Participate in the 3rd Season of STORYMIRROR SCHOOLS WRITING COMPETITION - the BIGGEST Writing Competition in India for School Students & Teachers and win a 2N/3D holiday trip from Club Mahindra
Participate in the 3rd Season of STORYMIRROR SCHOOLS WRITING COMPETITION - the BIGGEST Writing Competition in India for School Students & Teachers and win a 2N/3D holiday trip from Club Mahindra

Tushar Mandhan

Abstract Drama Others


Tushar Mandhan

Abstract Drama Others

Waiting for a new age

Waiting for a new age

63 mins 195 63 mins 195

Storm had passed and the dewdrops falling from leaves were shining like diamonds (something Judd had only heard of from his father) when sun shone upon them. The air was heavy but clear, a relief since a while. The sky was grey but still. The Capital stood in vanity unaffected by the storm while the residents of the Shadows: the slum society around the city, were fixing their tents that were uprooted by the storm. Mr. Slavo, a sixty-something years old, was stitching the torn tents for ten Bizenut each while The Oquilis were helping people for free as commanded by their so-called sage O’Connor. Some people were storing the collected rainwater.

Judd was running to his house, carrying documents signed by Guild Director, Jacob Matthews. His brown eyes looked as if they were glazed in honey under sunlight. His mouth was drying from shortness of breath. He held the documents close to his chest, so they don’t get damaged from his speed as the air slapped against his body. He waved his hand when he got a glimpse of his father, Dr. Lucas Bailey, who had left him alone to get his papers ready after having a conversation with the director. “I got it.” he screamed and waved again as he nearly fell by stepping on a loose gravel but fortunately he balanced himself without letting go of the documents and ran to his father who took them from his hands and put them in a separate folder than his own. Judd had turned sixteen the previous night (but he looked not a day older than twelve) and hence, was legally of age to register for jobs: the documents were the reassurance of the same.

“Got ‘em signed at every place I told you?” Dr. Bailey asked as he closed the folder. “Did Jacob help you fill it?”

Judd agreed to both questions.

Dr. Bailey was in his mid-fifties and was a veteran of the Great War. He had lost his left foot in an explosion when he was in war field; treating the wounded soldiers, Judd’s mother had told him. When the war ended, there were no conquerors but only survivors who came together to form the Rhellic Union. The least affected city was chosen its capital and a committee was formed to govern the post-war world. Although the Union consisted of citizens of all the belligerents but people coming from the countries that were most affected by the time treaties were signed, made up the biggest demographic group in the working class as most of them had lost their degrees or other proves of being an asset to the new world. So, the Union laid down certain laws and constituted a guild for unskilled labourers. These people would gather around the city, biennially, for the recruiting season. Those who were able to get a job were allowed to stay in quarters in Recruitment Building, according to the status and budget of the recruiters. Dr. Bailey too had lost his medical licence but fortunately he was able to get a nursing diploma under Dr. Weber who had employed him for almost four seasons, except for the previous one when he didn’t attend the recruitment day. So they went to live in Shrose town as it was cheaper and had returned to Shadows just a day before. They stayed with Hensens who provided lodgings to the working class for free.

“Don’t let excitement show on your face.” Lucas advised and rested his right hand on Judd’s right shoulder to hold him close when he noticed the joy on his son’s face. “Remember the city wants to show off its wealth. It wants you to be astonished by its charm but at the same time, it expects you to stay composed. To behave as if you know, even when you are baffled by your surroundings.” Judd knew what was coming. His father has been telling him tales about city and Capital, since forever and the conversations seemed more like warnings than chronicles when Judd had only seen city skyline from their quarter in the Recruitment Building. Judd’s mother once told him that his father had changed after the war. Maybe, he was just tired from working and surviving a war isn’t an easy thing, so he wanted to retire, Judd had concluded, hence he was trying to teach him as much as he could to take over him as the sole bread earning member of the family.

“Respect your employers but keep in mind that you deserve respect too. Remember, neither yucca nor moth can dwell without each other.” Lucas added. He held Judd’s head between his hands and then wrapped him in a warm hug.

Adele, Lucas’s mother, came out of a brown tent that was their house until the recruitment day. She had a brown suitcase in her hand. It was torn from places although at some time, someone had tried to mend it with stiches. She gave it to Lucas who put the folder in it that he was holding and gave Adele a kiss on her creased cheek that were already red due to dryness.

“Take care.” she said looking down which made it difficult to understand whom she was asking to take care of who. She would always say so to Lucas every season, so Judd concluded that she was meaning to tell his father to take care of him as everything was new to him.

Adele was usually quiet except when someone would walk in on her when she was crying. In that case, she would tell you her heart and then get silent again. The wrinkles on her face made it difficult to comprehend her mood, though most times, it was constant but when she would smiled, it was obvious. So she rarely did that. His father had told Judd that Adele suffered from severe malnutrition during the Great War and she could never completely recover from it. Hence she looked much older for a fifty year old.

Lucas was rubbing her hand as if telling her everything would be fine. This season wouldn’t be like last time. Weber is nice man. A trusted one too. The quiver of hand reflected that he was comforting himself with those thoughts too. “Take care.” Adele repeated. Judd hugged her so tight that he could feel her heart trying to leave her chest. He wanted to cry but it wouldn’t help that time. He knew the reason for her mother’s grief. It wasn’t easy for her to let him go. So he held the tears in, just like his mother was doing in front of him.

Lucas clapped his hands and gave Judd a smile. He knew what it meant.

Judd stepped back and returned a smile at his father. Both of them closed their fists and started thumping their chests. One. Two. Three. Then tapped their feet. One. Two. Three. And then they clapped. One. Two. One two. And then humming started, followed by singing-

Oh dear merciful God, please bless our lost souls.

Dear virtuous father, grant us strength to fight for truth.

Beloved mother nurture us, so we can walk on our own.

It wasn’t a prayer. Religion cannot survive war but it can start one or wars can start new religion, either way. The recitation was an excerpt from a poem Judd’s grandfather learnt from his father. He would repeat the words before starting his day, which became a family ritual after his death following the economic crash. It was difficult for Lucas to tap his feet after his accident but later when he got his wooden leg, he realised that no matter how hard he hit his left foot, it wouldn’t hurt. Thought it was more like a kick then a tap but it didn’t matter to Lucas. He was just happy to discover something new about himself while employers rejecting him for his wooden leg.

The three of them tapped their feet and huddled. Lucas left with his arms around Judd. Adele stood outside until their shadows merged where the trail and city skyline met. Lucas’s wooden leg cannot get hurt from the taps but where the skin met the wood can get scratched from the jolts. He had injured himself in excitement, Adele could tell as he was limping.

