The sky was the big shock.
Let me correct myself. The sky was a big shock, one of many big shocks. Chaos! Crowds! Dirt! Grass! Trees! I cannot list everything.
The sky was the biggest, in the sense of size.
Seen from outside, the City is amazingly big as well. Much bigger than I'd ever imagined it to be, much bigger than the part of it I knew, much bigger than what I'd guessed must exist around what I knew, much bigger than I'd imagined the 'must go on forever' that Komaram and I had postulated. Yet it's tiny, compared with the outside.
'The City' - no insider's term, that. To an insider, there is nothing else, so what does it need a name for?
And the outside itself, if you only mean the Earth, is tiny compared with the sky.
How could you describe the sky to an insider? To someone who has always seen ceilings when they looked up, or blackness behind suspended lamps? To someone who has never considered the possibility that up and down even exist beyond the few metres they've experienced? To someone who has never seen anything further away than the end of a corridor, maybe a hundred metres away?
Who am I writing this for? No insider is going to read it, unless they get to the outside themselves. Outsiders know all these things anyway. Am I writing it for myself? Maybe. Or perhaps seeing the outside through an insider's eyes will be an eye-opener for an outsider.
But I'm generalizing. What do I know about insiders? I was one. I'd never seen anything further away than the end of a corridor, I'd never heard of women or babies, grass or trees. No-one I knew had, as far as I know.
But we didn't know many people well. The mind of a turnstile operator was an impenetrable mystery to us. What did messengers, cleaners, repairers or caterers know? We could guess, and I can guess a little more now, but it's still only guessing. We didn't even know where they went when they left our domain.
I know there are some insiders who know about the outside: buyers and unloaders, for example. But when I was an insider, I had no idea that such occupations existed.
Komaram and I were mathematics teachers - Komaram presumably still is. What does he think has happened to me? Does he guess that I've 'gone beyond it all', as we described it? Has he tried to 'go beyond it all' himself? Has he succeeded? I wonder if there is any chance I might see him again, if he does succeed?
I was lucky to survive. If I'd got out in winter, it would have been a matter of luck whether anyone had found me before I froze to death. I hope Komaram hasn't died in an attempt to get out.
There is a high probability that he hasn't tried. Without the spanner, what can he do? How was I to know I wouldn't need it again? There is very little chance that he will find another spanner. What are the chances of him finding some other way out?
Of course I can't go back again. Anyway, I like it here. I trust my new friends.
I know much more than I ever knew before. I have seen searchers, but they have not seen me - or at least they have not recognized me as a former insider. For that I have my new friends to thank. I have met a few other former insiders, and heard the stories of more. Some have been found by the searchers, and taken back.
A few have escaped a second time. The first time, they got out. The second time, they escaped. I've not met any of them, but their stories are well known. I do not want to be taken back.
Those who are taken back do not return to the life they left. How could they be allowed to? What confusion they would cause among their fellows!
Perhaps telling people about the sky would not have much effect. Probably people simply wouldn't understand, or wouldn't believe it. Madness is not unknown inside.
Perhaps telling people about open spaces, mountains, rivers and the sea would be of little significance.
But imagine the effect of telling people about death! About women, and babies!
I must have been a baby once. I do not know whether I was born inside, whether there are women anywhere inside. I think that there must be, because I think it would be common knowledge outside if babies were taken in from outside in any great numbers. Of course I remember nothing before I was a small child.
Then we were many small children - small boys - together. I remember very well the day we graduated from first school. Our teachers separated us into groups, and sent us through different turnstiles according to their assessment of us. We did not know then that we would never again see most of those who went different ways! Six times that happened, before I became a teacher with the same duty to assess my charges at the end of their time with me.
At the end of second school, we knew what was going to happen. Our teachers were quite open about it; they knew we knew. We never questioned the procedures. What other world did we know?
There were fifty teachers in the school I taught in, and eight hundred boys. As far as I know, only Komaram and I ever discussed what might be above ceilings or below floors, only we drew maps of our domain.
Perhaps only we speculated about the long, many-angled corridors that we had passed along so few times on our journeys from one school to the next. They had to cross other similar corridors joining other pairs of schools. They had to cross cleaners', repairers', caterers' and others' domains.
Did they angle upwards or downwards, and pass above and below each other? Or did they somehow pass through the same space without meeting? The domain in which we lived our daily lives contained no such oddities.
