When I wake up, I can already hear the yelling from the kitchen. My mother's voice resounds in the bakery, yelling at my father about his incessant need for squirrel meat, how he needed to polish up the place and prepare himself for today. Of course he would need to. Today was the day of reaping.
Wiping away the last remnants of sleep from my eyes, I saunter over to the kitchen, she was still babbling along until I manage to pick up a bag of flour and smash it down as hard as I can, creating a flurry of white dust in the air. She's dumbfounded at first, until she finds my face once the dust clears. She doesn't say a word, but in her eyes I know she wants to scream, but because today is the day it is, she bites her tongue.
"Clean it up Peeta, we're due to deliver to the Mayor Undersee soon." She mutters, huffing away back to her room.
Walking over to the small closet, I take a calm breath, and nod over to my father. He's never been too good with words, so we go along the rest of morning, cleaning, baking, and leaving the words that need to go unsaid. He never questions what may happen if my name is ever chosen for the reaping. My chances were probably far greater than any boy in the District. When I was of age to sign up in the Justice Building for tessarae, I had to against my own will. My mother being the woman that she was, needed more, she couldn't live off of stale bread, she needed sustenance and we needed to scrap off what we could to get by in the Seam in order to fulfill that duty. Every year then on, including my passing 16th birthday, I've signed for the extra tessarae, and carried the bags over my own shoulders. What a burden it was indeed.
I clear my throat as I take a look at my father, he looks up, staring at me with the familiar blue hues that I had come to inherit.
"Everything's clean." I say, "And the next batch of bread should be done in 10 minutes. Are you coming with me to the Mayor's?"
He shakes his head and walks over to me, patting me on the shoulder. "I think you're old enough to carry on, on your own." He says.
I don't understand the connotation but I take it for what it is, I have to carry on. Walking away from the kitchen and back into the room, my bed that I left disheveled is already made up, and on top is the finest suit I've ever seen. I touch the black material, not too sure what it is, it felt soft but ragged at the edges, a little worn, so I assume it must have come from my father, but with careful examination I can see intricate stitching that folds onto extra cloth. It must have been fitted just for me. Taking off the brown cotton pants and white over shirt, I throw on the ensemble, from the black slacks to the light pastel oriented button up. The cuffs are a bit difficult to get on, until my mother walks in silently and fixes them up for me. The next movement is to secure a black tie around my neck, it feels more like a noose more than anything else.
When she's finished, she flips me around and makes me turn to the mirror, preparing to grab a little water to wet the edges of my hair.
"Don't slick it back." I warn her."
"You'll look more like a presentable boy that way Peeta, you are going to the Mayor's after all." She replies swiftly.
Any emotion out of the woman that wasn't anger simply died the minute she tries to exude it. It feels like staring at a mechanical statue, something that's always stuck perpetually because that's how the artist has molded them out to be. In my mother's case, I can't figure out who or what created her into being who she was. Or how my father even found it endearing.
After a few more spats of whether or not to slick the hair back, I end up winning, with a simple comb over that seems to please her. Putting on some hand me down black polished shoes, she secures a lily to my front pocket and sends me off with the order for the Mayor.
It's a whole other world when I step out from the bakery. A world I haven't figured out fully and yet I should know after the years I've spent living in here. District 12.
Land of the coal.
Land of those dying in poverty.
Land of the truly hungry.
I catch my reflection from one of the market place stops that sells mirrors and come to despise the person looking back. He isn't who I am. But what am I to begin with? Sighing, I managed to rush my hands through the watered down mess that becomes my hair and keep walking with the satchel of bread over my shoulder. I'm not very well known in the Seam as anything else but the Bakers son. I'm humbled by it, since it gives me solitude. But even solitude gets the best of us all. The mayors house is a little well off better than most of the houses in the Seam. It looks cleaner to say the least. Heading over to the front door, I press a button that lets out a symphony of sound ring through the house, I can hear it from the open windows. We don't have the luxury of door bells in the bakery, the best we could do was hanging a bell on a string to go off every time someone opens the door.
The doors open and on the other side is Madge Undersee. She holds up a finger for me to wait as a maid rushes down the stairs after her.
"You're not proper right now Miss. Undersee! Honestly!"
"Grab me my robe and I will be. A friend is at the door." She says simple.
The maid rushes away in a huff, almost flabbergasted that she's opened the door in simple clothes, just a regular brown dress. Madge smiles points to the satchel.
"Are the good breads and cookies inside?" She asks me, as she takes out a small coin purse, digging through for the payment.
