In a world where unhappiness is forbidden by law, a young girl struggles to find a way to cope with her crippling depression and anxiety, fearing she is the only one in the world who feels this way…
Joy’s elder sister, Merry came over just has they were disposing of their meal trays in the recycling box. “Ah, Merry! Look at you! Wonderful, as always” her mother enthused while she requested drinks from the refreshment provider. The two sat down at the table over a steaming mugs of herbal tea and spent some time gossiping about everyone they knew while Joy finished getting ready for her her big day. Not a single negative word was said of anyone, even though Joy thought that the fact that Rosey next door had just left her husband, wasn’t brave at all, it was… Whatever the opposite of thoughtful was, the opposite of kind and caring. She also thought that Sunny from her old Pre- Learning Centre wasn’t ‘following is very own calling’, he just wasn’t productive, he didn’t want to help and contribute to society. Joy briefly wondered if there ever was a word to describe someone like that? A word that meant, you just didn’t have enough energy for life?
Joy made these silent judgments while nodding along and smiling at her family. She knew, nothing she could say would change their minds even if she did have the right words to say it.
Before Joy could even properly process the revelations she had, she was being shuffled on to the City-Link transporter. The Higher Calling Centre that her mother had chosen for her, was three hours away. She knew it was chosen because it was one of the best and she should have been grateful they had invited her for a tour, only the brightest minds were lucky enough to attend. Joy however did not feel lucky, every minute they travelled further away from home made her stomach churn. There was a lump in her throat and her eyes felt hot and prickled with unshed tears.
Looking around at her fellow passengers, many like her were off for their tours of Higher Calling Centres, she was amazed at how cheerful everyone was. ‘Why can I just be normal?’ she thought to herself, trying to fit in as much as she could with the chirpy chatter.
Joy did another optical lap of the busy carriage, trying to mould her own face to mimic the expressions of those around her, a smile here, a nod there, while her eyes burned with the need to shed tears, nearly choking on the breath that wanted to tear itself from her chest, the butterflies in her stomach were flapping so hard she felt she might take off. She concealed her feelings behind a fragile veneer that felt like it was going to crack in two and expose her as the freud she was at any moment.
And then her eyes met his. On the opposite row, two seats ahead of her, sitting sideways, with his back to the window. His ice blue eyes immediately locked onto hers and wouldn’t let go. It felt like he wasn’t just looking at her but through her. He wasn’t just seeing her expression- which by now had fallen flat, he was seeing what was going on inside, head, heart and soul. Joy didn’t mind this intrusion, despite all she was hiding from the world. His presence calmed her, her blurry vision cleared, her heart returned to its rightful place in her chest, its gallop slowed to a steady trot. For the first time in months, her thoughts slowed their panicked rush, the tempest inside cleared and she was filled with peace.
After several long seconds of just staring, the left side of his mouth curled up in a half smile, not an expression of happiness, not an expression she had ever seen before. Joy reluctantly tore her eyes away from his and quickly scanned those closest to her, wondering if anyone else had noticed, his not-happy smile. Confirming no one had, her eyes slid back in place with his, the half smile still there, a mischievous glint in his eyes.
‘Who is this boy?’ She thought to herself, appraising his appearance. He was tall and thin, all straight lines and sharp angles but his face was the complete opposite. His dark hair fell in large curls over his forehead, nearly concealing his large blue eyes which were framed by long dark lashes, his lips were full and plump.
Joy grew suddenly nervous, knowing he was apprasing her the same way, knowing her looks would pale in comparison to his. Her wispy red/ brown hair was pulled into a long plait behind her, her dark green eyes were just a little too far apart to be pretty, her mouth was small and pouty like a childs and the smattering of freckles across her nose bothered her every morning when she looked in the mirror.
Shyly, she blushed and ducked her head, staring at her thin, pale fingers, twisting themselves into knots in her lap, she tried to process what had just happened but the emotional tide she had just escaped came rumbling back and threatened to pull her back under. Roaring in her ears replaced the chatter and laughter of the carriage, her eyes began to sting and blur, a sob so huge was building up in her chest, she thought she might drown in the tears.
His black boots came into view beneath her downward gaze. She hadn’t heard his approach, she didn’t want to look up, into those perfect eyes. She was afraid of what he might see in her. He’d know she was defective, a fraud, he’d report her…
A warm finger beneath her chin gently pulled her face up to his. “Let’s get out of here” he whispered conspiratorially. She was too shocked by his proposition to ask, where and why. She just took his offered hand and let him lead the way.
He led them to the last carriage on the train, empty except for a few toddlers running up and down the main isle, squealing in delight at whatever game they had made up that morning. Their mothers sat nearby on the last seats of the adjoining carriage, gossiping between themselves, sparing few looks for their energetic, young children.
He pulled her down, out of sight onto the last bench on the left row, gently pushing her against the window, he sat facing her, his body inches away from hers. To Joy, everything around her ceased to exist, there was only her and this beautiful stranger.
“How are you feeling now?” He asked, gently stroking back her sweat slicked hair.
How?… she asked herself, his words confusing her. Noticing the look in her eyes, he leaned back a little, careful not to let the others see him. “No one has ever asked you that, have they?”
“Never” she whispered, trembling under his touch. “Who are you? Are you even real?” Joy wondered out loud.
His sort of half smile was back, up close she could see the small dimple that appeared in one cheek when he did this. “Oh, I’m real all right” He chuckled. “You can call me Skye… I’m sorry to have pulled you away from your friends but I saw what you were feeling and thought you needed a break. You don’t have to be perfect with me”
Joy was stunned, confused, relieved and scared all at once. ‘How could he know what I was feeling? Did he know what those feelings meant? What does he mean when he says I don’t have to be perfect? Does he mean happy? But who would want to hang around with anyone not happy? And why would they and not report it? Everyone knew they had to report any not-happy feelings’ The thoughts spinned sluggishly through her mind, making it hard to form a coherent reply.
“You have to be more careful with your emotions sweetness, here, that’s how to find me, tonight we’ll meet up and I can help you camouflage a little more, I’ve got to go”
And as soon as he appeared, he was gone, leaving behind a scrunched piece of paper inside her clammy fist.