Late in September, Del spent a long afternoon combing through Ayena’s library. He’d been given the task of waxing all the hardwood floors on the first floor of the old house, and after cutting a few corners, found enough time for himself to sneak away to his favorite space on campus.
As he stood in front of the rows of shelves lined with old leather-bound books, Del still took a minute to believe his fantastic luck.
Iris Gate College had opened in the past year, and he’d been lucky enough to be one of the few kids picked to continue his studies there. Mayor Izar had cobbled together some funds and the woman who owned the place wanted to do something with the expanse of property before she went and kicked the bucket.
He’d written an essay entitled Our History as a People. Waxing on about what it meant to live in a collectivist society while never having retained an ounce of his own history, Delroy decided to air his grievances through the piece he’d prepared for the contest. These included the fact that jobs across districts didn’t seem fair in the sense they were burdened with hard labor under hot heat or freezing cold. That and the whole of his district was a deeper shade of umber, tan, or sepia, as opposed to the lily white that seemed to come from one or two (the other districts putting up a variety of folks in the games in the years, but from all he could logic, nowhere near what they had). Sure seemed interesting that all the people that looked like him had been stuck in eleven, forced into the fields, and kept under lock and key. How many more peacekeepers did they have than any of the other districts? Enough to make sure that they never got back up after getting knocked down again and again.
Ayena Taft had sat him down in her drawing room for an interview.
He’d sat deep in the old velvet chair, sweat dripping down his brow, when she’d gone and told him: You are a big hot-head aren’t you?
He wondered if she’d meant to mock him, some old kook now ninety-something years old, she was losing her mind and wanted to make a fool out of Delroy for sport. She was one of the richer folks in the district to have this great big house and to get along with the mayor so well. Served him right for thinking he could write something like that and not get tarred and feathered.
But she leaned forward in her seat, her hands across her knees and her smile wide.
‘You’re exactly the type of boy I’m looking for. Now – we’ll need to refine it a bit. The, writing a little simple but you got it.’
She explained that she knew what he felt in his heart, hot as it burned, that it felt as though the anger came right out of his chest and onto the page. She told him that it was good to have, and not be a fool thinking that this world existed as equal, or fair. A lot of folk knew that they were condemned to die in the districts but that didn’t mean his brain had to turn to mush.
‘You have a future ahead of you, whether you believe it or not.’
Funny that she’d talk about looking forward, when all he wanted to do was look at the past.
He combed along the ridges of book spines as he walked toward the big windows at the other side of the room. Ayena’d collected one of the most extensive libraries of books she could get her hands on, and for a woman who’d been alive since the dark days, meant bits and pieces of history the likes of Delroy might not have ever seen. Titles that told stories of a forgotten world. Languages that he’d heard whispered, and others that he’d never known at all. Books on technology, with things like cell phones, little computers that could take pictures, send messages, and make calls to one another.
His mother and father had been the ones to plant to seed about discovering who he was. They liked to sit on the front porch and play cards over a folding table, all the while talking about people that’d come in and out of their lives. Great Aunt Gertie that made the best apple pies. Uncle Micah that had the prettiest baritone you’d ever heard. Great Uncle Taylor, who’s face looked a lot like Delroy’s from the yellowed photos he’d seen.
They said he’d enlisted with the rebels toward the end of the war, when things were already going south. He’d been like most teenage boys and thought that it meant something to run off and live out the fantasy of telling truth to power.
He’d been sold on the thought that he wasn’t just another body to be thrown on the heap when all of it was said and done. Because that’s what they had wanted in the end – child soldiers, people to fill the lines that were running low on warm bodies.
And where had he wound up, if he never came back?
It’s what drew him to the library.
He’d found a listing of the dead in one of the census books Ayena had. A list of boys and girls that had died at the end of the war, forgotten names that were about ready to fade from the page. He’d pressed his hand across the cool of the paper and promised then he wouldn’t forget, not when the history meant more to him than they could’ve known.
Among them was the listing of Taylor Wickersham, 17. Sprawled in black ink, first and last name, and an age.
And that was it.
He wanted to know all about those days, about a history that was all but fading from memory.
He wanted to take to the streets, sometimes, to rile up the rest of the district when he thought about how they needed to do something.
Ayena let him have those afternoons in the library so he could start to get a chance to put all of it together.
They needed someone to save their history and keep the truth from being turned to dust. And there were only so many more years she had before she couldn’t teach him anymore.