“Run for your life the dogs are here!” screeched Larith’s voice with dreaded anxiety. She burst into the alley panting, and ran past the rest of the boys gathered on the floor playing a game of sorts with marbles. Her scent, swayed faint strawberries across the boys, a result from when she would sneak into the garden bush and steal berries for the boys to eat. Aside from her, the rest smelled of urine and dirt. Jatteh rose immediately, following Larith without a glance of the footsteps approaching fast. Jatteh never looked away from Larith for her presence always drove complete admiration to all, and Jatteh especially mused himself upon Larith’s natural beauty. She was only about as young as half a decade yet long strands of spider silk weaved across her scalp with radiant gold. Silver typhoons of eye swirled passionately, a gentleness and kindness radiated profusely. A lovely outlandish silhouette distinguished her from the majority of the street children as well as the virtues of a mother who tends kin. Realization awoke reality from trance as Jatteh took his gaze away from his sister as he made his way across the opposing entrance where the fence remained. Following suit, the rest dispersed with scattered fleet, but one of the boys stayed behind to pick up the forsaken marbles and froze in fear as footsteps parked beside him. Jatteh and Larith found refuge behind a wall and as Jatteh kept running, Larith stayed behind and through a crack in the splinted fence, saw the poorly uniformed men encircle the foolish boy who had lollygagged in sake of materialism. A few crude jokes escaped their alcohol fumed breath as they took turns bludgeoning the boy with the tip of their batons. They continued to beat the boy to limbless state and with a final strike, one of the grunts remarked with joyful melody, “don’t forget to cut off the tongues for proof of kill, each kid is worth 100 rupees, let’s round em’ up”. As he took a knife from his pocket and whistled a tune, Jatteh grasped Larith away from the impending sight and said, “Let’s go, we’ll meet up with the others in the sewers”.
Above the shame and agony lurking the dirt paved streets, the pollution littered the sky and the littered trash rendered the scenery hardly pleasant. Illegitimate born children roamed the streets of Sau Paou as rats scavenge for food under any surface. With time, the population of humans had exceeded the ability to support their survival, and where the wealthy and cunning saw to the moon with stomachs filled, the hungry were plagued with diseases, whether it be a result of infected wounds or consequences of selling one’s body to a tourist or lusting local, each child was branded with a scar of bastard origin. There were few who dedicated their life to finding their parents, others were convinced they were abandoned, and there were those who had accepted their lifestyle as nothing more than another part of life. The children had to fend for themselves for the authorities and politicians had bounties for the life of the pests littering the cities. Some bound together whether the reason is due to similar blood, interests, or plight, their survival all depends on their self regardless. Perhaps it is due to such a vicious lifestyle that sustains their order, for the children did not have a life expectancy past infanthood, and those who remained rarely survived into adulthood. Only the females lived longer than most, however if their imposed decadent bound and humiliating life of prostitution and beatings constitutes as living, then by all means, they lived vigorously.
In the Sewers the children huddled for warmth as their nakedness and ragged clothes limited elegance. Jatteh waited impatiently for Larith as she tended to all the infants stretching their voice to the echoes of the corridors of sewage. The blaring cacophony drove headaches to the sevens through fifteens. Larith had been the only child of age five to survive the biological attack which occurred 4 seasons ago. The authorities attempted to fumigate the children out of the sewers. Fevers and boils burst sickness and heated fatigue killed all the children ages one to six. The chemically conjured plague struck the sewers of Sau Paou when the sixes were fives, the eights were sevens, and the older were one younger. The only five to survive was Larith, for she had been away in an abandoned and isolated tunnel where the infants had taken shelter. The kids of seven and older were immune enough to survive with a few sustaining side-effects such as a mere cough, however, the numbers have drastically dwindled over the years of their sewage clan. Many of the girls had been taken in by mercenaries and even people of common wealth when food was scarce, and they were sold into prostitution or kept as house pets, whether for entertainment of any nature or as apprentices. Hardly any were taken as apprentices any higher than a needle threader or cook, their carnal innocence was often sought for in the market. The boys were generally killed and their body parts were redeemed at the butchers and the tongues at the market for proof of capture for a few rupees. Only rarely were boys taken as slaves for their rebellious nature made them hard to tame. A slightly convenient, yet disturbing way to earn money, however to encourage the common folk to engage in such activity, the street children were declared vermin and pests by legal law. Extermination.
