Down below, in a shoebox apartment that rattled with every passing train, Sakani was getting ready – if not for war, then for something that would be just as great an upset.
“Thanks for letting me have your sofa for the night,” she said, rubbing the back of her neck not just out of embarrassment but because the uncomfortable cushions left an almighty crick in it. No matter how many times she tried to crack it, the tension of a poor night’s sleep wouldn’t release. “Means a lot.”
Her host was a boy who ran in the neighborhood with her when she was small but sorted himself out well enough. Ren waved a hand as he buttoned up his white chef’s jacket, clean and pressed even if the vest underneath was fraying and threadbare. “It’s no hardship. You’d do the same for me or any one of us – or, you would, if you had a home to open up.”
A few seconds later, he realised what he said and stumbled over himself to apologise. “Sorry, that was insensitive. You will get your place back, no sweat.”
Sakani wasn’t so sure about that. Who’d ever heard of the RSF letting anyone go once they spirited them away? They were like a dog with a bone, and sometimes the bone was actually a baby rabaroo, but that didn’t seem to bother them, even if they were going extinct. Nobody ever told them to spit it out.
She cracked a smile instead. Ren had a good thing going. He’d make it to the Middle Ring if he worked hard, and nobody could say the boy didn’t hustle. His name was top of a list of people she couldn’t talk to about the Plans.
Plans – with a capital-P – were those made when airing grievances about the RSF and the Middle Ring and the Upper Ring. Toothless, under normal circumstances, but the disaffected customers of the Lotus Room spoke like they finally had enough when they said they’d help her get Gran-Gran back, one way or another. The last of their good will had finally spilled out of the cup.
“We’ll see. You’ve got bigger things to worry about, don’t you? Like this big catering job.”
“One man’s catering is another man’s washing dishes for sixteen hours and getting paid a pittance under the table. Long live the Republic?”
“No need to wish it well. It’ll outlive us,” Sakani said with a laugh. The tickle of exhaust fumes in her sinuses reminded her that she ought not to suck in so much of the air in, even indoors.
“Speak for yourself! I for one intend to live until I’m a hundred and fifty. Get better lungs.”
Later, Sakani slipped out of Ren’s apartment with a hearty, back-slapping goodbye and an open-ended offer that if she failed to find a place to stay, she could come back to claim the couch – as often as she liked.
She left in the knowledge that she would not be taking him up on his offer.
Her mask sealed in her frown as she pulled the cords of the drawstring bag that held all her worldly possessions. The weight was light on her back; a small mercy given all the other burdens that liked to pile themselves on these days.
There were few other places she could go. Not back to anywhere associated with Gran-Gran. She could plead her case with the ladies of Lily Street, see if they could get her some work as a courier or a smuggler and front her some cash while she got back on her feet, or––
Or she could go and engage with the Plans that were being made with or without her, but that were definitely being made because of her. Rather than stumbling forward into normality, just waiting to be snatched herself for something she didn't do, she could walk towards the industrial area of town. She could take the back alleys that were poorly patrolled and slip into the union-workers' bar through the back entrance, plead her case to all those old uncles to be included.
Her legs were already moving. The spirit of injustice quickened her step.