“Don’t sit so close to the barricade, Deeta.”
Even before I look up I know to whom the voice belongs.
“You worry too much, Tom.”
Tomasz shakes his head, a worried frown creasing his forehead.
“It isn’t possible to worry too much.” As he sits down beside me I feel his holster brush my arm.
As used as I am to guns and the necessity of them, I shiver and Tom looks down at me sharply.
“If you’re cold we’d better go back in,” he offers.
“No, I’m fine.”
I like Tom. He used to notice me when I was a kid and it was condescension on his part to pay me any attention.
“What are you doing up here anyway, Deeta?”
I laugh and shrug my shoulders, gesturing towards the skyline.
“Obviously I came up to look at our lovely view.”
He raises his left eyebrow, the one with a scar above it.
“Has Keya been difficult again?”
When we refer to Keya being difficult, we mean bad tempered. I could use a more fitting adjective, but I am too much of a lady. However on this occasion it was not Keya’s sharp tongue that had sent me scampering to the rooftop.
Tom takes out his knife and begins to sharpen it.
“You’re an odd sort of a girl aren’t you, Deeta?” his eyes are concentrated on his work, but I know better than to think that this means he’s in any way preoccupied.
Tom has a way of putting things so you’re unsure if he regards what he’s just remarked on as good or bad. Lots of people don’t like it, it makes them nervous of him, but I think it’s cool. No matter how hard I try though, my attempts at emulating it have only been met with laughter, much to my embarrassment.
We sit awhile not speaking, in silence but for the scrape of the knife against metal and in the distance, the sound of gunshot and explosion. Bitterly, I reflect that even sitting together peacefully we cannot forget the need to fight.
“When do you go out next, Tom?”
“When we need to.”
At this stage most people would think that Tom was being offish with them.
I am not most people.
You see, Tom really believes that he has answered my question, it simply hasn’t occurred to him that something more is required of him.
I sit quietly, watching him fold his knife away.
“What’s it like out there?”
I’ve asked this question many times before and I guess I’m asking the wrong person, as he answers me in exactly the same way he always does.
“More of the same.” He stands, surveying the scene before us. “Believe me Deeta; you’ve got the best of it.”
That’s exactly what Dad says but I want to know they’re right, not just believe.
Of course you don’t know what I’m talking about, do you? We live in a tower block in the city, I suppose you could say it is our village and we only leave it when we have to, that is, when we need something from outside. Then our army goes ‘out’ to get it.
I will never go ‘out’.
The fifty-eight floors of this building are, to all intents and purposes, my world. I will never leave it. I was born here, I will marry here, I will have my children here and I will die here. My life from beginning to end will have no impact on anyone outside; to them I might never have existed.
I sigh gustily.
“I wish I could see it Tom, just the once.”
“It would do you more harm than good.”
Tom looks down at me where I sprawl and in his eyes I can see sympathy.
Those who join the army are specially selected for their durability. Only those who have suffered a significant loss in their lives, or have in some way endured hardships difficult to bear, or those like Tom who’ve spent some of their lives on the streets, may join.
Those of us who have not experienced anything like that are protected, against ourselves and against what we would see out there, against the brutality and horror. This is why I’m deemed unsuitable; because it’s thought that I’ve not had the necessary conditioning.
I scramble up from my position on the floor, a frown pulling at my face.
“It’s not fair, Tom, what’s so wrong with me that I can’t go?”
It’s a rhetorical question so I’m rather surprised when he pushes the hair back from my face and tilts my chin up. His dark blue eyes scrutinize me carefully, but I know that, although he has taken in every feature, it isn’t me he sees.
“Sometimes I can see Tara looking at me straight out of your eyes.”
His look, burning with an intensity that’s foreign to me, lasts for several moments until he shakes his head and releases me.
“You can’t go out there Deeta you’re too soft. It would kill you to see what the City has turned into.”
I turn away, looking out over the distance as a hot blush of embarrassed shame floods my cheeks and neck.
“I didn’t mean it like that. It’s a good thing, Deeta; you’re what we all should be but what circumstance has twisted into something else. Against all the odds you’ve remained free of all that out there.” He waves his hand in a gesture to encompass the outside world. “You’re untouched by it all.”
I feel stung by this statement and my head jerks round toward him. He’s is calm, trying to make me understand what he means. I know he’s unaware that his words have hurt me and I try to smile.
“I guess you’re right, Tom.” I stand, feeling the tears beginning to smart behind my eyes.
All I want is to leave before they start their inevitable course down my face. That would only make him feel bad and he doesn’t deserve to, I know he didn’t mean to upset me.
I think I only take four or five steps before I feel his hand encircle my wrist and pull me round to face him. I suppose I must have looked wounded, maybe even accusing, because he seems stricken. It’s as though he only just realises what he has said and its implications.
“Am I free from sadness? Do you really believe that Tara’s death only hurt you and Nell?”
I hold his gaze only briefly and then my head sinks in shame. It was a spiteful thing to say, of course he doesn’t think so. However my loss was insignificant compared to theirs: Nella lost her sister and Tom lost his girlfriend.
“I – I didn’t mean to sound horrid about it, Tom.”
Tom shrugs his shoulders dismissing what must be for him an incredibly difficult subject.
“Come on its freezing out here.”
Tom walks back to the door and I take a last look over the City.
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