I vowed vengeance against Iscar and his entire regime as I watched the propaganda on the state-owned media coverage. Hearing politicians brag about quelling uprising after uprising for the sake of keeping peace and prosperity got on my nerves. I turned off the half-broken TV, stood up from my crummy, old, torn, sofa, then went outside to pick up my daily food rations at the plaza.
I began the tedious walk to the plaza. The plaza is the place where I would pick my rations. It was just up the hill from where I lived. It was only about six blocks, but crime was very common these days that it would still be a challenge to make it out unscathed. Every single time I stepped outside my apartment, I would put myself at risk because of how common crime had gotten.
I wore brown trousers, torn shoes, and a plain white shirt. I didn’t have any shorts to wear during the intense weather as of late. I strolled along the sidewalk as quickly as I could trying to make it to my destination. I had to eat breakfast this morning or else I would be left with an empty stomach once again.
I live in a large city called Donquest located on the South Continent. Everywhere I went, there were propaganda posters on building walls, trees, apartments, houses, government buildings, offices, markets, and stores. Some read ‘ISCAR IS ALL OF US’ while others read ‘IN THE NAME OF ISCAR’ all with Iscar himself posing and standing tall with both arms folded across his chest. There was no escape from his influence.
The streets of Donquest have little to no maintenance. Every single street had cracks and potholes galore. Kids played on the empty streets of Donquest as if nothing bothered them. Since many couldn’t afford toys, most had to use their imagination or use the environment such as rocks and sticks to entertain themselves. There were homeless people around every corner who begged for any amount of money. It was impossible not to encounter a homeless man, woman, or child. As I passed the ravaged street across my apartment, a family of three waiting eating a squashed banana piece dropped on the sidewalk and scrounging whatever they could like a flock of vultures.
I brought a few dollars in my pockets with me enough to purchase rations. Citizens who lived in the slums including myself received two food stamps per day through the mail with the date marked on when they are to be used. The homeless who didn’t rent or own property had no such luck. They couldn’t even get food stamps and instead had to resort to stealing or scrapping whatever they could take from leftover food in the trash or what they could steal.
As I approached the plaza, I observed a massive line of people waiting to get their rations. Every passing day, more and more people seemed to line up. Only a few weeks ago, rations were handed out five times a day. Now, they are only being handed out three times a day. Whatever the reason may be, it was not looking good for everyone.
I lined up like everyone else. Another sheep in the flock waiting to be fed. The plaza was one of the most gorgeous places in Donquest. The slums paled in comparison to how magnificent the plaza was designed. The trees, bushes, and grass were cheerful. Benches were laid out across the place so people could enjoy a nice day here. In the center, there was a statute of Iscar. He wore his military uniform, stood tall, and posed with his arms holding his waist. Vandalizing government property, propaganda posters, or statutes would result in hard labor. The balcony on the second floor of the marketplace from where everyone would get their rations was my favorite place to relax. Unfortunately, it was recently closed to the public by city officials. Damn them. At night, the plaza is closed to the public after the dinner rations are given out.
The weather got warmer as time went on. I looked again at my broken watch. The time read 8:02 AM. They didn’t start giving out rations until 8 AM. However, that didn’t seem to be the case. The marketplace was still closed for whatever reason. A small group of police officers stood at the entrance of the market with a megaphone on hand.
“Citizens of Donquest. We appreciate your patience, but we have unfortunate news that the rations will be arriving an hour late. Please remain calm until the rations arrive.” one of their voices boomed through the megaphone.
People were disgruntled when they heard the update. “What do you mean will be arriving an hour late!” yelled someone loudly. This was going to be a long morning no doubt.
I waited patiently, but others were not. Some left, while others grew restless. “Give us our rations!” some were chanting. “Give us our rations!” the chanting continued. I sat down while still in line. My feet couldn’t hold any longer. The weather was heating up every minute. I was baking in the sun. Sweat was running across my forehead. My arms, hands, feet, legs, and armpits were all sweating. I grew uncomfortable under the searing heat. I looked at the time again, 8:30 AM. Barely? Time was not on my side today.