After the entire ruckus soothed into a dull silence, Larith rejoined the rest of the clan next to her brother. Jatteh took Larith’s hand and put something in her hand. A flicker shined from her clutch and with ease, revealed a wrapped sugar treat. She smiled and shattered it into diminutive fragments which she then dispersed to the rest of the children, in an orderly fashion. A piece bigger than most remained and Larith split half of it and gave the other to her brother, and for a few moments, a peace filled the sewers with content. A brief silence.
If only for a moment, it seemed there were no worries, simply a sacred bond of a combination of families of foreign blood and spiritual kin alike. If only, for this brief moment, a world of corruption did not exist, instead a sanction of freedom permuted through the whispers of their thoughts.
And with a necessary balance of cruel demonic intervention, one of the boys slumped to the floor and exhaled his last breath. The ribs of his naked upper body poked the skin, and with the wounds he had endured throughout life, it seemed as if the ribs in fact stuck out of his torso. Perhaps it was simply the dim light accompanied by paranoia in a fireless environment.
“Not another one” cried one of the girls. Her desolate and slender face mouthed, “he’s the second one to die from hunger this week and we are not getting any more food despite the subtracting numbers. All these books we have here to read do us no good, I cannot use it as an escape for hunger any longer, I fear I must turn myself in to the market if it means to have a meal” A cold silence filled the room. Larith hugged her and said, “Juliene please stay, you’ve heard what they do to the girls, bad things, very nasty bad things, so you can’t give up just like that, I promise you more to eat if you have the dedication to live.”
Jatteh interrupted, “We can beg for money, but we have to be cautious, do not trust anyone that is an adult, they might try and trap you, if they do not look like they are going to just hand you money, run away and find somewhere else. Stay together and keep an eye out for each other.”
The crowd listened intently to Jatteh’s commanding yet concerned voice. A scar split his upper right eyebrow in half from an incident whence one of the girls was about to be taken and he single handedly murdered the two men and allowed Juliene to escape. Jatteh was one of the three oldest of the clan, twelve nearing thirteen, Juliene was fourteen and another boy, Cohmer was fifteen. Jatteh’s natural leadership and decisive instincts unanimously declared him the leader for his actions spoke before his words. A pre-existing tension occasionally sparked debate as to whether Cohmer was to lead the clan for his age exceeded the rest.
“Why are you always telling us what to do, you think you’re leader just cause your sister is the prettiest girl here?!” Cohmer yelled.
“No!” blurted Jatteh. His brows scrunched together and slanted with anger, “I’ve been looking out for everyone here and you only look after yourself, just because you’re older does not give you any more privilege than anyone! If you want to be leader, show responsibility and generosity, you are too damned apathetic to care about anyone! Damn it! When the Slavers where going to take Juliene, all you could do was run as she screamed your name. Did you turn around? You ran faster. If I wasn’t nearby who knows what would’ve happened. Wake up and take your head out of your ass.”
Jatteh was furious, but the truth had been exposed. Cohmer slouched his back against the wall, discouraged to defend his argument. His tangled lengthy hair caught in the way of his eyes, abstracting his view. Or perhaps he was crying, after all, the story was true. He left to save his own skin, sure a method to survive, but to become a leader whose responsibility was to look after the group, he lacked the necessary qualities.
Juliene went over to comfort him. His head rested on her left shoulder as her hug remedied his sorrow.
Contaminated water dripped over head, a few turned into splashes upon colliding with the puddles on the floor. A rat scurried past the clan, its whiskers twitched with each step. Jatteh noticed this and hastily pursued it. “Food!” he blurted.
Jatteh’s bare feet splashed the water as his pace quickened. The rat turned a corner and was almost out of sight. With determination and hunger fueling his passion, he sprinted faster and neared the rat. It could have been sworn by Jatteh’s imagination that he saw the rat turn back, and shriek, unleashing a minor sprint. With no luck, the mouse was caught, and in the light, revealed a brown coat of fur with blemishes of hairless skin, slightly bloody. A maggot wiggled out of the ear of the rat. Despite it’s appearance, he no longer thought about whether this was edible or that was not, for now he was concerned with escaping the clutches of this vermin’s teeth!
