I sit with my back against the sturdy metal pillar. I’m not allowed to be here. It’s punishable by law. But who even abides by the laws anymore? There are too many to keep track of. Most people do at least three illegal things every day. I’m sure the government knows, but they don’t bother about it. After all, where would we be if there were police arresting people for the smallest of crimes?
That sounds incredibly silly to say when you think about it. People should be punished if they are committing crimes. But this is what our society has come to.
I take out a knife from my bag in an attempt to cut the bread in my hand, but it is no use. The stale bread has hardened too much already. I’m surprised it hasn’t started to rot. Still, this is the only food I have, so it’ll have to do.
I hear footsteps climbing up the unfinished building. Quickly, I draw my knife and stay as silent as possible.
“Hello? Hazel!” Someone calls out. I recognize the voice. It’s Aydan.
“I’m here you blind cow!” I respond jokingly. Soon enough, I see him walking towards me. As he walks over, I see the scar over his forehead that makes him look surprised all the time. He's had that scar since I've known him. I met Aydan a year ago as I was scrounging the streets for food. He was half-dead, with severe burns and injuries all over his body. There was thick pus oozing out of a gash on his forehead. I would have walked past him had he not stopped me. He stuck his foot out as I walked by, tripping me. I had whipped around with my knife inches from his face when I saw his condition. Maybe Naya had told me I was heartless, but I wasn't heartless enough to hurt this innocent boy. He looked about Naya's age, 14, maybe 15. Not much younger than me.
"Please help me," he croaked. His eyes were swollen, and he could barely see me.
"Where are your parents?" I had asked, taking a seat beside him.
"Died in a fire. My little sister too. I made it out in time,"
"You have a lot of infected injuries, you know,"
"I know. I'm going to die soon probably," I don't know what it was in that statement that made me want to help him, but it did.
"No! You're not going to die! I promise. My sister is very good with herbs and medicine. She can help you, I'll take you there now. Can you get up?" He shook his head, so I took one of his bruised arms and swung it over my shoulder. Slowly, we walked back to the crumbly apartment building I called home. The paint was peeling everywhere, and the stench worsened by the second. But it was the only place I had, so it would have to do. I dragged him in through the door and left him slumped against the wall as I went to call my sister.
"ARE YOU BLOODY MAD? BRINGING IN ANYONE YOU SEE ON THE STREETS! HE COULD HAVE RABIES, OR MAYBE THAT HORRID COVID THING! YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT HIM!" Naya yelled. She acted like she was years older when in reality she was two years younger.
"I couldn't have just left him there, Naya! The poor boy lost his family in a fire!" I retorted, dragging him into the kitchen.
"C'mon, please. It'll just take a second," Naya rolled her eyes and sighed.
"Okay, but this is no doctor's office. I'm not giving you an invitation to bring in anyone else. We need these herbs for Mom," she finally agreed. I thanked her and laid him on the kitchen table.
A few hours later, he was all cleaned up, except for some swelling, a broken wrist, and worst of all, the forehead injury that never seemed to stop bleeding. I knew it would scar, and I was right.
Aydan approaches me with a paper bag in hand.
"Look what I found!" he says excitedly.
"What's in it?"
"Well, not much. Just an apple and some bread. Here," He shoves the bag into my hand.
"Hey, no, we should split it!" I insist. He gives me a look that says, Seriously, Hazel?
"You have five siblings and a mom. You need it more than I do. Besides, I already had my dinner," I give him a hug and thank him.
The big clock in our main square chimes eight times, telling me it's time to go home. My youngest brother, Elliot greets me at the door. He's only five.
"Did you bring any food for me?" he asks. I smile at him and nod.
After dinner, I go to check on my mother. A year ago, she was diagnosed with a rare condition called Choritis Dophia. We should've gotten treatment by now, but our family is of lower class. Getting a doctor would be a dream come true, but it's obviously not happening any time soon.
I roam the streets after dark every night. It gives me time to myself, to just relax and think. Today is different though. As I am walking, I hear voices up ahead. It's not typical to see other people out after dark, so naturally, I go to investigate.
I regret it immediately. Just around the corner is Mr. Harrington, our town's leader. If he saw me out here at this time, I'd be arrested for sure. I should get out of here ASAP, but something stops me. Mr. Harrington is talking to Maria Windsor. She owns a bakery here, and everybody loves her food. Unfortunately, I cannot afford to bring back pastries for my family, but I hope that one day, I can.
"You're going to do it. You don't have a choice. That's the punishment for being out at eleven pm." Mr. Harrington says to Maria.
"No, sir please, I beg you!"
"Do it, or meet me at the execution dungeons tomorrow." Tears are streaming down Maria's cheeks now.
"You have 30 seconds to make a decision, Ms. Windsor." I count 27 before Maria says a word.
"Okay, I'll do it."
"Wonderful!" He hands Maria a small bottle, which she tucks in her pocket.
"And Maria! You are not to tell anyone what I've just given you. This is the cure to the virus. The people can't know that Choritis Dophia has a cure. It's too dangerous. I hope you understand what is at stake here,"
"I do, sir."
"In fact, isn't your son infected with the virus?" Maria nods slowly.
"Well, if you give him even a drop of this without my permission, you and your family will pay the price. And I must warn you, there's a very hefty price to be paid.
"I understand, sir,"
"Good, I'll leave you to it then. Don't let me catch you out here again or the consequences will be so much worse," he says, as he walks off.
I cannot believe what I have just heard. The cure to Choritis Dophia is right down the block from my apartment. I decide to keep this to myself for now, but it's all I can think about for the next few weeks. I haven't even told Aydan.
I'm sitting on a bench by the river thinking as Aydan approaches me.
"Hazel, I've got something crazy to tell you," he says, but he is cut off by a voice we hear from the loudspeakers.
"Attention citizens! There has been a robbery at the local Windsor bakery! You will all be interrogated one by one! If you know something about this theft and you chose not to report it, there will be severe repercussions. I advise you to tell the truth for your own good. Thank you," the voice says. Aydan's face looks like he's just seen a ghost.
"How do they know already?" he mutters under his breath.
"What do you mean? Aydan, do you know something?" I whisper, looking around to make sure no one is listening.
"I stole it, the cure. There is a cure for Choritis Dophia. The government created it to use in war and decided to test it on random citizens. They've just engineered a cure, but they need someone to keep it safe. They gave it to Maria Windsor because people aren't likely to steal from her. That is unless they know what they could potentially steal." He slowly takes the bottle out of his pocket and hands it to me.
"For your mom," I shake my head and give it back to him. Rage is building up inside me.
"No. We can do better than just cure my mom,"
"What do you mean, Hazel?" he asks.
"The government thinks they're scaring us? No, we'll scare them. I know that we aren't the only ones in this town who need the cure. We're going to find those people, and we're going to fight back." I whisper. "I'm doing this for my mother, for Maria's son, for my siblings, and for the good of this town. Give me that bottle,"
Tentatively, Aydan hands me the bottle. I walk over to a nearby bush and unscrew the cap. Slowly, I pour out all the liquid into the bushes and throw the small vial far away.
"They can take away my money, my home, my father, but they won't get away with this," I say. And I am committed. For the first time in my life, I feel like I have a purpose. I am helping people. I am saving lives, and no one will get in my way.