As I closed my eyes for just a second, I heard a fight break out. I stood up on my two feet and looked at the direction of the scuffle. A group of teenagers was trying to break through the marketplace. “Give us our rations!” they chanted with the rest. They were armed with a few knives. They were throwing chairs and other furniture at the doors. The police immediately apprehended the boys without a single scratch. The officers disarmed the teenagers and threatened to kill them if they didn’t hold still. One of the teens spat on the face of an officer. The boy was immediately greeted with a fist to the face as he was knocked out. The other boys gave up any resistance after they witnessed their friend go down.
“On your knees now!” barked one of the officers as they handcuffed the boys. More officers arrived at the scene and threatened to kill anyone else who tried to help the teenagers. They pointed their guns at the crowd. “Stay back I say or I will shoot you all like dogs!” threatened an officer. A hush silenced the crowd. The boys were taken away and placed inside a horse carriage. They were likely to be sentenced to hard labor for their mischief.
Things were quickly brought under control as the ration truck arrived. It was 9 AM. There were thousands still in front of me before I could get my own ration. My stomach began growling. I couldn’t bear it anymore. The heat was intense. I am severely dehydrated. My lips are parched. My mouth is as dry as the sun. I didn't know how much longer I could stand here.
“You need water sir?” asked someone as they tapped my shoulder. I looked behind and see a bald elderly man offer me a bottle of water. I didn’t know who they were, but he seemed to know me.
“You are Luke Edwards aren’t you?” he asked me.
“Yes, who are you?” I asked him.
“The Luke Edwards?” his expression spoke louder than his words His jaw dropped and he cracked a smile. “You’re the friend of Gabriel Ellis, the vigilante who saved hundreds and killed city officers.”
“No,” I looked around to see if anyone was listening to our conversation.
“Don’t worry, I got your back. I admire everything you have done with Gabriel. Take this
as a token of my gratitude.” He showed me a bottle of water to quench my thirst.
“What? I can’t take this from a stranger.” My voice was muffled from dehydration. I couldn’t hear myself talk.
“You represent the last glimmer of hope that this world needs. You must take it,” he insisted.
I collapsed to the floor exhausted from the heat. I barely had any energy to stand on my own feet. I laid with my back on the ground. I could see the elderly man bending down on his knees and opening a bottle of water. I quickly grabbed the bottle from his hand and drank from it. I had never drank water so quickly in my life. I finished it in mere seconds. I felt significantly better. The man offered me his hand and politely accepted it. I stood up with his help and back on my own two feet.
“Thank you sir for the water,” I said. My mouth was moist from the refreshing liquid.
“No, thank you young man for helping as much as you could to ensure the safety of the people in Donquest. You have inspired millions for what you and your companion have done in the past year,” he explained.
“What are you talking about? I haven’t inspired anyone.” I quizzically asked.
The old man nodded. “You have inspired my children and grandchildren to do what must be done.”
“If you say so,” I brushed off his comment.
The line progressed quickly. I gave the merchant one of my food stamps and paid the money I had in my pocket. We both acquired our rations with ease. Today’s breakfast was a bag of bread. I thanked the elderly man one last time before we parted ways.
“I hope to see you around,” he said in a scruffy voice as he turned around and went his own way.
I returned to my apartment in one piece. No crime, no obstacles. I sat at the dinner table alone. The table and the chair squeaked as I moved it in place. I ate my bread in silence. Nothing to care about except feeding an empty stomach.
For the rest of the afternoon, I spent watching the Deadly Games, a reality TV show in which two people, one young male and one young female each in their teens, from each major city were pitted against each other in a battle to the death. If no one volunteered, then city officials were instead forced to randomly pick any two citizens from a lottery. The winner of the contest would win a year’s worth of unlimited rations for their respective city. I was bummed Donquest did not win this year. Our two contestants were killed right at the very start. Talk about bad luck. Instead, a pair of love birds, Peter Miller and Katrina Evermore, won it this year for the city of Panama.
