Dawn approached the town center with all the enthusiasm of a hare recognizing the rattle of an impending attack. Her sandaled feet left faint imprints behind her and she could feel the wind brushing against the backs of her legs, caressing the road and erasing all signs of her passage. She walked on the sand road, accompanied by her aunt, her only friend, Miya, and several other villagers from the west side of town. None of her neighbors would meet her eye. It was almost like it had already begun, the rest of her life.
She felt secluded, alone, sequestered. There was no noise except the pants of her breath, no other scrape of sandaled leather against the ground, no other heartbeat but her own pounding. Today she knew her fate would be decided and she would become but a ghost to everyone she had known for the past eighteen years. For eighteen years, the Village Council had deliberated over her, petitioned the Gods for a meaning for the only mark she had been born to. For eighteen years, she had prayed her mark would be revealed as a Mark—a sign from the Gods that she was special, that she belonged here, that she would make the world a better place.
No one was Marked as she had been birth-marked. Dawn settled the gloved fingers of her left hand against the spot right below her belly button and stroked the bruise-like mark beneath her woven shirt. She could clearly call to mind the roughly rectangular blue patch of skin with its smears of yellow and dots of purple and red. She knew, if you squinted just right, it almost looked like the flag of her country’s long lost ancestry. That flag meant nothing now but a reminder of a lost dream.
Dawn’s legs threatened to pool beneath her as she stepped across the stone line which marked a circular edge around the Great Tree. The Village Council awaited her inside the circle, seated on the ground underneath its mammoth outstretched limbs. Everyone else she had ever known waited outside the circle, waited to hear her fate. Dawn felt the distance between herself and her aunt’s house stretch like a taut rubber band, and waited for the snap.