Nilka squinted in the bright glare of the unforgiving light. The sound of other crying babies pierced her weak eardrum, and a sudden pain shot through her ear. She opened her mouth in a scream and involuntarily started sobbing. She instantaneously stopped when something caught her vision.
Nilka’s undeveloped eyes saw a blurry movement of two figures: One was fumbling with his coat buttons, and another was slightly panting, hair a disheveled mess. She saw one come to a rest beside her and whisper a goodbye into the crib as she caressed Nilka’s hair with a gentleness only a mother could muster.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” she whispered tiredly.
She clasped Nilka’s tiny hands in her own, as Nilka’s brain and eyesight swam trying to hold a grasp on the things happening. Nilka felt an odd calmness with the woman holding her hands–she felt an attachment to this woman already. When the woman unwillingly unwound her hands from Nilka’s, Nilka opened her mouth in protest and struggled to move.
She heard another lower voice saying, “We have to leave now, Esther. It’s twelve already.”
The woman looked back at the man, and back down at Nilka. The woman grabbed her purse and softly murmured to herself, “We could have stayed for another thirty minutes.”
The man grabbed his car keys and looked away. “We have to get to the fair.”
The shiny movement of the brass keys caught Nilka’s eye and they ached in pain. She covered her eyes with her hand instinctively. Nilka took her hand off her eyes and marveled at the five fingers by wiggling them around. She was distracted by a sighing of the woman, who walked out. As the man and women disappeared from view, Nilka struggled to move and scream but stayed firmly put. She managed to sit up and had an urge to scream for the woman to come back.
Just as Nilka opened her mouth, a boy’s face with emerald colored eyes and curly brown hair popped up next to the crib.
“Crybaby, about to cry again, crybaby, crybaby!” the boy jeered.
Nilka felt a sudden heat rise up in her chest. Her stubby fingers automatically curled into fists and felt like hitting the boy as hard as she could. What was she feeling, she asked herself, That makes me want to claw his face apart, to punch his face in, to kill him. She drew back a fist, but before she could, another small hand shot out between the back of the crib bars and closed firmly over Nilka’s hand.
Nilka turned around in fury to whoever stopped her, but came face-to-face with a tan girl with onyx hair and startlingly blue eyes, her face barely visible under the crib bars.
“Oh, do shut up Jeremy,” the girl yelled. “You’re the last to get up,” she said to Nilka.
Nilka looked through the bars and saw the girl standing. Sure enough, when she looked around, all the other children were jabbering away on the floor. She looked down at her own legs, and saw that they touched the end of the crib. Nilka put her hands on the crib bars for assistance and forced her legs to make an internal push until she stood on the crib bed, towering over the other children on the floor.
The girl with the blue eyes pointed at a small ladder on the side of the crib, and Nilka carefully placed one wobbly leg on the step. She sucked in a breath and took another, looking down as she did. Nilka finally got down on the floor and felt a strange feeling of accomplishment.
Her thoughts jumbled together and Nilka struggled to put a sentence together. She mumbled a feeble “thank you” to the girl and the girl smiled back at her.
“I’m Abby. You’re probably Nilka.”
Nilka nodded nervously. “I am, where are we?”
Abby nodded knowingly. “You’re talking like you need to take a breath between each word. It happens. It’ll disappear. We’re in the hospital, a caretaker will come soon.”
Nilka looked around, and something caught her eye. She walked over to it and read the white piece of paper next to it. Mirror. A reflective surface, that reflects a clear image. She hesitantly stepped in front of the mirror, almost afraid, and saw her own reflection. A girl with pale skin and flaming copper hair stared back. Nilka moved her hand, and the girl inside the mirror moved her hand. Nilka touched her hair, and the girl touched her hair. Nilka leapt up in excitement and rushed around the room touching things and reading the place cards next to them.
Hair dryer. A device for drying a person’s hair. Sink. A basin with a water supply and a drain. Toilet. A device for excrement. Lamp. A device for giving light. Nilka yelped in excitement as the hair dryer made her hair cling to her face, the sink with clear liquid coming out then disappearing, the toilet with its noises, the lamp as it took away the light, and gave it back again. She ran back to her crib, now looking over it. Turning back to Abby, who also could now look over the crib bars, Nilka’s eyes shone.
A woman walked briskly into the room, and everyone’s eyes swiveled instantly towards her.
“Your bodies will develop quickly. In about three hours, your bodies will have fully developed. You guys each have less than five days to live. This is a world where you only have one week to live. Each of you will be given a home and an income for every day. This will be determined by a drawing later on in the day today. There will be two drawings in your life. One drawing to determine your income and home, and one to determine your dying time. Your dying time will be by the latest at 11:59 AM. There are 24 hours in a day. In order to have a family, you must pick someone in this group. You will be married on your fifth day. You will be given a child on your sixth. And you will die on your seventh day.” The woman looked around the room. “You will be released from this nursery after I finish talking. Choose this time to pick a girl or a boy for your marriage later on. Any questions?”
Abby raised her hand cautiously.
“Yes, Ms. Hazegate?”
“Will we ever get to meet our parents?”
This question was followed by a hush, and nods of agreement.
“No, Ms. Hazegate, you will not get to. I also suggest that you get a move on, because it is already your third day, one in the afternoon. The drawing will be at four. I will see you then.”
The room broke into chaos, as boys and girls rushed to claim each other. Nilka looked around the room, and shrugged to Abby who had already rushed off to talk to an asian boy. Jeremy sauntered up to Nilka. He extended his hand, and smirked. “Partners?”
Wasn’t he the same one that made her want to throw a lamp at him? Startled, she blurted a quick “yes,” and a deep blush crept up her face.
After the claiming, the boys and girls dashed to the meeting across the meadow from the nursery. They crashed into other running people, who glanced at the passing shadows and rushed off to yet another drawing. The meadow was full of people clamoring to get somewhere, a huge mix of confusion and pandemonium. Once the group of teenagers got to the building on the meadow, they took seats next to their partner; their sweaty backs sticking to the stiff-backed plastic chairs.
A man dressed in a tuxedo walked swiftly to the podium and peered at the people before him. He took out a purple box and each person drew swiftly. They opened their papers, sharing what kind of home they got, and were ushered out of the building in an hour’s time. The rest of the day passed in a blur with dates and exploring the town. The fifth day passed quickly, with a flurry of white tulle, tiaras, patent shoes, and tuxedos.
On the sixth day, a stocky, bald man gestured each couple into a separate room to meet their baby. A small baby with a button nose, maroon eyes, and dirty blonde hair awaited them. Nilka dropped her purse and picked up her baby. A warmth in her chest, slowly grew, as she rocked her baby. Her baby’s maroon eyes fluttered open, and focused on Nilka’s face. She burped softly, and Nilka hugged the baby tightly. She kissed the baby’s forehead and glanced up at Jeremy.
“It’s time for the drawing.”
“We have to. It’s twelve.”
Nilka sighed heavily and picked up her purse. She grasped Jeremy’s hand, and looked at the mirror. A disheveled woman looked back at her, as the wrinkles of rushed youth started to appear before her eyes. She looked back at her baby, who raised its little hands to the light and wiggled her fingers.
Age 14, Grade 9
Hunter College High School