In the year Four Hundred Ninety, the leaders of the land are obsessed with one thing: order. Around two thousand years ago, other cities in the world had already achieved their kind of utopia. But Mala was two thousand and four hundred ninety years late. As it came one hundred years near to independence; our City has greatly feared the ghosts of its past- misguided urban landscapes, floods from clogged waterways, sickening public transport system, pollution. As it went four hundred ninety years away from destitution; Mala has bore the hovering grey cloud of its present- becoming a permanent colony. The only sad thing about its rise to a pseudo first-class city is the means by which it has achieved its new facet- assimilation. This meant the cure of the Land, and the curse of its people.
I met Djal when I visited my friend Orin who lives three towns away from ours in Saran. I rode the train to the province at four in the morning that day so that Orin and I could catch the sunrise. It was a marvel to capture the sunrise from that side of the town. That Sunday Orin had probably overslept from writing her unfinished manuscript which she had been working on for a month. She has to pass the manuscript in a week to be granted eligibility to work in the district. I’d rang her twice but she didn’t pick up so I decided to drop by her home. I stood by the fence of Orin’s house waiting for her or somebody to come out. A boy, a bit short and fair approached the gate. I walked towards him and he noticed me as I came near him. The moment I had seen his eyes I suddenly forgot what I was going to say. In truth, he was not especially handsome, and I wasn’t especially beautiful either. But Djal knew he had fallen in love with me in that moment the same way I had fallen in love with him. Perhaps the soul knows when it has found its twin. Djal was Orin’s cousin. We didn’t speak a word again that day after he politely said he’ll go get Orin for me and led me to the porch.
One of the things that had brought me a vague feeling of guilt four months since that day is that Orin never knew that Djal and I had became good friends, maybe a bit of lovers. He had a found a way to reach me when he began to work in the City and we became closer each passing day. I decided to work at the district as well so that Djal and I would be closer to each other. I ride the bus at the 11th stop, and he at the 7th. There has always been this feeling that every second that I spend with him was stolen. The first time, I had to argue with the sheriff, I told him Djal was a friend who’s new to the district. So eventually, he would let me save the seat beside me as long as I would pay for his fare the same amount as mine. Djal would wait everyday at the 7th stop for my bus. He would go down after four more stops. From there he would ride the train back to Saran. The ride in between was Djal and I’s precious moments. Eventually the sheriffs began to remember me and stopped arguing, although I often had to mention the seat is taken especially when a number of passengers would crowd inside the bus. Most of the time, most of them would give me a look and the sheriff would accentuate the same negative remark. Sometimes I’d have to give up his seat for an old lady or a pregnant woman and Djal had to sit across the aisle or a couple of rows away. We’d occasionally glance at each other and smile. Fifteen minutes five days a week was all that Djal and I ever had besides the regular messages that we exchange before going to sleep or in the morning. Sometimes, he’d steal a kiss and put his arm around my waist when the sheriff is away. Sometimes, I would move myself closer and lean on his chest. He’d whisper how much things could have been a lot better if only we had met a year earlier that Sunday I went to see Orin at her house in Saran.
Towards the end of the month Djal and I had rarely seen each other. His work would require him to stay longer at his office and he wouldn’t catch the same bus, sheriffs became strict and only a few would let me save his seat, and a couple of irritated passengers had already threatened to report me for causing disorder. One of those rare times we’d steal a kiss, a friend of Djal ’s fiance must have seen us. She lives in another district and is yet to finish her manuscript like Orin who became eligible to work in the district but chose to leave Mala for another city. Orin never knew what happened after that Sunday. Djal wrote a letter to his fiance with the pen his mother kept before it became obsolete and extremely expensive from collectors’ shops. He apologized to her and owned up to every second of each fifteen minutes that we had. I, too, had received a letter from Djal. He thought it would be fair to let us both go as it would also be the most appropriate punishment that he could put upon himself. Every second that I spent with Djal was stolen, and had to be paid for. He said he hoped this would put everything back on the right track.
In the year Four Hundred Ninety, the leaders of the land are obsessed with order and the people are obsessed with conformity.