Freedomia -- land of the blessed. Fasten your seatbelts for landing.
By Angela Rasch
Tires squealed and the plane lurched slightly as we touched down on the tarmac in the sweltering heat of southern hemisphere summer. I would enjoy the opportunity to work on a tan, given the sub-zero temperature I had left behind in Chicago. I already regretted wearing a wool suit. Even though I had bought it at Ann Taylor’s the jacket seemed a bit mannish and clashed with a skirt that allowed my knees to peek out.
Of course, as a post-op transsexual, I too could be termed a bit mannish.
“This story is perfect for you,” my editor had said with a malicious grin. He hadn’t been happy when the paper’s human resources people hired me without his consent. Outside of a corporate attorney and the V.P. of human resources, my editor was the only person at my new job to know of my transitioning. I had moved four hundred miles and created a new career to put my past behind me. “Your perspective on certain issues will bring verve and tension to a story about Freedomia.”
I looked around the cabin of the airplane at my fellow travelers. Many had opened their in-flight Bibles once we lifted off; and for the next four hours they had kept their eyes glued to the Scriptures. Other than a certain holier-than-thou attitude that might have been just something I was imagining, they seemed to be an average group of people.
“To hell with the United Nations” blared a headline on the local newspaper at the first kiosk after our gate. I hadn’t read the story but imagined it would be a screed regarding the United Nations’ decision to level sanctions against Freedomia for civil rights violations.
“Where to, Honey?” the taxi driver asked with too much familiarity.
As much as I had prepared myself, his obvious sexist attitude left me momentarily speechless. “Take me to the Bennington, please.”
“Are you meeting your husband there?” he asked in an obvious probe as to my marital status. From what I had been able to gather through extensive reading about this new country, the males in Freedomia out-numbered the females by nearly twelve to one. The divorce rate between couples when the male decided to move to Freedomia from the United States had been nearly 85%.
“I’m traveling alone,” I replied, keeping information about my single life as quiet as my ringless fingers.
“I take people to the Bennington every day,” he said. “Most are new to our grand country and are looking to buy a home. They stay in the Bennington only as long as it takes for them to close on a house. I can help make that happen for you within twenty days.” He turned, reached over the seatback between us, and handed me a brochure for a real estate firm. “They’re a good outfit. Someone told me they’re selling nearly a hundred homes a day. Praise the Lord, there’s a lot of people who want to live in Freedomia.”
I involuntarily squeezed my knees together. The secret between my legs could land me in jail or worse. I had never experienced any difficulty passing for a woman. Not once in the last five years, since I had been living as a woman fulltime, had anyone given even the slightest indication of suspecting anything.
My editor hadn’t given me a real choice. He said I could take the assignment or he would demote me to copy editor.
I loved writing for the paper and the freedom to report on issues I felt were important. I wasn’t about to let one jackass in the ivory tower ruin that for me.
As we drove from the airport to my hotel I was struck by how much similarity there was between Freedomia and the United States. More than enough McDonald’s, Domino’s Pizzas and other franchises graced their streets.
My eyes stumbled when they saw a sign for a store called 21:7. “Don’t they mean 24/7?” I asked.
“I don’t understand,” my driver answered, clearly baffled by my question.
"Shouldn’t the sign on the store say 24/7? You know, they’re open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.”
He gasped. “Are you crazy?”
I looked at his license, displayed on the dash where a radio would have been in most cars. “Paul,” I said, hoping I could start to gather information for my article by getting him to talk, “my doctor tells me my mental health is just fine.”
He didn’t laugh. “No one in Freedomia would be stupid enough to work in the Sabbath. We honor Exodus 35:2. I, myself have had the distinct pleasure of taking part in a public stoning to execute a sinner who violated the Sabbath. He claimed he forgot what day it was, can you imagine?”
I shuddered. It was one thing to read about the laws in this new form of government based on Holy Scripture, but quite another thing to have someone talk so eerily about lethally throwing rocks at another human meting out punishment for working on Sunday.
“That store you asked about,” he said as he slowed for a red light. “The one with the 21:7 sign is where you go to purchase someone’s daughter. You’re a Believer, aren’t you?”
