Real Stories

The Illusion of Choice

The screen flashed between the two options, back and forth, and the images blinked. I heard the murmurs start to rise as the line behind me grew with every second that I stood and stared.


I don’t want either of the two options.

I picked up my ballot from the steel table, the scanner still active, blinking. I have only walked away a few paces when the citizen behind me yelled after me. “Hey! The Screen’s still stuck on your serial. You’ve got to make a choice.”

I shook my head and yelled back, “But I don’t want either! There are more than those two options.”

I managed to take another two steps before the wards – in their hooded black capes and white porcelain masks, surrounded me. Four of them, each on one side, so that whichever way I turned, I had to look straight into the cold void that was supposed to be their face.

“You have to return and select.” The one to my right said.

“But I don’t want either. Can’t you bypass me?” I asked, shrugging my shoulders, attempting to mimic their cool detachment. 

“That is not possible. You must select.” another repeated.

The two wards at my sides grabbed me by the arms and forcefully walked me back to the scanner, placing the ballot back underneath the red light. The screen still flashed the same two options, but much slower now, detecting my hesitance.

The two wards released my arms and pushed me toward the screen. “Make a choice,” they commanded in unison.

I stared at the screen again, the unhappy groans of those in line growing louder. 

“Please choose one.” the automated screen voice commanded.

“I choose not to choose,” I stated, a sly smile tugging at my lips, thinking that I had outwitted them.

“That is not one of the options,” machine and wards answered as one.

“Okay, well then, have someone else make the decision for me,” I retorted.

There was a pause as they processed my request. The citizen behind me, fueled by his anger, stretched his right arm toward the screen, declaring, “I’ll make the choice for you!”

Immediately, one of the wards struck his arm with an electric baton. The man crumbled to the floor, writhing in pain. 

“You do not have the clearance to make a choice for another.”

The man clutched his right arm close to his body as he struggled to get to his feet and returned to his place in line. The whole while, glaring at me as if I had been the one to inflict harm upon him.

“Do not further delay your compatriots.” One of the wards closest to me spoke, his white mask slowly darkening. A warning that I was running out of time. 

I stepped back and turned to the long line of citizens waiting. “What is the point of all this?” I ask all of them, but they avoid my gaze or pretend not to hear me. I turn to look at the wards, their white masks now completely black.

I am out of time.

“What is the point?” I repeat, more to myself than to them.

“What will this change?” I finally whisper as I select between the two choices.

by Cmarqu22

I'm a first-generation Latina embarking on a journey of self-discovery through the written word. My passion lies in weaving the rich tapestry of my culture into stories that seek to illuminate and celebrate our voices in spaces where they have historically been marginalized or deemed non-universal.

In my portfolio, you'll find a collection of my most recent works, alongside blog posts where I explore the confluence of storytelling and cultural identity. My writing oscillates between the enchanting realms of magical realism, where the fantastical brushes lightly against the mundane, and poignant narratives deeply rooted in the authentic experiences of everyday life. Each piece represents a step towards bridging gaps, fostering understanding, and creating a vibrant mosaic of representation.

Whether drawing from the well of my heritage to infuse my tales with the magic and myths that colored my upbringing, or tackling the complexities of identity and belonging, my aim is to craft stories that resonate, reflect, and respect the multifaceted lives we lead. Join me on this voyage of creative exploration, where every story is a thread in the larger tapestry of our shared human experience.

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