“Ow!” Jatteh exclaimed, “Stupid rat bit me” as he flung the vermin away. The rat perched on the floor, with another chance at life as it jolted away. Jatteh stood there sucking the blood out of his hand and spitting anywhere it may fall. He retreated back to the clan to be greeted by one of the eights, “didya catch it” he asked.
“No, it bit me and I dropped it out of surprise, sorry.” Jatteh confessed as he aggressively scratched his head.
Frowns took place of hope on the faces of the little ones as they huddled together in the darkness for warmth. Cacophonous grumblings echoed from everyone’s disappointed stomachs. In an effort to assuage the pain, Juliene took a book out and began reading a story to put the kids to sleep. Whilst they slumbered, Jatteh stood awake and moved the body of the fallen boy away. He removed the shorts and put them on to wear to compliment his exposed under garments. Cohmer stood by his side and picked up the arms of the fallen boy whilst Jatteh carried the ankles. The bearers took the body a few tunnels away and came across a ladder. Cohmer went up first, and pushed the sewage lid from underneath and slid it out of way. Jatteh then picked up the body and handed it to Cohmer as they carried it up the street. Around them a crowded market carried about their day. Bidding for food in these carpet floor shops, peasants bargained for various possessions. Stalling, Jatteh scratched his head for a few moments whilst Cohmer waited impatiently complained, “What do you have lice, come on let’s go! We don’t make deals with the butcher at night, it’s not wise.” The clouds were consuming the sky, soon the sun would set and darkness would envelope. Jatteh picked up the ankles and they carried the body down the street. Passerby’s maintained their distance from the stench of the aroma the boys emitted. After a few moments of ticking sand, the boys arrived at a shack with a cloth draped over the doorless entrance. Cohmer hesitates with a shudder, unable to make the first entrance. Jatteh barged in response to find himself in the presence of a gluttonous and equally shirtless man, in silk leggings and wooden sandals.
“Barboda we have another one for you, how much can you give us” Jatteh asked as Cohmer entered the shack with the body. Barboda glanced at the body for a moment and said, “I don’t know, the last one you gave me was sick and it gave my dogs stomach sickness.”
“This one died from starvation. The bones will do your dog’s teeth good, think of the skin as flavor for em’” Jatteh said with a stern expression.
“Well when you put it like that, alright I’ll give you 5 rupees for them”
“Are you serious? That won’t even buy a loaf of bread! Half at best! At least 15 rupees damn it! They give 50 rupees for the tongues, you get a ton of profit on that alone! Not to mention the rest of the body parts that are sold as animal food”
“What’s this? A child, talking to me, about business, how ludicrous! If I were a man of the law I would’ve flogged you to death and fed you to the dogs instead of doing business with you… Here, 10 rupees because I am feeling generous, I don’t want to see you for another week, now get out of here. Don’t you see the sign, no Shirt no shoes, no service” Barboda twirled his finger vaguely.
Jatteh looked around and defended his current state, “you don’t have a shirt either”
Barboda laughed, “But I have a home”.
His words slapped Cohmer and Jatteh in the face, they did not reply.
Barbodas stubby short fingers handed 10 sapphire rupees to Cohmer as Jatteh lugged the body onto a small table in the center of the confined shack. As the boys left the Butcher’s Shop Jatteh said, “I fucking hate talking like that. It makes me sick. Oh I just want to cry, bones for his dogs! Damn his dogs! I hope his dogs choke to death!” Jatteh and Cohmer both spat on the floor of the entrance to the butcher shop.
Cohmer noticed Jatteh scratching his head profusely throughout their entire encounter and decided to keep his distance, oblivious to subtle tactics. But as Jatteh got near him Cohmer jumped back, and with an offended tone Jatteh squealed, “I don’t have lice. My scalp is just dry from the sun.” Cohmer rolled his eyes. What sun, he pondered thinking of the sewers. As they made their way back into the sewers and closed the lid, Cohmer chuckled, sure, the sun. Darkness consumed the tunnels of the sewers as they made their way back to the resting tunnel where the clan slept and followed suit.
