This is a short piece I wrote for DA's role-play group, "dis-colour", about the events surrounding Khalil's arrival at the Facility. Hope you like it!
“What is your name?”
The person who asked the question was hidden from view, and his disembodied voice was crackling through a speaker somewhere over the boy’s head. The white-washed room was devoid of any other life. The boy lay strapped into a large chair, terrified, but managing to keep a measure of composure. There were small machines surrounding him, similar to things that could be found in a hospital but somehow different. What they measured he didn’t know, and that added to his fear. “My name is Khalil Evans,” the boy finally replied, his voice coming out hollow with anxiety.
“And how old are you?” The voice continued to question him.
One of the machines at the boy’s side whirred, and something pricked his dark skin. “Do you know why you are here?” the voice inquired.
As soon as Khalil had removed his suit and suffocating bowtie, he slipped out of the house and hurried to the park. Instant calm washed over him when he set foot near the softly-flowing stream that ran through the trees there. He settled onto his knees in the grass and closed his eyes, just listening to the water and the chirping of the birds. When he opened his eyes, he saw it – there was something cold and bright in the water, something different from the monochrome all around him. It entranced him.
Soon, it was everywhere – in the sky and in the glass that reflected it on fair summer days, in some of the gemstones his mother and her ever-present guests wore, in the reflection of his eyes in the mirror. Just what was it?
The winter snows brought more of the strange thing. Khalil stood, just staring at the snowbanks one day. His older brother crunched through the snow to stand next to him. “What are you doing out here, Khalil?” he asked. Khalil looked up at him and noticed that his eyes also held the odd thing – as did their parents’. “Do you want to get sick?” His brother’s voice was harsh, and his eyes held the same coldness they always had. Khalil knew that his questions were not out of any concern or feeling for him, and his next words only confirmed that. “Don’t cause trouble for Mother and Father.”
“Your eyes are like the snow,” Khalil commented.
“What?” Derek’s face darkened.
“There’s something in the dark areas of the snow,” Khalil told him. “It’s in our eyes, too, and in Mother’s sapphires. What is it? ”
The older boy turned and walked away without another word, leaving Khalil standing outside in the silent snowfall. He stared at the snow a while longer, until the low sunlight faded, taking the thing in the snow along with it.
Finally, Khalil went back into the house and walked to the kitchen in search of some hot chocolate. He stopped just outside the room at the sound of a voice. His mother and father were on the other side of the wall. “Layla, calm down,” Khalil heard his father say in a hushed voice.
“If it gets out that our son is one of the Colored, we’ll be humiliated.” That was his mother’s voice, cold with anger.
Colored? Khalil had heard of them. They were supposed to be diseased. Were his parents talking about him and this thing he could see? But there was nothing wrong with him – was there? Or could no normal person see this thing – this “color” – that he could see?
Khalil turned away from the kitchen threshold and wandered upstairs to his room.
Two security guards led Khalil up the flight of stairs to the fourth floor of the wards. Along the walls were thick, metal doors that didn’t have much space between them – each room couldn’t have been more than seventy or eighty square feet. This place was starting to seem less like a hospital and more like a dungeon.
The guards stopped and unlocked one of the doors, swinging the heavy slab of metal open and pushing Khalil inside. “This is your room,” one said gruffly. “Change into the uniform on your bed.” The two men stomped out of the room and closed the door.
Khalil blinked blankly and looked around the room. As the guard had said, there was a uniform folded up on the bed. It consisted of a white shirt with dark stripes and cuffs and a pair of black dress pants. A black tie lay atop of the outfit. There was a small desk near the head of the bed. A clock sat at its edge. In the middle of the desk was a packet of papers. It included the Facility regulations, a few maps and the schedule for his therapy sessions.
Putting down the papers and instead fumbling for his new clothes, Khalil heaved a sigh. He changed into the uniform, put on the tie and moved to take off the dark headband that covered the fresh, ugly scar over his left eyelid. “No. This stays,” he decided aloud. He lowered his arm.
Now what? There was absolutely nothing else inside of the cell, and he hadn’t been permitted to even bring his violin or sheet music or books with him from home. There were no windows in the room, either. He couldn’t even sit and enjoy the outside view. Khalil sighed again and flopped down onto the bed. I wish I had never said anything, he thought dejectedly. If only I had never seen that color.
His mother and Derek came into the house well after nightfall. Khalil was getting ready for bed and went to greet them at the front door. “Welcome back.”
Neither acknowledged his words. “What are you still doing up?” his mother asked icily. Her eyes were bloodshot – had she been drinking?
“I was studying,” Khalil replied.
“For what?” His mother’s eyes narrowed, and her voice grew bitter. “No school will accept you now.” Her high-heeled shoes clacked as she crossed the hard floor to the coat rack. “You wouldn’t even make it past the screenings.”
Khalil felt cut. She was the one who always pushed him to prepare for good schools. Was she going to make him stop, just as she’d stopped him from going to that ritzy party tonight? It wasn’t that he minded not being dragged to the party to be shown off to all of the snobbish, ever-critical guests. What bothered him was the thought that his mother was hiding him away, as though he’d become a stink to her. “If I study hard enough, I can get in,” Khalil insisted.
