Today’s post is a little bit on the longer side, but I hope you enjoy it. It’s not my best work (written at 10 PM anybody?) but I haven’t written any dystopian this month so I thought I’d squeeze one in before the end of the challenge (which is in two days WOW I’m feeling bittersweet here)!
The buildings are short and gray and ugly against the equally gray and ugly sky. Trash clutters the streets and the gutters are clogged with litter. In the distance, you can see tall, sleek silver buildings that made up the High District of New York, where all the rich millionaires and businesses operated from.
They were far away from where I stood, in the Low District, where all the poor and working-class lived.
I duck behind a dumpster when a man walks by whistling, his hands tucked into a posh suit. He was obviously one of the wealthy from the High District.
I contemplate stealing his shiny watch and pawning it for some good money but decide against it as I watch him walk away. He’s too far away now.
I step out from behind the dumpster and walk along the side of the road, ducking my head. No one notices me- no one is even outside, but I didn’t want to take any risks. The nasty road is crunchy under my feet like the gravel is becoming unpacked and loose again.
Then I turn a corner and find myself at the ration shop, waiting in a line of dozens of people just like me.
It wasn’t always like this. A time before I was born, my grandparents struggled to raise their children in a world where debt kept rising and the rich kept getting richer. Soon, our so-called ‘democracy’ fell apart when politicians and companies proved to care about money more than the people they represented.
I didn’t remember that time. The world I knew had always been like this- the poor made up the majority of our city yet we struggled so much to get by.
I shift my feet while standing in the ration line, trying to rebraid my dark brown hair. It didn’t help that the last time I’d showered had probably been Monday.
Today was Thursday.
I turn around to see Mr. Brown, the man who owns the deli on the next block from my home. He’s famous- or infamous- for being wildly optimistic to the point of denial. Like, he would say that it’ll all get better soon, don’t you worry! and other absurd things of that sort.
Despite that, Mr. Brown was a good man.
“Hey, Mr. Brown,” I say as he stands behind me in line. Mr. Tyrone Brown is a Black man and widower with two adult sons that I’d never met but he never stopped talking about.
“Glad to see you here!” He says cheerfully. “How’re you doing? Going to school?”
When he saw my guilty expression he wagged a finger at me. “Come on, it ain’t that hard to just show up to school, girl. You know that you should value your education. You could even get rich by getting a good job!”
Yeah, right. Mr. Brown might want to stay optimistic or whatever, but I knew better. To get rich I’d either have to be born rich- which I obviously wasn’t- or I’d have to be extremely smart, extremely ruthless, and extremely lucky.
So far, I was none of them.
I force a smile and finish braiding my hair. “Sure, Mr. Brown. Thanks.”
“How’s your mama doin’?” He says, completely oblivious to the fact that I didn’t skip school for fun- I couldn’t go to school. My mother couldn’t afford my education along with my younger sister Arielle’s. Plus, I could actually make some money for my family if I worked instead of going to school.
“She’s doing okay, Mr. Brown,” I say, and I’m not really lying. Mama’s diabetes hadn’t been as much of a problem over the past two months. It was a blessing, really.
So maybe I had one stroke of luck with Mama’s diabetes not being an issue, yeah, but I probably wasn’t going to get a second.
“Good, good, good,” He says absentmindedly, rubbing a hand over his short fuzzy goatee. I wondered how he found the time- or money- to manage a beard. It was so much easier to keep your hair short during these times.
I just couldn’t bear to cut mine off. Papa had always loved it so much.
“Hey, you! Girl!”
I whip around, realizing that I am at the front of the line. The girl at the counter scowls at me.
“Sorry!” I stammer, hoping that she won’t take away my ration. “Sorry, I-”
The girl waves me away. “Shut up and take the food,” she says sourly.
I hurry to do what she tells me and sign my name- Amalia Hernandez- mumbling some sort of goodbye to Mr. Brown before scampering away.
For my plan to work, I need to act now.
I jog into a nearby alley and put the box I received from the ration shop in a hidden nook that no one will think to look in, taking out some other things I kept in there earlier.
There’s a black wig and a pair of thick glasses along with a spare shirt and a pair of jeans that are probably too tight for me.
I quickly change into the clothes, pulling the wig and glasses on after, proceeding to walk as normally as I can around the alley and back to the ration shop.
I stand in line.
Thankfully, no one recognizes me and I’m just about to burst when I finally get to the counter.
“Next,” The girl at the counter says monotonously, gesturing for me to step up. I try to keep my head down as I pick up the box of food and scribble a fake name- Sierra Juan Joseph- before squeaking out a thank you and trying to get out of there as fast as I can.
“Wait!” The girl calls after me.
I pause, my heart pounding, and slowly turn around, making sure to keep my eyes to the ground.
“Do I know you?” she asks, and I think I’m sweating through my clothes. “You seem awfully familiar…”
I stand there, rooted to the place, as I wait for her to make a crucial decision.
“I’ve been told I look like a girl named Maria,” I offer in a high-pitched voice. Maria’s a common enough name so it should throw her off.
She hums to herself and nods thoughtfully. “I suppose you do.”
I speed-walk as fast as I can without seeming suspicious and head to the alley, where I quickly change and grab both of my boxes and head home.
I’m walking the familiar route back home and I open the door when I realize that something feels… off.
“Mama?” I call into the home, slipping off my sandals and ducking into the house.
“Amalia!” I hear my older brother Mike shout. “Come here!”
I rush in, nearly dropping the boxes in my hurry.
What happened? Is Mama okay? What about Miles and Arielle and-
I stop short when I enter the kitchen- one of four rooms in our house of five people- and see Mama laying on the cold floor, spread-eagle, with my two older brothers kneeling beside her.
Mike has the phone in his hand.
“Mama!” I gasp, falling to my knees and feeling for a pulse. “Is she okay? What happened?”
Miles looks up at me. “I don’t know. Mike and I just came back from work and we found her here. Her diabetes probably acted up. Maybe she was cutting down on insulin again to save money. I- I think she had a stroke, Amalia.”
I choke back a sob, my eyes blurring.
How is this possible?! Why is the Universe so hell-bent on destroying everything I love?
I feel for Mama’s pulse again, grasping her hand.
It’s stone-cold, and that’s when it hits me:
Mama is gone.
I hope you enjoyed this! Tbh this post ended up being a dystopian prediction of what might happen if our world continues to progress in this way what with climate change and capitalism overtaking everything, including everyday people’s wellbeing.
Just watch out for lies, y’all.