Bells ricocheted off the walls and made their way to the dirty ears of the clan. Light lazily dimly lit the tunnels in sanctions. Yawns here, stretches there, morning greetings were acquainted with heavy foot traffic from above as debris and dirt fell from the ceiling. The eights and the nines, the tens, elevens and the twelve, fourteen and fifteen, all stood in awe at six as she produced a makeshift hammock utilizing her shirt as a satchel for the strawberries she had plucked. Jatteh realized this first as he noticed Larith wake up earlier than the rest. She had a few cuts around her hands and thorns stuck out from her knees and arms.
“I managed to pick a few but the farmer was nearby so I had to leave earlier. A sweet and nutritious breakfast!” Larith proudly shrieked accompanied by a smile. Her smile radiated light into the tunnel, it was almost hard to focus on the worst when she smiled, Jatteh thought.
“How thoughtful, thank you sis” Jatteh said as he took the strawberries and laid them out on a dry spot on the floor. There were twelve strawberries, one for each person. With patience, everyone waited until the rest had strawberry in hand and preparation. In unison, they all laughed and smiled and cheered, “A toast to another life” and with that, began their consumption. The eights and nines finished their strawberry within moments of chews, whereas the eldest ate with slower consideration. Larith had taken her time and saw one of the eights looking back at the strawberries the others were eating due to their patience. With great consideration, Larith took one small nibble from her strawberry then handed it to the pathetic looking eight. He smiled and ate it, nibble after nibble, until he was the last one to finish as the others looked intently on him. Reluctantly he handed what remained of the base of the strawberry to a fellow eight. She took a nibble and passed it to a nine, who took a nibble, and so on and so forth.
After a brief silence, dirt fell from the ceiling with a loud thud and it covered the litter with a microscopic coat of dust. Reality resurfaced. Cohmer broke the silence, “We managed to come up on ten rupees, I was thinking we should get fire”. Jatteh immediately said, “We need food, we should buy food” to which Juliene disgustedly retorted, “Food?! What a joke! With 10 rupees we will only have a loaf of bread which is enough for a few nibbles a person, we should save it and see what happens today and combine it”
The children argued with each other, each had reasonable logic, however Cohmer ultimately managed to convince the rest with, “If we get fire, we can cook the food we hunt and we won’t have to worry about buying food”. Interesting how no one thought to question what if there is nothing to hunt, or rather, for how many fires will we produce with 10 rupees?
Perhaps it was the desperation of a broken hope longing to be restored. Or rather the pangs of starvation twisted their coils beyond a spring. They would wait until after the spoils of begging were added to see what they would be able to afford. Jatteh reminded the lot, “Remember, if no one looks like they’re going to just give you money, assume they are trying to capture you and run away yelling for the rest of the group, yell where you are as you run and who is chasing you”, with this, the entire lot scattered. Each had various locations upon where they panhandled. The youngest of children went to the docks where many would go for swims instead of begging. Others went to the city streets and begged as they walked, approaching with their hands out stretched and pathetic face. Sympathy was not in abundance that day, however altogether they managed an additional thirty rupees. Only fifteen rupees made it back to the sewers for ten were spent amongst the eights and nines for sweets. The other five were used for a mechanical device that would produce fire, a lighter. However, for 5 rupees, the fluid in its tank fell dangerously low, perhaps only allowing a few moments of chaos before diminishing to drought. However, with the remaining twenty five rupees, they were saved in a box hidden from the group under Juliene’s supervision.
The children reunited in the sewers. After all arrived, discussion broke out about the fire.
“So didya get it?” asked one of the eights. Jatteh revealed the plastic lighter, slightly cracked and visibly showing little to no fluid left in the tank. “how does it work” an eight asked.
With a click, a button was pressed and a flame burst forth through the metallic ring next to the button. The eights and nines were flabbergasted for they had never seen flame behave in such a tame manner! The tens and elevens were hardly impressed; they were simply satisfied to see fire once more in their life, however brief it may.
