“More than ever before in human history, we share a common destiny. We can master it only if we face it together. And that, my friends, is why we have the United Nations”
– Kofi Annan
The Citizenship Bureau is located at the edge of the United Nations’ islands in a box-shaped tower that is just as tall, if not taller, than Green Sus’ founding restaurant. I fidget incessantly as we wait for my number to be called. Picking at my fingernails, I shift in the uncomfortable, metal chair. The chair is identical to the hundred others that are perfectly aligned to white tape lines on the hard floor. Most of them are filled, all with families and children that have the same birthday as me. For some reason, I thought there would be less, but since the Citizenship Bureau handles all twenty-two nations, it isn’t that surprising.
“Did you want me to go in with you?” My father leans towards me. He is more nervous than I am. I still cannot overcome the apathy I feel towards the decision I am about to make.
“Do you want to?” I ask, thinking about what Zoey had said. My father always told me I should choose whatever citizenship path makes me happiest, but surely his heart would still break once he finds out I won’t be returning home with him. It was odd that I couldn’t feel excitement, or even nervousness, when thinking about it.
“Only if you want me to.” He replies sincerely, glancing up as the red number at the top of the ceiling switches from 132 to 133 with a beep that echoes in the crowded lobby. A red-headed boy across the way stands up, he is alone and walks through the door that leads to the next section. I glance at the number I wrote in marker on the back of my hand. We were designated numbers last night, but I wrote it anyways so I wouldn’t forget. 137 was my number.
The next four numbers went by exceedingly fast and as I watched the digital display switch from 136 to 137, I waited for an emotion to arise in me. Nothing. Kissing my father on the cheek, I hugged him, “You should stay.” He was more emotional than me and I could see he was already struggling with letting me go on my own.
“I love you, Avery,” He holds my hand, “I’ll always be here for you, no matter what you choose.”
I pat his hand, “I have to go, dad.” Once he lets go, I quickly walk to and through the door.
“You confirm you are Avery Cecelia Post?”
“Yes.” I lean forward so that the microphone can pick up my voice. It is an archaic piece of technology, awkwardly installed to an electronic desk. The chair I sit in is uncomfortable, the metal digging into the back of my thighs. I’m oddly centered, alone, in the conference room that the lobby door had led to. Above me, on flickering screens, are five faces in high-definition. Despite the quality, it is hard to look at them because light brightly reflects off the white walls.
“You confirm that July 12, 2042 is the date of your birth?” The weary-looking man stares at the left edge of his screen, his black hair slicked firmly down to his scalp.
“Yes.” I repeat, squinting.
“You confirm you are aware that you are at the age for your first Voluntary citizenship?” He asks, swiping a finger along the screen to scroll down the information only he could see.
I nod, as the faces silently stare at me, “Yes.” I add.
“Have you given thought as to where you’d like your citizenship to be?”
Hesitating, I glance between the screens before nodding, “Yes.” The desk in front of me makes a trilling sound, a red circle forming in the center.
“Miss Post,” A stern woman with high cheekbones purses her lips as she talks, “It would be prudent not to lie while under interview.”
“Sorry.” I apologize, “No, I haven’t thought about it really, until this morning.” There is a light sheen of sweat rising on my skin. Itching my shoulder, I feel prickly all over.
“You are conscious of what the United Nations stands for,” The tired man says, “Correct?”
“Yes, of course.” I quickly reply, scratching at my neck, “My father taught me all that he knew.”
A breathy scoff escapes the stern woman before she speaks again, “Then you should have an idea of where you might like to be,” She pauses, then adds, “Shouldn’t you?”
Hesitating, I look at the other screens. The three members of the committee that haven’t spoken yet stare at their screens with neutral expressions, so stoic that I wonder if they’re actually listening. “Yes?” The red circle reappears on my desk.
“Would you like to take a disposition analysis to help you decide?” The tired man asks.
“I don’t have to, right?” I glance between the screens, trying to find expression in the other three still.
“No, you don’t have to.” He responds softly, “If you do not decide by the end of the day, by default you will remain in your guardian citizenship nation.”
Before I can say anything, the stern woman adds, “The disposition analyses are conducted beyond the blue door to your left. To return to the lobby, please go out the way you came.”
