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Julia. From the institute.
They called them institutes but what they really were was orphanages, landing zones for unwanted children. Large low-slung buildings with rusted fixtures and faded carpets; visible on the floors were the paths worn by heavy boots and wheelchairs, their adolescent owners wielding the machines like skaters on ice. The in- stitutes were mostly located in larger towns, occasionally on the outskirts of big cities. It was on a trip to one of these that Leo first saw Julia.
He’d been in search of a boy. An older one, which was difficult, because if robust, boys were usually adopted young. The task was both delicate and important, involving the Canadian ambassador and his wife. They were religious people, the wife in particular, who’d made known her wishes to adopt before they permanently returned to Ottawa: to answer God’s call and grant some unwanted soul another chance.
But also, you know, they really wanted a boy.
So Leo was sent to seek an acceptable candidate. A child old enough, clever enough to be groomed.
The children were gathered by this institute’s director, a brittle matron of unverifiable age named Maria, into lines in the commu- nity room. Leo asked Maria to instruct each to introduce them- selves, and to repeat a sentence from a favorite book.
One by one they spoke. Hello, sir, my name is . . .
My favorite book is the Bible, and here is the part that has meant so much to me, blah blah blah.
By the ninth introduction, Leo’s focus began to drift. He kept his face attentive, maintained eye contact, and when the one he’d earlier identified as most promising moved forward, the boy with straw-colored hair who came up to Leo’s chest, he returned to full attention.
“My name is Pavel,” the boy began. “My favorite book is the one with the man in blue who has muscles and can fly.” Pavel closed his eyes, as if summoning the image. “I don’t remember any of the words.”
Leo knew the man to whom Pavel referred. A Western fabrication, with Western values.
Bye-bye, Pavel. Have a nice life.