Other eligible labourers were also leaving for the Recruitment Building but the Oquilis had gathered in their sage O’Connor’s hut. If it was for any other workhand, the Capital would have extirpated the abode but it could not afford the anarchy by doing so with the poor-men’s sage. O’Connor’s sermon filled its disciple with confidence. He gave blessed every one of them but especially those who offered him liquid wealth. Baileys weren’t religious, but they won’t even judge others for being one. O’Connor had once declared himself saviour of the working class and said he would save those who had bent their knees and declared him their God. When a war, greater than the Great War would break, - which he was certain of- he would take them to a safe place where they would live peacefully. His followers were more loyal to him than their recruiters, if they would get one. They would eat a bread less but won’t let their saviour sleep hungry. In return, O’Connor would please their ears with stories of perfect world and distribute his left over food as sacraments.

August, a thirty-something year old woman was watching them from her tent. Like most people, she too was malnourished, so much so that you can see her ribcage. Her hair were brown and had turned rusty-red. She grabbed a piece of cloth to wrap her mouth and went out to meet Adele.

“Are going to bridge?” she asked her. Adele looked at her muddled, trying to process her question and engulfing the pain. She denied.

“Oh, I’m new here. Me and my brother. He’s gone…uh...” August whispered. “….to look for a job.” Adele nodded and was turning back when August started panting. She signed her to stay and murmured, “It’s allergy……this place…..I’ve….got medicine.”

She came back with a capsule in her hand that she swallowed on her way. “Damn these rats! Been eating everything….didn’t leave my pills too.” she cursed. “Bye, will meet you later.”

She went to the bridge, leaving Adele alone with her grief but soon she was joined by Phoebe Henson who talked her pain down. Hensons were against the Capital and their recruitment policies, but they didn’t have enough power to make amendments in the institution. Still they used to come to the Shadows every season and spread awareness about the injustice the Rhellic Union was committing against them but they were ignored as the wrong was bringing food to their plates. It was easy to get something by being a victim then to fight with a fear of losing everything.

Hensons failed at what O’Connor had conquered. Hensons wanted security of job for working class because most employers wouldn’t recruit same individual for consecutive years as they believed the longer a labourer worked for same master, the more he’d know and greater would be the risk of revolt.

The Recruitment Building stood on the suburbs of the city but was separated from the working class slums by Pfecka River and connected by a bascule bridge called Johnson Link, named after its designer. The structure stood five storeys and segregated labours on the basis of the status of their employer. Once they get recruited, they were allowed to bring two of their family members to the quarters (if the employer allowed). If someone had more kin than that, they would have to live in the slums and would be allowed to meet once every week or even switch places if the warden was pleased or bribed, either way. Nobody knew if it were rule or not.

It was a mess before recruitment day. Everyone was trying to look their best. Getting clean water was a big deal. Some even smuggled it, just in case if they couldn’t get a job, they would at least have clean water to survive until next season. It was difficult to get it past the guards if you can’t corrupt them. So another competition would start on the other side of the bridge to catch the bottles, wet clothes, balloons etc. that were thrown from the building. Many times they wouldn’t be able to gain enough momentum and would block the stream. It would be cleaned later by those who couldn’t find a job. Warden wouldn’t pay them and an argument with him can cost a rejection from recruitment for the rest of the life. Authorities have laid the foundation of a wall to overcome smuggling and segregate working class from city; ‘for the sake of hygiene’ as said in the official statement from the Union.

Lucas went to Jacob Matthews, the Director of Guild who was standing in the reception hall. He was young, probably in his twenties and had ascended the position after his father who was murdered by a mob of labourers when the authorities showed no empathy towards them. Although all of the culprits were punished (Lucas had heard that they were made to work without any payment for rest of their lives), the authorities got somewhat lenient towards working class before recruitment.

“Hey!” Lucas said. “Busy day, huh?! You’re getting good at management with every season. You father must be proud, look at you, grown up into a handsome lad.” Judd rolled his eyes. His father was lying. Either that or the war had really messed up his brain. Judd hadn’t seen much beautiful people in his life but he could tell Jacob wasn’t one.

“Hello, Mr. Bailey. It’s nice seeing you again.” Jacob replied as he towered over them.

“Ah….listen, were you able to get my words to Dr. Weber?” Lucas asked hesitantly.

Jacob breathed and observed Lucas’s face. “You don’t know?” he questioned. “….uhmm…He died.”

“Died…died? When? When did he-“ Lucas uttered. Judd hadn’t seem his dad panic that much before

“Yes. A years ago. He was old…they say he went to sleep and never woke up again.” Jacob said.

Lucas nodded. His face was blank, much like Adele. His limbs were trembling as whatever he had told himself for last couple of years to find solace, suddenly shattered with a truth. Judd pressed his hand to remind him that he was there too.

They went outside the building, where the bridge ended. People were screaming and notching each other for water, so nobody had any interest in them or why they left the hall.

“How do you know Jacob?” Judd asked.

“I don’t.” Lucas replied.

“But you seemed to-”

“I knew his father, actually Dr. Weber knew him. His wife got some complexities giving birth to Jacob but we saved her. Knowing Matthews was Director of Guild, Weber gave its credit to me. He was grateful. You know having a kid is a big deal after war. The weapons change priorities.” Lucas explained. “What a great man he was. Both of ‘em.”

Judd nodded but he lost his attention to the people catching water while Lucas was explaining. People were stepping on each other. Judd remembered how his father told him about the time when crowd rushed into shelter homes during Great War to prevent getting hit during aerial attacks. Some even got down to stream to collect the bottles that fell into it.

“Can you do that?” Lucas asked. Judd’s brain got back to the conversation.

“Huh? Can you repeat?” Judd asked his father.

“That's not gonna help, my child. I might not get work this season too which means you’d have to be on your own on recruiting day. Can you do that?”

Judd looked into his fathers and nodded. He shifted his head towards the other side of bridge and said, “It’s so pathetic, isn’t it?”

“It is….” Lucas replied.

They went back in. Jacob was still standing at the reception. It was easy to spot him amongst the short working class people. Lucas handed him Judd’s documents. He opened the folder and nodded to him. “I don’t think you’ll be able to get a job with your age and uhm… know your leg.” Jacob said, keeping his head low and eyes fixed on Judd’s folder as if trying not to look into Lucas’s eyes.

“I know!” Lucas replied, biting his tongue. Judd saw regret in his father’s eyes which was odd as he thought his father already wanted to retire but Judd was too young to understand rejection. To know the difference between the authority of denying an opportunity and the impertinence of not getting one, especially for something you’re not at fault for the justification of it.

