025 - Muted Words, Chapter 4

Chapter 1: Introduces Mara

Chapter 2: Maud is at Mara's place. It ends with Mara reading Maud a story.

Chapter 3: Maud can't sleep

Chapter 4 - Parting

A door creaked and was carefully closed. Objects were softly put on a table, and it smelled like coffee. Mara was up preparing breakfast for Maud. The coffee, of course, was for her. The school bus would come soon, but she didn’t hurry to wake up the child. She turned on the windows, but set the program to night time to keep the room in a dim light. 

She poured the black liquid from her old moka maker into an olive green cup. It was chipped lightly at the rim, but Mara didn’t care to replace it. “It still serves its purpose”, she would explain. Coffee mugs didn’t need to be beautiful but hold coffee. And have a history. This mug had history, it’s brown interior attesting to this. When Mara traveled, it traveled. 

Somewhere a shrill alarm rang. It jerked Maud out of her dream. She was following a giant purple turtle, moving at snail space. In her dream, she was searching, but can’t remember what she was looking for. It wasn’t something that she lost, but a feeling she never experienced. 

The shrill sound drilled further into Maud’s brain, until she recognized it for what it was: Her alarm to get out of the house. Now! 1 minute and 50 seconds before the bus is there. It will take her 30 seconds to get downstairs. If the lift is there. Which is never the case in the morning rush hour. 

“I’m late! Why did you not wake me” she yelled at Mara, who didn’t care at all. Maud was too stressed to explain the excruciating shame of being late. Mara wouldn’t get it anyway. Time doesn’t exist in her world. 

“Where is my…” she cried out, but Mara interrupted her. “At the door. Everything is packed. Drink the smoothie in the elevator. Just leave the glass there, I’ll get it. Go now. Bye.” With no time to counter back that a smoothie isn’t a breakfast, Maud stormed out. The elevator was waiting for her, doors open. Impatiently, Maud hit the ground floor button several times and nipped at the bright purple smoothie. It was rich, but not icky like her parents do them when they are on their super-healthy trip. It tasted like silk and dreams, and  tickled her brain awake. She ran out of their block at the exact moment the bus stopped in front of her door. Perfect timing. 

Her friend Anna gave her a side-eye look. “Rolled out of bed, didn’t you? Your parents out again?” They remained silent for the rest of the journey. Locked into the school’s network, it’s too hard to pay attention to words and feelings. Everything is picked up, stored in data lakes and analyzed to customize their daily learning plan, food intake and exercise schedule. 

The gray square buildings making up their school loomed ahead of them. The bus entered the tunnel, plunging the kids in pitch darkness. Out the other side, the lush green and deep yellow of the learning institute always stung their eyes. Smiles appeared on the other kids’ faces, mirroring the expression when an uplifting drug hits your nervous system. Maud kept gloomily looking outside. She was wondering what happens if you sit still for too long, what “too long” is and if it even exists. Her friend pulled her off her chair and threw her another side-eye. 

Like snakes coming out of a burrow, thousands of children exited hundreds of buses in neat little rows and disappeared into colorful buildings. At the tiny entrance door, each kid locked their eyes into a smiling robot face, confirming their identity, and receiving their schedule.

Maud had to confirm twice, her eye scan hitting an error on the first read. The screening machine filled a bug report on the spot. Maud’s daily schedule gained a red dot at the top. The boy behind her, barely audible, sucked in the air. 

A small group of students gathered in room BD178234 for history. Maud took her assigned seat. A movie started playing. At regular intervals, questions popped up and the kids individually answered them. After fifteen minutes the movie stopped, and the screens in the kid’s desk lit up. Except for Maud’s. Maud looked at the deep darkness of her black screen. A red dot blinked at the top. Around her, the others were continuing the history class adapted to their answers. A perfectly customized class, allowing every child to advance at their speed, reaching the exact level of knowledge deemed necessary for them.

