I Do Not Wish to Offend — Short Story
There is a large bell in the center of town that used to ring every morning. But then the Minister’s daughter complained that the noise triggered her, by waking her up from her sleep. It doesn’t ring anymore. Instead we’re awoken by a phone call from our manager. My roommate sleeps right through it. I heard her mumble something about not coming in. Again. Ever since our last manager seemed to disappear overnight, when she threatened to fire her for incompetence, no one dares question her. I wear my tag: 0678. I think I had a name at some point, perhaps the one inscribed on the pendant my mother left for me. They don’t allow names anymore, as certain names might offend some people. I wouldn’t want to offend them.
I don’t have the connections she does, so I head off to work. She will be fine, and it would be wrong to ask her to do more than she wants. A large screen on the opposite side of town displays a rising sun. The city is covered, to keep out the sun, so no one’s pale skin tans. For someone with pale skin to become darker would be appropriative, so they tried outlawing intentional tanning. In the end, they decided to cover the whole city. It’s better this way. Outside the dome are our neighboring cities. We used to visit them, but any discussion between different ethnic groups was banned. “We have to prevent the white from appropriating other cultures, as is their way!” We are forced to stay here. I wonder if the rules are different there…
I pass the Re-education Center on the way. Once upon a time, there were gates where you could see the men. When I was a child, I had a father. He stayed home mostly, after news laws were put in place to restitute women for the lost wages of centuries. After a while though, the restitution laws took more drastic measures, jailing every man with the exception of some beauracrats who paid their restitution in cash. I never heard from my father after that. My mother was a caring woman, but when she tried to appeal for him, the state declared her a victim of Self Hate. I came home, and she wasn’t there.
I went to a Disenfranchised school after that. My mother always loved my art, envisioning me as a writer. But the school said I would study biochecmical engineering. “You should be proud — women have historically been underrepresented in these roles!” I’m not very good at it, and I can’t say I enjoy it. But it is better this way.
At work, everyone is clad in very thick robes. No women wear makeup, except for some of the wealthier managers. Many people are relaxing in the Safe Room. I hear one of my coworkers loudly screaming about having to do a specific job. By the sound of it, it’s 0142. If her father has her way, that manager won’t have a job anymore. I don’t particularly like 0142, but I would never speak it. Besides, she’s had a hard life, at one point being forced to school with a young boy when she was a child. She says all kinds of terrible things about him, how at one point he touched her hair. They say she’s traumatized. I wouldn’t want to offend her by making her remember that.
Work is very trivial, but I feel the need to continue. In the Safe Room, I feel very bored. The hours drag on, but eventually, I can go home. I heard 0142 shout at me from across the room, commenting on my necklace. “You can’t wear that! That’s a gender symbol! That’s outlawed”.
“It’s my mothers. I always wear it.”
“Wear it tomorrow and I’ll have them take you away!” She grabs for it, and I yank back. I feel the need to yell at her, but I don’t. I don’t dare.
A manager comes in, a new one. I’ve never seen her before. “What is happening here?”
Before I get the chance to speak, 0142 tells her about my necklace. “Now you know that is against the rules. I will have to take it from you.”
“Please, I’ll take it off! I won’t wear it again!” I plead.
“That tone is strictly off limits.”
“0142 uses that tone all the time!” I don’t know where my words are coming from. “No one ever calls her on it!”
“You wicked misogynist! They should throw you in jail just like your rapist father!” 0142 blurts out, a terrible smile on her face. I feel very angry. They taught us in the Disenfranchised school that anger was just how the oppressed express themselves. Yet I am angry, and being punished for it.
“0678, hand over the contraband.” I’m sweating, angry, but I’m so frightened. I go to take off the necklace, but my hand slips. In that moment, I can’t think. Suddenly my feet move on their own. I’m out the door. Across the street. The manager yelling behind me. Am I being chased? I don’t know. I fall into an alley, hiding in a corner, and start to cry.
“Are you okay?”
A strange girl with rusty red hair taps my shoulder. I shoot up, my face red from exhaustion and anger. “Sorry, did I spook you?”
The girl stands over me, smiling, holding a notebook. Her tone is strange. It sounds happy, but it is not like the happy I’m used to hearing. A cynical sort of happy, as if you finally have got your way. Hers seemed genuine. “No. I’m fine.”
