Quora’s assigning had happened some time past but she’d kept it quiet. It wasn’t as if assignment was anything out of the ordinary. Quite the contrary, it was the thing to do. It was the moment when everything about you came together and made sense, forevermore. Assignings were generally respected. Hers, though… well something had gone horribly wrong.
See, an assigning happened to someone when they were finally written into a story. Generally you could tell what sort of character you had become and live the life that came with it. Quora had assigned into someone pretty similar to who she’d always been, and she’d always been, well, a little off when it came to the rest of the fold around her.
She’d been so sure that when she finally assigned, she’d be part of something understandable at long last. People would be able to glance at her and think, “I know just who she is and what she’s all about.” She didn’t even mind if she turned out to be a villain, so long as her villainy was easy to spot and understand. Sadly, she had not become a villain. No heroine, either. She’d assigned into a girl who was perpetually just about a half-step off of everyone else’s rhythm.
When people laughed at a joke, for instance, Quora was still figuring out why it was funny. The problem was that her mind didn’t take the same straight route that everyone else’s did to the conclusion. No, she considered what had been said from several angles, running down tangents of meaning that might lend subtext. Too often the simple humor of it would hit her just as people did that calm down chuckle and she’d roar away, peeling tears from her eyes and holding her sides. When she cracked jokes, people mainly blinked at her in surprise, wondering how she could have said such a thing. No one ever laughed at Quora’s jokes.
Then there was the matter of appearance. Quora’s neighborhood consisted of uniform apartment buildings where it was important to pay attention to numbers and letters if you didn’t plan on getting lost, which Quora did frequently. Where her neighbors were undeniably ordinary, her hair had streaks of rainbow colors that rearranged daily and her clothing choices didn’t seem to follow a specific theme. She guessed that it might have to do with the weather, as she noticed that the colors grew brighter on sunny days and more standoffish on rainy days, but she never got around to tracking it in a diary like she meant to, so she wasn’t really sure.
Her art was the thing that most set her apart, though. There was a cafe on her bus route that let her display her paintings and sculptures, but no one ever bought them and she suspected the owner only displayed them out of pity. The cafe goers grew restless when she walked in so she only checked on her artwork once a month or so. Why she bothered she couldn’t say. The answer was always the same. Keeping her assigning to herself hadn’t been any great feat since there really wasn’t anyone in her life close enough to be affected by it.
Quora spent her days working at a plant nursery and her evenings and weekends painting and sculpting. The work in itself was rewarding and if she didn’t have such a sense of loneliness Quora would have been happy. She enjoyed the plants at the nursery. She loved feeling the moist potting soil on her fingers and watching the waves of colorful flowers sway when a gentle breeze brushed through. Her co-workers all seemed to be cut from the same home-maker mold, trading recipes and gossip, so Quora kept her focus on the work at hand and barely spoke.
When she painted or sculpted, it was as if her world expanded. It exhilarated and calmed her in one. She felt powerful at the same time that she was aware of how microscopic she was in the grand scheme of things. She wondered, as figures took shape in her artwork, whether this was their assigning. For that reason she was always careful to make them interesting and pair them with another character who would compliment them. No figure in her artwork was ever alone. And she wondered at what kind of person had created her. Had she been an awkward thought at the edge of a scene, not fully formed? A suggestion of a character with no speaking role? Maybe she’d been a brief description of a kid on a bus and that was it. She’d happened into place and been forgotten for eternity.
Except, eternity didn’t happen that way for Quora. It was a bus ride when she first spotted them. Not one, not two, but perhaps half a dozen kids with colorful hair and clothing that made little sense unless you were paying attention to the happy-factor of the weather. They spoke and chuckled with each other quietly but the way the other bus riders reacted to them, you’d have thought they were abusing people. Quora was on her way to work but when those kids parted from the bus well before her stop she followed them.
They walked to a row of colorfully painted buses a few blocks away and Quora was relieved when one of the girls took notice of her and smiled. That smile was the first welcome Quora had received since she could remember being. She knew that her behavior was inappropriate, following strangers the way she was, but the girl didn’t show that she minded. In fact, she waved Quora closer and the others took notice then as well.
“I um,” Quora stammered, drawing close, “I couldn’t help but notice that you’re something sort of… like me.”
She blushed instantly, aware of how awkward she sounded. This was the moment when she was generally met with blank stares or worse, looks passed that clearly told of how ‘off’ she was. Instead the girl gave her a wide grin.
“And we’re glad that you found us,” she said. “It took forever for Tin and I to meet, and when we figured out that there were others we started our caravan.”
One of the boys standing near Quora patted her on the shoulder.
“We haven’t figured out our purpose yet,” he said, “but we’ve figured out that we have one. The trouble is that we know that there are others like us out there but they’re completely isolated.”
“We’ve all been through it,” another boy said. “Feeling like you’re the only one in the world and wondering if maybe you weren’t some kind of cosmic mistake. Even after your assigning. None of it made any sense until I found these guys.”
“Exactly,” Quora breathed. “I… am I dreaming this?”
She pinched her arm and the others laughed. She would have laughed at that, too. It would have been one of those jokes that made people look away politely.
“What’s your talent?” the first girl asked. “I’m a storyteller, Tin’s a musician, Rico’s the most intuitive person you’ll ever meet, Jo Jo’s a wicked welder, Fannie here dreams things about to come, Lee’s a dancer, Rainy can balance on anything, and a few others you haven’t met, Yan, Andrea, Soph and Cray have talents in sciences and things that boggle the mind.”
“I paint and sculpt,” Quora said.
“I think there’s more to it than that,” one of the boys said.
The girl nodded thoughtfully. “I believe you’re right, Rico.”
She smiled again and Quora filled up inside with a sense of hope that she had never nurtured before. It felt like… belonging.
“I’m Luza,” the girl said. “Like Tin said, we don’t know why it’s important for us to find each other, but we all sense that it is. Something that we all need to do together maybe. Or perhaps it’s nothing more than helping people to remember in this big old world of ours that if you feel alone, it might just mean that you haven’t met your tribe yet.”
“That’s important,” Quora said. “I think that’s really important. I’m Quora.”
Luza nodded. “I think you’ve found your tribe, Quora,” she said. “What do you say? Are you up to a little traveling?”
Written by W. C. McClure. This may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. This is a work of fiction. None of the characters or events depicted are meant to represent anyone or anything this side of dreams. Comments are welcome! Please help support this indie author by telling your friends about this short story blog at http://www.farsideofdreams.com and buying W. C. McClure’s books at http://www.wcmcclure.com. Thanks for reading