Judd was registered for medical and lab assistance skills which he learnt from his father (but it was only theoretic knowledge) and some domestic skills which he acquired from his mother (it was purely practical based; one can know from the burn and cut scars) but as he needed experience to apply for a diploma, so he was also supposed to give manual labour test. He was afraid if he couldn’t get a job but his father reaffirmed him that due to his youth and vigour, it was unlikely for him to not get a job. Employers preferred young and fit hands; they were more productive and mostly, had no families to look after. Women weren’t considered for jobs that required manual strength and even for intellectual services, they were second options. Typically because employers thought women aren’t as useful as men and also because most working class families wouldn’t allow their women to work in the city; after all it wasn’t a safe place. Men from city would recruit women from working class for one job readily; entertaining them in their wives’ absence. They weren’t even paid equal to men and the wives loathed them.

Jacob escorted them to Judd’s compartment. It wasn’t bad compared to their tent, they were living in, for the last two years but a step down from the cabin where they lived when his father was working. Lucas helped him unpack. He would be sharing the compartment with another boy until recruitment day and later, they’ll have to shift according to the job they’d land upon or leave, if they couldn’t find one. Jacob left them after giving the key.

“You wanna know how I lost my leg Judd?” Lucas asked.

“Mum told me it was an explosion… were treating the wounded.” Judd replied.

Lucas smiled. He sat on the bed by the window and removed his fake leg that was chipped from places due to years of use. The window was at good place if they wanted to smuggle water. People were still fighting for water, Judd got a glimpse. His father was itching the residual limb.

“The sky was grey……different to today’s. It was about to rain. We were crawling on the beach. Me and a two of my colleges. The tide was getting high.” Lucas explained. “We were sinking in it. If you lifted your head up, the bullets from the other side would have blown it off and if our own side saw us, it was death either way.”

“Why would your own country want to kill you?” Judd asked curiously. It was the first time when he was keen to listen to his father.

“Because we were going to commit treachery. We had been in war for so long, it was hard to remember which side was veracious.” Lucas said. By the end his voice got so high that it shook his son. It seemed as if swallowed a collapse. He bit his lips to sojourn the scream that might have been strong enough to stop the fight for water on the other side of the bridge.

“I hope you understand.” he added. Judd embraced him as he started to cry. His young hands were caressing the head that had managed to carry responsibilities without falling down, for years.

“We heard a series of explosions before blacking out. I don’t how I survived and even to date, I wonder why.” Lucas curled like a little child. Judd observed him, helplessly.

Lucas gathered himself. Wiped off his tears and said, “Promise me Ju, you’ll never listen to revolution. You’ll never join the rebellion, when it ever occurs. You’ll work. For yourself. For you love. For those who love you. Promise me Ju…..Promise me.”

His son couldn’t get what he meant. All those fancy words. He had never seem his father so vulnerable. Judd nodded his head in yes until tears fell from his eyes like dew fell from grass, as his father had once told him.

Lucas and Judd had their final goodbye before the bridge was closed. It was first time, he was walking to the other side. People were getting out from the stream with water. Some laid dead due to stampede with water containers in their hands that were stolen by those who survived. Lucas had a close look at every corpse. Much were dead. Some were injured beyond his ability. He was about to leave the temporary grave when he heard a cough. It was August’s. Lucas took her in her arms and carried to the neighbourhood. She was treated with the help of some other older people who have had some history as medical professionals. Adele was looking them, feeling sorry for the girl but at the same time proud of her husband.

Lucas caught her eye. She looked at him as if saying that it was okay. There was a shame in his eyes for getting a job. He thought he failed her. Adele wasn’t bothered by job, she was worried about him worrying about not getting a job.

“I’m sorry.” Lucas cried. Adele said it was fine but he was also thinking about Judd. He was afraid she wouldn’t be happy about him staying alone.

“He’s grown up. We’ll have to let him go.” Adele said with wet eyes.

“But he’s still young for the world. I could’ve worked for a few more years, so that he could prepare.” Lucas whispered as the sorrow choked him.

Adele understood his pain but it wasn’t time to grieve. In a post-war world, arguments are persistent and pave way for insurrection to mend the inequalities caused by the precedent crisis. So the only way to persist is to be primed for the uncertainty and that can’t be achieved while ghost rides on your back.

“I knew the time will come when we’d be left behind. I just never saw it coming, like this. But what can be done?” he added.

“We might live the youth we never got.” Adele commented. She held him by his back and walked to their tent.

It was weird feeling for Judd. He sat on the bed, right where his father had collapsed. The crowd from the other side of the bridge was gone, except for a few kids. He couldn’t apprehend what they were doing. Probably playing, he concluded. The losers of the life were lying undisturbed by the clamours. Judd looked around the room. Two beds on either sides, adjacent to walls. A rack next to the door. And a window by the bed on which he was sitting. The sun was setting. He reminisced how his father once told him about evenings. It was the time when the sun would go down and moon (something Judd has only heard of, because most of the sky wouldn’t be clear enough to get a view of the heavenly body) would rise to burn the night. His father explained to him that the moon would change its shape every day. One day it would be complete. Like a pearl (he didn’t know what it was but he assumed it must be expensive). Or like a dandelion (his father told him about the flower and how he would blow on its flower to disperse its pappus when he was a boy but to Judd, it seemed like tales from a land where air was dainty and skies were blue).

Judd was lost in the world that his father had sown like a seed in his brain and now it was sprouting when he heard a knock on the door. It was his roommate, Patrick. Judd opened the door, after checking if he hadn’t left anything unarranged (his mother advised not to trust roommate).

Patrick had a smile on his face when he saw Judd. He threw his luggage in one corner and observed the beds. “So ya’ve taken the window side, huh?” he sighed and jumped onto the other bed. Judd didn’t disturb him and kept peeping out of the window to see if he could spot his parents or his tent in the crowd. Occasionally he’d check on his then passed out roommate, if he were really sleeping or trying to steal or worst, hiding a weapon. But he was laying unaware with his blond hair spread over his face. His luggage was bigger than that of Judd’s but was in worse condition. His face was covered with short but thick blond and red shabby beard which made him look older than he actually was. Judd noticed scars on his arms which couldn’t be from the Great War as he was too young to remember the war, let alone fight in it. It could have been from the travel, he concluded which was highly doubtful but not impossible. When the red sun completely faded from sky, Judd wrapped himself in the blanket and went to sleep.