“Get out of my sight,” his mother snapped dismissively.
Khalil felt his face flush. “I’m no different. I haven’t changed!” His voice grew louder with each word until he blurted out, “There’s nothing wrong with me!”
His mother swung a coat hanger at his face. “Don’t you raise your voice to me,” she hissed.
Khalil was stunned. He spun around to keep his mother from seeing his hot tears as he hurried up the stairs to his room. She had never hit him before. She was the one who had changed.
The following evening, Khalil’s mother and brother had gone to some sort of function with one of his mother’s colleagues and left Khalil behind. Khalil was beyond happy when his father finally came home from work. “Welcome back!” He felt a tinge of apprehension in the pause between his greeting and his father’s reply.
His father was taking off his shoes and setting down his briefcase. “It’s good to be back,” he finally answered. “Where are your mother and Derek?”
Khalil’s heart sank. “A meet-and-greet,” he replied.
There was another pause. “It’s just you and me, then?” His father smiled warmly at him. “Would you like to play for me today, Khalil?”
Khalil beamed. “Yes!”
As soon as his father had gotten some coffee and changed clothes, he and Khalil set up music stands in the study and pulled out a couple of chairs. His father handed him a violin and bow, and Khalil began to play the song that had been laid out on the stand. He was finally beginning to feel a little better, when the violin squeaked out an incorrect note. No. Play it right. A growing anxiety swept over him. Khalil missed another note and visibly cringed. He tried to correct himself, but his father stopped him.
“Your mind is elsewhere today. What’s wrong?”
“Father, is there really…” Khalil lowered the violin and bow and looked down dejectedly. “…Is there really something wrong with me?” he murmured.
His father knelt to his level. “Khalil, you are a gifted, hard-working and good person. You can be proud of who you are. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Got it?”
Khalil nodded, a smile returning to his face.
“That’s my boy.” His father smiled and reached out to brush his hand through Khalil’s light hair. “Don’t worry. I’ll handle your mother.”
Khalil rubbed his eyes and sat up in the bed. “Did I fall asleep?” he grumbled groggily. He glanced at the clock. It was actually almost time for his first corrective session. Khalil grabbed the packet of papers and hurried out of the room.
More people were milling around now, but Khalil kept to himself, since he was in a hurry. Not that he felt like talking much, anyway. This was a prison, and he was going to be stuck here, now, without his father, without his music, without his books, amongst a sea of strangers. How long would he have to stay? Would the treatments really help?
Khalil stepped outside at last and crossed the courtyard to the hospital. He took a breath of fresh air. It felt good to be outside again. That place was so stuffy and dead. He passed many other people – some were talking, some had books, some were on their way to other parts of the Facility, like himself. There are books here? Where? he wondered. He would have to find out later.
As soon as he reached the hospital, the moment of relative calm was replaced with anxiety. The staff was already asking him for his name and faction. Khalil jumped when two big guards grabbed him by the shoulders and roughly escorted him down to the examination room. It was similar to the room where he’d had his screening – filled with strange machines and completely sterile and lifeless. One of the men barked for him to lie down on the table. The other seized Khalil’s forearm. “Okay!” Khalil yelped and yanked the arm away. He climbed up on the table to avoid letting them drag him up there.
The guards left, and a doctor, dressed in a white lab coat with similar dark stripes to the Facility uniforms, took their place. Khalil eased a little bit, thinking the worst was over. But the doctor was the next to roughly grab him and push him onto his back. Khalil squirmed away, eyes widening; yet, the more he fought and fussed, the more forcible the doctor became. He buckled Khalil’s wrists in restraints at the sides of the table. “Don’t struggle.” The doctor took a syringe from the tray near the table. “This is for your own good.” He rolled up Khalil’s left sleeve, and, though Khalil tried to wrench away the scarred arm, it was no use. His eyes squeezed shut as the needle went in.
Khalil was reading in his father’s study, waiting for his father to return from work, when Derek walked in with a scowl on his face. Khalil hunched up nervously as his brother circled the desk and leaned toward him. “What are you looking at?” Derek questioned him. When Khalil wouldn’t answer, he slammed the book shut and stared at the cover. “Studying again?” He huffed angrily. “You may be Father’s favorite; but, with your defect, you only bring shame to him.”
Khalil’s mouth twitched with displeasure. That’s not true. He tried to tell himself that. But, lately, even his father had been looking at him differently.
Derek took a step back from him. “Do you want to cause Father trouble, Khalil?”
“Of course not.” Khalil’s tone was quiet, but there was an edge of indignation to it.
“All right,” his brother said. “I know how you can be fixed.”
“Fixed”? Did Khalil need to be “fixed”? He hesitated. “What do you mean?”
“You want Father to be happy, don’t you?”
“Of course!” Khalil jumped up from his father’s desk chair.
Derek knocked Khalil back against the wall and pulled a box-cutter from his father’s desk. “If you can’t see, then no one will ever find out that you’re one of the Colored. Father will be spared the shame of having one of the Colored for a son.”
