The labyrinthine of life

Submitted into Contest #228 in response to: Start or end your story in a bustling street food market.... view prompt



This story contains sensitive content

This story contains themes of death

Thea's stomach growled as a miscellany of aromas collided in the breeze of the food market. A distinct cloud of chicken curry smoke wafted across her face transporting her back in time. Where a 10 year old Thea looked on as her mother made a meal. She could almost hear the soft sound of her mother humming in unison with the clinking noise of her wooden spoon against the pot as she stirred. The different scents of spices blended together, some basil, a bit of coriander and a dash of her mothers secret ingredient danced through the kitchen as a blinding light from the bright sunshine shimmered from behind her, making it impossible to see her mothers beautiful face. Thea’ stomach growled again, interrupting her train of thought.  

It had been a full day since she'd had her last meal and she had to find something to eat. Thea stood on the tips of her toes and snuck a quick glance over the side of the stall, ensuring that she would not be seen, before crouching back down. Her eyes caught sight of an enormous woman on the other side who was leisurely piling up fruits in different crates, while her eyes moved back and forth between the crates and two boys playing at a distance. They were two of the scruffiest boys Thea had ever seen. The boys each had a handful of sticks in their delicate hands, occasionally picking some rocks. They each appeared to be building what looked like mini makeshift houses. As the older boy turned his back to look for more sticks, Thea picked up a small pebble, inspected it and aimed it at the older boy's makeshift house. The pebble hit the sticks causing them to scatter and completely decimated the little makeshift house. The younger boy stared in disbelief and was still wondering what had happened when the older boy returned. His face, red with fury. A fight soon ensued and this was her chance. Thea took a quick look at the woman who, now distracted, stood outside her stall yelling at them to stop. This was her cue. Without wasting a moment Thea stuffed 4 big apples and 2 handfuls of grapes into her tattered bag before she retreated back to her hiding spot and into an alleyway behind the food market. 

Once she'd turned the corner, Thea breathed a sigh of relief. The adrenaline rush of stealing always made her heart feel as if it were about to jump right out her mouth. She scurried towards a small wooden door, before looking over her shoulder. There was no one in sight. She opened the door and lifted an old black flap behind it that had been used to conceal an entrance into an old dilapidated building. The entrance was low. She went down on her hands and knees and she crawled through the small space and entered the building which was dimly lit by a small lamp just further ahead. Thea rubbed her eyes in an attempt to adjust to the darkness as she stood up before briskly making her way toward the dim light where her sisters waited for her in anticipation. “What did you bring?” Cindy asked in a soft excited tone. Thea removed the bag from around her waist and emptied its contents onto the empty wooden bowl that sat between them. “Let Mia eat first.” She cautioned Cindy, whose little hands had already found their way into the bowl grabbing a fistful of grapes in the process. 

Mia weakly lifted her head up from the ground, extended her hand into the bowl and picked up one grape. She put it between her teeth and struggled to chew. “Here,” Thea said, handing her half a grape when she'd managed to finish chewing the first one. Mia feigned a weak smile. “Now,” Thea started. “I want you both to imagine we are invited guests at the queen's Palace and we are enjoying an elaborate meal, with rice and chicken…” “And chicken curry Cindy interjected.” 

“Yes, now close your eyes.” Thea said as she closed hers and took a big bite of the red juicy apple and tried to imagine it was a big juicy piece of her mothers steak instead. “Mmm chocolate,” said Cindy with a mouthful of grapes. Thea opened one eye and chuckled at the sight. Her mind traveled back to their family dinners, Cindy in a high chair stuffing her small mouth as the rest of the family chatted away. Her fathers tender laugh as he mimicked Cindy came to mind. They would be so proud of how Cindy and Mia had both grown in the space of a year and how Thea had managed to care for both of them all on her own.

A bright flash brought their imaginary banquet to a halt. The girls looked to the direction of the entrance, the flap that concealed the entrance to their ‘home’ had been lifted and there stood three large towering shadowy figures. “Run!” Thea yelled at Cindy as she attempted to lift Mia to her feet. Cindy scurried away to the other side of the room. It was too late, the shadowy figures were in their home. Thea felt a tight grip on her shoulder. “Got you!” A gruff voice said, she could almost feel the smirk on his face as he spoke. He led Thea and Mia out as the other two tried to control Cindy who was kicking and screaming as they carried her out. 

“She's a feisty one.” The figure of a tall blonde woman blocking the entrance of their building emerged as Thea’s eyes adjusted to the light. She stood leaning against a car with her arms crossed, reminding Thea of one of her old school teachers. She moved aside as two of the men opened the car doors and ordered the girls inside. The inside of the car was cool, a nice break from the heat they had been forced to endure inside the old building. The tall blonde woman stepped into the driver's seat as the other three walked across the road to the other car. She smelt of water melons and flowers and still looked cool despite the scorching heat that enveloped them. She turned back at them as she removed her sunglasses revealing her warm brown eyes.

“I am going to need you girls to put on your seat belts before we go.” Thea responded with a blank stare. “We will take you girls home, and get you some proper food to eat.” She continued. Thea sighed. “We don’t want to be separated.” “Last time you separated us.” Thea growled. “Thea, Mia has to go back to her home, she needs to continue her chemo.” Thea took a look at Mia who looked exhausted from their latest escapade and buckled her seatbelt along with Cindy’s too as Mia followed suit. The rest of the car ride was silent and too quick for Thea who replayed each and every possible scenario of getting her sisters back under one roof. 

