Three weeks later we were preparing to move to the city. Nothing had gone wrong yet, and Mother was ordering us to pack up our belongings. The day before we had sold the table, and using that as well as the other money, we bought new clothes and shoes.
True to his word, Mr. Teller sent us three train tickets, and more instructions to go straight to his office where he would show us the house.
We wouldn’t have time to change, and Mother was determined to make a good first impression.
Later that morning we carried our bags to the train station, and waited on the same bench I had sat on so many weeks ago. When the train stopped we crowded on and found four open seats in the back of the train. When the conductor came around Mother handed him all our tickets and we sped away towards the city.
Darren and I both had our faces up to the window. The scene wasn’t any less amazing the third time.
It was all open countryside, with small farmhouses dotted around the grassy hills. Fences criss-crossed, holding in horses, cows, sheep and other animals. There were big open fields of wheat or other grains on the edge of the lush pockets of forest on either side. The sky was a deep perfect blue, without a single cloud to interrupt it. The land was flat, and you could see the sun rising in the distance, casting long shadows over the fields and meadows.
The ride passed quickly, as usual, and before I knew it we had arrived at the city.
We followed Mother, worried that we would get lost in the huge building. Darren’s eyes darted everywhere, taking in the enormous ceiling and many people.
When we reached Culle Street Mother stopped.
“Which way is Brook Avenue?” she asked me.
I began walking towards the city center, and found ourselves on the edge of a wall of tightly packed people. Mother grabbed our hands and walked forward briskly.
“Excuse me, excuse me!” She led us through the crowd and we followed Brook Avenue until we reached the office building.
I straightened my hat and swallowed. Pushing the door open, I walked in and led my family to room 3.
Mother was still gripping our hands, and Darren held Marca. I knocked loudly on the door, and took a step back. Mr. Teller opened it and smiled broadly.
“Come in, come in!” He closed the door behind us and shook Mother’s hand. “Thank you for coming!”
“Thank you sir.” Mother replied, smiling.
Mr. Teller had moved two more chairs into the room, and we all sat. Darren handed Mother the baby, and placed his hands on his lap. I nervously perched on the edge of my chair and adjusted the hem of my dress.
“As your daughter may have told you, I have requested you move to the city so that she may have access to the Cutting Center, and I have found a house that will be as close as possible to it. It is quite small, unfortunately. The money we receive for each cut comes from the city government, and they only have so much they can use for events such as this.”
“Mother nodded. “We’re used to small spaces and are very grateful that you are doing this.”
“Of course. A Cutter must have the best possible access to the Cutting Center.” He handed her a piece of paper across the table. “The house is number 6014 Rowan Lane. The Cutting Center is on the corner of Rowan Lane and Terrace Street.”
“Thank you so much!” Mother said again as she tucked the paper into her pocket and stood up.
“You’re very welcome.” He replied.
They continued to chat about technicalities for a while before politely saying goodbye.
I placed my hat back on my head and stood up. I wanted to spend the rest of my life in the musty office full of paper and ink and words and knowledge. We left the building and mother pulled out the paper.
It was a complete map of the city. It showed the city center right in the middle of the city, with the rest of the city spread around it. To the north the poorest area, to the east the Orderers’ Houses, the princess’s palace, and other very important people, to the south the Cutters and wealthy houses, and to the west the shops and hotels.
In each direction there was a building or area that was the center of that particular district. In the poor district it was an old chapel, the merchant’s was a garden with a fountain, the Cutter’s was the Cutting Center, (of course) and the nobility was the princess’s palace, as well as the Orderers’ House. The house we were to live in was on the border of the merchants and Cutter’s districts. The Cutting Center was just half a block down, and we were close to the city center.
When we finally found the right house, Darren tried the door and found it locked.
“Mother!” I pointed down the street at a figure hurrying towards us.
"Are you Mrs. Alander?" A plump lady with a bright smile shook Mother's hand, a set of keys dangling in her other hand. "I'm in charge of the state of the house. Part of the Recourses Cutting department!"
Mother smiled back. "Please, call me Catherine!"
The woman unlocked the front door and stepped inside. “Hello then Catherine! Let me show you around.” We all followed, listening as she explained where the bedrooms, bathroom, and kitchen were.
"It only has two bedrooms, I’m afraid. There is bunk bed in the bigger room, as well as a small bed, if your children are okay with sharing."
"Yes, of course! This is so amazing of you!" Mother laid her bag on the table.
"It's nothing! Really!” The lady hung the keys on a hook beside the door. “I hope you like it! There’s no food, but there’s a small market just a few streets away. Almost all the roads in the area lead to it.”
“Thank you so much.”
“No problem!” The lady smiled again and walked out closing the door behind her.
Darren and I began to unpack our bags in our room, but Mother called us back.
