Authors: Dima Zales,Anna Zaires
,” Liam says, sounding too energetic for early morning. “Wake up.”
I open my eyes, bring up a Screen, and realize the morning is not so early after all.
“Aha,” Liam says. “You’re up. Let’s play hooky from Calculus.” He kicks my bed. “To start with, anyhow.”
I sit up halfway.
My mouth feels surprisingly clean, but I allow the Cleaning to happen anyway. I don’t feel hungry or thirsty, which is also odd. I must’ve done what Liam used to do as a kid: sleep-eat in the middle of the night and deny it in the morning.
As the Cleaning progresses, I realize I feel strange. I can best describe the weird sensation as a very high level of excitement. With my heart beating frantically and my extremities cold, I feel as though I ran a marathon. Maybe it’s because Birth Day is tomorrow? We finally get a day off from school, not to mention all the usual awesome extravaganzas that go along with the holiday. Am I overexcited because of that?
“Earth to Theo,” Liam says, giving my bed a stronger shove. “Are we skipping Calculus or what?”
“First, I don’t mind math as much as you do.” I raise my hand before he can say something else. “Second, there’s no way I’m risking a Quietude on Birth Day eve.”
“They wouldn’t,” he says, but then he frowns.
“Yes, I see you remember what happened to Owen two years ago, thanks to your—”
“Hey.” Liam grins. “You know he deserved it.”
“Debatable,” I say as I get ready for Lectures. “I’m walking to the Rock Garden. I feel too wired, so I want to do a quick meditation. Do you want to join?”
“Nah,” Liam says. “But I might see you in Calculus.”
“Oh?” I raise an eyebrow.
“You might be right,” he says grudgingly. “Not worth the risk today. They might have another glassblowing display at the Fair tomorrow, and I don’t want to miss it.”
I chuckle as I walk out of the room.
On my way to the Rock Garden, I can’t help but reflect on the combination of Liam and glassblowing. It’s the oddest trade for him to want to take up as an Adult. Of all the different jobs and hobbies Adults have, that’s not one I can imagine Liam practicing. My best guess is that it’s the element of danger—literally playing with fire—that appeals to him. What makes it so hard to picture is Liam’s attention deficit. If the shapes of the glass products at the Fair are anything to go by, that stuff requires patience.
“Hi, Theo.” A pleasant female voice takes me out of my reverie as I pass by the statue in the Rock Garden. “Did you come here to meditate?”
I look behind the statue and see Grace getting up from a crouching position on the grass. It seems I caught her doing yoga.
“Yeah,” I respond cautiously, “but I can go elsewhere.”
“I’m almost finished,” she says, smiling. “I haven’t seen you meditate in so long. I’m glad you decided to pick it up again.”
I fight my initial urge to ask if she’s been spying on me. She’s being civil, and I don’t see a reason to be the first one to start something—especially something that could lead to a Quietude.
It’s a shame how my relationship with Grace degraded over the years. She, Liam, and I were friends when we were younger, but after she got a Quietude because of our mischief, she officially stopped hanging out with us and became something of a snitch, or, as she would probably put it, an ‘upstanding Oasis citizen.’
“I’ve had the same routine for a while and play sports after Lectures,” I say when I realize she’s waiting for me to answer. “So I got behind on my meditation, but today I feel really wired. With Birth Day tomorrow, I need to get centered.”
“You haven’t been this chatty in a long time either.” Grace’s smile widens. “I just have to finish three poses, so you can start setting up.”
“Sure, Grace,” I say, and then add without thinking, “I like seeing you smile.”
Grace’s smile disappears, and she gives me a confused stare.
I don’t know why I said that, nor do I know why I find her big blue eyes interesting today.
“Sorry if I’m babbling,” I say, blinking. “As you can see, I really need to clear my mind.” I wave her on. “Go ahead, finish your yoga.”
“Okay,” Grace says and relaxes a little.
I look at her and wonder what possessed me to compliment her smile like some guy from an ancient movie. I’m glad she’s in a good mood. Otherwise, she could’ve misconstrued the comment for something forbidden, and if she had, she would’ve told on me, since that’s the way she is.
I walk over to a nice sunny spot and sit in a lotus pose.
