Written by Loverly Souris
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Chapter 7 – Hope in hopelessness
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There is a faint disgust on the woman's face, as she runs her eyes over Wiress, but her voice remains polite. "I'm sorry, Miss Creever. Even if your grades are outstanding, I'm afraid I can't give you a job," she says and hands her papers back to Wiress. The girl doesn't respond – somehow, she knew this would happen. This is the fourteenth place that rejects her after all.
"Thank you," she mutters and turns on her heels to leave the office. She doesn't see the woman watching her back with a scowl.
The people on the corridors all look at her, like they have never seen a battered girl who has been living on the streets for more than a month. Wiress wonders what it is that they find strange about her – is it her lustreless hair tied in a bun with a piece of string, or her pale, haggard face and the circles under her eyes? Or maybe it is her grey dress, or her bag made of an old sack. It certainly doesn't help that she is barefoot either.
To be honest, she can understand the woman – if a girl looking like her stepped in front of her, she would send her away too. Still, there is some hope flickering in her heart that someone believes in her graduation papers more than in her appearance and might give her some work.
Wiress walks out of the building heading to find a spot to rest. Ever since she has left the Sector of Talents, she has slept in several places – under unused overpasses, in basements, empty garbage containers, on fire escapes, even on balconies to which she had to climb the wall. Had she stayed in the Sector, there would be a roof over her head with food to eat and after she would graduate in a few months, she would be transported to the Capitol for some further refinements before she could work either there or back in District 3.
Nevertheless, she went ahead on her own accord and finished all her finals earlier, with excellent results. It wasn't strange, but it wasn't really common either – usually those students took their exams in advance who were born in some rich family from the Luxury Quarter, and whose parents owned one of the factories that their little son or daughter can inherit in the future. Poorer students didn't even think about leaving the school. Wiress' teachers were amazed by her abilities, but none of them was able or willing to help in finding an appropriate job for her, this is why she has to live on the streets.
The only support she has received from the adults in the Sector was the grey dress she is wearing – she got it from Leonard, who was genuinely proud of her. "If only I had more power, then I'd be able to help you more," he said patting Wiress' head. He didn't ask her why she had decided to take the finals earlier. He knew it very well.
Even after four years, the presence of Lectra was still so powerful that Wiress was practically suffocated by it. The safety of the monotonic days turned into an endless torture and she wanted to run away, but she was sure her best friend wouldn't like that. So she took a more legal path to break free. She had always known that plunging into the unknown world outside the walls wouldn't be easy, but she didn't regret it. She still doesn't regret it, because she somehow feels that Lectra is smiling approvingly in the sky from where she is watching over her.
Wiress passes the Central Office and she catches a glimpse of Beetee Heller who steps out onto the street arm in arm with an older woman. They are chatting pleasantly about something as the man leads her to a car and opens the door for her.
Beetee received many acknowledgements after Lectra's Games for mentoring her, though he was really modest. In fact, he said that if she had kept his advices, she probably wouldn't have survived that long, so it was a good thing she didn't listen to him. Sometimes playing this "game" dangerously is the key to win.
The first and so far the only contact Wiress has had with Beetee is the short letter she is keeping in her bag. She glances down at her right hand – she is wearing Lectra's district token, the loop of wire on her ring finger. And it is owing to Beetee that she can have it.
A few days after the Games, Wiress found an envelope with her name on her desk. It contained the loop accompanied by a note with a manly handwriting.
Dear Miss Creever,
First of all, I'm offering you my deepest condolences. Lectra told me a lot about you – I know you two were close, so I will not start to throw a bunch of clichéd, meaningless expressions at you about how wonderful she was and how painful her death is to all of us. You knew her much better than me, and my words will never be that powerful to ease your grief, no matter how hard I try.
I was lucky to have known her though. She was one of the most valuable people I've ever met. The night before the first day in the arena, she came into my room to say goodbye, and she made me promise that after she dies, I send her district token to you.
So here it is. I sincerely wish that this small memento will be your hope that Lectra is still with you even in the dark times of hopelessness.
As Beetee walks back to the driver's side of the car, his greyish eyes meet Wiress' black ones briefly and the girl turns her head away. She continues to walk while the words of his letter are echoing in her head. She isn't even sure that this male voice in her brain is actually his – although she has heard it several times already, she seems to always forget how he speaks.
Somehow, as Beetee is a mentor, his voice is connected to the Hunger Games, and Wiress' mind automatically rejects everything connected to the Hunger Games.
