I went back to the dormitory and lay in bed in what was set up to be sleepless night — which indeed it was. I should’ve said more: I should’ve told Madame X everything I thought about the subject and why it mattered, because it did. They were always too busy with the rules and their own interests and concerns to hear what I had to say, what I had seen and experienced. And it just kept happening; now, if something terrible were to happen, I’d be sure to be the one to whom they assign the blame. Isn’t it marvellous to be the number one scapegoat in the whole of the One Nation?
Pity parties are all the rage, but the thing about them is they can’t last long. I was getting tired of dancing to my own sad, self-pitying music: I got up and strapped my boots on and tiptoed my way out of the dorm. Had anyone seen me leaving, I would be in a much bigger trouble than I surely already was, but it didn’t matter. My feet walked me out of the premises, walking to their own rhythm and following their own plans. I was too tired to stop myself or to really analyse what I was doing and how bad of an idea it all was.
Sure enough, before long there I was: the 11th Street. I could see the huge house down the street, and darkness all around: the piles of rubble, the few stray cats left alive walking on the top of the half-demolished walls. The full moon guided me to the house, and I told myself to go back to the dormitory and forget all about it, even if it meant lying awake in bed until the sun had risen. I didn’t know anyone who had been discharged by Madame X, but I was sure it wouldn’t be a pleasant experience, and in all honesty I supposed it wouldn’t be healthy. She didn’t seem like the kind of person to forgive and forget and let people move on as if nothing happened.
As I approached the house, I heard a very silent “psst!” that, at first, I mistook for my own imaginative and anxious mind trying to fool me. A few more steps, and I heard the same thing again, except now clearer: I looked to my right and I saw a woman with long grey hair crouching between two piles of broken bricks, her eyes set on me, with two fingers out and beckoning to me. I had never seen that woman anywhere, and she didn’t look like one of ours, but I started walking towards her.
“I’m sorry, did you want to talk to me?” I said, trying to sound polite.
“Yes, but not if you’re going to speak that loud. Come closer.”
It sounded like a terrible idea to come closer to a random stranger crouching at this time of night, but I did it anyway. We were both against the rules, since no one was aloud to be outside after 10p.m., and that made me feel weirdly close to her. “Go on”, I said, crouching beside her.
“Yes, sure, let’s talk out here, next to the problem house, near the sentries X probably has standing by its door. Follow me.” Too shocked to process her dropping of the “Madame” before X, I followed her deeper into the destroyed town. “You don’t know me, but I know you. And I know you know something isn’t right with this house. It was a very stupid idea, I admit, to let it be, to let it stand with ruins all around it, but we had no choice. I promise you, we didn’t. And now we need you to keep quiet.”