“Hey, Spark, come on! We’re gonna be late for work!”
Without my meaning to, a wayward groan escapes my lips. That’s my name – Spark Thames. Age: 15. Orphan. Worker at the Grindstone, along with the other one million or so people who rely on their daily labour for survival.
Spark is my given name – whether by my mother or my father, I don’t know. My Dad died about eight years ago, but I hardly ever saw him – he was always labouring. My mother passed away six years ago, and it’s really her fault I keep this name at all.
“Spark,” she said, eyes half closed, her skin as white as a sheet. “Promise me. Never change your name. It’s yours. Once day, you may find it’s the only thing you have.”
It was my mother’s last wish, so I’m obliged to keep it. But that’s the only thing holding me back. Spark is too controversial a name: at least, right now, with everything that’s going on.
“Spark! Hurry up!”
The speaker in question is my sister, Shine. Again, the name was chosen by my mother, but she wasn’t told to keep it. I call her Kya instead, and everyone does the same. There’s no opportunity for risk. I need to protect her.
My sister is seven, and at times appears to be a younger version of myself. Dark hair, bright eyes, and a similarly good liar. At times, I even wonder if we aren’t the same person. All the same, she owns a precious quality which I don’t possess, this being motivation.
“I’m going to do really well at work today. I’m gonna impress them all.”
This time I manage to stifle the sigh from my lips and shut up. In truth, I’m feeling utterly nervous. Every child starts work at the Grindstone when they are seven and a half years of age. For Kya, this is today. Today, she is going to see what I see every day.
Not the work – well, the work, obviously, but there’s more to it than that. It’s the way in which she just can’t understand. I’ve tried to tell her a million times what happens here, but she just won’t listen.
“Kya,” I say, firmly. She doesn’t stop, still rushing ahead of me, so I say it louder. “Kya.”
She halts suddenly and turns around, her dark pigtails fluttering about from beneath her pinkish hat. It’s a hideous thing, since I made it, but mother always said you should wear a hat, or you’ll catch your death of cold.
I don’t wear a hat anymore.
She clomps over, her behatted self seeming too small in her giant workboots. They’re my spare ones, but I don’t have any other. The laces are undone. “Yeah?”
My thoughts are momentarily sidetracked by the sight of her laces. “Your laces are undone. Hey, let me do ‘em.”
She gives me a face which seems half patronising and half a pout. “I can do ‘em myself, Spark.”
I watch silently as she bends down to tie her laces, her pale fingers working around the strings. I see her do the knot incorrectly again, but I resist helping her.
“Kya,” I say, gently. She ignores me, so I speak louder. “Kya.”
“What is it?” she moans, standing up. Her bows stick out at dilapidated angles.
I need her to listen. Sternly, I put my hands on her shoulders. I crouch down so I am looking at her – straight into her moss-green eyes. “Kya, you need to listen to me now. Do you remember what I told you?”
“To work hard today?” she tries to wriggle away, but I hold her tight. “Spark, let me-”
“When you go to work today,” I say quieter, in case we are heard, “What name do you use?”
“Name?” she says blankly. Then her face blossoms into recognition. “Oh, name. I use Kya, right?”
“Yes,” I answer, relieved. But I still don’t let go. “And you remember what I said you’d see?”
“I know, I know. You told me. All sorts of nasty things. Like when you fall over and can’t get up or the Supers come over and whi-”
I put a finger over her lips to silence her before she can say anymore. I nervously look around, but no one’s near us – there’s only us, and the tarmac, and the potholes, and the dirt. “Yes, yes, I know. Just… be careful, ok?” Don’t do anything to attract attention. Please.”
“I know, ‘kay? You can let me go now.” She wriggles again, and this time I let her slip away; galloping ahead, in her too-big workboots and that ridiculous hat. I can see a thin greyish thread flapping about her ankles like a flag.
“Your laces are undone again,” I call out. I hoist our bags onto my shoulder and follow, trudging along this dilapidated back-street. “Be careful.”
“I always am,” Is her reply, as she keeps running. And as I see her dark plaits fluttering in the wind, just as her lace does at her feet, I know she’ll soon trip over and graze her knee. That’s the thing. I want to believe that she’ll be careful, but in this dangerous world we live in, I know that someday she will trip up and get hurt. And my dearest wish – my only wish, I realise, as my fingers touch the thin chain on my left wrist – is that I may always be by her, so I am ready for her fall, and protect her when it comes.
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