But when her attentiveness weakens and she is off guard, the pictures often come back to haunt her, especially at night. Then, she used to push her face into her pillow and yell her throat raw – nowadays, she doesn't have the luxury to release her anger and pain. If the Peacekeepers found her on the streets, they would immediately take her to prison for vagrancy.
In Panem, everybody has to work.
Wiress turns onto a dead end and starts to climb up on a fire escape. Her bare feet make no noise on the rusty iron. As she reaches the rooftop, she immediately spots the perfect place for the night, a hole between two walls. She crawls in and smiles contentedly. This is not that bad. She fits into the gap perfectly and with her bag under her head it is almost comfortable even. She has slept in much worse places after all.
A spider runs across the wall in front of her – Wiress watches it disappear when her eyes slowly close with exhaustion.
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She doesn't have much money left.
A few coins are sitting on her palm, sadly gazing up at her as if it wasn't their fault that there are so few of them. Wiress stares back at them, wondering what on earth she is going to do.
"I have to make money," she says to the coins and hides them in her pocket. "The only question is – how?"
She has already sold everything she could, but it wasn't enough. Even if she tried to cut down on her expenses, only spend her money when it was absolutely necessary, her small fortune has gradually decreased to the point where she cannot even afford a loaf of bread.
Stealing isn't really an option – Wiress has thought about it, but she quickly dismissed the idea. She doesn't need one more thing that could be used against her if the Peacekeepers caught her. Begging is the same, it would only get her into prison.
It is obvious that nobody is going to give her a job, not until she can buy herself at least a pair of shoes. But she cannot make herself presentable while she is dying of hunger.
Wiress lets out a sigh and sits down onto the ground dropping her bag next to her. It falls down to the pavement with a faint clash of metal on concrete, and her heart skips a beat. Her fingers move to open the sack immediately and when they emerge, there is a little mechanical bird trapped between them. Wiress smiles. What a relief, it didn't break.
The bird is made of small pieces of copper-coloured scrap metal and she assembled it with her own hands while she was still in the Sector. Not much after Lectra's death, Wiress started to have dreams with flocks of various species of birds – blackbirds, orioles, pigeons, mockingjays, and so on, the majority she couldn't even recognise. And one night, tangled into her dreams, a childhood memory swam up onto the surface of her mind, the picture of a mechanical bird made with the warmest care. It had twinkling blue eyes. The toy somehow made her so safe, so happy, she couldn't tear her eyes away from its beauty for she feared it would all drift away. It was too perfect, too detailed to be a dream.
However, reality waited until two hands came to rest on both of her shoulders – when she looked up and saw the obscured faces of her late parents, she woke up.
After this dream, Wiress decided to build her own bird and that is what she is holding now. She gathered the parts with great effort, always worried that they would catch her with her pockets full of metal plates, gears and wires, and though she tried her best, it turned out to be far less perfect than the one she had seen. Nevertheless it was beautiful and it often helped her overcome the nights when her nightmares were stronger than her.
Wiress places a soft kiss of gratitude on the bird's head, because suddenly, she knows what to do.
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The battered crate is turned upside down, and the top of it is occupied by a crowd of hand-made metal animals. Cats, dogs, mice. A lion, a giraffe, a monkey, a bear. An elegant horse. The dragon she once saw in her History book. And birds, lots and lots of them.
Wiress is sitting behind the crate working on a mockingjay, not glancing up at the people who stop to look at her and her merchandise. None of them has bought anything yet – they are eyeing her with some sort of aloofness, as if they liked the animals but they were too afraid of the crazy-looking girl with dirty feet.
It goes on like this for half of the day. Wiress is not willing to give up though and her hold on this very last thread is stronger and stronger with every time her stomach growls.
"Excuse me, miss!"
Wiress looks up and she meets a pair of large black eyes. Some of the passers-by gaze at the little boy disapprovingly, but he seemingly doesn't care. He is holding the horse in his hands.
"How much is this?" he asks while his mother, a friendly-looking woman steps next to him and crouches to take a better look at the other animals.
"It's fifty," Wiress says and the woman lets out a gasp.
"Oh dear, these are beautiful! How come you sell them on such a low price?"
Wiress doesn't answer, and the little boy turns to his mother. "Mom, can I have this one?"
"Why, of course you can. And let's buy one for your sisters as well," she smiles at Wiress and takes her purse out of her bag. She hands the price of three figures to her and takes the mockingjay she has just finished and a cat. "Thank you so much, dear. You're really talented."
