“Regrets? I’ve only got one; I regret not knowing what living really means.”
Two Months Earlier
I was walking down the cold and silent hallway to my next class. I was observing the other students, as usual, trying to find distinctive traits. But like every other time, their faces all blended together in a cold grey abyss in my brain. They don’t all look the same; there are tall, short, slim, and chubby people. But what they all have in common are their expressions. They all have the same haunted expression—the look of absolute desperation mixed with the shadow of death, as they all knew that most of them were going to die soon. They all have that look except for a couple, whom I call the rebels. They aren’t actually rebels; all they’re doing is enjoying life while they still can. But for where I live, living before the age of twenty is considered a sin. Well, that’s what the government says anyway. No matter how many times I walk past them, I am shocked every time. Their clothes are so colorful, their faces show emotions other than sadness, they have friends, and most importantly, they look happy. Sometimes I wonder, what if I was braver? What if I could be like them—be happy? No, I can’t get distracted, Assessment Day is getting closer than ever.
Assessment Day is the day that every child is taught to dread the moment they are born. As in the name, it’s a full day of assessments that happens once a year, that you have to take the year you turn twenty. Nobody who hasn’t taken the test fully knows what’s on it; it’s illegal for those who have taken it to tell others. What I do know is that the assessment has four different tests: an academic test, a physical test, a citizenship test, and a mental test. These four tests are what I’ve trained and studied for my whole life—like everyone else I know, except the rebels. Whatever I’m doing, it has something to do with Assessment Day. At school, I listen attentively and am a straight-A student. Every day, right after school, I go see my therapist to work on my mentality. After therapy, I go straight home to do my homework and study for the citizenship test. During my “free time,” I work out to practice for the physical test.
This is my schedule, every day of every week of every month of every year since the first day I went to school. I wake up in the morning at the same time as the day before, knowing exactly what is going to happen that very day to the very last minute. Now, how depressing is that? I don’t have any friends because everybody is too busy; I don’t have any siblings, and the last time that I felt an emotion other than numbness was exactly three months and twenty-seven days ago. It was when one of the rebels stumbled into me and introduced himself; all I could do was stare at his face. He asked me what my name was. Of course, I didn’t answer—otherwise, I would have been late to therapy. But I still think of that moment before I go to bed, one of the very few moments that I’ve felt something.
* * *
You might be wondering why we take Assessment Day so seriously. Well, my planet is overpopulated. Assessment Day is the day that determines who lives and who dies to conquer the problem. The tests are so that the smartest, healthiest, and the generally “best people” get to live.
After the assessment, only those who scored 100% get to move to the second part—the rest are killed. Those with the perfect score are then questioned once again and have to answer only one more question which determines their true self. Their answer is then assessed, and they are either killed or they get to live. The last question is what I dread the most; it is a completely different question every year and your answer is a reflection of who you are. I don’t know what kind of person I am and whether the government approves of me. It’s the one thing that I can’t study or train for and it’s the question that is probably going to determine if I live or die.
One Day Before Assessment Day
I woke up this morning feeling something. At first, I was excited that I felt different, but then I remembered why. I was stressed because today was my last day before Assessment Day. I wasn’t too worried; this was what I had waited for my whole life, but for some reason, it felt overwhelming. I got dressed and got ready for school, went downstairs, and greeted my parents. The same as every day, my father told me to work hard and my mother told me to behave. They seemed unfazed that tomorrow I could die. Either they were good at hiding their emotions or they didn’t care.
I thought that today I would be even more stressed, but I felt quite the opposite. I felt totally numb as if my body wasn’t ready to register that today could be my last day alive. The morning was a blur. I remember hugging my parents for the first time and maybe the last, telling them goodbye. Parents aren’t allowed to go with their kids to Assessment Day. They don’t even get our results. How they know if we made it is if we come home that night. If we don’t, they have to assume that we have been killed. Anyway, I can’t remember my walk to the government facility, but I do remember my first impression of it.
It was a huge warehouse right in the middle of the City with thousands of other students entering. Inside, it was cold; the walls, ceiling, and floor looked harsh and somber. They divided us into four different groups and sent each group to different rooms to do our assessments. I didn’t know how it was going to feel when doing the assessment, but once again, I felt only numb, almost robot-like while completing the tests. I thought it was going to be harder, but I never felt stumped at any moment. Each test took three hours, so we were done after twelve hours. They then led us all to the main room where they lined each of us up in front of a little screen and told us that in thirty seconds our scores would be posted. There was no doubt in my mind that I had passed but I still felt a little worried. Suddenly the screen started blinking—three, two, one! Boom, I had gotten 100%. I tried enjoying that moment of relief, but the screeching and sobbing coming from some of the other students who hadn’t done as well, as the army dragged them out of the room to their certain death, echoed in my head. Not all of them screamed, though—some just stared at their screen in utter shock and disbelief, not being able to register the score they had gotten. Some tried telling the army that there had been a mistake, and others let themselves be dragged away defeated. But even those who screamed their heads off went dead silent as soon as they got to the other side. I don’t know what it was they saw, but I’m sure I didn’t want to know.
Suddenly, two army men grabbed on to my arms. I was a little surprised at first, then thought they were bringing me to the second stage of the assessment, but then they started dragging me to the “other side.” “What the hell are you doing? I got a perfect score, look!” I told them. I pointed to my screen, but then I saw that something had changed. I hadn’t gotten a 100%, I got a 98.7%. Wait, how was that possible? I swear that it wasn’t that a couple of seconds ago. Had I imagined it, or had it been changed? Either way, I was going to die. Now I understand why others stayed silent while being dragged. They were thinking about the life that they had lived, as I was doing now. But what I couldn’t understand was why I hadn’t lived. How could I have wasted my life doing things I hate to train for an assessment that I was going to fail anyway? If only I could go back in the past and tell myself to be a rebel and live my life. If only I knew that no one makes it out of life alive. Those were my last thoughts before I was brought to the other side. And they are the only ones that I remember.
Alisson Mbonjo is a fourteen-year-old, who lives in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. It was during the early hours of the morning when she wrote, “Regrets?” the short story that she is proudest of. She has been writing short stories over the last two years. During her free time, she enjoys reading books, many of which being dystopian and crime. Alisson also likes spending her time hanging out with friends and playing sports.