Books·The First Page

Press esc. To Exit by Anjali Rao

Anjali Rao, 17, is one of 10 finalists in the Grades 10 to 12 category of The First Page student writing challenge.

2019 finalist: Grades 10 to 12 category

Anjali Rao, 17, is a 2019 finalist in the Grades 10 to 12 category for The First Page student writing challenge. (Submitted by Anjali Rao)

Press esc. To Exit by Anjali Rao is one of 10 stories shortlisted for the The First Page student writing competition in the Grades 10 to 12 category. Students across Canada wrote the first page of a novel set 150 years in the future, imagining how a current-day trend or issue has played out. Nearly 2,000 students submitted their stories.

Rao, a student at Cardinal Carter Catholic High School in Aurora, Ont., writes about the loss of privacy and the consequences of oversharing.


The day of the escape, I was terrified someone would find out what I was planning. I played a recording of static over my channels as I placed my homemade glare-helmet in a black satchel for work. I packed scissors, my wave-reflective hoodie and the glamour dust I bought the day before. My plan wasn't foolproof, all I knew was that the risk was worth taking. The gov-container unit I rented felt smaller than it ever had, the metal walls seemed to echo my every sound and thought.

I left my unit as usual and climbed into the train as normal as possible. I felt the pay alerts vibrate in my head as my face was clicked and verified. I tried to breathe as steadily as I could, but it felt as though the world could hear my heartbeat, the rush of the blood in my ears became deafening. The teenagers across the aisle from me barely tried to hide their recognition, surreptitiously sending out images of me.

After one month of celebrity, of the infinite broadcast and the constant smiling into people's eye cameras for their followers, I lost control.

I tried hard to focus on what I wanted. No, what I needed. I needed to leave. I couldn't spend one more day locked in the system, watching my merit points fall lower each day. After what had happened the last year... After losing what I had lost. I could have accepted the good, as so many others had done. The fame that came with becoming a "sensation." The impossible dream of a full room in the city. The money.

I think in the end I wasn't strong enough. After one month of celebrity, of the infinite broadcast and the constant smiling into people's eye cameras for their followers, I lost control. I tried to tell the truth about the attention, what it was doing to me. I just scared them away.

I couldn't bring myself to live a cancelled life. My future had become instantly void, because of a momentary lapse.

So I walked casually to my building, felt the sensors scan me in, before moving quickly out of sight of the floor monitor cameras. I rushed into the bathroom until I finally faced my haggard face in the mirror.

I activated the 'kill feed' switch.

With my hands shaking and my mind racing, I reached into my bag and pulled out the contraband. I brought the scissors slowly up to my long hair, and cut it all away.


About The First Page student writing challenge

CBC Books asked students to give us a glimpse of the great Canadian novel of the year 2168. They wrote the first page of a book set 150 years in the future, with the protagonist facing an issue that's topical today and set the scene for how it's all playing out in a century and a half.

Kelley Armstrong is the bestselling author of more than 40 books. (Kathryn Hollinrake)

Two winning entries — one from the Grades 7 to 9 category and one from the Grades 10 to 12 category — will be chosen by bestselling YA author Kelley Armstrong, most known for her Darkest Powers and Darkness Rising series. The winner will be announced on CBC Books on March 11, 2020.

Both winners will receive a one-year subscription to OwlCrate, which sends fresh boxes of books to young readers across Canada on a monthly basis. In addition, each of the winners' schools will receive 50 free YA books.

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