"Just like your father always asks for." I say politely.
Madge and I have always been able to have conversations freely. She normally initiates them and I go along with it. She understands in a way what it's like to be a loner outside of school and inside rather. I'm suddenly feeling misconstrued about this talk of loneliness. I had friends, I did, but they were around me because boys will boys, if that's how the saying goes. None of them ever wanted to talk about real ground breaking issues, everything was just simple for them. Why couldn't I be as simple?
"Peeta?" Madge interrupts, holding out the coins for me to take. "This'll be enough right?"
Breaking away from my reverie, I nod, and take the money, tucking it into the now empty satchel as she takes the goods and hands it over to another servant who's called upon.
"More than enough actually, Madge." I say carefully. "It seems like way too much."
She presses her pointer finger to her own lips and shakes her head. "Consider it a gift, as good luck. For the reaping."
"And what am I going to do with the extra money?" I joke.
"Save it. Use it for something useful. Maybe for her." She says simple.
I look at the blonde in front of me, the knowing smirk growing on her lips as I stand dumbfounded. She couldn't be talking about…
No, of course not. She couldn't be.
"You should be on your way now Peeta, I'll see you at the reaping?" She says.
"Of course Madge." I reply, waving off to her, digging my hands into the pant pockets as I stride off back over to the bakery.
Is it ridiculous to be dressed this early for the reaping? Perhaps. All I really want to do is just keep my hands busy to keep my mind from wandering. The reaping being today has put the District on edge. Who will be next? How many lives would we have to come to know briefly under the watchful eyes of the Capitol? How many would we have to say goodbye to? What classmate will we have to watch die as the Careers take their ends off?
Walking back, people are scrambling in the square to take their bets already. It's unnerving how there's absolutely no faith in any of the potential contenders here, but who could blame them? Districts 1, 2, and 4 are all better off then most of the children here. Frail, thin as a bone, and practically no strength. I had the luck of having to gain strength from chucking bags of flour everywhere, but I couldn't take that skill seriously could I?
Getting over to the bakery again, my mother is perched near the front window, she usually isn't there unless my father has made up some sort of lie for her to check on something to do an underground deal to trade for something in the back. To help the old man, I go ahead and walk up towards her, trying to see what lie she's been fed today.
"Peeta, have you seen the pigs?" She asks.
I shake my head. "No…not around this area, they should be fenced in already."
"Your father told me, they're the ones coming over to this window and taking the fresh bread right from us. They come to the side and slam their bodies to the wall, sending the bread down and eating up what's good money." She says, eyeing over to the pen.
"Right. Well, mom," I begin, seeing my father appearing back in the kitchen, the coast already clear. "I'll make sure to look out for it. "How about lunch before we head off to the square, we should get there early."
The meal is simple. Pumpernickel bread with a smooth cheese I can't get the name of for the life of me. But my father trades for it, supposedly it comes from a goat. We sit at the table in silence, my mother doesn't touch her plate and goes back to picking at my hair and wiping away flour dust that catches onto the fabric of the suit.
"Remember to stand proud and tall today Peeta, just incase you catch on camera."
Was vanity and money all that mattered to this woman?
I nod my head in agreement, biting my tongue to hold back the words I wanted to say. But she was right, image was everything and everyone would be watching all over Panem.
Panem, the only country left, if you could call it that. Ruled by the most insidious monster, President Snow. The reaping today would choose two children to be sent off away from the district, potentially forever to fight for the death. And for what cause, because a rebellion happened so many years ago, that it's now become an alarming message to us all, if you rebel we take your children, you watch as they die for your mistakes. Suddenly, I'm not so hungry anymore, the bread taste stale, the cheese spread sour. Water doesn't make the taste disappear.
When the meal commences, I get up and go back to my room to lay in bed for the remaining half hour before heading to the square. Everything in the room, I may have to leave behind. The chances of it are great as I'm entered into the bowl at least 20+ times. A soft knock on my door, and the grim look on my father's face that greets me tells me its time to head to the square. I take in a breath and hold my head high as I walk with my parents to the square. We're greeted by neighbors and some friends that are accustomed to my mother. A few pats on my shoulders and a kiss of luck from some of the women, and I'm ushered off to the different sections where they keep the potential tributes, almost like cattle. The screens surrounding the square are out of this world, something we never usually see, and something so foreign at the same time. The cameras turn on, the lights gleam up, and suddenly shots of the children, of the crowd, and the sign of Panem comes up.