Next morning, creaking of door woke him up. He removed blanket from his face and found Patrick wasn’t there. He jumped out of his bed and verifying his luggage. His clothes: check. A pair of shoes: check. A bottle: check. A notebook and pen: check. He took a breath of relief. It was obvious Patrick wasn’t a thief, he told himself. Patrick had woken up early and had decorated his stuff on the rack, leaving enough space for Judd. He again went to his bed and laid in foetal position. He had nothing else to do, nor did he know about. His father told him to do whatever Jacob would order and he hadn’t seen him since he escorted them to the room. After a while, the door opened and Patrick entered.

He pulled the blanket from Judd’s body and said, “Wake up bruh, ain’t ya hungry?”

Judd noticed he had shaved his shabby beard and that there was a chip in the right corner of door (it was none of his concern but he knew if anyone asked, he tell Patrick’s name). He got up and closed the curtain. Patrick smirked at his quirk as tents don’t have curtains but doors.

“I’m Judd.” he replied.

“Patrick. Nice to know ya.” He replied and gave a gentle shake on Judd’s right shoulder. “Hope ya’re hungry?” Judd nodded and noticed that one of his incisors was chipped too.

As they left the compartment, Judd turned back as he remembered that he had forgotten to lock but Patrick stopped him and said, “One must be foolest of fools to try stealing from eligible labourers of working class when there’s a treasure on the ground floor, waiting for him. One must hurry before it’s over.” Though Judd was hesitant but he didn’t have the courage to revolt.

Through the corridors with chambers on both sides, they reached the stairs which lead them to the reception hall. There was a door opposite to it that was hidden behind the crowd, the previous day. Two large men stood on both its side who gave them a paper band that was to be their currency for breakfast. That way, the authorities prevented overfeeding and smuggling of food.

The door opened into mess. Judd hadn’t seen anything like that before. Two people were eating from same plate; snatching the food. Some were sitting on table, others who weren’t quick enough to grab one, sat on floor. Patrick was very calm while Judd was thinking if they would be able to get food in such condition. He noticed some large men sitting with a heap of food in front of them and other men massaging their feet as they ate. There women sitting around them. Judd thought they were employers or their agents. But the scars on their body didn’t agree with his assumption. One of them had an eye about to pop out his socket.

Patrick signalled a man with his hands who was standing behind the food buffet. He brought two plates from the kitchen and handed them to both of them. “Friends are like roots of tree. Ya think why they’re so many but then ya never know when one of them reaches water or a freaking quarry. Be selective with your leaves though.” Patrick was explaining when he noticed Judd’s eyes fixed on the large men.

“What are ya looking at?” he asked.

“Are they employers or-“Judd was asking when Patrick interrupted and said, “Cannibals…or ‘warrior labourers’ as most people call ‘em. Stay away from ‘em narcissists.”

“What do they do?” Judd questioned.

“Watch.” Patrick said and whispered something in one of the large man’s ear. He stood up and flipped over his table that was filled with food and women; hurting a few of them. Then he proceeded to do the same with his contemporary’s table. Judd was watching everything in shock. They took chairs and started beating each other and screaming word that his mother had told him not to speak.

Patrick smiled and said, “Now let’s leave before these testosterone bags flip our food too.”

They left the mess and started walking to their compartment. Judd’s brain was exploding with question, so he asked, “No but what do they do?”

“What ya just saw for free is what they would have charged ya to see in the Capital.” Patrick answered. “They fight in rings for entertainment of people and their employer make money off it.”

“They’re huge in size for being from working class.” Judd exclaimed.

“Because their masters pay for their lifestyle.” Patrick replied softly. “Until they retire or stop making money.”

“That’s cool.” Judd said as he opened the door of their compartment.

“Wait until ya know that they even entertain their masters’ wives and daughters.” Patrick smirked and sat on his bed. They started eating the rice that they got from the mess.

“But if their masters come to know?” Judd asked in surprise.

“They already know.” Patrick replied. “They are keeping ‘em because of money they earn from these cannibals. Money trades away insecurities and morality.”

“They must make a lot of fortune by the time they retire.” Judd commented.

“They earn as much as an average labourer.” Patrick contradicted. “And most of them go broke by the time they retire. Like my father.”

“Your father was-“

“He was best of his time. Got old and stopped printing money, so got fired. Poor lad was so ashamed that killed himself on his way home. Mum entertained men to feed us but one day, I woke up in the middle of night and the bloody man beat the hell out of me. Still got scars on arms.”

Judd’s now knew about the story behind the scars but he wanted to know more, especially how did he manage to tell the story so casually. There was no reason he would lie. But his mother had advised him not to ask people to elaborate their personal lives. They’ll themselves share as much as they‘re comfortable with and if you ask for more than that, you’ll give you truth wrapped with comforting lies. So he decided to stick to advice and not question but Patrick himself added. “Then mum died when I was sixteen. I left Capital. Been saving money to buy land in a city in south since then. It’s hard to save money in Capital and owning a place here is not possible for me in this birth. So I come here sometimes to have fun and relive some memories.”

Judd was impressed. “So you don’t want job? And how would you earn to buy land. My dad said it’s very hard.” he asked.

Patrick laughed at his question and then replied, “No, I don’t want their job. I can earn enough outside capital and in small cities. Gotta tell ya it’s much cheaper, ya must come there. Don’t want to spend my whole life working.”

They finished their breakfast and went take a shower. It was again filled with people but Patrick again pulled some strings and managed to get a booth for them which they used individually. Everyone got cleaned and wore their best clothes before recruitments started. They were separated on the basis of age, gender and disability. Judd went to youngest and most deemed productive group while Patrick was grouped into young and skilled.

Although he hadn’t talked to them but Judd seemed pretty confident when he compared himself with his contemporaries, except for the boy in blue-checked shirt and that blond guy who kept pushing others until he was first in the row and that boy whose shoes were so clean that one could see their reflection in them…….and…that guy with precisely trimmed nails. By the time Jacob entered the room, Judd had lost all the confident and his thumb was shaking.

They were made to run and their finishing time was noted. Then the maximum amount they could lift was tested; most tried to push their limits but couldn’t lift that weight for more than a few seconds and hence, it not just flushed their efforts into vain but also exhausted them for further tests. Next they were made to break stones and bricks into pieces with hammer and grow paddy in the building garden.

The following day, they were commanded to clean the building and cook food. Judd didn’t how they were scored for that but he did his best either way. The blond guy made blue-checked shirt boy do his assigned job. On next day, those who had applied for technical jobs had their written assessment. When Judd got his paper, he realised his father had taught him about some of the terms written on it but still there was a lot that he didn’t have any idea about. He answered only those question that he was sure of, as his father had advised. He didn’t know anyone, otherwise he would have asked answer to his fellow examinees, like the man sitting in front of him did. Fortunately Judd was able to get a good glance at the man’s paper and copied two of his answers. After their test, they went to see the warrior labourers’ test. It wasn’t fun for him. He felt bad for the labourer who lost his tooth from a punch in the face and as it seemed like, he had also lost one of his lady’s love. During thvse three days, the observations of every labourer were noted in their documents. Finally, on the fourth day, they were taken to an empty room in the building.