"Thank you, madam."
After the little boy and her mother, an older woman who was watching from afar steps to her and buys a dog. Then young couple comes and they choose pair of pigeons. By the time the streetlamps are turned on, Wiress has sold seven animals and she is munching on a piece of bread.
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Despite of the rain, she is sitting in the corner of a small square with her crate. It is a more or less covered place, except for the large raindrops that occasionally fall onto her head. Wiress welcomes them – rain is made of water, and water can wash away the dirt of the streets.
She has been selling her animals for a week, and she quickly learnt to change her place all the time. To her surprise, she hasn't met any Peacekeepers yet, but she presumes that they wouldn't leave her alone, so she does everything to avoid them.
She bends a piece of wire to form a cat's ear, then fastens it to its head. It took her several days until she gathered enough material for her first set of animals – she kept practically everything that could be used, and luckily, the streets of District 3 are full of scrap metal. Assembling the sculptures is a bit difficult though without a soldering pipe, and Wiress had to come up with a new technique to make it easier.
While she is rolling some whiskers, she is humming a little melody. Nothing in particular, just notes weaving themselves into a random song. Wiress recently found out that quietly singing to herself can ease the harshness of the real world, that it can make her forget her problems until the music lasts, that humming is a pleasant accompaniment to the monotonic twisting and turning of the wires. She got the idea from Cecelia, when she though back on how she was singing that lullaby to calm down, and it works perfectly. It's not that Wiress considers her own voice outstanding – but it is pure enough to fight the darkness often creeping upon her.
She wonders how Cecelia is doing.
She is so absorbed in her work that at first, she doesn't even notice the man stopping by her crate, only as he speaks, "They are really pretty."
Wiress startles and her hands stop for a mere second, but she doesn't dare to look up, so she goes back to her cat. Blood is rushing into her cheeks. The voice is very kind and familiar.
"Thanks," Wiress says. From the corner of her eyes, she sees the man's hand reaching down for one of the animals, a rabbit. It is a special piece, she has never made another besides that one.
"How much does this rabbit cost?"
"Then I'll take it," he says and his other hand which is holding an umbrella comes into her field of vision. "Can you please hold this for a minute while I find my wallet?"
"Sure," Wiress mutters. Their fingers brush against each other softly as she grabs the handle, and her blush turns even redder. His hand is so warm. From under the umbrella, she lets her gaze wander up on his legs clad in black jeans, but she stops herself and her eyes shoot back at her own lap in embarrassment. This is crazy. And yet, she cannot look up, as if an invisible force didn't allow her.
"Here," the man finally says, and puts the money into Wiress' timidly extended palm that is not clinging onto the umbrella. "Thank you so much."
Wiress counts the money, but before she can open her mouth to warn him that he has accidentally paid a double price, he turns and walks away. He is already on the other side of the square when she remembers his umbrella as well, and she finally jumps up to shout after him. "Sir!"
However, he doesn't look back, even though Wiress is sure that he could hear her. She only sees his back and the blackness of his ruffled hair.
Later in the evening, while she is lying under the crumbling scaffolding of an abandoned building, Wiress thinks about a story she once heard about a girl and her anonymous benefactor whom she had never seen. She only knew about the man that he was very tall, so she nicknamed her Daddy Long Legs. Wiress chuckles. The man with the umbrella can be her own Daddy Long Legs – it doesn't matter that he actually seemed to be pretty short.
Will I ever see his eyes?
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In Wiress' Capitol-issued History textbook, there was a very interesting passage on their ancestors from before the Great Apocalypse that captured her attention.
It said that a group of people believed in a deity called "God" whom they thought was in charge with their past, present and future. They worshipped him in sacred places, praying to him to give them what they wanted, to guide them on the roads of life. Of course, at the end of the paragraph, there was a sentence stating that there is no scientific proof of God's existence, but Wiress could see through it. After all, a higher leader, more powerful than the President, cannot fit in the autocratic system of Panem.
Although she has often felt that everything in her life happened for a reason, whether she saw it immediately or not, she couldn't really connect it to an invisible force – at least, not until lately. But now, Wiress is suspecting there must be someone directing her fate, because of all the things happening to her.
That she could always find a relatively safe place to sleep.
That she came up with the idea of selling wire animals to make money.
That she met the man with the umbrella, her Daddy Long Legs, and with his contribution, she could buy herself a pair of shoes.
