Punji Laborer Village, Bijaz Complex, The United Republic of Provinces
Nasai, White Moon 3303 – September
Land transport vehicles whizzed past each other swiftly, the headlights creating flashes of white and orange light against the surrounding run-down buildings on Avenue Five in Punji Village, and Safiya, for at least the twelfth time that day, chastised herself for not having thought out a better plan. Now here she was, stuck and coinless in a foreign land with nothing but her feet for getting her back across the border. She wanted to go home, well, not really home, but back to the convent, if Maryam would forgive her again for running off.
She waited for an opening before dashing across the busy road and was winded when she reached the curb on the opposite side. She leaned against the closest building trying to blend into the grainy brown stone of the outer walls as a night patroller crossed her path. He didn’t notice her, which wasn’t that difficult in the non-descript, worn brown tunic and long pants that she wore. Her shoulder length black hair was hidden beneath a faded brown cap so that her curls wouldn’t immediately give her away as a female, and as long as the patrollers didn’t look too closely at her face, she could pass for a boy in the shapeless tunic if she kept her eyes averted. It was well past curfew and the night patrollers would stop her and take her away if they caught her because not only was she a woman out alone at night, but she was also a resident of the Wards.
It had only been two days since she’d arrived in the Republic and she hated it here already. The foul stench of garbage made her empty stomach boil as she crossed another deserted road to avoid the night patrollers and to continue down the avenue. She couldn’t wait to get out of the Republic and refused to wait until the morning to go to the Ambassador’s Office in Republican City. Besides, she didn’t have any money to reserve a room in a sleephouse, not that she would ever venture into another one of those places again, so she resigned herself to walk through the night. According to the ice merchant she would cross into the Settler Villages within the hour.
The night air was thick with smog, but it was easier to breathe now than it was in the daytime because of the heat from the sun, which she had consequently not seen since arriving due to the grey clouds that constantly covered the sky. As hungry as she was, she doubted that she would be satisfied with a meal due to the strange, bitter aftertaste of the food and drinks and although she’d thought that the clans on the res had it bad, they didn’t have it nearly as bad as the exiles here within the Wall who were even poorer than any of the villages that Safiya had been too within the Wards, and there weren’t any street-walkers or boona peddlers there.
A boona sap peddler strolled past her with a scantily dressed street-walker clinging to his arm and whispering something that Safiya was glad she was not close enough to hear. He directed a salacious wink in Safiya’s direction who quickly looked away and bit the inside of her cheek to keep herself from telling the man exactly what she thought of him. The last run-in that she’d had with a boona peddler hadn’t ended well and she still wore the bruise from his blow upon her cheekbone. This street-walker, contrary to the last one that Safiya had seen, looked happy to be with him so Safiya continued on her way.
The ice-merchant had told her to turn off Avenue Five at Republican Road and that she could follow the road through the Settler Villages all the way to the city so she kept her eyes raised towards the blinking lights of the street signs on alert for the one that she was looking for. She committed as much of her surroundings as she could to memory and had yet to visit a village that was not run down. Punji Village was one of the largest of the exile cities and therefore one of the wealthier ones but you wouldn’t know it by looking around. Sure, there were lots of buildings and electric street signs, but most of the buildings were squat concrete blocks without windows, the sidewalks were cracked and littered with refuse, and many of the exiles lived in hastily constructed huts or tents. It was like looking at a shadow of the Urnahi on the reservations.
Safiya coughed against the smell of smoke as she passed a factory spouting chemicals from tall, steel smoke-stacks in thick plumes, and picked up her pace. The orange, flashing lights of cargo planes illuminated the night sky overhead as they hurtled through the dense smog and over the top of the imposing black stones of the Wall. The Wall of the Republic was huge and surrounded all of the provinces, including the Settler Villages and Laborer Cities. Safiya had seen it many times through her telescope but the sight of it so close was a completely different experience. She could see the lights of the watch towers about its upper perimeter as it extended for miles across the terrain and couldn’t help but be offended by what it represented.
The off-worlders had constructed The Wall following the containment of the Pox that had killed most of her people but Safiya couldn’t understand how the off-worlders had been able to get away with such a thing. This was Urnahi land and they were the visitors, yet the off-worlders had managed to reduce her people to nothing more than glorified sharecroppers and beggars. She passed a deserted public park littered with discarded furniture before reaching the large street sign with blinking neon lettering announcing her arrival at Republican Road. The Wall stood a mere ten yards away and was so close that Safiya could see the guards walking the parapets above her.
Seeing the Wall this close and absorbing the reality of what it meant made her sad: sad for her people, sad for the laborers, and sorry for herself. Tears pricked behind her eyes and she blinked rapidly to keep them from forming as she approached the Settler Village checkpoint to show her ID papers at the security booth. The laborer villages were worse than Safiya had expected they’d be and she was glad to be going back to Natar. Although she still felt lost, at least one of her questions had been answered: the exiles within the Republic were no better off than she was on the Wards.
Read the first three chapters here . . .