Cold and hunger are what wake me up, the fire that was burning in the house under me is long gone, the chimney tube now as cold as the rest of the rooftop and my stomach is grumbling in protest. The orange I had yesterday isn't going to be enough for two days and I know it's time to get up and start looking for food. Once sated I will try to find the others or maybe look for work, cleaning a house, collecting oranges in private yards, help customers open their stores... whatever I find. I feel slightly better as I stare at the day sky, rays of sun pierce the last clouds left for the first time in three days, and I welcome the luminosity as I feel in a slightly better mood than those last days.
A gasp comes out of my mouth when I stand up and I nearly fall back on the floor due to the pain that shoots up my legs. Wincing, I pull the fabric of my trousers apart to have a look at the space where I was bitten. The fresh night air must have done some good to it because it's not as bad as I had imagined it would be, a deep purple colour has settled on the edges of the wound, the colour turning to red further away and the hole is nearly the size of half my palm, some skin has lifted up and is now accumulated on the edges. Gritting my teeth I pull the rough fabric that had been washed too often with bad soap over my leg, I've seen worse, now all I can do is go to Maggie's and then to find something eatable.
Maggie is what most people would call a witch, if witches existed. For me and the others she's just an old lady who has access to medication, who knows what kind of plants are good and which aren't, who's old and lives alone at the edge of town in a wooden house and dresses weirdly. People at the City use to avoid her, mothers forbid their children to go near her house, and when they grow up they continue listening to their mother's advice. Teenage boys who have something to prove go for her, insult her and I even saw a couple spit on the old lady. My hands curl into fists. Well, at least this applies for rich or comfortable families, not for suburb kids. Her reputation was already established the day she was born, it must have been over sixty years ago I think, although Maggie never told me her age sixty is a good guess. Her mother was as badly regarded as her, and from what I heard so was her grandmother: all celibate women carrying a child that has no father. I admit that she's a bit strange and her house is full of strange stuff I've never heard of, but she's nice enough and will always help me when things get too difficult. She even offered me shelter two winters ago. And she's got medicine, even though I don't know how she can afford it.
The change between the suburbs and the central part of the City is shocking, in every way possible. Cars zoom left and right, light flashes from everywhere: traffic lights, mobiles phones, insides of houses, big screens announcing the new perfume brand or the latest outfit designed by some known fashion designer that comes from the capital; buses packed with people, all of them with their head down focused on their phone. Everything here radiates stress and rush, people are walking quickly in whatever directions and a few collide with me, a poor teenager that comes from the suburbs that's dressed in clothes twice her size and whose hair is matted on top of her hair. Even the light seems different, even though the central part has sky scrapers and enormous buildings, offices that could allocate at least twenty or thirty families, the luminosity here is greater than where I come from; the suburbs might have small houses, whole families packed together in a house that's falling to pieces and only has one bathroom but everything there is grey or black, and the sky seems to reflect it. Or maybe it's me, maybe I'm so used to those colours that it's the only ones I'm able to see now.
"Watch it!" A man in suit and tie grumbles as I take a few step forwards and knock into him, nearly sending him flying on the busy road cars are speeding on. He takes a look at me, from head to toe and, pulling a disgusted face, brings his wallet closer to his body.
The lights finally turn to red, making the cars stop and masses of people cross the road; again I nearly bump into someone as I walk as quickly as I can manage with my injured leg. Another pavement. Another wait and the lights turn to red a second time, the cars stop and I'm able to finish crossing the avenue. In about twenty minutes, if I take the shortcuts I'll be at my destination, that's the only thought that keeps me moving instead on sitting on the nearest bench and rest, hoping someone will drop a few cents next to me; maybe that'll pay today's food. If I stop I won't be capable of getting back up, the throbbing in my leg a constant reminder.
No. I have to stop dreaming and carry on; if the guards see me I'm done. Technically people from the suburbs can come and go as they want to the central part, they can even have a job here and a house there, some children can even go to schools here. Now, that's what's written on paper, on the City's Code, but if a guard spots a suburbs kid, or adult, near business buildings, banks, commercial centres and other money makers, they're done. The guards will take you away, silently and without arming any scandal in order to not disrupt all the good citadels that live in the advantageous part of the City. I've had luck a couple of times, some of the others too, if they're in a good mood they'll just... touch you a bit on parts they're not supposed to and then let you go, safely. I remember an elder woman that lived in the same house as Helene, the guards' dogs had killed her husband a few years ago, she used to beg in front of the Central Bank, I don't know exactly what happened to her, only that I never saw her again. I don't know what the guards do with the bodies and I don't want to know either, everything takes place at the biggest jail here.
There's two jails, one for minor incidents, Vrinda, and the other one, formed by two enormous towers and a small patio in the centre: Constantia. Most prisoners that enter Constantia know they will never come out, and if they do they won't ever be the same person. That's where people are killed and bodies disposed. People who've been there describe it as hell on earth before usually dying from madness or hunger because they refuse to go back to the central part, unfortunately for them this is where the food is.
If I turn my head slightly to the left I can see the top of one of the grey towers, a giant skyscraper blocks my view to the other one. With a shiver I turn back around, now that fright is added to the pain I'm only more desperate to get to Maggie's. I can feel the sweat gathering on my palms and at the base of my hair, my hand keeps on twitching in nervousness, and black spots start appearing at the edge of my vision as I get pushed and bang my already injured leg into a wall.
Keeping my head down I advance as quickly as I can manage until I reach the edge of the City. People are less numerous here and calmer. It's the part of the City that processes the food, there's a train station where train cars full of aliments coming from other countries are being delivered, then the fabrics take them in and redistributed them to supermarkets. On the side there are also all the agriculture camps, protected with electrical fences so no-one can steal the crops or cereal seeds they grow. And on the other side of those fences is Maggie's house, just at the beginning of the dense woods that encircles half of the City if not more.
Her place feels homely and inviting, made of stone with a wooden rooftops, a large chimney, larger and better made than any in the suburbs, stands erect on a corner, a mall path made of soil leads me to the small front door made of wood. A plant that produces red fruits has taken possession of the whole front wall, so dense you can barely see the grey stones underneath. A second roof erupts next to the chimney, I know her room is upstairs although I've never been there but a wooden staircase indicates there is indeed a second floor, small windows adorned with yellow curtains that seem as old as the house's habitant decorate the small house and on the side, glued to the east wall there's a small grange where goats are kept.
I let my hand wonder in the high grass that lead the path; oak trees are dispersed around the domicile, blocking the sunlight. There's a stone-made well that's large enough for me to fall down it, rumours used to say that when she was done with her experiments on children she threw them down there and let them die, therefor the bad smell. I nearly roll my eyes at the thought, how could people be stupid enough to believe this? The smell? It's all the humidity around here; no sun ever warms this place.
I lift my fist and knock three times on the thin door, hoping she's here and not in one of her usual walks in the forest. The door cracks open without me hearing anything from the other side, and an elderly woman peeks through the breach, her alert blue eyes instantly warming up when she recognizes me.
"Welcome dearie" a smile etches on her wrinkled face.
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YOU ARE READING
Anastasia, 'Tasha' for everyone, is a suburb teenager at the City, worn clothes, matted hair and skinny she can easily pass unseen by the City guards and most of the population. Plan a future? No, she doesn't know what future is, her only preoccupat...