“Recruiters will come to you in a moment. You must greet them and then answer or do whatever they tell you to. Now form a straight row.” Jacob instructed. It was weird to see him, Judd thought.

As Jacob left to bring recruiters, Judd started to feel his heart beating. His eyes sometimes fixed at the door, sometimes wandering around the room. He would occasionally pull the sleeves of his undersized shirt and rub his shoes on his calf. One by one men entered in their well-pressed suits and blessed the working class with their eyes. Some were accompanied by their ladies. Some weren’t which meant that either they were single or they were looking for women to entertain them. Some labourers rejected by their mere looks and others when their words didn’t prove their documents. Mr. Dern seemed interested in the blond guy. Mrs. Squibb was impressed with the sklls of blue-checked shirt boy. Mr. Goldman must have determined on the trimmed nail guy, Judd told himself as the man kept touching and rubbing the man’s body. It looked eerie to him but employers do stuff like that to test the strength of the labourer to recruit, fortunately for Judd, Mr. Goldman left before meeting him. Then Mr. Lawrence entered the room. He was different from others who came before. His eyes were stern and with before step he took, his stick would tap the floor. Unlike others who went to meet labourers, Mr. Lawrence went to Jacob.

Jacob clumsily bowed to him. Judd sensed the fear on his face. Mr. Lawrence hummed with his eyes fixed on documents in Jacob’s hands. He asked him something and then Jacob pointed at the blue-checked shirt boy, the blond guy and then at Judd.

Judd saw Jacob’s fingers pointing at him but he didn’t know why. Was he going to get punished for starting the fight in the mess or is he going to get recruited, he wondered. Mr. Lawrence went to meet whom Jacob pointed at. They bowed to him and then he asked them some questions. He would take a glance at their documents and make the most unimpressed face. It was Judd’s turn then. Mr. Lawrence walked to him and Judd bowed, a little early then he was expected to.

“So your father was a doctor before war, boy?” he asked. Judd nodded.

“I asked a question, so you must answer. I didn’t ask to swing your head.” Mr. Lawrence screamed. Judd was petrified by his words but he swallowed his anguish and said, “Yes sir!”

“Good! So what happened? Why doesn’t he work anymore?” he questioned.

Judd got a flashback of father breaking down the day before. He could not tell a potential employer that story, so he replied, “He lost his practising certificate in the war sir.”

“So did his country lost the war.” Mr. Lawrence commented. His eyes were fixed at Judd’s document. Jacob thought it was joke, so slipped a laughter but realising the employer’s mood, he went quiet. Judd agreed to his comment.

“So tell me what you can do that would make me choose you over that whisperer who can cook well and that swing who said he can fight whoever tries to rob me.” Mr. Lawrence asked.

“I can cook too sir. Plus I can do other domestic works and I’m familiar with some diseases and their treatment. I’m learned. I can be of great help.” Judd replied.

Mr. Lawrence thought for a second and then said, “But can you fight like that swinger?”

“It’s not my best point but I can fight him if that’s what it takes to get a job except I don’t think a veteran like you would need boys to protect you.” The young man replied.

“Clever like a fox, ain’t you? Don’t butter me, tell me if you can defeat that swinger?” the employer asked.

“I’m sorry sir but even he said that he can fight for you. He never stated that he will win the fight.” answered Judd.

“Must say you’ve got brain as you said.” Mr. Lawrence commented and left the room with Jacob.

Judd felt as if someone had removed a tonne of weight from his chest. The rest of the day followed a series of recruiters coming to the room and seeking eligible labourers. Judd’s back started to ache from the greetings but finally it was over and they were allowed to go to their compartments.

“How did ya torture go?” Patrick asked.

“Torture? Oh you mean recruitment? I don’t know. Tomorrow will tell.” Judd replied. “What about you?”

Patrick gave him a smirk and said, “Ya think I cared enough to evaluate how it went?”

Judd wanted to ask him about cities and Capital but instead he said, “I remember my father telling me that wars stopped after formation of Rhellic Union. Fights are illegal and can result in offender being sent to the unknown place for mining and stuff, then how do these warrior labourers dodge that?”

Patrick was surprised that the young man was still stuck at the topic but he replied either way, “People love to see other people in misery. Give ‘em a high. A validation to their failed lives. Ya know how light finds its way in through a tiny hole in tent cloth, the same way they find a week spot in laws. Everybody knows it’s wrong but there’s no way to prove it.”

“What happens when somebody proves it?” Judd asked eagerly.

“They path up the hole in cloth with needles, making several smaller holes.” Patrick smirked. He rolled over to other side and went to sleep. Judd shrugged his mouth and peeped out of the window. Then he smoothened the corners of his bed sheet and got lost in dreams of god times.

With the next day, came the day of unfolding. All the eligible labourers gathered in the reception area to check if they had been recruited or not. Judd had waken Patrick early, although he was least interested to be there at 6’o clock in the morning. Jacob stood beside a podium with a screen behind his back which was eclipsed by his huge shadow. Initially he was about to reveal the names of the women who had been recruited but then he noticed warrior labourers standing in the front row, so he changed his mind and began announcing their names but it took him some time to change the sequence of slides. As expected, every one of them had been employed. Mr. Issac had chosen Newman, Mr. Otthun had gone with his lucky charm as the bookmakers called him, Dixon. When the screen showed Brody’s picture who had been contracted by Mr. Heckles, he gave Jacob a scary look as his shadow was blocking the monster’s face. Jacob stepped aside with microphone in his hand.

Then the screen presented the women’s list. Shockingly debutant Rita Page had surpassed the wage amount of Lace Greene who had been highest paid woman until that year. She furrowed her thin eyebrows when her friends congratulated Rita. Then the farm and mining labourers’ names were displayed. Will, a young lad, who had a cloth wrapped around his eye left eye, got furious when he couldn’t find him name on the list. He left the room with his brothers in anger. Then came the list Judd had been waiting for; the technical labourers. His eyes were fixed at screen. One by one he was reading every name, even the recruiters’ name. His eyes followed every alphabet but his name wasn’t there. He had expressed his concern about not being able to get a job but his father had assured him but Lucas knew too that it was difficult for a sixteen year old to get a technical job, so he had registered him for domestic labour too. Finally the list for the same was revealed too. Judd’s name was here at number twenty five. As soon as he read his name, he uncrossed the fingers he had tangled after technical labourers list was read. He again looked to reassure his name but before he could get a clear view, Patrick interrupted, “Ya impressed No-Law in your first try?!”

