The three brief occasions when she had gone “up top” were her dearest memories. In the deep of the night, when the gangs roamed outside the draughty windows and the spotlights from the Enforcer’s wagons slid across the walls, scaring the cockroaches and scorpions, she would close her lids and take her thoughts to the sun-kissed meadow and the startling blue of the sky.
A dream, a memory and a wish.
She tried to hold back the bitterness. It was right that the young should go. If there was any chance to save humankind it must be breeders who were shepherded aboard the ship that was ferrying them to the new place in the mountains.
She had heard about it. In quiet mutterings at the feeding halls she had heard whispers of birds and flowers. The pilots came back with little pots holding soil and tiny struggling plant life. She had never had the money to buy one but, she had seen them and smelled the perfume and one magic moment she had stroked the delicate, pale petal of a bloom. Soft it was, like the worn fabric of Mama’s wedding dress.
She had stroked a feather once. The pilot had taken his payment for the tiny gift in a damp and stinking alley and she had bled and the soreness lasted for days. But the memory of the slick softness under her fingers and the echo of freedom that the tiny plume held made the pain worthwhile. After all there was no other man to take her and it didn’t matter anyway.
If there had been a man. If she had been chosen to breed, then maybe her children would go now to the place where the air was pure and the water ran gurgling and splashing through untainted meadows. But there was only her and she was to stay and die in the dark.
The ship left every twenty-seven days. When it was time the night filled with the rumble of people carriers in the street. Times she felt brave enough she pulled the blind away from the window and peered out into the darkness to watch the lights as the great dome doors opened and the ship lifted, smooth and majestic towards the heavens. What would it be like to sit on there and to know that the daylight and the sunshine and the birdsong were to be your everyday? How would it feel to know that the starlit cupola of night could be viewed whenever the mood was upon you?
Tears leaked from under her wrinkled lids. Her heart cracked just a little more as she regretted yet again the dark sheen of her hair. Hair that Mama insisted was beautiful. How could it be when the shadowed softness was the very reason that she had not been chosen to breed. If her curls had been golden then she would have been allocated a mate, then she would have seen tiny babies with pale skin and blue eyes running to her in the family sector and maybe, she would have been chosen to go with them as a carer.
The gong was sounding. The golden couples and the blessed babies would be on board and soon the sky flaps would open and the great ship would leave again. They called it an Ark, from some left over story of the “Other Times” an echo of a myth about escape and salvation – it had another name a man’s name, but she couldn’t recall it now.
She dragged back the blind and pried open the creaking windows. The shouts of the enforcers were instant but she paid them no heed. She was old and tired and sad and she would go now when the Ark left. She would go to the mountains and the meadows and the bird song. Her old joints complained as she clambered onto the ledge unused muscles quaking in the darkness. Arms outstretched like the pictures of the birds Baba had shown her she waited for just the right moment. As the engines fired and the magnificent ship lifted towards the heavens Lissa flew from the ledge into the darkness and found her sunshine.