Khalil threw his arms up in front of his face and felt the blade scratch his skin. “Sit still,” his brother said. “This way, your defect will be gone. That’s better for all of us.” Khalil wanted to believe that his brother was just trying to scare him. But no – he really believed what he was saying. His brother was forcing his arms down little by little as he scratched away. Khalil screamed. As his initial shock wore off, the pain of each cut started to add up.
He heard the front door open. “Father!!” Khalil screamed. Tears of fear started to streak down his face. “FATHER!!” The blade raked down above his eye, and he let out another terrified cry.
The door to the study flung loudly open. The next think Khalil knew, Derek was gone, the box cutter was on the floor, and his father was kneeling in front of him. “Khalil!”
“What’s going on in here?” That was his mother’s voice.
The vision was going in and out of focus in Khalil’s left eye. He couldn’t see anything clearly, and everything seemed to flatten and shift positions. Khalil shook uncontrollably and sobbed in panic. As his father gently took his arms in his hands, pain flared within them. Khalil involuntarily jerked his arms away, which only hurt them more.
“Layla, call a doctor!!” That was one of the only times Khalil could recall his father raising his voice like that. “For goodness’ sake, Layla, go get the bloody phone!!!”
Khalil was sore and tired when he left the hospital to return to the wards. His legs felt as heavy as lead, and his head was pounding. The light seemed to stab his eyes. Khalil froze when he realized that the sky was…flashing? That thing – the color – was disappearing and reappearing. Whatever they had done to him in there was taking it away. That’s okay… If it goes away, I can go home… The scars on his arm caught his eye as he braced himself against a tree to keep from falling over. Home? How could he go back now? How could things ever go back to normal, after all this? Khalil felt tears fighting to get out. He fought back the lump that was steadily rising in his throat. It hurts…! I’m scared…!! Father…why did you send me to this awful place?!
Khalil blinked away his tears and tugged his sleeve back down. When he turned away from the tree, the color was back in the sky. Khalil sank into the grass and stared up into the air. As the breeze blew gently past, it seemed to carry some of the pain away. Khalil curled up there and felt himself nodding off. But he didn’t care. Rather than being surrounded by the cold, blank walls of his tiny room in the wards, he wanted to fall asleep gazing at the sky.
“I’m sorry, Khalil.” His father wouldn’t stop apologizing. He kept brushing his hand along the side of Khalil’s face. “I’m sorry I let this happen to you.”
Strange vehicles were parking in front of the house. Men started coming out of them – men in suits and ties.
“Listen, Khalil,” his father pleaded. “It isn’t safe for you here any longer. These people will take you somewhere safe, until you’re cured.” He put his arms around Khalil. “It’ll be all right.”
Khalil glanced toward his mother and Derek. His mother was scowling at the men and their cars. Her icy eyes turned on him. “Look what you’ve done.” – That was what they seemed to say. It was her worst nightmare come true – with the obtrusive vehicles parked along the street, now everyone around them knew that someone in the family was of the Colored.
The men guided Khalil toward the cars. “Wait…” Drowned in confusion, Khalil hadn’t even said goodbye. He begged them to let go. He begged them to let him go back and hug his father. He begged them to let him go inside the house and pack his things. None of these requests were granted. Within minutes, he was sitting in one of the cars, heading toward the Facility, where he would be treated.
With a start, Khalil jerked his head back up and opened his eyes. How long had he been sitting here? He got to his feet, now sore from sitting uncomfortably tucked against the roots of that tree. His packet with the Facility map and rules was still on the ground, where it had been at his fingertips. He bent down to pick it up and flipped to the page with the map. Those people earlier had books. I wonder where…? There was a library on the map. There were also two recreational areas and a sports area.
His feet carried him past the large statue, past the wards and to the first recreational area. He went in to find a crowd – quite a rowdy and bustling one. Khalil started to walk around and look at what was there – and bumped into someone. He hadn’t realized they were so close. He couldn’t tell anymore. With embarrassment, he muttered a quick “Sorry” and turned away, fingering the scar over his left eye. This not being able to judge distance – it must have been because of what Derek had done to his eye. The vision in it hadn’t been the same since he’d cut it. Khalil reached ahead for a nearby wall and realized that it was too far away to touch yet. He caught a couple of people giving him weird looks as he took a few small steps to measure the distance before he could reach it. Great. Would he have to walk around like a blind person, sticking his hands out to make sure he didn’t bump into anything or anyone?
Just as Khalil was pondering the implications of this, he spotted instruments in the corner of the room – a piano, a guitar… A violin!! Working his way along the fringe of the crowd, he made a bee-line for the violin, stumbling as he nearly crashed into a couch. His eyes widened with excitement as he reached out and picked up the instrument. It was a little roughed-up with age and use, but the strings were still in good shape. Khalil ran his fingers along the smooth wood. It had only been a day or so since he last touched his violin at home, but this made him realize how much he missed it. At least there was one good thing here.
Considering the noise of the crowd, Khalil carefully set the violin back in its place. He would definitely come back and play it when it was quieter. Khalil left the recreational area feeling a bit relieved. He was actually looking forward to something, even in this place. Maybe things weren't so bad, after all.