Judd had no idea what Patrick said. They both left the hall as it was last list to be displayed and those whose name wasn’t on any list were going to be unemployed until next season, except some had reached their retirement, like Will who was unemployed for last three seasons. Although Patrick also secured house-keeping contract at Mr. Puth’s who was an elderly widower. He wasn’t particularly interested in the job but the money was good, so he agreed anyway.

“Who’s No-Law?” Judd enquired.

“Your recruiter…..Lawrence. People call him No-Law. He fought in Great War….lost his foot” Patrick explained. “Some say, he even lost his jewels and hence married a working woman….adapted her girl.”

“Oh…I remember, he came today and was asking us weird questions…” Judd said.

“Lady died a few years ago… he must need ya to babysit his daughter but ya’re younger than her…..Strange that he chose a ‘boy’ for that…..might not be wanting to let a woman to know about his gentleman.” Patrick commented. Judd was listening quietly.

“Don’t worry….I’ve heard she’s nothing like his adaptive…hear she paints well.” He added.

“Is she a painter?” Judd asked.

“No!” Patrick yelped. Judd raised his brow.

“Poor’s profession is rich’s passion.” Patrick answered and hid himself under sheet. “Anyways you’ll be living in the Third Valley.”

Before Judd could ask him what the Third Valley was, someone knocked at the door. It was Jacob.

“Judd, pack your luggage. Tram’s here to pick you.” he said as the door opened.

“Pick me?” Judd enquired.

“Yes…No-Law is standing member of Governing Committee since a few seasons…..Their houses have workers’ quarters.” Patrick explained.

 “You’ll be staying there.” Jacob added.

“Is my mum and dad-“ Judd was saying but Patrick interrupted, “They can stay here, if your recruiter allows.”

Judd looked at the young Director and before he could utter a word, Jacob said, “Mr. Lawrence has allowed them to stay here but….they’ll have to be quarantined.”

Quarantine….What is that, Judd thought.

“Apparently, there’s been a disease spreading in the Shadows. Mr. Lawrence has arranged you an an immediate appointment for test, so if you’re negative, he can go with him.” the young Director added.

“My mum and dad….are they okay?” Judd enquired and peeped outside the window to find a wall standing high enough to not give any glace of the Shadows and if it were early morning, one wouldn’t even see the sun. The machines that completed the wall- the authorities had laid foundation of- stood in the courtyard

“Yes…they’re in good health. Hopefully soon they’ll be welcomed in the building. The doctors said the disease might have spread from mice and your parents don’t seem have contacted that damn thing. So, they’re good.” Jacob commented.

Judd hugged Patrick.

“Have fun at the Capital.” His roommate said as Judd asked him to tell his parents that he was fine, when he’d meet his parents. He also wrote a letter to them and handed it to Patrick. The young boy also asked the Director to get his roommate a quarter close to his parents, to which he nodded.

Judd was taken to medical room in the Recruitment Building where he submitted his blood and mucus samples. He had to wait for about an hour for the reports to come which turned out to be negative. Patrick called Mr. Lawrence and in about half an hour, tram was there to pick his domestic helper and other labourers of the Third Valley Residents. They were given identity cards as issued by their recruiters.

As they came out of the building, they found Will standing in the courtyard with his brothers. “Dogs! Go to your masters” he announced. “But remember when storm comes, you’ll be blown like leaves and they’ll disperse like seeds-” Before he could speak more, he was taken forcefully taken by the warrior labourer and locked in his dorm for a day, his brothers too but in separate rooms.

They boarded the black tram which stood out on the grey road. Although Judd sat alone, silently but his eyes followed every structure of the Capital. It was just as magnificent as his father had explained. The roads had trees on both sides whose leaves were clean, something Judd hadn’t seen as most trees he had seen before had a layer of dust over them. The air also wasn’t heavy and the place was as clean as skin of the people living there. Judd was surprised to see that there were water throwing structures- which he heard were called fountain from a fellow labourer on the tram- for aesthetic purposes while it would be a luxury in the shadows or an invitation for conspiracy against you if you weren’t sage O’Connor. The building seemed even bigger from near than they used to from the quarter windows. The flag of the Union on top of National Building could be seen even from the remotest part of the Capital. The tram was moving smoothly, just like Judd’s thoughts and topics of people’s conversation. When he felt anxious, Judd started singing his grandpa’s recitation, in his mind-

Oh dear merciful God, please bless our lost souls.

Dear virtuous father, grant us strength to fight for truth.

Beloved mother nurture us, so we can walk on our own.

They crossed Ari Bale Market (named after first treasurer of Committee when the Union was formed) and entered Blue Hills. The area had hospitals, schools and saloons. Judd even spotted some ‘clubs’ which he remembered his father said were places where residents of Capital came to relax and discuss politics over whiskeys and world problems over a glass of champagne. Fighting Pits for warrior labourers were also there. Then the tram reached Seven Oceans, from where residential zone started. Patrick’s recruiter also lived there. Next station was Ivy Blooms where richer residents were located and then finally the tram got to the Third Valley that surrounded the political centre of the Union, Crescent Peak. Third valley was personal residence of the Committee members and people with political and financial influences while Crescent Peak was official residence and office of Committee members which bordered the National Building of the Rhellic Union.

The tram dropped every labourer at their employer’s house. It was Judd’s turn now. It stopped in front of two-storey building with a massive front lawn. A pillar read- Mr. Harold Lawrence. Judd got off along with luggage and rang the bell.

After a few rings, a voice from the door intercom said, “Who is it?”

“Hello I’m Judd-“

“Oh! The domestic help….hold on, please swipe your identity card on given place on the telecom.” the voice said. Judd followed her instructions and the door opened.

The voice was of Rose, No-Law’s daughter. It was obvious to know she was adopted as she looked nothing like the recruiter. She was taller than Judd and was standing by the stairs.

“Come in.” she said. Her blue eye fixed on Judd- who obviously looked much younger than his age- Judd entered the house.

“How old are you?” Rose asked with the left side of her unibrow raised and hands resting on stair railing.

Judd told her that he was sixteen. She relaxed her brows and rested her chin on left hand. Would he be able to handle the job, she thought. Why would father recruit a debutant? She told herself that he might have wanted her to babysit a boy while he was out at the Union meeting but what was the use of it- to teach some life lessons…she could never knew what his father was up to. When he was in good mood, he’d stay quiet and when in bad mood, he’d just scream. Especially after her mother’s death, the two have been more isolated.