It's such a shame that the square is subjected to this Russian roulette of death. This is the place where the children were running around and people were shopping not too long ago, and now it's place of remembrance to remember who would be walking to their death on that dreadful stage. The space becomes more cramped as more children and parents try to flock to be in the same general area, some are ushered to a different part of the Seam to view the drawing from a different screen. I can't help but thinking I just want to get this over with.
Let me get back to the same life I've been in these past few years. Learning about a history that I can't change. Baking bread to try to help feed those who need it. Can't I go back to the fresh smell of bread, go back to making cakes, learning about different usages of frosting?
My thoughts are broken against as two school mates show up by my side, we don't speak, just simple nod to give our version of "Good luck, hope your name isn't chosen." One of the boys point to the stage where two of three seats are taken up, one by Mayor Undersee and the other by a mousy looking woman with vibrant pink hair in a suit of green that looks like a shade of paste I would find to brush my teeth. It's almost laughable how animated she's trying to look. I swear the Capitol tries so hard to gain a sense of fashion I will never understand. She looks nervously at the third seat and we all know who it belongs to. The only victor alive from District 12, Haymitch Abernathy. The clock strikes two and there's no use of waiting any longer, as Mayor Undersee steps up to the podium to relay the same speech he always does when it comes to reaping day.
He tells the story of Panem, how the country washed away and burned, rising from the residue to become what it has become leaving behind it's former self North America. He lists the terrible natural disasters from the fires, the droughts, to the storms of strong magnitudes that literally wiped out a majority of the world, but left us in our 13 district glory. We were thought to be peaceful after surviving, until the Dark Days came about. Twelve districts submitted to utter tyranny while the thirteenth district was destroyed completely. A Treaty of Treason then came to rise to give us the darkest law of all, to be held every year as a reminder of the consequences we must take in for the rebellion. Thus the birth of the Hunger games came to be.
The rules are simple enough to follow. Every district must give up a tribute, one female, one male. This gives us 24 tributes in all. If their name is drawn they are taken from their district to the Capitol. They're given a taste of life outside of living in poverty, trained to kill, and then thrown off to whatever arena the Gamemakers find suit. The last tribute standing wins a life of luxury and glory thereafter for their District until next years reaping when the cycle continues.
It's almost a stab in the back each time. The Capitol clearly taunts us with the loss and the misery, we're all just pawns. The bitter taste comes back in my mouth and I can't do anything but swallow it back down as Mayor Undersee finishes his speech, a round of applauds comes, and then a pause as he holds his hand up for silence. He takes out a very pitiful piece of paper to name off the winning tributes. We've only had two in our time, with one still very much alive. When his name is called, a disheveled man stumbles onto the stage with a bottle in his hand. Haymitch Abernathy in all his drunken glory. He's saying something under his breath unintelligible, slurring his words together. He's beyond intoxicated at this point and it shows. He slumps over to Effie Trinket, messing with her equilibrium and nearly knocking her down, I notice there's a shift of her wig as it rises to the side towards the right. I can't help but smile.
Mayor Undersee doesn't look very amused.
I'm sure he's worried about how laughable District 12 must look to have a slob of a middle aged man like Haymitch as our only victor so far. The bets would never be in our favor at this point. He clears his throat and overpowers Haymitch's ranting and raving by having some patrons seat Haymitch at his chair and introduces Effie. She straightens out her suit and puts on her brightest smile, her accent resounding from the microphone. It's high pitched and each inflection doesn't sound normal. It's almost as if she's yipping like a poodle but singing like a failed opera star.
"Happy Hunger Games and may the odds be ever in your favor!" She spouts out, cheerily looking through each section.
I look around towards the crowd, no one reciprocates a smile to her, each person looks to be in fear or stone faced from emotion. She continues then about how proud she is to be working for this district, though something tells me even with her quirky and weird inflections, that's a complete and total lie, and that it is an honor to once again be announcing who will enter the arena and hopefully bring glory to District 12. Two glass balls are brought to the stage. She smiles broadly and claps excitedly as she steps back for the workers to take the podium to move to the side of the glass balls.
"It's time to choose the tributes." She chimes in, "Of course it'll have to be ladies first."
Her hands fish into the bowl, her face becoming a playful spout of wonder as she takes a slip in her hands. Pulling the slip of paper into her hands, the air suddenly grows tense and tight as the crowd draws a collective breath together.
Effie moves back to the podium, unraveling the piece of paper, in a clear voice, she further stuns us all when she says the first name, "Primrose Everdeen."