Grace is still in my field of vision. She gets back on the ground and flawlessly executes Setu Bandhasana—the bridge pose. Liam calls it the ‘bending over backwards’ pose, and he’s not that far off the mark. Having tried the pose myself, I know it requires an immense amount of flexibility. Grace makes it look easy.
Maybe I chose a bad spot, because I feel very hot all of a sudden.
Unable to help myself, I look back at Grace’s pose. She has her pelvis high in the air, and even through her baggy Youth clothing, I can tell she has feminine curves of the kind I’ve seen in ancient media.
When she switches positions, I look away. But when she goes into Halasana—the plow pose—I can’t help but stare at her again. I guess I’m admiring her skills. That must be it. Why else would I find this so interesting? Maybe I should try doing yoga. I know I never even tried doing the pose she’s in, not after Liam compared it to trying to blow oneself. He’s lucky no one but me heard him say that, or else he’d still be in Quietude.
Next, Grace gets into Adho Mukha Svanasana, also known as the ‘downward-facing dog’ pose. As she executes it, I wonder why this one isn’t called the bridge. With her butt in the air like that, she certainly looks more like a bridge than an ancient dog.
Meditation is now the furthest thing from my mind. For some unknown reason, I can’t peel my eyes from her pose. I wipe the sweat from my forehead and wonder why I find Grace’s workout so hypnotizing today. Can someone get up one day and be
much into yoga? Also, why is my heart beating faster? Why do I feel this strange stirring in—
“It’s all yours,” Grace says, getting up. “Meditate away.”
“Thanks,” I say hoarsely.
She raises an eyebrow, so I clear my throat and add, “You’ve gotten very good at yoga.”
“Thanks,” she says and beams a megaton smile at me. “I plan to talk to the yoga masters tomorrow at the Fair. Do you think I’ll impress them?”
“Oh yeah,” I say, my voice somewhat more controlled. “They’ll be impressed.”
“Great,” she says. “I’m glad I bumped into you. I needed a little encouragement.”
I mumble something reassuring and close my eyes, pretending I need to get back to my meditation. Whatever jitteriness I was feeling earlier has multiplied a hundredfold.
Through my nearly closed eyelids, I spy Grace walking out of the Rock Garden with a spring in her step.
I bring up a Screen to check the time.
I have fifteen minutes to meditate, assuming I don’t want to be late for Calculus.
I close my eyes and focus on my breathing.
In breath follows an out breath, over and over.
Unfortunately, instead of focusing on my breathing, my thoughts wander back to a few moments ago. What the hell was that? Why did my body react in such a strange way? I’m not even sure I understand what happened, but it does seem like something forbidden.
The breathing isn’t helping.
I check the time. I have ten minutes left.
Getting up, I decide to try something else to clear my head.
I walk up to the nearest track and sprint as fast as I can. As my lungs start to burn, I realize how out of shape I am. My leg muscles ache as though I already ran this morning. Pushing through the discomfort, I notice the tiredness is at least providing some relief from the strange whirlwind in my mind.
As I approach the Lectures building, I decide to chalk up my earlier fascination with Grace’s body to Birth Day anticipation. Regardless of what it was, I make myself a solemn promise not to discuss this with anyone, not even Liam.
I walk to Calculus by way of the male shower rooms, which are there for those of us who wish to use this method of washing instead of the waterless gesture. When I enter the shower stall, on a whim, I decide to use cold water. As the chilly liquid immerses me, I realize it was a great idea, because by the time I’m finished, I feel like I’ve completely gotten over the Rock Garden incident, and I’m ready to face the rest of my day.
hough I usually like
the certainty of math, today I find it hard to sit still as Instructor George describes the so-called Cauchy-Riemann equations. His heart clearly isn’t into his lecture today. I bet he’s worried about the attendance at his booth at the Fair tomorrow, and he should be. Calculus isn’t the most popular subject.
I’m equally distracted in my Debate and Philosophy Lectures, and the History Lecture reminds me of medieval torture, even though that’s not the topic today. Instructor Filomena gets on her high horse to discuss the perils of technology again—her favorite topic. She talks about the carbon emissions that the technology of the ancients pumped into the air, and how the resulting greenhouse effect would’ve destroyed Earth if the Goo hadn’t beat it to the punch. She doesn’t mention the geo-engineering efforts that solved the very global warming problems she’s describing, since that would ruin her argument. What really makes this session worse is that she decided to forgo my favorite part of her class, where she shows us glimpses of the ancient world.
