Disclaimer: I do not own Heroes. This story is for my own amusement, and hopefully, yours too.
Walking across the frozen tundra, the thing Marina Cereza was the most aware of were her lips.
They were dry and cracked, so she allowed her tongue to slide out from between her teeth and run itself along the tiny fissures, tasting the salt and iron of her blood. Her saliva acted as a balm for the cut and burning pillows of flesh, but almost instantly the cold, dry air would remove the moisture and she would be compelled to repeat the procedure all over again.
She'd gotten a late start this morning, something she now regretted as the faded sun sat right above her head. By the time she got to the post, got the things they needed, and headed back, it would be nearly dark. Her hand slipped into the deep pocket of her black, oversized corduroy coat and caressed the wooden handle of her chef's knife. She always felt a bit of reassurance when her nails drummed against the metal, knowing that with this tool and her combat skills, she could be an impressive match for nearly any adversary, natural or human. The night held a multitude of dangers for her, and the ones she'd faced thus far had been manageable. But she didn't want to push her luck.
Her fist clenched involuntarily around her knife when she thought of why she was out so late: Claire had made her late. Marina had gotten up early that day, even earlier than was usual for her, so that she could gather enough ice and snow to make a bath for Claire. The old woman hadn't bathed in nearly two weeks, since the day they left Venezuela, and now she was beginning to smell. Having to camp on the plains, in such tight quarters as the tent – it was nearly intolerable.
So Marina had risen extra early, melted the precious patches of snow and ice clinging to the ground, boiled it to make it a little more pleasant for Claire, and dug up the best – and only – clean cloth they had left to give her a sponge bath. She waited as long as she could to awaken the old woman, knowing that she became irritable and defiant when she was forced to get up too early.
Marina stripped her of the blankets and rags she usually covered Claire in. Marina tried to be as gentle as possible, using her tenderest voice, her softest touch. But Claire was having none of it.
"I won't be boiled alive in your fire! You can't hurt me! Do you know who I am?" Claire shouted, clawing and kicking at Marina. Marina sighed and tried to get Claire onto her back and pin her arms and legs, knowing that this was the only way to subdue her. If she had to, she'd drag the ancient lady out of the tent and throw the water on her, but she wasn't going to sleep another night next to that filthy body.
"Claire. Claire, please," Marina pleaded, catching a frantic slap here and there from the other woman. It took ten minutes of struggling, but finally Claire seemed to calm down. She brought her arms to her sides and settled into the ground beneath her. She seemed to be giving in, but Marina should have known better.
She now cursed herself as she thought of the incident. For the moment Marina let her guard down, got off of the old woman, and turned her back to retrieve the soft washing cloth, Claire took the opportunity to roll to her feet, scamper to the cooling pot of water, and knock it over, splashing the precious liquid all over the floor of the tent. It ran out of the tent and onto the ground outside, melding with the frosty dirt and sand.
Marina stood cold in shock as Claire jumped up and down, her thick blonde braid swinging to and fro, and clapped her hands. "Tracy! Look, it's Tracy! Tracy on the ground, Tracy all around. Tracy! Tracy! Tra-"
Claire's mocking little song was cut short by a full-palmed slap to her face. She stumbled backward, falling against the side of the tent. She sat in shock on the ground, holding her cheek, as Marina towered above her, her eyes black with fury.
"You senile old bitch!" Marina roared at her. "Do you know how long it took me to make that bath? Now it's ruined!"
Claire's bottom lip began to tremble at these words, and soon the sea green eyes filled with tears. She curled up on the ground like a wounded animal, howling in pain.
At this Marina's anger subsided, and she instantly regretted what she'd done. She knelt next to Claire, holding her close and apologizing over and over again. She knew her blow wouldn't hurt Claire – not physically at least. But her rage wasn't going to do any good. She closed her eyes and exhaled deeply, reminding herself once more that Claire did not do what she did to hurt Marina, or be malicious. She simply did not know any better.
Fortunately, Claire's short term memory was nearly non-existent, and just five minutes later she had stopped crying and was happily allowing Marina to re-dress her and tuck her under the furs and blankets again.
Marina dressed herself for her journey, and discreetly tucked her Calphalon into her pocket. She now knelt down next to Claire, who was playing with the cloth doll Marina had made for her.
"I need to go now," Marina told her. "But I'll be back real soon. You stay here and play with Dolly. Are you a good girl?"
"Yes, I'm a good girl."
"You're going to stay here, like I told you?"
"Yes, I'm going to stay here, like a good girl."
"All right." Marina leaned over and kissed the smooth, golden forehead, then got up to go.
Marina stopped and turned around. "Yes."
"I'm hungry. When are we going to eat?"
"We'll eat when I get back, dear. That's where I'm going right now, remember? To get us some food."
"I'm hungry, Mari."
"I know, darling. I am too. Just stay here and keep Dolly safe until I get back, okay?"
Now it was coming up on noon, and Marina had just reached the post for this part of the island. Its red-rust galvanized roof gleamed in the sun, as if winking at her. She licked her cracked lips and pressed on, now seeing two of the Chaguanas Boys standing and staring at her.
She didn't like dealing with the Chaguanas Boys; truthfully, she didn't like dealing with anyone. She didn't care much for people. But she especially didn't appreciate the lewd looks like the dark men gave her, as if they were trying to look into her soul.
When Marina thought about the big picture, however, she was better off dealing with people like these. It was why she stayed away from the U.S. : everything so methodical, so organized. You always had to have your papers, and you had to pay in credits. The Americans were too intrusive for her taste. Everyone in the family had to be recorded, the credits were rationed out as they saw fit. And you could only live in certain areas within the "safe"zone. Marina hated being told what to do.
