She flew under the radar, living undetected, unsuspected. An ordinary Citizen, just like the rest of them.
She was good at pretending.
She braided her hair like the other little girls and wore the same crisp, clean uniform. She did her homework each night and always received A’s on her report cards.
But she was a thinker, a questioner. She dreamed of things bigger than life, and she always wanted to know why.
In school, when she was shown a map of her island and the open waters surrounding it, her eyebrows furrowed and her forehead wrinkled a little as she politely raised her hand. “What’s outside the island?” she asked.
“Well,” the teacher paused for a moment, gazing at her with a superior, all-knowing gaze. “Nothing. There is nothing at all. The world around us is a dark, empty, wasteland.”
“But hasn’t anyone ever been out to explore before?”
“Absolutely not. We are surrounded by water, see?” The teacher pointed with her ruler to the empty blue colored in around the island. “Water is Dangerous. We would never survive in the open seas. And it’s against the Rules.”
“But can’t we swim?” The little girl pointed to the fish in the classroom aquarium. “Like the fish?”
This time the teacher laughed a little, musing to herself how sometimes children could be so silly. “No, of course not. The fish can breathe underwater. We can’t.”
The little girl opened her mouth to object, but the teacher went on, pointing with her ruler at the little dots marked on the tiny island, never venturing out to the corners of the map, never wondering what the map didn’t show.
So when the little sheet of folded manila paper was tossed by the wind across the sidewalk and by the little girl’s feet, she bent down to pick it up. She glanced around herself before carefully unfolding it, crease by crease.
It was a drawing. In it a large, colorful balloon floated up in the sky past white, fluffy, clouds. Attached to the balloon was a basket, in which two people sat, looking down at the houses and tops of trees below. A shiver ran down the girl’s spine. “I don’t think it’s Allowed,” she whispered to herself as the tiny paper shook in her hands. Again, she looked around, but nobody was there.
She stuffed it in her pocket.
The next day, her class was taken to the roof to learn about their school garden. “Rooftop gardens save space,” the teacher explained. “They also help to insulate, reducing the amount of energy needed to heat the building.”
As the class walked up and down the rows of strawberries, peppers, and tomatoes, the girl softly turned the creased paper in her pocket.
She glanced down at the sidewalks and streets below, then up at the clear, blue sky. She looked down and up, down and up, down and up again. She imagined sitting in the basket of the gigantic, rainbow-colored balloon and waiting for the right wind before floating higher and higher, above the roofs of the houses and the school, above her island and above the world around it. She hopped a little, just so maybe she could see what it was like to be on top of the world.
“Please, Clara, pay attention,” the teacher snapped.
Her fingers brushed the paper in her pocket. If she could just get a balloon, just like the one in the picture. Then she would see. She would explore the outside world, past the island, past the waters surrounding it.
Because she knew there was something more.