muttered that I was fine, and then I turned on my heel and headed back towards the dorm. I heard footsteps behind me and with a light breeze on my left, I quickly saw him standing beside me once more, this time holding the door open for me. I looked away from him and muttered that I could have gotten that myself before I hurried inside without saying anything back to him. I heard the door shut behind me and after I counted to five, I looked back to see if he was still following me, and, luckily, no one was there. I sighed and headed up the stairs, a hard feat, with both my hands full. I wondered why anyone was showing me any interest as I climbed the stairs, and I realized that he knew my name because he had said it the first time I ran into him; I tried to think back if I had ever seen him before, but I couldn't locate a memory with him in it, not in my classes, not in my dorm, not anywhere. I was then quite interested to know more about him and why he insisted on following me, and when, as I had guessed he would, arrived at the same bench on the following day for lunch, I did not try to leave. He, however, did not say any greeting to me but merely proceeded to eat without any glance in my direction. I bit my lip as I tried to decide if I should speak up or take his silence as a hint that I was not interesting to him anymore, and, after a long wrestle with my feelings, I whispered 'hi' to him without turning to face him. Silence followed that caused me to curse myself because of how low my voice had projected. I turned about, placing my lunch back on my lap, in order to face him and repeat myself, but I saw that he had heard me because he was looking at me with his food poised in front of him like I had caught him off guard.

I was about to ask him what had startled him before he asked me, "You're speaking to me?" After a slight pause, I nodded, to which he dropped his jaw slightly and shook his head to himself. Clearly, he was surprised and probably thought I was crazy, much to the helpful rumors delight. I turned myself back around and bit into my sandwich, chewing slowly while I told myself how horrible I was for even trying to communicate with him, but then, he continued.

"A while ago, you refused to say anything to me, and two days ago the school stopped talking to me, and now, all of a sudden, you decide to talk to me?" I turned back to face him, curiosity piqued by his statement. The whole school wasn't talking to him?

"Do I know you from somewhere because you said my name before, and I don't remember ever speaking to you before then?" I asked when he had not spoken for a moment; I was being very to-the-point, but I was not very comfortable speaking with someone, especially when I knew nothing about him.

"Everyone knows your name: you've been here for a long time, and you haven't quite made a very," I felt the pause in his voice as he searched for the right words to say, possibly trying to be tactful. "Good name for you," he finished and waited for my reaction.

"Then why did you want to speak to me?" Suspicion suddenly rises in my throat as I think of all the cruel possibilities that could be presented before me, but what he said next completely took me off guard.

"You seemed really sad," he said while he stared directly at me, shrugging his shoulders. I was not used to this reaction because most people tended to avoid me or speak to me without their eyes ever quite meeting mine directly. I collected my things and left, all the while feeling very self-aware because I didn't like this boy for some reason. I did not bother to say much about my leaving, just a simple 'bye.' I wanted him to stop worrying about me, to stop following me, and simply leave, and I hoped that my leaving him would end all of this. Hopefully he would be like everyone else and forget about me soon enough. I headed upstairs to the second floor, where my only friend, if that is what she would have been called, Charlotte, lived. I patted the door softly before waiting for her to answer, and after a few moments the door swung open to reveal a smiling blonde with a little too much rouge on her cheeks, her blonde hair bouncing in light curls.. She stared down at me since she was slightly taller, her smile faded, obviously shocked to see that it was me on the other side of her door, but I didn't say anything as I waited for her to invite me in, which she did after a pause. I sat down on her metal desk chair and set my things on my lap, gripping the edge of my books tightly while I waited for her to close the door and make her way over to her bed, where she could sit to speak with me. After a moment of nonsense chit-chat, which she happily blurted every detail about her newest relationship with some boy, I decided to be blunt again and ask about the boy from lunch; Charlotte, to my surprise, sat a back with her lips clenched together in silence for a moment or two. She leaned forward on the edge of her bed so that her face was only a few inches from mine as she stared hard at me and said, "He hasn't done anything to you has he?" I shook my head, confusion clouding my mind, and obviously my face, for she went on to explain herself, "His history's completely whacked up. There are so many different holes in his story, so it would not be surprising. Word is that he wasn't sent here because his family wanted him to be involved in the school's 'rich curriculum'," here she held up her fingers to indicate the quotations while she rolled her eyes, "but that his family was killed, and people think he might 'of... ya know?" She leaned slightly forward with large eyes staring intently at me as she waited for the information to sink in. I suspected that she expected me to respond with something along the lines of, 'no way!'

I frowned. "Is that what people say about me behind my back?" Her words probably would have alarmed some people, but I felt that these rumors were simply that: rumors. They were not fact, and should not be given the simplest respect of contemplation at that time when presented in such a way without proof.

"Of course not!" she squealed, rolling backwards onto the bed, and there was a sound in her voice that alerted me that I could not honestly take her word for it. She was not usually a liar, but she did tend to tell lies to protect people's feelings at times. I had asked her many questions throughout my past and grew to learn what a lie was and what wasn't. It was pretty easy to tell when she was lying since she had the bad habit of laughing every time she lied. At this point, I had had enough of her grey brightness that I said my goodbyes and headed up towards my room to busy myself in schoolwork like I always did. Once I reached the room and got settled in, I couldn't take my mind off of the thought that people believed I was a murderer, and it made my heart wrench that people made such harsh judgments for no reason other than I didn't like to speak and somehow, therefore, should be punished. I swirled my finger around on the box screen while I pondered over the idea that maybe the reason the boy came to me was because he thought I was involved in whatever he had done to his family, but the thought quickly faded into the idea that he couldn't possibly have killed his family because that idea was simply too preposterous. He wasn't all too muscular, although he was fit and lithe, and I doubt he had the brains or manpower to take down an older man who, for all I knew, could have been twice his size. I knew it was wrong in many ways, but I felt that there was no chance someone could have gotten away with murdering their two parents, not with the technology we have available.