I decide that all the Instructors must have Birth Day matters on their minds today, and thus the curriculum has suffered.
The highlight of the day is the lunch bell.
As soon as it rings, I jump to my feet and make my way into the corridor. Liam is already waiting for me.
“Want to chill in the room?” he asks. “Or should we go play something?”
“I think I want to take it easy,” I say. “I ran before this, and my legs are still sore.”
“All righty, then. We’ll walk back like this.” He walks exaggeratingly slow, like a man under water. “Or is this still too fast?”
I don’t dignify his jibe with a response and walk down the corridor that leads out of the Lectures building. Once I’m outside, I turn in the direction of our Dorm, and Liam follows me.
As we walk, we debate which ancient movie we want to watch during our break. Liam takes advantage of my distracted state by choosing a cartoon I’ve never heard of. It’s called
Kung Fu Panda.
“If it sucks, which it will, can we watch something else?” I say as we enter the building.
“Yeah,” he says. “If we
that it sucks, then sure.”
We discuss everything we know about pandas, which isn’t much, since they’re one of the few creatures that are missing from the Zoo.
“Yuck. Do you smell that?” I say as we approach our room’s door. “Did you fart?”
There’s very rarely, if ever, foul smells in Oasis. Food bars don’t usually make anyone gassy, but we do know the sensation, since it happens after eating non-regular food at the Birth Day celebrations. Also, on rare occasions, our bowel movements have a farting prelude, much to Liam’s delight.
“It wasn’t me,” he says, confused.
I wrinkle my nose as I take a couple of steps.
“Dude, watch out,” Liam says, pointing down.
I jump back, fully expecting to see a spider or some other horrible critter from the Zoo.
What I actually see is worse in a way.
It’s a pile of excrement.
“Crap,” I say.
“Literally,” Liam says.
“I almost stepped in it,” I say. “Where did it come from?”
“It’s Owen,” Liam says through his teeth. “But this is really low and disgusting, even for him.”
“What do we do?” I sweep my hand over the pile, and it evaporates. “We need to retaliate, but it needs to be something low-key. We don’t want to jeopardize Birth Day.”
“I have an idea,” Liam says. “Follow me.”
He determinedly walks through the corridors to where Owen and his posse share their lodgings. When he reaches their door, he crosses his fingers and whispers, “Let’s hope they aren’t there.” Out loud, he yells, “Owen, this is Liam and Theo. We want to organize a study group. Are you in there?”
When no one responds, Liam gives me a devilish grin and executes the door-opening gesture.
The door obeys.
No one seems to be inside, so we gingerly walk in.
“Jackpot,” Liam says after we verify that the room is empty. “Help me with this.” Liam makes the palm-up gesture, and a bar of Food appears in his hand. He drops the bar on the floor and repeats the motion. Another bar of Food appears on his palm, and he drops it on the floor too, next to the first piece.
I catch on and make a Food bar appear, then drop it on the floor. Then I do it over and over again.
It takes us almost the whole break to fill up most of Owen’s room with Food bars. Then, laughing, we head back to Lectures. I can’t even imagine what Owen’s expression will be when he opens his door to find his room completely flooded with bars of Food.
The rest of the school day is easier to get through. My hand got tired from the Food prank, but paradoxically, the activity also soothed my mind. When the lessons get particularly boring, all I have to do is picture Owen entering his room, very tired, and a smile shows up on my face. He’ll be cursing and making sweeping gestures similar to the one I used to get rid of his prank, but each gesture will only get rid of a single Food bar at a time. Liam and I verified that by doing a test. Owen will be beyond pissed at having to perform all those cleaning gestures.
A final bell rings, and I yawn as I get up.
“Let’s play soccer,” Liam says when we exit the Lectures Hall, “or basketball.”
“Why don’t you do that without me,” I say. “I’m tired, and I want to get some sleep. I’d rather save my energy for Birth Day.”
“Suit yourself,” Liam says. He feigns nonchalance, a sign that he’s actually disappointed.
“Sorry, dude.” I yawn again. “I’m just feeling tired for some reason.”