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Rain or Shine – by Elise
My bare toes squish through the mud, delightfully wet and cold. My tattered skirt clings to my legs, but I don’t care. Hours of work under the blazing sun made this walk in rain a beautiful end to my day. Deggo waves as I pass him. I smile back. My conscious pricks the back of my mind at the smile, but I chose to ignore it.
I pause just outside the door of the baker’s crumbling hut. I finger the coin in my skirt pocket. Deanna needs to eat, I remind myself and step inside.
The warm smell of rice bread flows through the air, making my belly grumble. I stuff a first to my stomach. No time for that now.
“The usual?” Dren asks.
I nod, reluctantly handing him the coin.
“They don’t pay you enough,” Dren mumbles. His brow creases as he wraps up my small loaf of rice bread. “Can I—”
“No!” I shake my head vigorously. “We both know you can’t afford to give me donations.”
Dren shrugs. “We’re all concerned about you and Deanna.” His brow creases again.
I smile thoughtfully. “We’ll get by.” He hands me the loaf. I gently take it and bow slightly at the waist as I do so. “Much thanks to you, Dren. May your days be full of rain.”
“And yours.” Drew replies, a smile finally tracing lines across his weathered face.
I hurry out of the shop and down the street, clutching my bread to my chest. There haven’t been any raids recently, but I don’t want to take any chances. I slow down only when I reach the woven mat in front of our clay hut—more like a hole in the hill. I step through the entrance opening quickly, surprised Deanna hasn’t come out to greet me yet.
A tall figure steps in my path. “Detta!” I try to look around her. “What’s wrong?”
“Hush.” The medicine woman says, taking me gently by the arm.
“Deanna!” I shout, seeing my sister lying on her sleeping mat, eyes closed and as pale as is possible for her rich brown skin. I rush over and kneel down, dropping the bread to take her hands in mine. “Oh, Deanna, what’s wrong?” I turn to Detta. “Help?”
Detta shakes her head, kneeling beside me. “I’m sorry, Dari.” She slips her rough, old hands around ours. “Deanna has the fever.”
“No…” I whisper. Not Deanna! I need her. I can’t let my sister go, too. Not after Domma and Degno last month. “No.” I shake my head. “There must be something we can do.” The rice bread catches my eye. If only I hadn’t wasted the day’s earnings on a little bit of food! I’d at least have money for medicine.
“I’m sorry, Dari.” Detta pulls her hands away.
“But she was fine this morning!” I feel anger beginning to boil inside me. It’s not fair! I can’t lose her. Deanna’s all the family I have left.
I feel something cold touch my skin. “There may yet be some time,” Detta peels my fingers away from Deanna’s limp hand and presses a coin into my palm. I groan. I can’t take Detta’s charity! This whole village is too poor for such things.
“Detta…” I stare at the coin. It could save Deanna’s life. “I’ll make it up to you, I promise.” I stand.
Detta grabs my hand. “Dari, be careful and swift. Deanna’s case came on more quickly than most.”
I nod. I glance once more at the sleeping form of my sister before leaving my home and jogging back out into the rain. My grey sweater falls off my left shoulder, making it harder to run. Now the droplets streaming down seem to sting me with every step I take. Faster. You can’t lose Deanna. I retrace my steps, running back along the road to Sari District. Thunder rumbles in the distance. The rain lessens the farther I go. My muscles burn, unwilling to stretch after an already grueling day. The wet skirt clutches my legs. My breathing is becoming labored. I can’t stop. Deanna’s life depends on my speed.
When I reach the northern gates of the District, I skid to a halt, pushing up my right sleeve. I hold my forearm under the scanner. A beep sounds from somewhere within the gate mechanism and the gate opens slightly. I squeeze through the opening, beginning to run again as soon as I’m on the other side. My muddy feet pound on marble streets, passing by gilded doors and white washed walls. The sun breaks through the clouds, the last of the rain now disappearing into mist.
I turned down a side street and follow it into the Plaza. I rush across the square to a door marked with a purple heart, barely slowing down as I rush inside. A wave of fresh, cool air blasts my face as the door slams behind me. I march up to the counter, and seeing no one else around, bang my fist on the little bell perched on the edge.
I hear a grunt from the door behind the counter. A stout man with thick brows and stubby chin hair enters. He harrumphs.
“We’re closed, girl.”
“Please, sir, you’ve got to help.” I bend at the waist, letting myself fall a little lower than usual. “Your servant’s sister is ill with the fever.”
The man squints at me. “Fever, eh?”
“I heard you the first time!” The man shuffles closer to the counter. “Do you have money?”
I nod, opening my palm. He flicks the coin from my hand onto the countertop with a sniff, revealing an imprint of the King’s head on my palm.
“Yes sir.” I grimace at the thought that it’s not even mine to spend.
“Why do you rats keep getting the fever?” The man mumbles, turning around and shuffling through the door. I bounce on my toes. The nagging thoughts of the setting sun and quickly disappearing time make creases in my brow. I bounce faster.
Categories: Critique Group