One blonde curl is wrapped lusciously around my pointer finger. I gaze down at it and then force my eyes upward to drink in the image of my face. Long, blonde hair trails past my shoulders and onto my back. In the cracked mirror, my eyes squint, trying to capture this one fleeting picture of myself as a girl.
This is what I could look like if I weren’t forced to masquerade as a boy.
I am staring so intently into the mirror I don’t even hear my mother—my Ama—come into the room behind me.
“Take that off immediately!” Her voice is tight and stiff, like rubber being stretched too far, about to snap. “Can you imagine the controversy it would stir?” She whisks the blonde wig off my head and bunches it into a ball. Before I can say anything, she throws it into the fireplace in my room.
I look at my fingers, the ones that a moment ago delicately touched the wig like it was my own hair. “Sorry, Ama,” I say, head bent downward. “I was just looking.” My voice comes out gravelly like a dull knife coaxing butter across a dry piece of toast. I lick my lips and let a few beads of cold perspiration appear on my forehead without bothering to wipe them away.
My mother comes to stand behind me, peering into the shards of mirror in front of us both. She lays a hand on my fuzzy head. I try to imagine my dark blonde hair grown out, looking like the wig. But all I can see in front of me now are the short tufts my parents insist get trimmed every other week.
“My darling, your eighteenth birthday is coming so fast. Just two more weeks.” I look up into her wistful, worried eyes as she tries to smile back at me. “You’re going to be a powerful leader. I know it.”
I’m not as sure as she pretends to be. I’ve been training to be the Elected all my life, but now that it’s two weeks away, the worry makes me feel like I’ve eaten moldy bread.
I want to tell her my concerns. How I’m not sure I’ll like Vienne, the girl I’m set to marry. How I don’t think I’ll be able to convince everyone Vienne is pregnant with my baby when it’s utterly and physically impossible. How I wish the real future leader hadn’t run away from the job, leaving it solely in my incapable hands. It’s almost laughable how many ruses we’ll have to pull over on our own people for me and my family to stay in power.
But I don’t have time to voice any of these thoughts because there’s a sharp knock at the bedroom door.
“Come,” my mother commands. Her tone is authoritative, as it should be in her position as Madame Elected.
The door opens, and a maid with a bob of shoulder-length red hair steps inside the room. I can’t help but stare at her, wishing my life was easy like hers—that I could be who I really am, instead of playing a part constructed for me. The girl is beautiful. I don’t even know if I could be that beautiful, but one day I’d like to at least have the opportunity to see. For now, I shudder, remembering the ragged, short hair on my head and the men’s clothing, which doesn’t sit quite right on my curving waist.
Rori Shay is a strategic management consultant living in the Seattle area with her family, black lab, and cat. In the writing world, Rori is primarily know for her science fiction trilogy, The Elected Series. She enjoys running, helping animal causes, and pumpkin-picking. Rori is also a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
You can follow Rori on Twitter at @RoriShay or email her directly at rorishay(@)gmail (dot)com.