“Ah good, was afraid I ‘triggered’ you there!” She laughs a bit, as if she’s joking. Was she joking? I always believed triggers were very serious things. “I’m Jodi. What’s your name?”
“I’m sorry?” Her name? She can’t use her name. “I’m 06-”
“No, not the stupid number. What’s your real name?”
I stutter for a bit. She can’t be serious. I look around to see if I’m being tricked, if 0142 is trying to trick me into breaking another rule. “I’m…” I think. I can’t remember. I look at my pendant, reading on the back. There are three names: Vivian, James, and Hope. Which is mine? “I’m…I don’t…”
“Oh dear, they got you good.” Jodi looks over my shoulder at the necklace. “One of these is your name then? Well lets see…” She looks me up and down, and I stare at her, bewildered. She is dressed very differently from everyone else. We all wear the same, to not intimidate any other women and prevent “objectification”. She is wearing very bright colors though. I’d never see anything like it. “I think you’re Hope. You look like a Hope to me.” She nods, an enormous grin on her face. “Well Hope, what ya running from?”
“Uh…” I look down. “I offended one of my coworkers…”
“My necklace is a gender symbol, she says.”
I gasped. “You can’t use that word! What’s wrong with you!”
“What? Stupid? But it is stupid. I can see, those names there. That necklace was given to you by your family wasn’t it?”
“Well…yes but…you still can’t use that word. It violates the Anti-Able Privi-”
Jodi put a hand up, “Yes, I know. Do you want to give up the necklace?”
“That’s why I don’t follow those laws. Come with me.”
She grabs my hand suddenly. Around the corner, I see three women in red uniforms. The Council. Are they looking for me? For Jodi? We’re gone before they get there, as she leads me down a cooridor. I don’t know how long we were going. I tried to object multiple times. I even brought up the Sex and Assault Prevention Act to try to get her to stop touching my hand, but she ignored me. We ended up in a large room. There, suddenly, I was more terrified than I’d ever been. There were many women who looked like people I had only seen in neighboring towns, with dark shades of skin and hair. And men. I grabbed Jodi “What is this place!? Are we in danger?!”
“Not as long as you’re here!” She said, waving to some women on the other side of the room.
“But there are…” I lower my voice, “There are men here…”
“They really got you, girl. But I have Hope for you yet! Get it!? It’s a pun. I know they don’t use those up there, but you’re gonna have to learn.” Girl. That’s another word you can’t see. It didn’t seem to register with Jodi though. A man approaches the two of us, and I instantly lock up.
“Who’s this?” He says, waving. I hold back an impulse to scream “Rape” to get someone to intervene. I doubt it would help.
“Oh, this is Hope. I found her running from the Red Shirts.” Jodi gives the man a hug. She’s touching him! What if she gets hurt! She backs away, unscatched, the man smiling. I can feel my tension loosening a bit as she slides back in next to me. “You’ll have to excuse her. They’re in her head, but I get the feeling she knows more than she thinks she does.”
“What do you mean by that?” I ask, somewhat defensively. “I’ll have you know, I’m very smart!”
Jodi laughs, again. “See, that’s why I know there’s still some you in there! Come with me.”
Jodi waves goodbye to the man, and leads me into another room. In it, objects I had never seen. An odd box with a green glow, hooked up to a monitor. Several much larger boxes, glowing all kinds of colors with bright, loud images on the screen. A collection of strange notepads with colorful art on the front, and large textbooks with strange titles. “What is this?”
“The Forbidden Room!” Jodi announces, with a faux forboding voice. “Sorry, love doing that. It’s all kinds of things the Victims tried to ban.”
“It’s what we call your government. All of them, think they’re all oppressed by some great force, yet they’re the ones sitting up at the top. I mean look at you…”
“I am oppressed only by…”
“By men, right? The men they locked up in cages? How are they offending you?”
“They offended my ancestral mothers and…”
“Stop. Look at your necklace.” Jodi holds my necklace up to my face, holding it still to read. “Who is James?”
“I…” I have to think for a second. “It would be my father, I guess.”
“Yes, and he gave you this. Did he oppress you?” A flood of memories come to me. I can see my father, playing, loving, kissing my mother when she comes home from work. It’s a warm feeling, but a sad feeling.
