Outside, the sky is overwhelmed with darkness. Around me, people are stirring. Little houses are busy with life. Children cry, and smoke from hearths billows up toward the sky. House after house is the same.
As we walk through the center of town, a little boy named Jacob runs past us, his black pants covered with specks of gray from the gravel dust. His mother yells after him, but Jacob doesn’t stop. Not until he sees my
father. Then he freezes, and his chest heaves.
“Jacob Teem,” my father says. His voice is rough and loud. It’s always rough and loud lately. “I believe your mother is calling for you. Tell me, Jacob, what is the punishment in your household for disobeying your parents?”
Jacob’s eyes expand three sizes. He gulps, and the freckles on his face seem to dance in trembling fear. “Director, sir, we must spend the day on trash duty throughout the Compound for each account.”
My father nods. “How many times did she yell your name?”
Jacob doesn’t answer. My father bends down toward him, and I swear the boy is about to pee his pants. Father whispers in the boy’s ear. With a nod, Jacob flees from us and back to his mother. I hear her say his name in the tone that mothers get. I’ve heard Sara’s voice change that way many times.
“What did you say to him?” I ask.
My father stands, straightens his shirt, and we walk on before he answers. “I told him the Elders were looking at his records, and if he continues to disobey, they would send him North to be a servant.”
“Father!” I say.
He doesn’t even look at me. “He will listen now. These are the cards we must play to teach the children right and wrong.”
“But you’re scaring him. How does a child running constitute a warning such as that? Since when is running forbidden? You aren’t teaching him. You’re threatening him.”
Father stops and looks at me. His face is contorted and red, very unusual for the way he’s always so composed. I miss his smile. Where is his smile?
“I will not have my own daughter questioning my authority in public or in private. You should learn to tame your tongue, Cornelia. It will get you into trouble.”