But one day, toward the end of the shift, Reg was told to go speak to the manager. Fan didn't even notice him leaving; there was no reason to. People are called in all the time to be informed of some minor change in schedule or procedures. This is likely what one would assume as you took off your gardener's gloves and ascended the stairs to the manager's mezzanine office filled with screens and controls. For example, there will be a switch-out of this fish or vegetable for another, depending on what's in demand in the Charter villages. Recently there was a call for Japanese knotweed because it supposedly prevents certain blood Cs, so now at each meal every Charter adult and child eats Japanese knotweed, kilos of which anybody can easily pull from the ground beyond the walls but which, of course, being out there, no one would ever touch.
Reg was summoned from his ladder the day before his free-day.
On free-day, Fan was seen sitting by herself in the park, listening to music through her earbuds. She didn't appear distraught; apparently Reg (or else somebody posing as Reg) had messaged her to say that he was occupied, no further explanation, and would see her the next day. His family was unconcerned; Reg was known to wander, sometimes even beyond the walls. It's not that he was reckless or dimwitted, though it must be said that Reg was never going to ace the Exams, not in a millennium. In fact, he didn't even bother to take them. He was the sort of kindly, dreamy boy who is prevailed upon by whim and instinct, and if he sometimes found trouble, it was always the charming kind, such as when a dog gets his muzzle stuck in a jar of peanut butter. We all recall the time he decided to rig his harvest tray directly onto his back rather than filling it and bringing it down and then lugging an empty one back up, and at first it seemed to be working, despite the ungainly appearance, as he'd gently drop the tomatoes over his shoulder while he stood on the ladder, filling it steadily. But it got much heavier than he anticipated, and when he momentarily lost balance on the rung, the fully laden tray tipped him backward. It was a ridiculous mess and the floor forewoman was furious over the ruined fruit and Reg, his kinky head of hair pulp-sopped and dripping, was lucky his neck wasn't broken, for how he landed on that bin. You could only chuckle and think, Reg, you especially are one fortunate young man for being born inside B-Mor!
But when he didn't appear the first workday of the week, people began to talk. As always Fan worked in the tanks, rarely coming up for more than a few minutes straight. At the lunch hour someone went to Reg's row house to see if he was ill, and at first no one answered but then his aunt opened the door just long enough to say that Reg wasn't there anymore. When asked what "anymore" meant, she simply replied that they didn't want to be bothered and shut the door on him like he was any open counties peddler allowed into B-Mor for the day. And when the shift was over, we asked Fan what she knew and all she could say was that she, too, had stopped by his family's house and been brusquely turned away. The following day Fan asked the forewoman what she knew of Reg's whereabouts and she referred her to the manager, who told her that it was now a directorate-level matter and that he had no idea where Reg was. After that, Fan went to the succeeding manager and administrator until there was no one else here in B-Mor to query; for more definitive word from above, she would have to question a Charter person, who (for us) are as rare a sight as honeybees.
A week passed by, then nearly two. There were scattered rumors and gossip and the broader rumblings of what must be called a genuine vexation, if not anger, that echoed about the lofty ceilings of the grow facility and on the stoops of the narrow-faced row houses. In the past few seasons one heard of similar "call-aways" at other facilities, including B-Mor. Sure, some of us had been summoned from work and sequestered for a few days and then had been returned to our posts. But Reg was gone. Had his clan made noises of dissent, there might have been a swell of emotions but they all went about their jobs or studies and did not air a single word of question or complaint, which at first surprised us but soon enough was like a cold quilt thrown over our corpus, snuffing every atom of ill heat. They were magnificently silent. For naturally you then think, If his kin are this placid, well . . .
Excerpted from On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee. Copyright © 2014 by Chang-rae Lee. Excerpted by permission of Riverhead Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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