One of the more disturbing problems with measuring was that over time, the dimensions of comparison became finer and all-the-more minute, where even a difference of eleven decimal points became necessary to distinguish and distribute the islanders between the fringe and dome schools. There were those who were tall, but just not tall enough. And then there were the thin, rod-like ones, who were just not skinny enough to squeeze through the more complex aluminium bars of the imposing scaffold.
Mothers cried when they were informed that their island babies were simply not strong, flexible or hard enough; and hard because falls were to be expected when building the dome. Those who died, died, but it was those who could bounce back to their feet with nary an “ouch” who were regarded as the destined ones, the privileged lot. So mothers – and fathers – hoped, sometimes quietly and secretly, but often with an ambition that had them training their children in the confines of their wooden rooms at home, stretching them, squeezing them, bouncing them off cupboards, high shelves and walls in preparation for the final assessment at the base of the Great UnBiddable’s office.
This assessment was often undertaken with the excitement of a party and the seriousness of a funeral. As the young Biddables lined themselves up for the final measurements, there were the rushed whispers, squeezed fingers, final pulls on dangly toes and fervent wishes of good luck and prostrations towards heaven. It seemed as though death laughed as the young ones were channeled to their respective pens after having been chosen or denied. It laughed for those who would risk their lives for the dome the next day, and it laughed for those who wept and sobbed; vests torn, brown and wet, as they turned their faces back to their homes as nobodies. Death’s cunning – inevitable, unnoticed – was greeted with shouts, exclamations and cries as the line dissipated slowly, Biddables shuffling away to their new roles in life.
All of this island emotion was met with much incredulity by UnBiddable as he watched from his high window above the masses.
Don’t they know they can’t do very much about it? he asked UnderBiddable Number 1 one day. You either have it or you don’t!
Well, that isn’t going to stop them from trying, Sir, was the sage return.
And no one wanted to stop. The dome was looking splendid, so amazingly shiny, sparkly and glossy that even the rugged islands a few hundred kilometers away could see the sides closing up with a breathtaking regularity. It was the island at its best, and everyone knew it. The dome would cement the island’s protective and comforting features in a way that no other island in the ocean had ever done before. So thus was the way of life for the Biddables explained and made meaningful. There was no other alternative, no further ideology required for a presiding creed of beliefs.
The training at home gave way to training in secret schools that sprung up in basements and attics, under highways and open fields. They were not really a secret, these schools, but their methods and strategies of training were purported to be unique and exclusive. Indeed, it was a special commodity this “training”, subject to the forces of demand and supply. Some schools boasted aloud on the faces of the flags fluttering in the ocean breeze that they had succeeded in having 10 of their young Biddables make it through the selection process the previous year. Their fees were staked at an astounding premium but it was of no cost at all to the islanders who wanted their children building the dome and not fishing or farming. The exercises in these prestigious secret schools were tough, almost inhumane, but young Biddables endured them; it was the right thing to do.
There were the less extraordinary schools too, the humble ones that had to endure the noise of the highway or the ants crawling about the grass in the open fields. They did not fail to promise good things nonetheless and they were busy places too, for such was the heated competition amongst the Biddables. These schools and trainers did what they could, everything within their pedagogical means to stretch and increase the elasticity of their charges in the hope that at the final assessment, they would not be denied so quickly. A longer look, a furrowed brow, as UnderBiddables measured a young Biddable a second, third, nay fourth time, was sufficient to justify that these less-extraordinary secret schools were just as able to discharge their obligations admirably. She almost got through! He was almost there!
Of course, there was the time when a secret school was accused of taking over the main duties of the island schools. The name of this secret school was something of a charm. SUPER-ISLAND, it called itself. Its slogan, a quaint and humorous ditty: ABODE OF THE SUPER-STUDENTS, promised with a careful sophistication that some SUPER-ISLAND graduates would learn and become capable of flying to the apex of the dome. As more and more SUPER-ISLAND secret schools were established on the island, the queues for a place grew longer and longer. Until one day, an UnderBiddable (this was UnderBiddable Number 5, overseer of the Department of Ticks, Noughts and Crosses with the Ministry of Measurements) exploded in fury.
Why is everyone talking about SUPER-ISLAND secret school?
None of the UnderBiddables under UnderBiddable Number 5 dared to answer for each of them had already registered their unborn infants in the SUPER-ISLAND secret school closest to their hut. They knew that they themselves would not succeed in being chosen to seal the apex, but all of them silently nurtured the hope that one of their own might.
In fact, one enterprising UnderBiddable, though quite a long way down the hierarchy of UnderBiddables, left the Ministry of Farming and Fishing to establish his own secret school when he surmised how much more rewarding the barter of training would be in comparison to calculating the quantities of fish and vegetables farmed on the island. At the time of writing, he had already cultivated a full enrollment of 1252 students with another secret school planned by the end of the year.
So, life on the island bobbed on. As the buildings shone and the dome glowed, it was as though the island had become something of a peculiarity amongst other islands and its own history, but it was a peculiarity that no one could argue against. The special-ness was simply, spectacular.