Cohmer shouted, “Don’t waste it!’ and confiscated the lighter from Jatteh.
Embarrassed, Jatteh choked, “What now then, you got your fire, where’s the food”?
The other children nodded in clattered agreement.
“First we must hunt it! Let’s gather a hunting party to find animals to cook.” Cohmer stated.
The three eldest, Cohmer, Juliene, and Jatteh were in charge of hunting whilst the younger ones remained in the resting tunnel reading books with Larith.
“I read that rats are very smart creatures that will avoid traps or anything that sticks out of their environment that was not there before. We must bait rats with clean food and let them eat a few times before we use an actual trap. If they eat at a certain place where the trap is, but the trap does not attack them, they will eat peacefully and understand that food is safe to eat, then when they least expect it, SLAM, pull the trap and you have yourself a nice rat” said Cohmer with a cracked smiled, obviously proud of his knowledgeable speech.
“That’s all very nice but where are we going to get food to bait the rats, we don’t even have food for ourselves” Juliene complained. As they made their way past a few crossing paths which lead into an array of tunnels, the corpse of a beige rodent slumped alongst the wall of partial cement. Jatteh picked up the corpse without hesitation and inspected it thoroughly.
“It looks good enough to eat, but, what if we cut some of the meat and burn it, we can use that as bait” said Jatteh.
“What? Cannibalism for rats? What is that, rannibalism? Ratibilism?” Juliene riddled.
“They won’t know the difference if we cook the meat, it’ll just be another warm meal to them” Jatteh said.
“Or to us” Juliene whimpered. A sudden silence fell upon them, for they noticed peering at them the entire length of their conversation, a brown rat with spotted fur, sections revealing blemished skin. A maggot wriggled from its ear.
Jatteh tossed the corpse to Cohmer and made a dash for the brown rat. The brown rodent instinctively ran and scurried across the floor alongst the wall of the tunnel. In the midst of their chase a flicker of silver gleamed as it fell from the rat’s mouth and caught the attention of Juliene. She stopped whilst the other boys continued their pursuit. The footsteps echoed and faded away in the distance as they splashed grimy water to and fro. The rat was no fool, cleverly adapted to such lifestyle for it escaped into a crack just wide enough for it to squeeze through. As they boys failed miserably, they made their way back to Juliene who was standing utterly still. A look of bewilderment expressed her inhabited thoughts. Silver flickers shun from her hands and soon the two boys became distracted from their plight and gazed their focus on her. Curious, Cohmer asked, “What is that”?
Juliene’s long brown hair covered her face, yet it made no difference for she would not speak for she was at complete loss for words. Jatteh would swear he saw her trembling. However he kept this notion to his own thoughts until he was closer than before and noticed in Juliene’s hands, a silver bracelet with an engraved name.
“Holy shit” gasped Cohmer. Jattehs eyes widened, “That, it… it can’t be… is it? I don’t believe it”
“It is” Juliene finally uttered as the saliva clicked on the roof of her dry tongue making it easier for her to speak, “It’s a birth bracelet”
“This is just the perfect thing! With the bracelet one of us will no longer be seen as a street kid and people will just take one look at it and assume we are just running to the store or the such” Jatteh was so excited he could barely speak.
“Only one of us, but who” Cohmer asked greedily with a concerned tone.
Tension arose dramatically, and in efforts to diffuse it, Jatteh motioned, “We’ll take it back to the rest and tell them about it. We need someone who doesn’t smell like complete shit and presentable. This is a lot to think about, this bracelet.”
Cohmer hesitated, his mouth had slightly opened as if to speak, but instead he let out a sigh and shrugged as he began to nibble on the ends of his sepia hair. The trio made their way back to the clan and Cohmer put the corpse of the rat they found on the floor. The eights and nines smiled, Larith however, looked intently on the concerned face of her brother.
“That’s nothing, we found a bracelet” Cohmer squealed, he could not hold his excitement.
“What do you mean a bracelet?” Larith suspiciously asked as if not to arise any pseudo hope.
“A birth bracelet, the ones the legal children wear.” Juliene said.
