The father cleric crept barefoot across the broad carpet, with switch in hand, watchful of the rows of students to make sure they kept reading. Sebastian sat cross-legged by the window. He struggled to keep rhythm with the rest. The letters that made up the mantras of purity flashed past on his screen without his comprehension. His gaze was drawn to a raven outside that was tottering around and listening to the movements of bugs in the grass.
"Sorry," whispered Sebastian. He stared intently at the screen, but the letters were still a blur to him. The father cleric gave him a dirty look as he crept away, flexing the switch in his hand.
When school let out, Sebastian was the first to run out the door, though he slowed his pace once outside. The walks to and from school where the only part of the day that he enjoyed. The other boys ran past him, laughing and happy, and soon he was left alone.
He stopped often to admire the wildflowers that grew at the bottom of the fence that separated the men's walk from the women's walk, which was several feet lower and very muddy. The fence was slatted, so as to obscure the view, but also to let the wind pass through with minimal damage during storms. He heard voices on the other side, and peeked through. Two women were walking in the same direction as he was; one was older and the other was still a girl, probably his age, but he could never tell. They both wore crimson cloaks but had the hoods down and he could see their long braided hair. Sebastian pushed his nose between the slats in order to get a better view. They chattered together in the special language of women and he enjoyed the novel sounds of the syllables.
He followed along as surreptitiously as he could as they walked. He was careful to make sure no one on the men's side could see what he was doing. And then he stumbled and fell into the fence. The women looked up, alarmed, gasped, and hooded themselves, tucking in their hair and shading their faces. The older woman pressed herself against the bottom wall under the fence so she could not be seen, but the younger girl stared up at Sebastian. The older woman screamed something at her, then pulled her against the wall.
Sebastian retreated from the fence. His cheeks were red. He stood for a moment, intertwining his finger and listening for any more of their words, and when there was just a long silence, he ran home to his father.
"The school sent me a message," said his father sternly. He stood next to an engine block, with grease on his hands and arms up to his elbows. Sebastian looked away. "You know what I'm talking about, don't you?"
Sebastian nodded. He sat down in the chair next to his father's dirty desk at the side of the garage.
"You need to pay attention to your studies--"
"It's boring," said Sebastian quietly.
"Boring?!" exclaimed his father. He slammed a fist on the block of ancient metal and Sebastian flinched. "It's not the school's job to entertain you! Boring! The school is there to fill your head with good morals! To make you a virtuous man! Do you want to be a sinner? How will you get a job? How will you purchase a wife?"
Sebastian sighed deeply and slumped in the chair, and this only enraged his father who dropped the tools in his hands and ran to him, grabbed his hair and shook him violently out of the chair.
"Do not defy me!" screamed his father.
Sebastian fell to the floor and tried to crawl under the desk.
"Leave me alone," cried Sebastian.
"I'm trying to save you!" His father pulled him out, stood him up, and slammed him against the wall. Sebastian went limp and looked away. His father spat in his face, then walked away.
"Sorry," said Sebastian in a small voice.
"Out of my sight," said his father. "Go do your prayer readings. You will not partake of the evening meal."
Sebastian slunk away and up to his room. He locked the door then went to his mattress and retrieved the sheaf of papers he kept there. He wiped his tears away as he flipped through the pages of the birds and plants, insects, and buildings he had drawn. Drawing was a sin, but overlooked in specific cases of diagramming for engineering purposes. Making imagery of people on the other hand, was punishable by death. He found an untouched sheet and took it to his desk, hiding the rest back under the mattress. He took out the innocuous piece of charcoal he kept in the desk drawer, and began to sketch, with a grim determination, the women he had seen on the walk.