Monday. Breakfast. Seven am.
Fatima had a choice of muesli or yogurt. She sighed and took the yogurt. It was smooth and creamy, but she’d had it so many times before she could already taste the bland vanilla. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had something different. It was always muesli or yogurt. She supposed she could sprinkle something onto it, perhaps some honey or nuts. She’d have to see what she was allowed.
She glanced back over at Rebecca who had just been handed the bowl of muesli without a word. At least Fatima had a choice.
Rebecca forced a grin onto her pale pink lips and to the Carer behind the shiny steel counter, but as she turned, she pulled a face, her eyes rolling to the backs of her lids. She cocked a thick, black eyebrow upwards at Fatima and muttered sarcastically under her breath, “mmmm, can’t wait!”
Fatima laughed at that. She could always rely on Rebecca for a laugh. She was witty and bright and spoke her mind, much like Fatima. But Rebecca didn’t know when to stop sometimes and it often got her into trouble.
Fatima pressed her forefinger to the machine in front and waited. The screen flashed and welcomed her with its usual formal tone. “Good morning FFF58-2193. Please see your additional options below.” They were named with codes for easy identification and these were tattooed onto the backs of their necks in small, black print. The letter of the code was based on when they arrived. This usually did a full circle with Donees having multiple letters like Fatima did. The first number indicated what number Donee they were to arrive in that year’s batch and the second number was the year they arrived.
Fatima could sense Rebecca’s eyes on her screen. She hadn’t bothered to look at her own options. They both knew she wouldn’t have any.
Most of the boxes on Fatima’s screen were shaded with a grey tinge, which meant they weren’t available. Her eyes scanned them longingly anyway. Walnuts. Raisins. Chocolate sauce. Oh God…chocolate sauce. She stared at it and then pushed the screen upwards, trying to push the thought of chocolate from her mind with it. Everything was grey. Stupid, stupid grey. But then she saw it – honey – the box lit up in a bright blue. Her stomach growled, as if it were squealing out with delight.
“Tell your stomach to shut it,” Rebecca moaned. “I’m being starved here and you don’t hear mine complaining.”
“Your bodily noises are far worse. Trust me,” Fatima replied, making a face at her. She placed her yogurt under the machine. “Thank God for honey,” She thought. She went to press the button, ignoring Rebecca’s protests behind her and hesitated, her fingers hovering over the blue box. Her allowance stats. They were much lower than she thought they were. She bit her lip. Her lunch options would suffer if she pressed for an ‘add on’. She chewed on her lip for a moment, before closing the programme down with a sigh. She lifted her yogurt back up and looked at it. Plain yogurt wasn’t that bad…
“Did my made-up farting habit put you off?” Rebecca asked her sarcastically. She was already eating her muesli, picking at the grains with her nimble fingers. The Carers wouldn’t like her doing that. She could hear Carer Marie already. “It’s impolite to eat with your fingers R20-2193! And go sit down, you’ll give yourself indigestion eating like that! Disgusting girl.”
The Carers always called them by their codes, but not many of the Donees did. It was a few years ago when an older girl had told Fatima about their own naming process. “So, my actual -” she said making quotation marks over the word ‘actual’ “- name is B4-2188. But no one calls me that. We choose our own names. So you, can be any name that begins with F. Like…um, oh! Frieda? That’s a nice name. Or Francesca?” She blew out, making a raspberry noise. “Screw it, you could be Miss Fancy-Faxon-Future if you wanted!”
Fatima giggled, but it was Ana, her best friend who had named her. “Fatima,” she had said in small, quiet voice behind her. Fatima had turned to her. She was younger and much, much shorter. Her hair was short too and the curliest Fatima had ever seen. It reminded her of when butter curled up onto the blade of your knife in small, golden ringlets.
The girl sucked her thumb. Her feet shuffled like she was nervous, but she was looking Fatima straight in the eyes.
The older girl had made a face at them. “Nah, I don’t like it. You only get one proper name. It’s got to be good.”
But Fatima ignored her. She played with the name in her head, saying it over and over again till it lost all sense. Fatima. It was cute. And it suited her.
Fatima smiled at the small blonde girl. “Fatima.”
The girl smiled back and nodded, “it’s pretty. Like you.” She blushed slightly, but her eyes still remained locked on Fatima’s.
“What’s your name,” Fatima had asked her.
Rebecca waved a hand over Fatima’s face. “Hellooo? Anyone in there?”
Fatima smirked and shook her head quickly. “Sorry – I’m saving up. My allowance stats are low.” She could see the frizzy, long black tresses of her hair dancing around her from the corner of her eye. She needed Ana to braid to it like she usually did, but she was in her meeting today. Fatima’s stomach squeezed uncomfortably. Ana had turned fourteen last month. It was a dangerous age. Not that seventeen wasn’t, but fourteen could be used for the minus thirty formula and everyone knew that was one of the most popular ones. Fatima had hoped that somehow the three of them would coast through, not ever being chosen. They just needed to make it to twenty-one, when they couldn’t be used anymore. But Ana had been called out of class last week and when she returned, Fatima already knew what she was going to say.
Rebecca dug an elbow into her side, as they crossed the hall. “I was hoping you’d loan me something.”
“A loan implies you’ll pay it back,” Fatima replied. “And you never do.”
Rebecca blew out, her fringe fanning upwards and back down again in small dark strands. “Bitch.”
Fatima grinned again. “Greedy.”