“Of course.” I had been prepared for that question. My faith was strong, but not to the degree of fanaticism I expected to encounter.
“Then I will remind you of Exodus 21:7, which provides the right to a sell you daughter into slavery.”
I stifled a yip of protest. My marriage had not produced any children and since we had been divorced for five years, probably never would. If I would have had a daughter I couldn’t imagine what on earth could ever possess me to sell her. I thought of my older sister and the childhood grief she often had given me. Maybe selling her for a weekend or two would have been okay. My smile quickly diminished when I grasped how horribly real the prospect of being sold was in this strange land.
We had entered the downtown area; and I was struck by the number of women on the street dressed in bright red. “Why all the red dresses? Is it a special holiday?”
The driver laughed in that superior way I hoped I had never used. “Those women are all being visited by Aunt Flo. Leviticus 15:19-24 demands that we not touch a woman in her period of menstrual uncleanliness. Women here must let the men know by wearing red. Look — if it’s your time of the month I can take you to a store so you can buy suitable clothing.”
“That won’t be necessary,” I said, trying not to sound too indignant.
As we continued toward the motel the driver spoke of upcoming sporting events and the weather. For that brief period everything seemed normal.
Stepping from the cab a sharp odor caused me to blink. “Ewww. What’s that smell?”
“Someone is sacrificing a bull on their home altar. Around the holidays we actually get smog from all the bull-burnings. I usually travel to the outlands to fulfill my Leviticus 1:9 duties, but too many simply don’t care.”
I checked in without further problem. After a four-hour nap I woke famished and went down to a restaurant on the second floor.
A young man who introduced himself as “Curt” provided a menu. He wore a silver, solid ring on his left wrist that he couldn’t possibly take off. I was amazed at his commitment to fashion. “That’s a lovely bracelet.”
His look of disgust nearly bowled me over, but he said nothing.
“I’m from the U.S.,” I said hurriedly. “I just came to your country today and will be here the next five days on assignment for my newspaper. I don’t know all you customs, yet. If I’ve said something to upset you, please tell me.”
A single tear trickled down his left cheek. “Slavery, ma’am,” he whispered through clenched teeth. “I’m a slave.”
“These fools use a Bible passage, Leviticus 25:44, to support their slavery laws. I’m from West Alma. Slavers crossed the border from Freedomia into my homeland and captured me.”
I drew in a sharp breath and glanced around to make sure no one was within hearing distance. “The United Nations has an interest in your plight. Things may change soon.”
“Thank you,” he gushed. “It means a great deal to have some hope.”
I smiled. “I don’t really need to look at the menu. All day I’ve been craving lobster.”
He looked at me with shock. “You could be stoned to death for eating lobster. No restaurant here would ever serve shellfish. The Bible says it’s an abomination. Leviticus 11:10.”
I shook my head and opened my menu, feeling the relief one gets when the brakes work properly. “I’ll have the steak.”
“Good choice.” His grin told me he was pleased to have saved my life.
“Could I ask you a question,” I asked, again looking around to assure our privacy.
“You have short hair. Is there another one of those strange laws about hair? Almost every man I’ve seen has long hair and a full beard.”
“Leviticus 19:27 — because I’m a slave they don’t care if I have long hair or not, but all the true believers are subject to stoning if they cut their hair or shave their face.”
He reached into his pocket and handed me a pamphlet titled, “Things You Need to Know.”
As I waited for my meal I found that touching the skin of a pig was also a capital offense (Leviticus 11:8), as was approaching the altar of the Lord if my eyesight was less than perfect (Leviticus 21:20).
The pamphlet told of a farmer who had planted two different crops in the same field and had worn a garment made of both cotton and polyester. His whole town had turned out to stone him to death.
I thought of my soon-to-be husband back in Chicago; and how I was twice an abomination in the Freedomians’ book.
I beckoned to Curt; and when he arrived at my table I gave him a one-hundred dollar bill to cover the meal and his tip. “I’ve suddenly lost my appetite,” I explained, as I rose to leave.
Once back in my room I hurriedly packed and went to the airport to catch the first plane home to the relative sanity of a world whose inhabitants pick and choose their foolish bias and laws with a slight bit more discrimination.
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