Her beautiful eyes close for the last time
As the canon blasts a devastating chime
Her life spills over the grass and dirt
But I take one comfort in this terrible hurt
Honor, courage and sacrifice
She gave herself for our paradise
Mrs. Boswell closed the book in her hands as she moved to the front of the room. She spun on her heel to face her pupils, but her smile fell at the sight of their unanimous disinterest. Her class was normally a lively one, a stark contrast to the others. Mrs. Boswell was an enthusiastic teacher and she encouraged discussion. And after a long day of sitting in silence while adults droned on about the history of Panem or how the body works, most students actually looked forward to the English lesson.
But Katniss didn't share her peers' enthusiasm. She liked their teacher just fine; she just had a hard time focusing while Mrs. Boswell read aloud. Maybe it was fatigue from the long day, or the soothing tenor of the women's voice that seemed to beckon daydreams. But Katniss blamed the window for her inability to concentrate.
Their English class was held in the only room with a view. The others offered the familiar depressing sights of bare earth littered with rock, or gray skies and vast nothingness. But this window looked over a merchant's garden, and it was green and alive and the sun bathed it, blessing it with growth. Katniss could stare out that window all day.
"Well, questions? Thoughts?" Mrs. Bowell prompted.
Silence. No one had been looking forward to the Poems of Panem unit. "It's not poetry, it's propaganda," Madge Undersee had said to her at lunch. Madge was usually so quiet. It was a testament to just how hated the poems were.
The teacher tapped her foot, a rare showing of impatience and annoyance.
"It's not very good," offered Sally Keener, a Seam girl. She was also the smartest person in the school, not just Smart for the Seam, which is what everyone would usually say. Katniss was pretty sure Sally could hold her own against anyone.
Mrs. Boswell's eyes shined as she smiled at her favorite student. "Well, Sally, I dare you to do better."
Sally twirled a strand of her dark hair as she stared at the ceiling thoughtfully. "Hmm. How about:
He mourned her for the rest of the day
But then everything was A-OK
He was from the Capitol, anyway."
A few students laughed at the dangerous dig, and Katniss looked over to see Peeta Mellark was one of them. He smiled brightly before returning to his doodling. Peeta was always looking out the window, too.
Mrs. Boswell sighed. "I know some of you find this dreadfully boring, but Gallow's work is an important part of Panem literature. And this poem is the first in a long series about his unrequited love for this Tribute."
Katniss's thoughts drifted away as she studied Peeta. He was two seats ahead, one row over, and fell right in her line of vision. She watched as he focused on whatever he was drawing. Katniss wasn't close enough to see his art, so she didn't know what it was, or if it was even any good. But she still found herself watching him sometimes, mesmerized by his rapt attention to his work. Every few minutes, he would lift his head and look toward the window, so Katniss was almost sure he was replicating something from outside. Was it the perfect rows of growing vegetables? The beautiful old oak tree in the distance?
"Gallow's work reflects a central theme of fate versus free will. The reaping was the girl's fate, and he believed their destiny was predetermined. She was always to die in the games, and he was to fall madly in love with her as he watched from the Capitol. "
"But he didn't even know her," offered one boy in the back. Katniss wasn't sure of his name.
Peeta shifted in his seat but then returned to his drawing.
"True, but the heart is a curious thing. He also felt they were bonded by their devotion to the Hunger Games."
Peeta's sleeves were rolled up just past his forearms, and the muscles flexed as he erased. His arms were so thick. She knew he was strong; she saw him before at his father's bakery, lifting large sacks of flour over his head as if they were light as feathers.
The teacher sighed in resignation. "Well, let's talk about fate versus free will independent of the poems for now. It's a recurring theme in many works you'll come across in the next four years." She moved around the room with purpose. "Thoughts? Anyone?"
Katniss watched as Peeta looked up and then slowly raised his hand. Mrs. Boswell's relief was visible. "Yes, Peeta?"
Her brow furrowed in confusion. "What about it?"
"I mean…that's what I believe in. Free will. Not fate."
The teacher seemed surprised for a second but quickly recovered. "Okay, then. Why?"
Peeta shrugged. "I guess I just don't like the idea that I have no say in my life. That everything has already been decided for me."
"So you don't believe that everything happens for a reason and has its purpose?"
"No, I think there's a purpose." He paused thoughtfully before continuing. "I think it's like the wind and a bird in flight. The wind can lift them and push them forward, but the bird chooses its own direction."
Katniss mulled over his words as Mrs. Boswell wrote their evening assignment on the chalkboard. She decided she agreed with him, that she liked the idea that her direction and choices belonged solely to her.
As the students stood to gather their things after their dismissal, Katniss glanced over toward Peeta again and caught a glimpse of his drawing. It was beautiful.
It was a bird.