We'd never seen a sloping floor, much less a staircase. The idea of corridors passing over and under each other was no less exotic than the idea of them crossing in the same plane without intersecting. We made beautiful models in paper. Would one notice a slope in a corridor, if it was gentle enough? We had no way of telling.
The possibility of moving walls that closed off one corridor and opened another at right angles never occurred to us; it's only now I've seen a much wider world that I can think such thoughts. We did wonder whether there had been crossroads controlled by turnstile operators, that we somehow hadn't remembered.
We even asked our fellow teachers if they remembered such things, but they didn't. The very question just confirmed the general opinion that Komaram and I were mad; harmless, but mad.
Staircases? I'd never seen a staircase. The first time I met a staircase was in the dark, after I'd broken into the turnstile operator's cage at the end of the corridor to one of the fifth schools.
How carefully I refitted the bars, in the dark, with that little spanner! How carefully I climbed those stairs! In retrospect, how glad I am that they were a short, upward flight, not a long downward one!
It took me some time to realize that there was any way out of the cage at all. I knew there had to be: once a year - a year? that's another story I may tell later - a turnstile operator appeared there, and an hour or so later disappeared again, when our pupils had gone on their way. But where did he go? The only exit from the cage went round two corners and ended in . . . what?
I don't think I would have felt any safer if it had been light. In the dark, I was terrified. I didn't count the stairs. There was no word in my head for what I would have been counting. They weren't steps, because I wasn't stepping on them. I wasn't even on all fours. I was perching precariously on the side of my left thigh, feeling my way with my hands, pushing myself up gingerly with my right foot every time I worked up the courage. Looking back now, I suppose there were probably sixteen or so stairs.
I thought that it was going to go on forever, or that I was going to fall down and . . . be killed? I had no such thought in my head. People came into my life through turnstiles, as boys or men; they left my life through turnstiles, still alive and well. Hurt was as far as my imagination went, and even that didn't go as far as breaking a bone. But I was terrified.
The top of the stairs was as frightening as climbing them had been. The last step spread out into a large flat surface, but it didn't feel safe. I couldn't think of it as a floor, it was above the level of a ceiling. I tried to think where I was.
Exhilaration! Mathematical vindication! I was above the corridor to the fifth school!
My opinion of turnstile operators rose considerably: they must go up and down places like that regularly, in the course of their normal lives! They probably even do it with the light on.
Relativity. A flat surface facing upwards, above the level of a ceiling, is just another floor. Believe it in your head: easy. Well, fairly easy. Now try telling yourself to stand up.
I slid a few feet away from the edge of the 'going up'. I still didn't have any better words in my head for it. I felt around as far as I could, to check that the 'floor' wasn't just a small flat area. There were reassuring walls on either side, and it continued like a corridor ahead.
I stood up, felt giddy, and was sick. I remembered being sick when I was a small boy. My teacher had cleaned me up, and a cleaner had been called to clean the floor and my desk. I couldn't call a cleaner now. Happily I hadn't made myself dirty, but I couldn't see where it all was on the 'floor'.
Very carefully I got down onto all fours, felt my way past my vomit, and along the 'corridor'.
I knew I was doing wrong. I'd had wrong thoughts all my life. Komaram knew I had, but he had wrong thoughts himself. For the first time since I was a small boy, I was acting on my wrong thoughts.
What was going to happen when I was caught? It wouldn't be another small boy catching me and reporting me to a teacher, or a teacher catching me and reprimanding me. I was going to be caught by a turnstile operator.
What would a turnstile operator do if they caught an intruder in their domain?
I still do not know. I'd be very interested to know, but I certainly don't want to be involved in the finding out. I doubt whether turnstile operators have any more idea what to do about an intruder than a teacher would have.
What would I have done if I'd found an intruder in the school? I would have talked to him, and fetched Komaram. But what would other teachers have done? I have no idea. We didn't even have a word for intruder.
It was night. The light was off. I knew I had several hours before anyone would be awake. How far would I get, crawling on all fours? Where would I get to?
I still had the spanner. Perhaps I could get to a different turnstile, and break out of the cage. I could put the bars back carefully. Where would I be then?