Maud had never seen a black display. It didn’t react to her input, but remained mute. “What would Mara do?” she caught herself thinking. The black display reflected her face. She closed one eye, the mirror-image Maud closed an eye. She smiled at herself, observing how her face changed, raised an eyebrow and lowered the other. She stretched out her tongue, while pulling her eye-lids down. The face in the display mirrored her movements. She burst out in laughter, startling the other kids who shrieked up and with zombie eyes searched for where the noise of freedom came from. 

Maud swiftly lowered her head, her screen turning on in the same moment. The video was replaying the sequence she saw earlier. This time she answered the questions in the proper way, and her program continued flawlessly. 

It was dark when she was finally home again. Stepping outside the bus she craned to look up at her building, trying to find the windows of her place. But a thousand black eyes stared back at her. Stepping into the elevator she wondered if her parents would be home tonight. The door to her place was closed. There was no sign of life coming from it.

A faint bit of light came from Mara’s door. She heard the noise of boxes being moved, and doors closing. She knocked faintly. It was the first time she knocked at her door. Normally, her parents would do the knocking before hitting the town. 


She knocked again, this time a bit louder.

The noise inside Mara’s apartment stopped for a split second, then continued with the same intensity.

Maud glared back at her apartment. A black door. No light shining through the cracks. It will be dark and silent. The windows playing a scene from a long-forgotten kids movie. Plates and mugs on the kitchen counter, no one cleaned up since yesterday. 

Inspecting Mara’s door, she wondered what she was doing. Did she want Mara to open the door? Maud didn’t want to admit it. This was a daunting thought that would only lead to a lot more uncomfortable thoughts. Maud pushed it swiftly aside. She could just ask for the book they read yesterday. Asking for it would make Mara happy. 

She knocked again; this time with a bit more force than before. The door swung open “If you want something, you need to believe that you can get it. Don’t knock like a scared rabbit, fleeing at the first sound. No one is gonna take you seriously like that.” Mara was standing there with brown pants and deep green sneakers. She had a black top on, her hair in a ponytail. A lot of strains came loose. Next to the door a black backpack, a jumper and jacket thrown over it. Her coffee mug was precariously placed on top. 

Her face softened. “Your parents let me know they’ll be back in a couple of hours. I prepared dinner for you. You can take it over to your place.” She disappeared into the kitchen and came back with a purple bag. Looking into the bag, Maud saw a covered glass dish with yellow rice, red bell peppers, chickpeas and some brown pieces. Lamb. On top of the dish was a little plastic jar with chopped spring onions, and a brown paper bag. A raspberry muffin. Her favorite. 

Maud looked up at Mara, the backpack on the floor and the tote bag in her hand. “Child, don’t just stand there, the food will get cold, go on, go home.” Mara gently shoved her away, and waved goodbye. With a thug, the door closed. Maud was standing in the corridor. Her school bag on one shoulder, the tote bag in her hand. She could smell the muffin. Mara must have timed the baking perfectly. It was only then that she noticed how hungry she was. Another time she glanced back at her door. It was still dark. Inside it was still cold and silent and loveless. 

With her free hand she pounded at the door. 

“Are you leaving me?” Maud said when Mara opened the door.

“No, I’m going on a journey.” Mara replied.

“So, you are leaving me” Maud said with a fire in her voice she didn’t recognize.

“No, I’m going on a journey.” Mara replied mechanically, creases forming around her eyes. 

Maud, all the newfound strength gone as quick as it came, blinked, and lowered her head. Mara, one hand on the door knob remained silent. She knew Maud was looking for words to describe the feeling that was raging inside of her. 

Still with her head down inspecting the gray floor, Maud managed to ask for the book. When she lifted her head to see Mara’s reaction, she saw a sad smile take shape around her eyes. “I put the book in your school bag. I wasn’t sure when you’ll be back. It’s yours.” And with this she slowly closed the door. 

Maud, defeated, turned to her place. She grabbed a spoon out of the kitchen drawer, and went into her room. Picking the darkest corner, she sat down on the fake wooden floor, avoiding the comfort of her bed, and began to eat. When the hunger subsided, giving place to the warmth of savoring your favorite meal, she grabbed the book out of her school bag and continued the story.

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#muted words#fiction