As they drove along the driveway, Mia's Foster parents stood on each side smiling and waving excitedly as the car approached. No sooner had the car come to a halt, the woman had opened the doors to embrace Mia. Thea could see the tears in their eyes, they had missed her but she refused to acknowledge that fact. Acknowledging that would be an admission to the fact that she had made the wrong decision. In her mind they would always be the people who took her sister away. Thea and Cindy waved goodbye as Mr and Mrs Smith drove away with Mia, it would be a while before they saw her again. She lived hours away.

That night as Cindy lay sound asleep right next to her, Thea couldn't help but feel she'd let her parents down. It had been a year since they'd died and Thea'd made it a point to make sure her siblings would have something to remember about their parents, something other than that horrid accident. Mia and Cindy had been 9 and 4 when their parents had been killed in an unfortunate collusion with a distracted truck driver. Thea'd only been 11 at the time and she'd taken it as her duty to ensure their memory remained untainted by their terrible fate. And she wouldn't let those rotten people make them forget. Streaks of tears stained her cheeks, Thea pulled out a family picture she carried with her at all times, and traced her parents' faces with her index finger. 

Thea awoke to a wet sensation against her arm and slowly opened her eyes to see Cindy's big doe eyes staring at her, a clear indication she'd had an ‘accident’. She'd been having them frequently for the past couple of months, Thea figured it had to do with all the trauma of moving homes and being separated. As Thea pondered over the next course of action, Miss Ingle, their temporary foster mother popped her head in through the small opening of their bedroom door. “Girls please come with me.” She said in her usual soft tone. Thea neatly covered the wet stain before leaving the room, with Cindy following closely behind. The blonde woman from before stood at the foot of the stairs, her arms folded just as before but this time she had an even softer look in her eyes as she looked at them. 

Miss Ingle led all 3 of them to the lounging area. Thea and Cindy sat across from the woman eyeing her suspiciously. “Good news girls, she started as soon as everyone was settled. “We've found a family that wants to take all 3 of you.” Thea felt as if she would collapse with happiness and tears streamed down her face, despite her best efforts to contain them. She'd promised herself she'd never cry in front of Cindy who in turn was now wailing herself. “Would you like us to give Mia a call and tell her together?” She continued. Her own eyes tearing up as well. 

“Now it will take some time to get everything all sorted out ok.” She said once they had ended the call. Thea felt relieved finally they would all be a family again! The next couple of weeks went by agonizingly slowly according to Thea, as her heart longed for nothing other than to be reunited with her sister. At almost each weekly call to Mia that reality drew even closer, the girls discussing and planning for their future.  

Thea returned from school late one afternoon to find Miss Ingle and the blonde woman seated in the lounge. “Thea,” Miss Ingle said as she motioned for Thea to take a seat next to her. Thea sat beside her confused. Miss Ingle had clearly been crying and the blonde woman's face was sullen this time. “Uh Thea,” the blonde woman spoke, clearing her throat. “I'm afraid I have some bad news.” Thea waited for her to continue, her heart racing inside her chest. “It's Mia, she's gone.” Thea’s ears rang as her world collided and exploded into chaos. It couldn't be, they were wrong. Mia had been getting better, she’d spoken with her just a few days ago. Miss Ingle and the blonde woman simultaneously hugged Thea as she sobbed. 

The next few days were a blur, as the funeral preparations took place. Thea felt numb, she barely cried, it was as if all the energy had been sapped from her body. 

Life sometimes is inexorable, a fact of life that Thea Savi learnt at 11 years old and again at 12. It had been perhaps the hardest week of her life and as she sat upon a stool in the kitchen of the beloved couple that had once taken her sister in, Thea pondered on what lay ahead.All she had now was Cindy she thought to herself as she watched her innocently running around the house. A familiar scent tickled her nose, Thea looked back to locate it's source. It was Mrs Smith she was stirring chicken curry in the pot, Thea's eyes caught hers. “Mia's favorite,” she sniffled as she continued stirring. Thea smiled back with a tear in her eye as she was transported back to a time when her heart was whole. 

December 14, 2023 02:54

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Grace Morning
20:55 Jan 03, 2024

Oh, Olivia. This is the first story of yours that I have read and you have a gift for evoking emotions in your readers. I appreciated how your story came full circle, but in different settings, with the scents that Thea was smelling. That was a lovely touch that provided both an engaging opening and satisfying closing. As we all have different writing and reading styles, I may have broken up some of your paragraphs to increase readability and differentiate between the speakers. You did well employing the senses in your story and I did e...


Olivia Joy
10:49 Jan 27, 2024

Thanks so much it really means a lot that you enjoyed it. Thank you for the feedback as well I'll keep it in mind.


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Kay Reeves
21:31 Dec 20, 2023

I loved this story although it was heart-rending in places. There was a strong emotional sense of the three sisters and their predicament. One or two repetitions of words could be improved by using a different term and there were a couple of grammatical errors. Running your story through a grammar check would sort these issues out. Overall, a really good story and I enjoyed reading it.


Olivia Joy
10:54 Dec 21, 2023

Thank you for the feedback. I will definitely keep that in mind in my next story.


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