Perhaps I would be in a different school. What confusion that would cause! No-one would know how I had got there. Perhaps I would have known some of the teachers, when we were pupils together; or if it were a fifth or higher school, perhaps I would have known some of the pupils. The possibility did not fill me with pleasure; they would know I had done wrong.
Or would they? I could pretend to be as surprised to find myself in the wrong place as they were to find me.
Either way, what would happen then?
I would probably be sent through the turnstile for 'very difficult boys'. In all my years as a pupil and as a teacher, I'd seen four boys go that way. The fear of being sent that way had kept my wrong thoughts in check all that time.
That fear had always been instilled into us by our teachers; but what happened to boys who went that way? I still do not know, but I can guess now.
I didn't want to find my way into another school. I think I would have been happy to find my way into a different part of my own school. Would Komaram believe I had done it? Would I believe it myself, or would I think I'd dreamt it? What would the turnstile operator make of the vomit in his corridor? What would it be like by the time he came that way again, at the end of the school year?
I don't know how far I went in the dark. It felt as though I had been crawling for hours when the wall on the left turned away from me at right angles.
I felt all around. There was a tee junction in the corridor. Which way should I go?
I decided to go straight ahead - I wanted to get as far as possible. A short way further on, the corridor turned to the right - and my hand went over the edge of the floor! My heart pounded. I felt downwards over the edge - and reached a narrow shelf, and then beyond that, another. I realized that I had reached the top of a 'going up'. A 'going down'?
How far along that corridor had I come? I must have reached the next corridor, from my school to another fifth school, and this must be the way down to the turnstile operator's cage at the end of it. Should I go down now?
I was very afraid of descending.
I'd come so far, and achieved nothing significant if I went back into my own school now. Perhaps I could break out of the cage into the corridor, and go to the fifth school - and then where from there?
If I carried on in the turnstile operators' domain, I might get to anywhere.
I retraced my crawl to the junction of the corridors, and turned the other way. I thought I was going parallel to the corridor to the fifth school, but I wasn't absolutely sure. Those corridors all turn this way and that every hundred metres or so anyway.
I crawled perhaps a hundred metres before the corridor reached another. How far is a pace when you're crawling? I wasn't counting my movements anyway.
I could turn right or left. Right took me further away from where I'd started, so I turned right.
I didn't dare to try to stand again. I might be sick again, or there might be a going down. I crawled on.
It didn't seem so far to the next junction, but perhaps I was getting used to crawling. At the time, I kept track in my head of all the turns and junctions, but I don't remember all the details now. Several times I had to turn back from the top of a 'going down'. Once, I even had to turn back from the bottom of another 'going up' – so I knew then that there were at least three levels.
I estimated I'd gone about a thousand metres, but I could have been a long way out. I took a left turn - and there was light at the end of the corridor! Not a great deal of light, but enough to see the far end of the corridor I was in, and to see the next corridor going right from there.
It surely couldn't be morning yet. Why was there light? Perhaps turnstile operators didn't keep the same hours that schools did, and all those corridors had been dark just because it wasn't the time of year to move pupils from one school to another.
I was sure that the far end of the corridor was at the same level that I was. Relativity! This upper floor was just as good as the floor I was used to. If I hadn't known I was three metres above my usual level, I could have believed this was just an ordinary corridor. I stood up. It felt very funny, standing, but I managed. I tried walking. It was possible.
How I longed to tell Komaram! I still do. How much I have to tell him! Relativity is true. You can stand and walk on floors at any level, a corridor can go over the top of another corridor, you can have as many levels as you like!
The corridor was very dark, but there seemed to be darker rectangles at intervals in the walls. As I got closer to the turn in the corridor, I realized that they were doors. This was just like the corridors in the school! They could have been classrooms, or dormitories, on either side. I didn't try the doors; perhaps there were turnstile operators asleep behind them.
I peered round the turn, and there was another corridor, better lit by full light at the far end.
The doors in this corridor were all shut too, and the lack of light in the corridor made me think that this was more sleeping quarters, full of sleeping turnstile operators.
Could there really be enough turnstile operators to need so many rooms? Or did other people share the turnstile operators' domain? Were these rooms really sleeping quarters, or some kind of working rooms? My view of the world was unravelling.
At the end of the corridor, there was another corridor at right angles, going both ways. It was fully lit. I poked my head out very gingerly, afraid that someone would see me.