That she is woken up by a pair of gloved hands dragging her out of the container, putting handcuffs around her wrists.
Probably this deity thinks that after receiving this much good, she can handle a bit of bad.
"You are arrested for vagrancy," the Peacekeeper says on a harsh tone as he sits Wiress into a white police van with the District 3 seal on it and hurls her bag at her. She can barely process this new current of events when she is already transported to the Administration Area.
Those who are caught on the streets can expect a two-week-long imprisonment in the so-called Penal Institute. This place was built to punish the people deemed guilty either rightfully or wrongfully. On the top of the tall walls, the curving barbed wire serves as threatening memento of the living hell on the other side. Because it does not matter if you really committed a crime or you are innocent – everybody in here suffers from the cruel treatment of an oppressive regime as one. Pain and death are blooming between the greyish bricks of the buildings like horrible flowers and they are slowly suffocating every soul with their lethal pollen.
As the van turns onto the yard of the Institute, a silly thought occurs to Wiress. I should really get used to this. It seems that I'll spend my whole life in some kind of prison anyway. There is a small window on the side of the vehicle – she cannot see anything but a thin slice of the dark grey sky.
Wheels coming to a screeching halt on the gravel of the lot and a few seconds later the Peacekeeper opens the back door reaching for Wiress. He pulls her out with such a force that the girl loses her balance and falls onto the ground. Tiny, sharp rocks pierce into her palms.
"Get up!" the Peacekeeper shouts at her, but he doesn't move to help her up or something. Wiress scrambles to her feet and the man pushes her bag into her arms. "Here. Though it won't be very useful."
After that, Wiress has to follow him into an office where a stern-looking woman with glasses asks her various questions and writes down her data into a file. When it's over, she announces the usual sentence in cases like this – two weeks. Since there is no room for appealing, Wiress accepts it without a word solely because this is the only thing she can do. And maybe because deep inside her heart, there is a fragment that is already starting to give up.
The Peacekeeper leads her into another room with more guards and they take her bag replacing it with a pair of grey trousers and a shirt, the uniform of the prisoners. They order her to change her clothes. Wiress hesitates, she looks around searching for a separated area, but as she finds nothing, her only option is to get naked in front of these men.
Wiress tries to ignore that disgusting satisfaction on their faces which appears while she unzips her dress, takes it off and as quickly as she can, she pulls on the oversized shirt. The trousers are dangling from her bony hip as well. "Too big," she says quietly and the men around her break out laughing.
"That's the only size, sweetie."
The top button of her shirt is resting exactly on her breasts, practically leaving her whole chest uncovered.
The last stop is the cell where she is going to spend her confinement. Four bunk beds crammed into a room not much larger than her own bedroom where she used to live alone during her last years in the Sector. Two beds are empty, six pairs of eyes are inspecting her from the occupied ones as the Peacekeeper pushes her inside and shuts the door behind her. The eyes of six other women. All hostile.
One single window provides a bit of morning light. It's up high, on the same level with one of the free beds. Wiress finds it strange, because it seems to be a nice place and she wonders why no one took it, but in the end, she doesn't care and climbs up. On the opposite bed, a middle-aged woman glances at her for the last time before she turns to face the wall. Wiress looks outside through the window and she suddenly realises why nobody wanted to sleep here.
From where she is lying now, she can perfectly see a small area surrounded by three brick walls. A Peacekeeper is leading a broken, limping prisoner to the middle wall, then he walks back a few steps while unhooking the gun from his shoulder. The man is whimpering in fear and he is about to fall onto his knees and beg for forgiveness, but the guard doesn't give him that opportunity – he executes him unceremoniously with a clear shot in the forehead.
The blood from the corpse flows into the drains in the ground, like simple rainwater.
Wiress is motionless. Yeah, I should get used to this, too, she tells herself bitterly at first, then after it finally sinks in, she starts screaming inside, sobbing and crying to get her freedom back.
I don't want this…
No matter how many deaths she has seen in her life – the high number won't make them less traumatizing. It never will.
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Thank you for reading chapter 7! :)
Sorry, sorry, I'm so sorry! *bowing apologetically* My life wasn't particularly easy these days, which is a bad reason, I know – I mean, whose life is easy nowadays? –, but I'm finally back. :) I'll try to update more. I'll really try, even though my university gives me so much work that my brain is practically dead. :D So don't think I've abandoned this story. :)
As usual, I want to know what you think. :)