A tingling vibration rises from the chair so suddenly that it shocks me. I quickly stand in reaction, “Is that it?” As I ask the question, the screens cut to the symbol of the U.N. – a minimalist artistic rendition of the Milky Way with the Earth centered in a golden halo. Left alone, I realize that I have to choose which door to go through.
Deciding an analysis wouldn’t hurt, I go through the blue door.
After waiting in a second lobby – smaller than the first, but similarly designed – my number is called on the digital display. There was only one other person in there, the redheaded boy from before, who stared at the floor as if deciphering universal secrets from it. I can’t tell if he already had taken the test or not, but I don’t want to be the one to break the silence. Going through another door, I’m surprised to see that this room is much smaller than the other. The bathroom at our home is larger than this room, which has tall vertical walls, but as I look at it, is only eight-by-eight feet. A red circle is on the glossy floor. I carefully step into it as it is just the right size for me to do so. Once more in the center, I wait for something else to happen. There is a low humming, coupled with a faint breeze coming from the corners.
“Hello?” I call as the quiet starts to bother me, “Anyone there? I’m here.”
Suddenly, a loud beep permeates my hearing. Flinching from the noise, I cover my ears and look down. Below, the red circle has disappeared. A yellow circle appears, slightly closer to my feet than the previous one. Gulping, I ask no one, “Is this the test?”
There is no answer. I listen to the humming, looking around. Briefly, I step out of the circle to see if it would go back to red. It doesn’t. Walking around the room, I examine the edges as I try to conclude where the humming is coming from. There is a faint reflection of my figure in the walls, though much lankier than I actually am. Eventually, I return to standing in the circle.
A second beep startles me. Looking down, the yellow circle flickers out and a smaller, green circle appears partially under my feet. A third beep sounds and instinctively, I look up to see that the green circle is also on the ceiling – at least three times my height above me. There is ringing in my ears.
“There is only one truth.” The voice right behind my shoulder scares me. I jump and quickly turn to face where it comes from. On the wall, just below my shoulders, a screen flickers with a shadowy image of a person speaking in a sea of pixelated neon, “That is, there is no truth.”
“If Humanity is to survive,” Another voice interrupts the first one, coming from behind me on the opposite wall. Turning around, I notice it is an image of a giant tree. The tree calms me down and I watch as it sways in the breeze, “Compromises must be made. Agreements must be reached.”
“There is only belief.” The first voice competes with the second, overlapping. I’m unsure which I should listen to, so I try to listen to both.
“Ask not what your nation can do for you,” A third joins the fray, a screen flickering on underneath the tree’s. I am disgusted by the image of sizzling meat that accompanies this voice, “Ask what you can do for your nation.”
“Disagreements must be eliminated.”
“Within belief, everything is permitted.”
Turning away from the two walls, I face the empty one as a fourth voice joins – the screen illuminates brightly in front of me – I change my mind to start blocking the voices out. As if in response, they all seem to become louder.
“The world is not black and white,” Geometric shapes bounced around the screen accompanying the fourth, “Nor is it shades of grey.” I keep watching as the shapes begin to take on colors. The other voices drone behind it as I focus on the screen, “The world is vibrant and full of life.” I smile at the comment.
A breeze at the back of my neck grabs my attention and I turn to see the door has opened. Behind me, through blurred vision, is the lobby. As a fifth voice joins the cacophony of speakers, I wonder if I’m free to leave or if I should stay still. Calmer from having watched the shapes, I hesitate.
The door slams shut. In quick succession, the walls light up with screens and voices. I’m surrounded by light and sound, the vibrations in my body are too much. Kneeling on the floor, I cover my ears and close my eyes. This makes it so it feels as if I’m underwater in a sea of senses. Though my eyes are closed, I know the floor is flashing colors and when I open them, my thought is verified. The entire floor is highly saturated in blue, then green, then red, then yellow, then blue, then green, then… they make me want to fly away, if only I had wings. Scrambling into a corner, I focus on the soft humming underneath the torrent of noise.
Then, it all disappears. I’m left in the room that I had stepped into. The voices still echo in my ears. Though the walls are plain, afterimages of the screens still flicker in my vision. I stand up, though my legs are weak, and watch as the door creaks open.
Returning to the lobby, I sit in the nearest chair and stare at the floor without even looking to see if the redheaded boy was still there.
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