Traders like the Chaguanas Boys could care less about Marina's family or what her living arrangements were. They were willing to barter – as long as it was something good. Thanks to Marina's grandmother, who had hidden priceless commodities all over the world for her to find, trade usually wasn't a difficult thing.
Marina now stood before them, feet slightly apart, her hands in her pockets. Knife's handle held hot between the fingers of her right hand. She managed an easy smile and greeted them. "Gentlemen. I have an item I'm sure you'll like. Care to trade?"
One thing Marina had learned early on from dealing with them was that they always wanted to know that you had to offer first; they would get rude and belligerent, even violent, if you began by begging for something from them.
One of the men stood up – a tall man with caramel skin and curly black hair. Marina had traded with him before; his name was Ramroop. He looked at Marina as if she were some sort of rodent or vermin that was bothering him. "What ya got, gal?"
Marina opened her coat just enough to produce a small package wrapped in rags. Carrying it to the trading table, she unwound the scraps of fabric to reveal a pack of six soaps in glittery green cardboard, a tube of toothpaste, two bottles of shampoo, a pair of small scissors, and nail clippers. She held both ends of the rag while it lay on the table, ready to snatch it up again at the first sign of a cheat or double-cross.
She could tell they were interested. The eyes of the three men lit up, already imagining the sweet smells of the perfumes – the aromas and sights that were once taken for granted, but were now a treasure. Ramroop licked his lips and said, "What ya want for it?"
"Three pounds of food, a blanket, and footwear. Anything available will be fine," Marina added the second part reluctantly, but it was true. She was hungry, and desperate. She did her best to sound as casual as possible. She knew she couldn't trust these men as far as she could throw them, and she knew that just the slightest hint of desperation in her voice or body language would put her at their mercy.
"Two pounds, not tree!" another man, who was darker and bald, and chewing on a toothpick, bellowed from the mouth of their tent.
Marina stared calmly past the curly haired man to the other . "Three pounds of food, no blanket."
Another man, this one light skinned with a black ponytail, sidled up to her and laughed. "Eh eh, ya hungry, gal? I got something to put in ya mout."
Marina's thigh itched as she imagined the long chef's knife lying against it in her pocket. She stood calmly, ignoring the comment and the cackles of laughter they produced from the other men. Soon her stillness and silence began to unnerve the Chaguanas Boys and the curly haired one finally got up and brought her what she'd requested.
Only the food was brought out. Marina met the gaze of Ramroop and said firmly, "The footwear."
The man grinned, showing his ugly black teeth. He cocked his head back and shouted, "Eh, Arun! Bring the gal some foooot war!"
A pair of cracked foam thong flip flops were dumped in front of her. "Your foooot war, madam," Arun, who turned out to be the rube with the ponytail, said with a mock bow.
Marina looked at the flip flops. "Fuck this," she said quietly, tying up her trading bundle as fast as lightning and walking away at top speed.
With that, Ramroop cried out, desperate not to lose that sweet bundle of goods. "Eh eh, no, gal! Wait, nah! We's just playing a little. Wait, nah. Eh, Sato! Sato, bring this lady some boots!" This made Marina stop in her tracks, now several yards away.
Ramroop usually would not have been so accommodating. Had it been any other female, he probably would have had his boys knock her down and take it. But it was something about this one…she had a dangerous look in her eyes, like she was holding some great and terrible power inside of her. Ramroop wasn't a superstitious man, but he believed there were things one couldn't see. He wasn't going to push his luck.
Marina was still standing with her back to them, still clutching her trade bundle. She heard the sound of even, careful steps behind her, and saw a package of food and a pair of black rubber boots presented to her left. With her left hand she took them, then pivoted on her heel to hand her bundle to the man, Sato, a muscular Japanese with a beard. His eyes were sad but honest, and he took her package with what seemed to almost be gratitude.
She thanked him, and then he did something that surprised her. He leaned in, ever so slightly, and whispered, "Nothing lasts forever." Before she could react, he was already walking away.
She looked back at him, toward the setting afternoon sun, and then down at the ground. Her boot was touching something.
It was a lighter.
Marina's eyes darted back to the tent, where the Chaguanas Boys were already beginning to dig through the parcel she'd traded. They weren't paying attention to her.
The Japanese man must have dropped it when he leaned in to her. He'd know it was gone sooner or later, and they would probably come after her to get it. But oh, how nice it would make things to have one! To be able to make cooking fires within seconds instead of hours! To have light in the tent at night! She might actually be able to read while Claire slept.
The decent thing Marina could do was to give it back to them. Standing there, hearing their lewd laughter, however, made her rethink that. Quick as a flash she scooped the lighter and put it in her pocket. It was full of fluid. It was like a blessing from heaven.
The journey back to camp seemed easier than the journey out, which was ironic since Marina had a heavier load to carry than before. The faint smell of the food coming through the package was a pleasant inducement, and the evening felt virgin and mild. It was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4 degrees Celsius, on that part of the island – one of the warmest places on Earth. As Marina walked across the stiff and brown plain that was once sandy and pull of palm trees, she dared to think those "useless thoughts" that she often fought back for her own good.
She had lots of useless thoughts, some about the family she'd lost, some about Claire, but most were naturally about herself. Tonight's useless thought – an old one, yet always fresh – was this: "Who would I have been if the world hadn't gotten in my way?"
Marina dared to wonder out loud, and out of the corner of her eye, she could swear she saw two people standing there, listening to her sympathetically. But when she turned to look at them, they were gone.