Not ten metres away was a repairer. He wasn't looking at me. He was fiddling with a little box he was pressing against the wall, and muttering. I ducked back into my corridor, heart pounding, afraid that he would turn and see me.
I wondered whether I should go back to the last junction, and go the other way. I didn't really want to be crawling in the dark if I could be walking in the light. I didn't want to be seen either - but I was going to be seen sooner or later, I was sure.
There was a click. I risked a peek around the corner. The corner of a wall panel had come out a few millimetres, and the repairer was fiddling with his box against the other corner of the panel.
Click! The other corner came free. The repairer put his little box on the floor next to his toolbag, and I ducked back round the corner quickly as he turned in my direction. I didn't think he'd seen me.
I heard him fiddling with his tools, and some noises I couldn't interpret. I risked another peek. He'd taken the panel off altogether, and was standing in a hole in the wall about a metre above floor level. As I watched, he reached up and pulled himself up until only his legs were visible below the ceiling.
I could see what it was that he was there for. One of the light panels in the ceiling of the corridor was much less bright than the others. The panel he'd gone through was almost next to the dim light. I could hear him fiddling with something above the ceiling. The dim light went out completely, then flickered on again, and then off again. More fiddling noises, and then he was clambering back down.
'You never seen a repairer before, you stupid Turney? Get back to bed! You'd better not touch my tools while I go and get a new control box!'
Panic! I'd been seen! I'd ducked out of sight well before his face came below the level of the ceiling, but he must have seen me the first time, and just ignored me.
What should I do now? What would he do? How could I escape?
He didn't seem very bothered. He wasn't shouting at me, or calling for help - he was just going to carry on with whatever he was doing. He was leaving his toolkit, he wasn't even very worried that I might touch it while he was gone.
He thought I was a turnstile operator! He could only have seen my head, not my clothes, or perhaps he'd only heard me. What was a 'control box'? I heard his footsteps going down the corridor. I could hear them for a long time, still getting further away.
Should I go into the corridor and go the other way? That was surely the best thing to do, even though it probably meant I'd be in darkness again almost immediately. He'd think I'd just gone back to bed, my turney's bed.
I decided to have a look in the hole in the wall first.
Revelation! A whole new world. Behind the panels of the wall was a narrow passageway, with the backs of the panels on one side, and a very strange wall on the other. I had no words for it. I know now that it was a lot of pipes, running parallel to the corridor. Near to the hole I was leaning through there was plenty of light, but further along there was still some light, coming from above. Not much, but enough to see that the space behind the panels continued all the way to the angle at the end of the passageway.
I came to a quick decision. I still couldn't hear the returning footsteps of the repairer. I hauled myself up into the hole, and set off behind the panels in the opposite direction to the way he'd gone.
Should I have taken any of his tools? The little box he'd used to open the panels? Some random tool, like when Komaram had stolen the spanner?
There's another story! We boys knew about repairers. Sometimes when something wasn't working, some of us stayed awake in the hope of seeing them. They almost never came during the day. But the day I broke the lavatory bowl one did.
Why I was really angry with my teacher I don't remember, but I was, and I knew not to let him know that I was. No-one ever found out that it was me who broke the lavatory. Most people suspected Voralam, the boy who found it broken. Poor Voralam! A more innocent boy was hard to imagine.
I'd wiped my shoes dry in another cubicle, and no-one suspected me particularly, so they didn't look too closely at them. Voralam didn't try to wipe his, he just came rushing out of the toilets shouting 'There's a broken lavatory, and water all over the place!'.
The repairer took his tools with him when he went to get the new bowl, but he didn't notice he'd left the spanner. He certainly noticed he'd lost it when he came back! Our teachers sat us all down in the assembly hall, and made us come to the front one at a time, with our bags. Then they searched our dormitory, in case one of us had sneaked back there with it. They were mystified, and accused the repairer of lying, or of losing it himself. By the end, I think he probably thought he really had lost it himself.
It was really quite simple. Komaram had slid it across the floor to me after I'd been searched and before he was. I think none of our teachers thought boys as small as us would think of doing anything so devious.
At first we hadn't a clue what it was, or what it was for. I only learnt its name after I came outside, but Komaram and I worked out its use quite quickly. At first we loosened a few things, but we soon realized that we had to tighten them up again before anyone got the idea that a more thorough search of all the boys was needed.
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