“No…I mean, but sometimes you can’t tell…”
“The only victim here is you. They made you take a job you don’t want, took your parents away, and then convinced you that you were a victim of people you loved, when really you’re a victim of them!”
“But they protect the rights…”
“Of themselves.” Jodi looked around the room. “I know you’ll figure it out. Because I do think you’re smart.”
“You’re out of your…” I stop myself. No, that’s offensive. “You…” I can’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t offended. “I have to go.” I start to leave, and Jodi grabs my arm. “Let go!”
“No. Even if you leave, they’ll arrest you and you’ll never be free again and you know that! I won’t force you, but you need to know that!”
I stop. She’s right. I broke the rules. Maybe if I tell them about this place, they’ll let me go. No, they likely wouldn’t. I’m confused, angry, sad. I just want to go home. Why did I yell at 0142? Why did I run?
“Please…” Jodi speaks in a soft voice. I feel like I’m about to cry. “Just stay here, you’ll be safe. I won’t force everything on you at once. But you’ve been lied too. Taken advantage of.” She lets go, but I don’t feel I need to run. Tears start streaming down my face, as she reaches for one of the books. “Read this.”
I hold the book in my hands. It’s not a textbook at all. “How did you get this?”
“Doesn’t matter. I want you to read it.”
The title says “Harry Potter”. It’s large, about as big as the chemistry textbooks I used to read.
“Why do you want me to read this?”
Jodi shrugs, “I give it to all the new recruits. It’s technically a kids series, but if I gave you some of the more drastic books, you’d probably just go crazy. One time, I tried to play a video game with a girl, and boy she just about had a seizure. Talk about triggers right?”
I flinch. Jodi seems to notice and pats my shoulder. “I’m sorry. Not for offending you, but I know it’ll take a while for you to get used to that.”
“I don’t know…”
“Hope, please. Please let me help you, help this city.” Jodi smiled. “Lemme show you to your room. We’ve got a whole one set up for you, even got your own wall you can draw on.”
I look up from the book, still weighing heavy in my hands, “Draw?”
“Yeah! You like to draw? I know you don’t get a chance to up there. Wouldn’t want you to draw something offensive right? I’ll tell you what though. You can draw whatever you want here. On one condition. Lemme see a smile…”
That’s it. Maybe I’m already in prison, just loosing my mind. You can’t ask a woman to smile! That’s a capital offense! Yet…I don’t feel offended. I look at Jodi, smiling genuinely. It takes some strength, but I muster a smirk. The smirk turns into a wide smile, a truly happy one. I feel happy. What is wrong with me? How can I be happy with this? Jodi nods, leading me to a room with a bed, a table, a lamp, and a large white wall with markers and paint sitting on the floor.
“Go on! I’ll let you know when food is ready! And welcome…” she stands in the doorway, bowing dramatically, “to The Underground.”
She leaves, and I face the wall. This is absolute insanity. No, can’t use that word. But here I can…nothing makes sense. I still have a chance to run, but I feel…safe her. Safer than any Safe Room has ever made me feel. I pick up a marker. What if I get caught here? Would it matter? I would get caught anyway. I think about Jodi’s words. The world I came from. My parents…I hadn’t thought about them in years. I take the marker to the wall. A few hours pass, in a daze. I try to think about everything going on, everything about the world about. A world segregated, to keep people from appropriating. A world where men are imprisoned, to keep them from oppressing. A world where I can’t wear the last memory of my mother, because I might offend. I wouldn’t want to offend. I need to leave. It’s Jodi victimizing me, not them! It’s what I’ve always been taught. I deserve the best, because I am a victim. Of men, and oppressors. I just can’t feel it because I’m still broken. If I leave now maybe I can still apologize. I can just explain — it’s just because I’m a victim. That’s it. A victim.
Jodi arrives at my door, breaking my from my stupor. “I love it.” Is the only thing she says. Suddenly I can actually see what I wrote on the wall. In every color I could find, in flourishes and scrapes, written over and over.
“I am not a victim.”
Writer’s Message: This story is in response to another highly exaggerated story representing the other end of this argument. Personally, I found it to be drivel. It’s been a while since I’ve written good fiction, so pardon the rushed manner this is presented in. But this is the world I see when I hear people talk about “privilege”, “triggers”, and the like. I decided to write this from a first person perspective to give it more of that angle. I hope you enjoyed it, and do please, let me know what you think about it!