CHAPTER 4: The Reaping
The days fly by quickly as I get used to working in the orchards. I learn more and more about the different plants and fruits we grow. I am astounded by the different uses of plants. The adults show me healing plants, and I memorize them all.
One time, another kid who was working with me in the orchards disturbed a tracker jacker as he was gathering fruit, and it stung him right on his neck. Remembering all I had learned, I quickly treated him with a few of the healing leaves that I always had with me. Tracker jacker nests were common around here, and you can spare the worst of the hallucinations if you tend to the sting right away.
As I grow more familiar to the orchards, I find myself loving it. The sweet scent of fruits and berries, the rich canopy of the tallest trees, the soft mud beneath my feet. But what I love most is climbing the trees and watching the world below me. I feel like I am one with the birds.
Everyday, I sing my four notes. The mockingjays respond without hesitations. It has become a symbol of hope, my four notes. They signify the ending of another day, the time when we can finally rejoin our loved ones in the safety of our homes.
But life is not this easy. And the other dangers of being twelve are always present in my mind. But I've tucked them away, hidden them so they would not bother me.
Today, they come out again. They dance around in my mind, refusing to go away.
Today it is Reaping day.
Our square is never occupied. The old, abandoned shops around them have given up business. No one has money to buy anything.
Today, the square is full of people. Peacekeepers march around in their crisp uniforms, making sure everyone is well behaved. Banners are hung from the Justice Building, mimicking the festive mood the Capitol has for the Games. Anastasia Flavika, our district's escort from the Capitol, stands on stage, rehearsing for today's performance.
I nervously tug on my dress as I enter the square. My feet feel tight and confined in these shoes. We never wear shoes here.
The square is not large enough to hold the entire population. All the children whose names are in the Reaping Bowl stand in neat formations while everyone else watches from home. I quickly find the twelve year olds. We stand nearest to the stage, shaking and quivering in our uncomfortable shoes. I recognize the girl next to me.
"Daisy?" I ask tentatively. She whips her head in my directions, her eyes full of fear.
"Rue!" she exclaims, grabbing my hand tightly. She was my classmate at school, and we often talked to each other during lunch. "I'm so scared," she whispers, her voice shaking.
I squeeze her hand, "Our names are only in there once," I say, echoing my father. She nods her head.
"Welcome, welcome," the mayor says into the microphone. The chairs on the stage behind him hold our two most recent female and male tributes as well as Anastasia. "We are all gathered here today to celebrate the choosing of two tributes that will represent our district in the Hunger Games," he says with a forced smile. The cameras are all trained on his face.
He goes through the usual routine, the whole time managing to maintain a happy tone. I know he's just as miserable as the rest of us though, because his three kids are all in the crowd today.
He hands over the microphone to Anastasia, who claps her hands excitedly. "Oh, I just love the Hunger Games, don't you?" she asks us, her voice bubbly.
The crowd is so silent you could hear a pin drop.
"Yes, well, we should move along with the festivities! It's time to see who the lucky two will be this year!"
Every one stares at her with such hatred that I'm surprised she is able to keep smiling and laughing. I wince at the word lucky. Since when does being thrust into an arena, forced to kill other kids and fight for your life considered lucky?
"Ladies first, then!" Anastasia flounces over to one of the glass balls, her fingers bouncing in anticipation. She shoves her bright orange arm into the ball, feeling the slips with her fingers. My heart beats louder and louder, threatening to explode any second. She comes up with a slip, holding it triumphantly in the air.
The crowd is silent.
She makes her way to the center of the stage, leaning towards the microphone as she unfolds the slip. "And the female tribute for district eleven is…"
Not me. Not me. Not me. I grasp Daisy's hand tighter, afraid to let go.
"Rue!" she finally says, a pleased look on her face.
My breathing stops, caught in my throat. I look up at her helplessly, frozen in place.
Not me. Not me. Not me.
Daisy lets of my hand gently, trying not to cry. She squeezes my shoulder. And then it hits me like a ton of bricks. My vision gets blurry as I feel the tears coming, feel the burning sensation in my chest.
I am going to the Hunger Games.