I walk down the nicely paved road, past the charming little houses painted in pastel colors of deception. I used to long to live in one of those houses. I used to want a house like this, a yard like everyone else’s. Sometimes I stop and wonder for a moment just how much the city’s changed in the past year. Then I think maybe it wasn’t the city that changed at all.
As I continue along my way, I see the curious stares, the whispers, the slight hesitation in gait. They all used to bother me, too. Just like a maintenance crew would hurry to fix a little chip in the pastel paint of the endless houses, I am a little chip in the perfection of the city. But I can’t be fixed. In my difference, I pique curiosity.
Then behind me, I hear it.
“Who are you supposed to be?” I stop, and then turn on my heel to meet the eyes of a girl about my age wearing the blue skirt and badge of an announcer. I know that all of the citizens have been thinking that same question as I made my way through the neighborhood, but the girl was the only one brave enough to say it. For that, I grudgingly admire her, even though her question is accompanied by the sneer on her face and the arms crossed on her chest.
I stand there, my arms down by my side, my chin held up high, and my eyes never leaving hers. All around us, the citizens have stopped in their daily lives to watch our little confrontation. She’s pretty, this girl. Auburn hair falling in slight waves, perfect porcelain skin. But her eyes are cut like stone above her cheekbones. She fits her job well. They always want the announcers to look good, to present the perfect picture of the city.
As I take her in, her gaze rakes down me as well. My plaited dark hair running down my back, my asymmetrical face. Her eyes pause on my waist, where there is no badge. The longer she looks at me, the further her chin juts out and the fiercer her sneer becomes. I remember how I used to be scared of people like her, people who have known their place in the city from the moment they were born and raised to believe that people who didn’t don’t deserve a place.
Her perfect lips speak. “Well?” I break her glare and look around me. The endless pastel houses. The citizens dressed in the uniforms of their life, some of them with their head held high and their clothes ironed to crisp perfection, others hunched over in the shadows dressed in the clothes of a cleaner. I look past the houses to the tall metal buildings of the city. I used to think they were beautiful, the way the glass windows mirrored rays of light. Now I see them as prisons, escape barred by the unbreakable chain of expectation. Finally, my gaze returns to the girl.
“Me,” I tell her. “I’m supposed to be me.”