Rose took him to his quarter in the basement of the house where he was supposed to change into his uniform that was colour co-ordination as per labourer’s job. As Judd was domestic helper, his uniform was blue in coloured. She asked Judd to cook lunch for her as Mr. Lawrence was out at Crescent Peak.

As Judd entered the kitchen, he saw some fruits and vegetable he had not even heard, neither could he recall his father telling him about them but his mother once taught him a rice preparation that could be prepared with any vegetables and some pulses. He tasted a piece from every vegetable before sautéing them and then boiled them with rice. Then he poured the chopped fruits into whisked curd. Judd didn’t know what it was called but it looked appetising. So it was, as Rose’s expressions said. She finished the lunch and went to her room. There was a list of things on refrigerator that supposed to do. There was a diary with instructions to operate the machines on the kitchen counter which was just cherry on top as Judd’s mum had already taught him to operate most of them, on public service machines, at their quarters. He started off by cleaning the yard and turning the machine on to water the plants. Then he threw laundry into washing machine and vacuumed the marble floors. Finally, by evening, he got time to unpack his own bag and personalise his quarter before making dinner. After taking shower- the bathroom was cleanest that he had ever used- he went to kitchen to cook soup and prepare salad.

By 9’o clock, the door opened and Mr. Lawrence entered. Rose was still in her room. The recruiter- after having a bath- sat on dinner table. Judd served him dinner and then he was commanded to go to his quarter. There was some rice preparation left from lunch which he had slipped into his room after Rose had gone to her room. He heated it on the single-burner stove and had it as dinner. As the food touched his tongue, he realised it was nothing compared to what his mum had once prepared. He started thinking of their well-being with every bite. As he was about to leave to ask No-Law about his parents, he heard a couple of thuds of door closing and starting of engine. Mr. Lawrence had his drivers provided by the Committee –as did other members- who could live the life of Riley by keeping the job as long as he kept passing tests. So Judd concluded that his recruiter had left and will never a good idea to check on your bread payer.

Next morning, Judd found ‘itto bee for dinner’ on the sticky note on refrigerator. He found the corner of the page with its recipe on the diary was folded. His suspicion was correct, No-Law had left last night. Rose came down and asked for rye bread with milk. As Judd was heating milk he asked the young woman if she had chance to talk to her father and by any chance he mentioned the disease spreading at the Shadows. She declined. He served her the breakfast.

“Why don’t you yourself ask him tonight?” she asked as took a bite.

Judd replied that he had heard that her father was short-tempered and didn’t know him well to not disappoint him but a Committee member would never scold her daughter for showing her interest in working class. It would be a sign of continuation of lineage.

“We ain’t that close as you think….poor lad, has to deal with me since my mum died. Sometimes I wonder why did he even married her in first place. A working class woman, abandoned by her abusive husband, and entertained men to feed her daughter.” She replied. “Guess it must have been a scandal. Might have got her pregnant-”

“Pregnant? But they say-”

“-That he lost his family jewels in war field. I swear it can’t be true, I can confirm because of the number of women he entertains.” Rose chuckled and then said in a seriously tone, “No, he’s my father.” And then laughed like a horse’s snore.

“I don’t know the man. Sometimes I think I’m just too hard on him and he’s genuinely has a nice heart, like him recruiting you in your first season which reminds me that I researched your details on the working class records last night and I guess, he must have been impressed by your father more than you. What a nice way to honour someone by making them afford a comfortable retirement.” She added. “But then he’ll do something that will make me realise exactly why I hate him, like the bills he passed last season. I wish I could just leave him but Capital isn’t safe, even for women like me. Don’t even have any voice.”

“Swear I’d be celebrating with fireworks on my last day here.” Rose said as he took a sip of the milk. “hmm……where are your parents?”

The young boy replied that they were at the Shadows.

“Oh…Could have helped if they were at the Recruitment Building.” she said.

“How?” Judd asked.

“But they’re at the Shadows.” Rose replied and left.

When No-Law came that evening, she was sitting on the dining table. Judd served the dinner. Rose started talking politics with her father and asked about disease she heard from her friend that was spreading in the Shadows.

“Yeah…docs say it spreads from rats but yesterday they were saying it’s water or air-borne. Always knew these pests were damned sick.” he replied.

 Judd heard him say ‘pests’ which was a slang for working class. A derogatory one. He could o nothing but clean the kitchen countertops. Rose bit her tongue which was all she could do.

“Have built a wall to segregate and put bounty on rats. Those pests would do anything for a couple of Bizenuts. Would pay four Bizenuts for one tail.” He added. Rose asked about the families of the labourers who came for the recruitment. He said they had a plan and then they could bring them in after quarantining.

No-Law was under high pressure to keep the disease from spreading into the Capital from the Shadows and supress the disobedience rising in the Recruitment Building. The Will brothers had injured a warrior labourer that day. Slowly the anger was spreading among other unemployed labourers too. Mr. Lawrence was over-working to keep the Union united. He himself visited the building and gave them the food resources from the Union’s storage. He also promised to pay compensation for not allowing them to leave after recruitment was over in Capital and thus preventing them from applying in other cities. He know he had to send them away as soon as possible but the disease had halted the opening of Johnson Link that was the only way Capital was connected to the world. Airlifting pests would be an acquired taste to them, he had thought. He also didn’t want to waste the air service that bring fresh resources t Capital on them.

A week passed, No-Law didn’t come home. Meanwhile, Rose taught Judd some basics of painting- something he always wanted to learn but couldn’t afford and it also kept his mind off from thinking negative approaches about his family- and Judd in return or better say as fee, trained her to cook as she thought she would need it when she leave the Capital and live in some peaceful place. The recruited labourers who got tested negative joined their jobs by that time which meant the fighting pits opened for the season. Mr. Lawrence got tickets for the opening night. Judd and Rose were also going.

First fight was between Dixon and Brody. Rose sat with her father on the front seats in the reserved area while Judd was sitting in the waiting area near reception along with some other domestic labourers and drivers who were there just in case their recruiters would need an aid to get snacks or drive them home in case of emergency or the fight wasn’t interesting (/violent) enough. The labourers had screens to watch the fight from the hall. Judd wasn’t intrigued by the fight, neither from his company, until patted his right shoulder. He was happy to find him. They hugged each other. Judd asked him about his well-being and if he were able to get his message to his parents.

“Sorry they ain’t at the building yet but through Jacob I know that they’re doing well.” Patrick replied but when he noticed the concern on Judd’s face, he added, “Ya know Jacob wouldn’t lie after that punch Will gave him.”