They were always calling each other names. But nothing was meant by it. And although Fatima loved Ana dearly, that was something she really liked about Rebecca, she was ruthless and sharp and never took anything seriously. Ana took everything seriously. She was a sensitive soul as well and too kind for her own good. Fatima would never call Ana names like that. Even if they wasn’t serious. Rebecca would though and she often did. It wasn’t that Rebecca was nasty…well, she could be. But not to them. Never to them. No, it was just that Rebecca didn’t seem to have any sense of other people’s feelings. She was like a bulldozer that way, ploughing into people with her big personality and brash comments. Her mentality was, if she found it funny, it was funny. She had a relaxed outlook on life, something that was both admirable and dangerous.
Fatima pushed in next to Rebecca at the long breakfast table and stared down at her yogurt with a bitter reluctance. She glanced over, noticing Rebecca had almost finished her muesli. She was using her spoon now, gulping the last few mouthfuls down like her life depended on it.
Fatima felt sorry for Rebecca, it wasn’t that she was overweight. No one was overweight in The Home. But she was much curvier than Fatima and huge in comparison to timid, little Ana. And curvy meant that you more likely to get fat and if you got fat, then you were unhealthy and if you were unhealthy, then you were useless.
Fatima, like everyone in The Home, attended weekly physical and mental health checks, where a programme was devised for their individual needs to ensure that they were, “happy and healthy,” as Doctor Hickerson put it.
“How long do you think Ana will be?” Rebecca asked her, barely swallowing the next bite of cereal.
Fatima shrugged. She didn’t know. Meetings could last between thirty minutes to a couple of hours, depending on the Donee. There were matters that needed to be settled. The last few days before Donations were special. Chosen Donees could have whatever they wanted to eat, could choose which activities they went to, they could even spend the night with any of the chosen boys if they wanted to! Fatima gulped at the thought, almost choking on her yogurt. Only some of the girls did that last one. It had crossed her mind a few times of course. When – if – she was chosen, if she would do it. It all depended on whether there were any willing male Donations anyway.
Fatima had always found the boys intriguing. They weren’t allowed contact, but sometimes she could see them through the glass corridors walking to their next class. They looked interesting. Of course, boys weren’t a mystery to all Donees, some of the ones that had Donated themselves had even had boyfriends. She liked to hear those stories. Not just about the boys, but what it was like out there.
Fatima didn’t know why you would ever Donate yourself. Not with a whole world to explore. She had heard rumours though, about the lack of jobs, the housing problems, the famine some of the Donees had endured. Most of them didn’t want to come to The Home, but they didn’t have any of choice. There were some though that said how much better it was. How much safer it was. How they never wanted to return. It all seemed crazy to Fatima. She’d give anything to see what it was like. Even if it were just for a day.
“Do you think she’ll do it?” Rebecca asked with a smirk.
“Do what?” Fatima responded innocently, although she knew exactly ‘what’.
Rebecca rolled her eyes and scooped another spoonful into her mouth. “Have sex.” She spat the words. Actually spat them.
Fatima eyed the mushy flakes with a wrinkled nose.
Rebecca laughed at herself and quickly wiped them onto the floor.
“R20-2193 will you please resist on showering your peers with your breakfast!” It was Carer Jean or ‘Jokey Jean’ as they called her. She thought she was hilarious, never missing a chance to come out with a sarcastic comment or quip. Thing was, she wasn’t funny. At all.
“I’ve never heard the expression singing in the grain.” Jokey Jean looked around her ‘audience’ expecting some sort of recognition. She never got one.
“But I’m not singing?” Rebecca replied, confused.
“It’s a song…” Jokey Jean stared between them all. “…From the famous 1952 musical.”
“I always knew she was a dinosaur,” Rebecca muttered to Fatima, but not quite quietly enough.
Jokey Jane blinked and Fatima wondered for a moment if she’d let it go. She was softer than some of the others. More of a pushover.
“Out!” Joke Jane snapped, pointing at finger to the door. She was shaking and Fatima wasn’t sure if it was from rage or fear. Maybe both.
Rebecca stared at her blankly. “What?”
“You know what, you disgusting little girl!”
Fatima could tell Jokey Jane been training with Carer Marie again. That was her nickname for bad Donees.
Jokey Jane was shaking so much that some of her red hair had actually fallen from her cap. They all wore them, ugly, white uniforms, but it was better than what they made the female Donees wear. Hideous, frumpy, matching blue dresses that swung down to their ankles. Fatima much preferred the white shirts and blue trousers that the boys wore. She’d thought about asking one of the Carers if she could wear that instead, but she decided against it. She already knew the answer.
“Straight to S.C!” Jokey Jane barked.
The other girls on the table ducked their heads. S.C was not a place anyone wanted to go.
“But Carer -” Rebecca started, but she was interrupted.
“Now!” Jokey Jane ordered with another point. “You can think about your attitude there for the day.”
“What’s going on?” It was Carer Marie. Even Fatima lowered her gaze when she came over. She was a large woman with a short, sharp bob and broad shoulders. She certainly didn’t look like she lived on yogurt for breakfast.
“R20-2193 has been extremely rude to me, Marie,” Jokey Jane replied, her voice quivering.
Fatima always found it strange to hear the Carers’ names without their titles.
Carer Marie shook her head slowly at Rebecca, her lip curling upwards slightly.
“I’m sending her to S.C,” Jokey Jane added. It sounded more like question than a remark.
Carer Marie nodded firmly, her eyes not leaving Rebecca. “Indeed. Perhaps when you come out, R20-2193, you’ll have realised how disrespectful and disgusting you’ve been.”
Rebecca was frowning, but she didn’t dare speak back to Carer Marie. No one ever did that.