Jatteh handed the silver chain to Larith who began to slowly pronounce the name engraved
“Shae” Larith whispered. A moment of silence coursed throughout the room, a silent wind seemed to caress the faces of each child as the name entered their thoughts. The bracelet was handed to the eights who marveled its beauty and they passed it in a circle until it was back in the hands of Larith.
Shae was an uncommon name for the streets of Zabril. Generally children made up their own names if they lived on the streets, but for someone named Shae, hardly subtle.
“If we use this bracelet, what if we run into someone who knew the real Shae? We should sell it” uttered one of the elevens. A furious debate rose. It almost seemed as if the children enjoyed to debate, it gave them a sense of belonging, a temporary sense of escape from the reality of their situations. Once Larith was nominated for the bracelet, by the very same eight whom she gave her strawberry to, the clan chanted her name. Not even Cohmer could raise his voice past the loudness of their chants. Finally after a few moments, Cohmer mellowed his posture and leaned against the wall. Larith was to wear the birth bracelet.
“After all, you smell the sweetest of all of us and look the prettiest, only makes sense!” uttered a nine. Cohmer sneered, “It makes no sense! A name like Shae is too obvious and will call to much attention. What if she has to run or do something, she’s too little to fight people off!”
Cohmer seemed to restore favor in his side until Jatteh said, “I will go with her and keep a distance to make sure she is safe. Besides, with a weird name like Shae- look at my sister!”
He pointed at her and with a smug tone proudly stated, “She’s one of the most beautiful girls to venture Zabril, and it’s her silver eyes and light skin that separates her uniqueness from the rest. Shae would make more sense on her than any of us. Our darker skin would call too much attention. How many legitimate children do you see with dark skin? Hardly any! Why? Because they are in school, in trades learning skills, they have no time to be out in the sun begging like the rest of us!”
Cohmer was furious. Jatteh made a point and drove it into the heart of the entire clan. Even Larith became flustered with her brother’s reverence for her. She smiled as she strapped the bracelet onto her left wrist. Jatteh saw something change in her face when the chime of the lock secured a false sense of identity. There was a little less worry on Larith’s face, Jatteh wondered, almost as if a part of her innocence was restored. After the excitement wore off, reality sunk in when one of the children asked, “What did you catch?”
Another voice joined in, “Are we gonna cook it with the fire?”
Soon the children began jumping around Cohmer noticing the rat he had stuck in between his arms. Without a chance to speak, the youngest stole it from Cohmers grasp and an older eight stole it from him. Before Cohmer could react three children had stolen the rat from each other, constantly tugging and tearing pieces of the fur with each theft. “Settle down”, yelled Cohmer as he removed the lighter from his pocket. The kids stopped their antics as the rat fell on the floor of Cohmers feet. Jatteh disappeared into the darkness of the tunnels whilst Cohmer stood puzzled as to how to start a fire for cooking. After a few moments of picking the corpse up and putting it on the floor, as if stalling for time to figure out the enigma, Jatteh returned and produced a stick and handed it to Cohmer. “Stab the rat and put it over a fire. Use these shorts”, said Jatteh as he removed his shorts and crumpled them on the floor. Cohmer crouched over the shorts and began lighting the shorts. They were damp and were hard to ignite. After a few moments of brazing the flame, it died out, and the shorts were none the closer to combustion. Furiously, Cohmer threw the fuel exhausted lighter at the wall to which it cracked and a small explosion emitted.
“Great now what”, whimpered Jatteh.
“We have twenty five rupees saved, we can buy at least two loafs of bread and save the other five rupees”, suggested Juliene. Jatteh was about to take the rupees before Cohmer intervened and said, “Let Larith buy the bread. She could get a better deal and get cleaner bread by going to an actual food market instead of a street vendor.”
Alarmed, Jattehs voice quaked, “We don’t know if it will work on a street vendor let alone in a market!”
Cohmer countered, “All the street vendors have closed down shop for the night, the only place to get food right now would be at a market”.
Jatteh nervously looked at the floor wondering how to reply until he could think of nothing to say and caved, “Alright I’ll go but you come with me and Larith. You know the potential dangerous during the night for street children. She may have a bracelet but she’s still a girl, and that is enough for her to be a target”.
