The morning had finally come. Jamal was born and raised just outside Hadira, one of DeDust’s most prominent cities. Today, he would fulfil a sense of curiosity that has existed longer than he could remember. Today, and for the first time, he would enter Hadira.
Physically, Jamal was unremarkable. He had an average height and build for a boy his age, complimented by brown hair, brown eyes, and a tan complexion. What was remarkable about Jamal was a relentlessly inquisitive nature. Endlessly fascinated with the world around him, he would ask questions of anyone who would listen. Why is the sky blue? How does sand become glass? Why is Hadira surrounded by a wall? When can we visit? More often than not, it was Jamal’s father, Emre who was responsible for providing answers, and more often than not, the answer was “That’s a good question, I don’t know.”
Emre was in his 50s and lived with Jamal in a small home about 90 minutes outside of Hadira. It was one of many small communities surrounding the city, filled with workers of all sorts. Jamal’s mother had left a few years prior but the reasons were unclear to him. All he knew is that when the dust settled, his mom left and his dad stayed. When Jamal asked his father about it, his father responded with a smile, saying, “any time I feel sad about your mother leaving, I remind myself that you stayed.”
Jamal’s father wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed but he was one of the most reliable. Of average intelligence Emre was better known for his kindness and sincerity. His friendly and trustworthy nature eventually landed him a serving job at one of Hadira’s nicer restaurants. The owner of this restaurant had taking a liking to Emre and when he found out that they both had sons around the same age, he insisted that Emre bring Jamal along to his son’s birthday party. While it was rare to see children from outside Hadira spending time in the city, Emre agreed, knowing how happy it would make Jamal.
When the morning finally arrived, Jamal was the first one up. Filled with nervous energy and too many questions to count, Emre knew he was in for a long day. Emre prepared his son for the journey as best he could, giving as much context to the beliefs and traditions that existed inside the cities of DeDust.
As they left their home that morning and began their walk to Hadira, they passed by some of Jamal’s friends playing soccer in the street. Excited to say hi, Jamal ran over and greeted his friends with an exclamatory, “Guess where I’m going?” As he had already been telling his friends about the visit over the last few days, his friends responded with, “we know, we know! You’re going to meet the city kids!” Jamal was the first of any of his friends to make the trip.
While there was no shortage of children living in the cities of DeDust, these were the children of successful families. As these families became increasingly focused on giving their children the best possible future, schools within the cities were reserved for families living in the cities. As time went on, parents raising children in cities became increasingly suspect of families and children who were not. Eventually, it was improper for a parent or child who lived outside the wall to enter the city without an expressed invitation.
Outside the wall, things were similar but different. Historically, you’d find more children outside the cities than within but the cost of living in DeDust had been increasing faster than wages and many were finding themselves unable to afford children. Nevertheless, Jamal had no shortage of friends and nearly all of them had aspirations of living in Hadira one day.
As Jamal and his friends spoke excitedly about his trip into the city, Emre turned his attention to Joseph, the parent who had been watching over them. Joseph commented, “I hear you’re taking Jamal in for a birthday party?”. Emre responded, “That’s right. My boss has a son who’s the same age and we thought it would be nice for them to meet.” Joseph seemed unsure of what he said next, but found a way to say it anyways, “what if… what happens when Jamal sees all the things that you can’t give him?” Emre smiled and replied, “there’s plenty out here that I can’t give him either.” Joseph persisted, “does he know how wide the gap is?” Emre, more serious this time, said, “No, but he will need to learn.”
“Alright Jamal, time to get going. We don’t want to be late do we?” Emre was rarely late and was hoping to impose a similar work ethic on his young son who was clearly distracted with friends and what he thought was the trip of a lifetime. Jamal obliged and the two resumed their journey to Hadira. Along the way, Emre asked his son, “do you remember the rules we went over yesterday?” Jamal nodded in agreement. Emre went on, “Hadira is not like where we live. It’s..” – “Why?” Jamal asked before Emre could finish his sentence. Emre said, “Well I’m not really sure. It’s been like this since before I was born and it will probably be like this after I’m gone. It’s best that we learn how things are so that we know how to behave.” Emre could tell that this answer fell short of Jamal’s question but for now, he was content to be spending time with his son.
After an hour of walking, Emre tapped Jamal on the shoulder and motioned to look up. On the horizon, Jamal could see what looked like the side of a mountain but with enough intricate detail to know that it was man made. Jamal knew that cities were much bigger than the communities he grew up in but this was the first time he was ever faced with the colossal nature of Hadira. He asked his father, “Is all of that Hadira?” His father replied, “Yes. And it’s even bigger from the inside.” Jamal asked another question, “How big is it?” Emre answered, “I don’t know but I’ve been told that you could walk 1000 miles in every direction and not find enough people to fill the city.” Jamal responded with a simple, “Whoa..”
Not long after, they approached a gate within the wall. It was one of many and despite looking fortified, there was no one to mind the entrance. Jamal asked, “How come there are all these rules to keep people out of the city, but nobody to make sure the rules are being followed?” Emre responded, “What do you mean? Am I not here to make sure you follow the rules?” Jamal looked perplexed for a moment, then laughed, “That’s not what I mean, father. What if both of us wanted to break the rules, who would stop us then?” Emre looked closely at his son, who was no stranger to mischief, and said pointedly, “we would be caught and the consequences would be severe.” Jamal stopped laughing. He knew that he didn’t get the answer he was looking for but could tell from the serious tone in his fathers voice that breaking rules here came with greater consequences than doing so at home.
Getting the impression that he should keep his next few questions to himself, Jamal marveled at the architecture, engineering, and sheer size of the wall. He couldn’t help but wonder what went into creating something of this size and complexity. He wanted to know how the wall was built. How many people it took. How long it took. Would it ever need to be replaced? His mind was racing at 300 million meters per second and he didn’t know where to start. Seeing his son start to fidget, Emre said to his son, “Alright, one more question about the wall before we go in.” Jamal’s eyes lit up for the opportunity to ask another question, then squinted as he made sure not to waste it. A moment later, he asked, “Father, who built the wall?” Emre paused, thought about it, and responded, “Well that’s easy. We did.” Just as Jamal started to wrap his mind around the significance of that answer, he was arriving through to the other side of the wall. As he approached with his father, he could smell foods that he had never tasted and hear music that he had never listened to. It was a sensory experience beyond anything that he had anticipated. And just like that, he had passed through to the other side. Jamal was finally in Hadira.