Later that evening, I returned to the plaza for more food rations. A can of soup was handed out. Soup was my favorite dish. The city at night was not very well lit. Street lights rarely functioned. The only well-lit places were government buildings and of course the plaza. The humidity outside didn’t make for a comfortable walk at night, but at least I wasn’t dying of thirst. This time, the food rations were handed out with no problems.
While going back home in the dark, beggars wanted my food. I said “no” to each of them while walking down the hill. One of them stood up and got in front of me. He had overgrown facial hair and hair that hadn’t been shaved for years. He smelled as if he hadn’t taken a bath in months and had wrinkles all over his face. “Food please,” said the man tiredly like a zombie.
“No. I’m sorry,” I replied to him.
He grabbed my right arm and tried to grab my hand where I was holding my can. I retaliated and pushed him back against a wall he had been lingering. I pushed him so hard he hit his head against the wall. He began mumbling about something on his own. I couldn’t hear a word he was saying. He seemed to be out of it. He didn’t bother fighting back. He laid weary on the ground. I could only assume he was in a lot of pain. I backed out wishing no more harm.
I was almost back to my apartment. I had to get back before anyone else grabbed me such as the beggar and tried to steal my can. Then, something caught my attention. I witnessed a group of thieves steal a kid’s ration in the middle of the street. “Help! Someone help! They stole my food!” cried the kid. The thieves grab the boy and take something from his hands. My instincts told me that I had to do something about it instead of being a bystander.
The thieves ran as soon as they took whatever they wanted from the boy. I immediately ran behind them trying to keep up with the thieves to get it back from them, but they ran faster than I did. I quickly lost track of them in the poorly lit streets. They vanished in the distance. I took a glance at the kid. His shoes were torn. His shirt was ripped. His hair was ruffled. I looked at my can of soup. For a moment, I thought of walking away and letting all of this go, but on the other hand, I wasn’t going to allow a boy left alone without food on the table. Gabriel would have done things differently. I wasn’t going to be like him.
I approached the boy tried to calm him down while he was sobbing on the ground curled up in a ball. “Hey there, what's your name?” I asked the boy.
“Billy,” he continued to cry. “Those bad men stole my food. I won’t have anything to eat tonight,” he said.
“It’s okay Billy. Did the thieves harm you?”
“They grabbed me and threatened to kill me if I didn’t give them my soup.”
I looked at his arm and legs to see if he had any bruises. He had a few scratches and marks, but nothing too serious. “Billy, how old are you?” I continued.
“Seven. Daddy isn’t going to be happy tonight when I bring back nothing. I’m scared. I don’t want him to yell at me.”
“Be a big boy Billy because there’s nothing you should worry about,” I said while showing him my soup can. I decided I was going to give it to him even if it meant going to bed without dinner. It would be another restless night without food.
“Is that your soup can?” he wiped his tears away.
I nodded. “Here take it. You need it more than I do.”
“T-thank you mister,” he stopped crying for a brief moment. “Now, dad won’t yell at me tonight.”
“You can rest easy tonight Billy,” I smiled.
“What’s your name mister?” he asked.
“Luke,” I stated.
“Thank you Luke for not being like one of those bad guys. I didn’t know good people like you exist in a city like this. I have to go now.”
“Stay out of trouble kid.” I nodded. He dashed his way back to his home. He disappeared in the distance while I watched carefully that nothing else would happen to him. Poor kid he must have had a rough time with those thieves. No one was safe from having their rations stolen. Everyone had to fend for themselves. I made my way back hoping I wouldn’t encounter another similar situation. Luckily, that wasn’t the case. I had too much in my mind today.
I returned to my apartment. I haven't eaten much in the past couple of weeks. I had lost weight and I was woefully clunky entering my apartment knowing I had no dinner tonight. I collapsed on my bed exhausted. I could barely move my body without feeling any anguish. My stomach was empty, but my heart was full.