“It’s been a while since we ate. Can you go and get some food at that market?” She held out a few clinks.
I took them and grabbed Darren’s hand. He walked reluctantly out the door and we walked down the street. Mother had never really let us idle about and I wouldn’t be surprised if she was off job-hunting by the time we came home.
As we walked down the street, it became more crowded, the roads full with people heading towards the market. We arrived just ten minutes later and weaved through the stalls of fancy jewelry and soft silks. There was no reason for anything other than food.
The food stalls were full of meat, vegetables, spices, and exotic fruits.
“What’s that?” Darren tapped me on my shoulder and pointed towards a medium sized sphere.
“I don’t know.” I walked towards the stall, and looked closely at the sphere. It had a green/brown skin, with little red bumps all over it. “Whatever it is, it doesn’t look like it would taste good.” I cleared my throat to get the stall keeper’s attention.
She looked up expectantly.
“What is this?” I asked holding out the sphere.
“Oh, that? It’s a fruit.” She took it from me and grabbed a knife from the counter. “Do you want to try it?”
“Yes please.” Darren said eagerly.
She sliced the fruit in half, and cut off two slices. The inside looked much tastier, it was bright orange, juicy, and had many small black seeds. I bit a piece of it, and let it dissolve in my mouth.
“We should get one!” Darren whispered in my ear. I nodded.
“Can we buy one?” I asked the women.
“Yes. That will be two and a half clinks.” I fished through my pocket for the coins. “If you would like, I’ll add a couple oranges for four clinks as a discount.”
I glanced over at Darren. He looked at me pleadingly. “Sure.” I said. I grabbed another coin and handed them all over. Darren grabbed one of the green fruit, and two oranges.
I passed over another two clicks and grabbed two more oranges for Mother and Marca. “Thank you!” I said, turning away from the fruit stall.
We continued walking through the stalls, buying a couple loaves of bread, a few packets of milk, some jams and sauces, and four vegetable meal packs.
Meal packs were cheap, and had enough food in them for one person each.
Finding our way back to the house through the winding streets was difficult, and we walked in a complete circle the first time we had tried to find our way home. We finally found our way, and sure enough, Mother was gone.
We split an orange, and covered a few slices of bread with jam. It was delicious, and strange for us. Usually we ate bread plain.
An hour later Mother came home, smiling and cheerful.
“Did you find work?” I asked.
“Yes! There’s a Laundromat on the edge of the rich and Cutting districts. It pays well, and they’re willing to hire me, starting tomorrow. That’ll give us enough for food, and your money will pay for luxuries and school!”
“There’s a school near the market, it has a cheap entry fee, and if Darren and Marca start there, they can get a scholarship into a better school. For Darren that will be next year so he’ll have to work extra hard. It’ll be easier for Marca, she will start with all the other kids her age this fall.”
I smiled. “Do you know when I start working?” I asked.
“Working? You still have to do your training!” Mother laughed.
“Oh. Right…” The training was what I was least looking forward to. “Do you know how long I have to train for then?”
She shook her head. “No idea. I’m sure it won’t be to long though. Don’t worry, you’ll be working in no time.”
“Mmhmm.” I knew I sounded doubtful, which wasn’t fair to her, since she wasn’t the one deciding when I could start working. I’m supposed to go there tomorrow, right?”
“Yeah. That’s what Mr. Teller said.” Darren added. He handed Mother an orange, and returned to our new room, where he was playing with a set of dominos that he had bought years ago. It was the only thing other than clothes and necessities that he owned, and he treasured them more than anything else.
“Did you already eat?” Mother asked me.
“We had some bread. If you want to heat one up there’s meal packs on the counter.” I replied.
“I’m not too hungry. I’ll just have some bread then go to sleep. I have to get up early in the morning to go to the Laundromat.”
“Okay.” I left Mother in the kitchen and went to my room where I had left my bag. “Darren, you’ll have to take care of Marca for the next couple of weeks. I will be training, and Mother will be at work. Tomorrow you should look around the city and try to find something that will keep you preoccupied.”
He nodded. I will. Mother mentioned the Museum, do you know where it is?”
I ran back into the living room and grabbed the map that Mr. Teller had given us.
“This is where the Museum is…” I said as while pointing to the block on the map. “…And here is the house.” This time my finger jabbed down on a spot about halfway across Rowan Lane. I handed the map to him. “Here. Take this so that you can find your way around.”
“Thanks. I might take her there tomorrow.” He took the map from me, folded it neatly, and placed it in his pocket.
I grabbed the comb from my bag and began brushing out my hair.
“You’re going to sleep already?” Darren sounded surprised.
“Of course. I have to start my training tomorrow.”
“Right. Good night then.” He stood up and left the room, almost certainly to get more food.
I changed into my nightgown and slipped under the clean covers. By the time my head hit the pillow I was asleep.