Cohmer took one look at Larith and cracked a wicked smile that made Jatteh feel uneasy as he said, “Of course”.
Above the sewers, night casted itself on the streets as a child huddles underneath a blanket in a thunderstorm. The crescent moon shun only dimly, only with concentration may one peer into the darkness to discover light emitting from a corner. The trio made their way and found themselves in front of a market with an entrance of two doors, one was shut and the other slightly open. Jatteh looked at his sister cautiously and glance to and fro the store and the bracelet.
“Don’t worry, we will be outside. If anything happens scream and make a run for it, if the rupees are confiscated don’t worry, your life is worth more than twenty five rupees”, Jatteh assured her. Her shoulders relaxed.
Cohmer laughed and after a brief moment of thought added, “Wait what? What do you mean twenty five? I thought we were only using twenty!”
“Don’t worry about it, in the store the bread is cheaper and better quality. No mold, just pure light fluffy morsels sowed together into one loaf of bread! We can get twice the same amount we pay at the street vendors”
Cohmer dubious, scoffed, “yeah whatever”
Jatteh ignored his cynicism and returned his focus to his sister, “Remember, we’re outside, don’t be nervous, just go inside and get the bread and get out, don’t lollygag”
Larith tensed up and relaxed again. She walked over to Cohmer and gave him a hug and then her brother. She went into the store.
Inside the market aisles of food lay dormant behind permeable metal sheets. Shelves of bottles of all sorts of liquids Larith did not recognize littered the store. Bags and rectangular boxes with unique colorful images splattered design of attention- logos of food and phrases enticing consumers. Behind a counter a fat short man no more than a foot taller than Larith sat on a stool. Lariths appearance caught his attention and raised an eyebrow. After noticing her bracelet, he relaxed in his stool and loosened his grip on a handle of some sort Larith could not distinguish. Larith walked around each aisle, marveling the beauty. She could not fathom the variety of foods, from sugary sweets to frozen delights and warm meals, a tear fell from her eye and a smile cracked. The bracelet dangled on her left arm as she made her way to a section of wheat and read a sign saying 5 rupees a loaf. She picked up four loafs and with five rupees to spare she picked out a random colorful box of dried fruit, shook it and saw the tag for ten rupees. She returned one loaf of bread and took the dried fruit under her right arm and carried the three loaves in both arms with the grip of a gentle firmness. Approaching the counter she placed the items before the counter clerk and put the rupees beside them. He suspiciously looked out the entrance to the door and back at Larith. Without uttering a word he put the rupees one at a time into a contraption Larith was unfamiliar with and started a conversation, “Whats a pretty little thing like you doing out so late?”
Larith blushed, “Just running some errands for mom, she’s sick and pop is out at work”
The clerks eyebrow raised higher than before and with a glance back at the entrance of the door, he saw the head of Jatteh peering into the store. The clerk blurted, “Liar, are you making deals with those street urchins outside? I see them glancing into the store every now and then. You wouldn’t happen to be distracting me so they can come in and steal food now?” He stood up from the stool as his fingers danced with the sheath on his belt.
“No sir, I’m just making runs from my parents“
“Really where do you live then?” he asked swiftly.
She hesitated for a moment and said, “I live right down the-“
She was interrupted, “No I know it, you stole that bracelet off a real child and are trying to pull a fast one! I’ll teach you to steal!” he corked.
He reached over the counter and pulled her left hand to the counter as she reached for the food and held a firm grip. “I’ll show you how we handle thieves in this store”
With that he took out his machete and sliced her left hand off in one chop. The loud thud and Lariths scream brought the attention Jatteh and Cohmer as they rushed into the store.
Jatteh saw a pool of blood on the counter wetting the bread and covering Larith. Her wrist squirted blood into the Clerks second chin and Jatteh became enraged. Cohmer began pushing shelves over shattering bottles and spilling a combination of messes on the floor. Jatteh picked up pieces of broken glass and flung them at the clerk. The Clerk flung Lariths hand into a waste basket and pocketed the bracelet as he made his way to Jatteh. A chase ensued around the store whilst Cohmer tossed frantic Larith over his shoulder and ran out the store. Once Jatteh saw Larith was safe he ran out the store just before picking up a few lighters and box of gauze. With a quick sprint to the door, he turned around to face the Clerk one last time and saw a machete aiming for his head. The handle hit him on the head and as the Clerk neared the puddles of liquid, fell on his back and cursed the urchins. The sound of glass cracked underneath the Clerk and Jatteh ran.
