A teacher sits at the entrance of the school. Before her stands a table on which a book lays open. Behind her, the facade of the building frowns down from dull windows, reflecting a dull sky. The door to the school is shut and black–a heavy steel set of doors on which no glimmer of light reflects.
The teacher wears a black jacket with a white, frill-less shirt beneath; her glasses are black and her hair is black and dull and cropped close to her head. Her thin, bloodless lips spread themselves into a single line, and her eyes– almost completely black– glare with disapproval.
A line of children stretches down the school steps and back along the sidewalk beneath the twisted trees and the sunless sky. Each child stands alone, directly behind the child in front of them. No one speaks. No one moves, except to step forward as the line advances. Each child wears exactly the same outfit–black jacket, frill-less white shirt beneath–and over their whole face, a veil.
One by one, the children step up to the table where lies the open book, and the teacher frowns at each of them. She slaps an upturned palm into the air in front of their noses and greets them over and over with only two words:
Purity papers outline the child’s medical and moral history and heredity; they ensure the child is not a safety risk to the Institution.
Each child hands their papers to the teacher behind the desk where the open book lies, and the teacher moves her disapproving eyes ever so slightly to the content of the papers.
Once inspection is over, the teacher takes her pen and puts a checkmark next to the child’s name and waves them past the desk where the open book lies.
One by one, the approved children approach the heavy black door, and it yawns wide for them. The hall within shows as black and lightless as the door, and as each child enters, the heavy doors shut firmly behind them.
This performance is repeated for each child, and the line moves rapidly; an almost unending stream of children flow down the sidewalk and disappear into the dark hall within.
“Purity papers,” says the teacher.
The scene becomes mindless until one child moves out from beneath the twisted trees, veil-less, but the child is so small, he is missed. Perhaps even the only child who has spotted him is the one who stands behind him, but this is not an assembly where children speak up.
The veil-less boy’s skin is dark, his hair twisted and awry. His clothes hang off him– a holy white T-shirt smudged with dirt and torn, blue shorts tied to his tiny hips by twine. His fragile bones protrude from his brown skin, but his eyes shine and glisten as he glances around.
His movements betray the only curiosity in the whole line.
Child by child, he moves close to the table where the book lies open and the teacher frowns.
“Purity papers,” says the teacher.
Finally, the veil-less boy inches up the steps until it is now his turn to come forward. The teacher’s frown dips down to his naked, brilliant-eyed face, and her own eyes flare so that a sliver of white can be seen at their edges. The teacher leans forward over the table and the book, and her hand curls claw-like over the opposite edge.
The teacher does not slap an upturned palm beneath the veil-less boy’s nose, but rather hisses: “Purity papers.”
The veil-less boy puts his head to the side, and for the first time the brilliance of his gaze wavers. He shakes his head. “I don’t have any papers.”
The teacher leans back slowly brandishing her pen above the open book and huffs two sharp jets of contempt through her nostrils.
“Sorry,” says the teacher. “No papers. No school.”
With the pen, she marks a hard X next to the boy’s name. Then she places her pen down beside the open book and reaches into the folds of her black jacket, producing from within a golden whistle. She blows on the whistle once; a long, startling shriek erupts, and despite themselves, a few veiled children at the front of the line jump.
The teacher spears them with a hard look, and stillness returns.
The heavy, black doors open slowly and two tall, veiled figures step out from the dark hall. The two figures wear all black, and their veils are black, and not an inch of their skin can be seen. They march forward as the heavy doors shut behind them and take a hold of the veil-less boy, one by each arm.
The boy looks up at them in terror. “But wait! What are you doing?” he cries.
But the figures in black are silent. They begin to carry him back down the steps.
The veil-less boy darts panicked eyes all around. “But what about school?!” he cries, fixing the frowning teacher with his questioning stare.
The teacher’s bloodless lips curl up into a sneer. “School isn’t for the likes of you. People like you can’t be taught.”
The veil-less boy’s face creases in confusion. “People like me?”
“Take that child and put him where we put the risk makers,” the teacher hisses and then moves back to the table where the book lies open. She sits down and looks at the next child in line, who steps up dutifully.
The teacher slaps her upturned palm into the air.
“Purity papers,” she says.
Meanwhile, the two figures dressed in black escort the veil-less boy back down the line of children, and they disappear beneath the twisted trees.
Not a single child saw what happened, and those who heard would never tell.