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How Kosi's father means to do what he does and why ... by her reactions, Kosi knows herself his true daughter
Hungering for Hen’s presence, I went through my energy bars faster than I planned. For a while I teased out my hair to be a lion’s mane. Usually that makes me feel better. Today I was too restless.
Someone came into the study.
A long time ago Hen made a hole in the wall beside the door to be prepared, she said, and to see who entered.
It was my father. He sat at the house desk and woke it.
“Where’s Hen?” I said through the hole.
“You didn’t come back so I put her off,” he said without looking up.
“You sacked her?” I said, not wanting to believe it.
He did his fierce anger thing with his mouth. He snarled silently, showing off his strong white teeth.
I reeled back to my bedroom and my bed, where I was meant to sit with my hands neatly on my lap, my feet together on the mat, while he told me what he thought of this or that of my actions.
He didn’t come.
After a while, as his true daughter, I seethed with some anger of my own. I’d been away less than 24 hours! How dare he give up hope on me so quickly? “Can I tell you why I was late?” I said meekly through the hole again. Previous experience taught me it would do me no good to show my anger.
“Won’t make any difference,” he said.
I abandoned being-good and being-polite. “Difference to what?”
“Maybe your passing will be more peaceful if I tell you of my difficulties. And so maybe you won’t haunt me.”
Thinking that they were the two most awful things a father could say to his daughter if he was serious, and he didn’t look to be joking, I almost missed what he said about my mother.
“Your mother went the way of Life Lottery winners. What was I to do with you when my new wife demanded her rightful two children?” He stared back into his past. “We had our boy. He started off very well and I admit we got our hopes up.”
“For what?” I said to get him out of his dream.
“About the middle of his childhood, his schoolwork went to average. We had him assessed, taught by the best and then retested. I almost had to let you go then, money was so tight. We never dreamed he wouldn’t make it into one of the feeder schools to the University of Alien Biology. We were so, so disappointed.” He drooped, reliving it.
And then he perked up. I wasn’t even jealous about my brother’s schooling because the way my father perked up, so callously. Something awful had to be coming.
“That same week we heard about the Gen-En-Co Smart Kids program. The company provided two ways to get into their program. One, they ran a lottery for five unencumbered places for those who didn’t have any children already or enough credit to buy their way in.”
“Wait, what do you mean by ‘unencumbered’?” I hoped it didn’t mean what I suspected.
“What? Means what I said. People who didn’t have any children already,” he said.
“You had me and my brother.” I surprised myself with my accusatory tone.
He shrugged. Wafted us out of the way with one hand. “We put our names down for one of those places right away. Second, Gen-En-Co auctioned off fifteen places per intake. Though we didn’t have the credit, we thought to maximise our chances. Gen-En-Co had ancillary requirements that not everyone could fill. But we figured we could provide them with the smart male child they required … we had one male already after all … for their experimental education program. A gamble that didn’t pay off.”
My heart beat sluggishly from fright. It was true then, he’d dumped Du. Forgot her somewhere, like Hansel’s and Gretel’s and all the other fairy tale parents abandoning their children. What would he do with my brother? With me? My hands filmed with cold sweat.
“But never mind, yesterday we heard that we’d won a place! We’ve been accepted! One more week and we’ll move into our luxury quarters at Gen-En-Co and the world is our oyster.”
Did he think that if he told me I would excuse him his crime? Hen taught me what was what, and what my father and stepmother were doing wasn’t it.
He shut the computer down and went into the legal house. The louvres stayed sealed. I lay on my bed, did not sleep. I let myself be angry. I didn’t want to be scared.
Everyone got up with the birds, as Hen used to say. I always asked her, what birds? The ones that sing the dawn chorus, she said. One day I will hear the dawn chorus.
Now I listened at the louvres. I heard my brother pretending that he thought they were all going on a holiday. He knew something was up because half the time he behaved like a five-year-old, like Du, as if he was trying to be her and him at the same time.
A call to the keypad by the living room door brought a stranger, a different voice, a cabbie in to deal with the luggage. My father entered the study through the outside door. He woke the inbuilt desk computer.
“House,” he said. Then, “Go to sleep. Put the utilities into dormancy.”
The lights in the Tween house dimmed. Then the remaining pinpricks of light winked out. I kept my hands flat on my desk to keep it active and glowing. The dormancy state crept around my hands – maybe their warmth stopped it advancing – then edged under my hands. Finally, the desk’s input surface died and went opaque.
Schlick. The door locked itself after my father on his way out.
Hen always let me have a night-light but now I couldn’t see anything no matter how hard I looked. I concentrated on sound. Water gurgled in the pipes. A chugging outside. A low buzzing from overhead.
The buzzing stopped.
The aircon stopped?
I got up from the chair and held onto the desk to make sure it didn’t run away into the dark. Touched the wall with an outstretched hand. How hard was it to remember directions when I could only see stars and them only when I rubbed my eyes. Left hand on the wall.
No. Better idea. I sank to the floor. Crawled to the bathroom, skimming the wall with my left flank. There, the door jamb. I rose to my knees, clambering my hands up the jamb.
The bathroom ceiling was low because I was taller now. I reached overhead. The air-vent was above my head, just inside the bathroom door. I stuck my fingers into the little squares of the grill covering the vent.
On hot days my fingertips would get icy cold. On cold days my fingers used to get warmed. A neat trick I worked out all by myself in my seventh year. Then, I had had to stand on my desk chair.
No air moved in or out through the vents. No air! How quickly would I use up what I had? How fast if I cried and screamed? I bit my lip and stared hard into the dark.
After a while I remembered that Hen wouldn’t have left without making sure I could escape.