Jatteh saw Cohmer carrying Larith and running towards the sewers. He caught up to them and they ran for dear life to the sewers without once looking back.
Full of adrenaline, Jatteh carefully made a crack in one of the lighters and poured the gasoline all over his shorts. He set them ablaze and cauterized Lariths sipping wound as she clenched onto Julienes right hand and Cohmers left hand. Her hands turned white as her grip strengthened. The eights and nines were nowhere in sight as the tens and elevens were huddled together with concern for their adopted mother. While her hand was being bandaged with layers of gauze, Larith passed out from the pain in Jatteh’s arms as he cradled her back and forth pleading to the long forsaken gods for her health.
Jatteh awoke earliest for his arms fell asleep from the pressure of his sister’s weight. He looked down at her missing left hand and remembered all too well of what happened the night before. After the prickling of a thousand needles invaded his arms, he awoke Larith to which she awoke crying from pain. She removed the bandages and puss and blood fell from sections of her wound. Infection.
"We need to get her to a doctor or something quick, she's gonna bleed to death or get an infection." Jatteh pleaded.
Cohmer assured him in a sarcastic tone, "No she's fine what are you talking about we closed her wound."
"You don't understand, there are germs, bacteria, it causes infections which may result in her losing her entire arm. I read about this in a book, maybe if you decided to learn how to read words bigger than two syllables-"
Lilith uttered a cry. Whimpers of agony sent the boys into hysterics, frantically blaming each other until Julienne mentioned, "What about Doc? We've used him before when one of eights got sick and he had medicine."
Jatteh muttered under his breath, then staring at his sister he said, "Fine, but I don't trust that guy."
"Well we have no choice, unless you want your sister's whole arm to fall off and then she dies from that" reasoned Julienne.
-“We have to take her to the Doc, she's getting worse”, suggested Cohmer. His face showed slight concern, or perhaps it was the shadows on his face, Jatteh could not discern between the two. Faces of confused lost souls huddled for warmth in the sewers beside Larith. Larith had begun having delirium psychosis visions and would scream in fright, unable to awake from h...er terrors. Jatteh held her as she roughly slept, and said, “Alright, but everyone else keep trying to get as much money and food as possible. Carry on as if this did not happen.”The litter scattered but only Cohmer remained. His face displayed a perplexed question dying to be unleashed. “You know how your sister is missing a hand?” he poked suggestively.
A cold silence fell between the two as all that was heard was an occasional whimper on Larith’s part.
“We could you know, uh… have her lay on the street as we beg” he suggestive nonchalantly.
“And you would be so callous as to suggest such a thing, only you. I propose you suggest we sell her to the brothel while we are at it. Fuck you. She is my sister and I’m taking her to see the Doc, either you can help me carry her or you can go join the rest of the beggars.” The anger in his voice brought a sullen tone.
Cohmer picked up Larith over his shoulder and the trio made their way out of the sewers into the streets above.
-The heat beat on their backs, tanning their skin further. Despite her origin, Larith did not seem to tan as her light skin seemed to only redden for moments before regressing to her natural color. Merchants tried to purchase Larith for a fe...w rupees- with no success. The grime of their smiles was constant, thieves ran across the street bumping into any face who looked as if soap had touched it. Dirt paths sent dust clouds scattered across the passing lanes and the occasional pollution overhead drenched the poor folk with a fierce cough. Shacks upon shacks were hardly different from each other- as their wooden planks and cardboard walls seemed to barely uphold their uneven square structure. Flies and mosquitoes landed upon those who lost all care for themselves as they littered the floors with their filth. After maneuvering past the bodies and avoiding the desperate pleas of fellow beggars, the trio found themselves outside the entrance of a shack accompanied with a crudely drawn sign, “Doc’s Shop” on the frame above the door.