Patrick started explaining everything Judd had missed; the fights and the cries, the plans and the laughs. He also told him about the aeroplanes that flied over the building. He told him how Tommy tried to fake the disease to avoid cleaning and nearly ended up being sent to the Shadows but he revealed he was lying, just in time to get a punishment to clean the latrines for a week. The warrior fighters had been fighting in the Recruitment Building’s courtyard until pits opened. Will had become someone like O’Connor. Jacob had been quiet since he was punched and was never seen without at least four men guarding him. Someone once wrote ‘history repeats itself’ on his cabin’s door. Patrick’s recruiter used to come home late and would even go out on holidays as he was keen to pursue his hobbies instead of staying at home and weep about his family. So, Patrick got to spend a lot of time alone, pretending the house belonged to him. It was just a little bigger than what Patrick had dreamed of but removing a room and adding a kitchen garden would make it in his league. The swimming pool was Patrick’s favourite part of the property.

As Patrick was explaining to Judd, he stopped to take a better look at Dixon.

“This is his last season.” Patrick commented after his observation. Judd gave him a curious look.

“Look at his face. He had an epiphany. His entire life has flashed before his eyes. Bruh, he will go home to no one. Not a wife to dress his wounds. Not a child to boost his mood by his giggles. Not a friend to tell him, ‘You’ll do better next day. Some days ain’t in your hands.’ over a cup of beer. Now either he’ll end up like my father or be a free man. Winning that fight is more important than this one.” he added.

Patrick was right, Dixon lost the fight and a toe nail. The spectator enjoyed their nights and some even made a few Bizenuts by winning bet. The loser went home alone while his ladies went with Brody; the night belonged to him, after all.

No-Law went to his office directly while his daughter and Judd went home. As he opened the door and turned on the lights, Rose asked for salad and a cup of coffee. The young boy started chopping vegetables and tossing them into honey and olive oil dressing. The coffee was boiling in the kettle. The glass window in the hall was showing the serene night view of the Capital which was telling just why people come there every year- in search of job- knowing everything that glitters isn’t gold, especially when living in a world where grains value more than gold. The Union Flag stood higher than any other structure in the city.

“Did you enjoy the fight?” Judd asked his recruiter’s daughter.

“Enjoy? I wasted my evening watching a bunch of testosterone bags and listening to people sing my father’s praise.” she replied. “Ah….that’s why I hate him. This passive aggressiveness about him. Look No-Law is so great….married a working class woman who used to entertain men….look at him taking care of his daughter after his wife’s death. I didn’t ask him to do so. I wonder how my mum survived hearing how about his greatness. If I were to be considered ‘great’ I’ll need to actually achieve something. Like become a Chairman of Union or make reforms that would revolutionise the world or…I don’t know….find a cure for post-war impotency but all he had to do is marry a woman.”

Next day Mr. Lawrence came home. Rose asked her about the disease at the Shadows. He knew she was speaking on Judd’s behalf- something alarming but he could deal with that later- but still he replied.

“Damn pests been petting rats and cutting off their tails to get bounty. Caught ‘em and got tested, turned out they were positive. Those who didn’t cheat or were negative were brought into Recruitment Building. Your parents there too boy, don’t worry. We’ll take care of the sick in the Shadows.” he replied.

Johnson Link was closed after Judd’s parents along with families of recruited labourers were brought there. The bridge, when closed, stood as high as the wall and hence looked just like a metal patch in the brick barrier. The recruited labourers also lived there and were elated to finally meet their families. The unemployed labourers were to leave the place in a few days after the Union had executed No-Law’s plan. The walls and the bridge blocked the view of Shadows from the building. Medical team was withdrawn from the slum society and Union Soldiers were sent in their place who put the tents on fire. The families of the affected patients were told that the sick were transferred to a hospital via airlifting. Nobody noticed the fire. The day looked creepily bright until smoke covered the sky. People thought they were storm clouds that were formed from hot weather in the morning, except for Robert had managed to make a peephole in the wall behind the trees. He had witnessed the Soldiers putting Shadows on fire. He had told everything Will and his followers. Will had instructed them to stay quiet. Three days after the incident, the bridged opened and the unemployed were removed from the building. The ashes in the Shadows was covered beneath the soil- as per plan- and grass was planted on it. The residents of the building were impressed by the Union’s effort to clean their temporary home but Patrick sensed something was fishy and Will too had been quiet since the previous day. Will thanked Jacob for his hospitality before leaving.

No-Law was contented with his plan’s execution. He was certain his image had strengthen among the Committee which would help him become Chairman when Alex Sullivan would retire from the position by the end of that season. He still wasn’t spending much time at home since he was making sure that the Committee members remembered that his plan suppressed a revolt and ended a deadly pandemic. Judd again met Patrick at fighting pits where he came to know that his family was doing well and their quarter in the building was also comfortable. His parents too enjoyed Patrick’s company (which meant Jacob has listened to Judd’s request to give them a room close to him). Although he was happy but Judd also felt jealous of Patrick as he was getting to spend time with his parents and getting his share of love from them. Patrick even joked that his parents might adopt him. Rose too said it was possible to see Judd’s reaction but then said she was only kidding and Patrick too was pulling his leg.

One day, Mr. Lawrence was making report of his achievements when he got news of Jacob’s death. His initial suspicion was wrong- he hadn’t died like his father. Apparently the pandemic didn’t end. Jacob died from the disease. Someone’s report must have been corrupted or the disease was air-borne or whatever it was, one thing was sure that No-Law was in trouble and that he had failed. Some recruited labourers were also tested positive and their employers too. The labourers who were negative were allowed to stay in fighting pits, after quarantining, as their employers demanded fulfilment of the contract, signed in the beginning of the season. Judd’s parents were infected by the disease and hence were staying at the Recruitment Building. Patrick wasn’t exposed to the sickness and hence was staying in the pits. The Union had made it clear that the pits stayed cleaned. Lockdown was announced in the city. No-Law was making sure to not fail this time. Rose and Judd didn’t know that the disease had returned. They were told the city was closed to renovate it as per Chairman’s order before retired.

“I’m missing my parents.” Judd said one day.

Rose raised her unibrow and said, “Sorry I don’t miss mine…..and I haven’t met yours so-”

“No you said you could help if they lived in the Recruitment Building.”

“Oh, yeah I remember. Come on then, let’s go.”

They went to plumbing room in the basement where opened the lid of the manhole. “Jump!” she commanded.

The manhole opened into a network of pipes. Moss was growing on the sidewalks while shallow water flowed in the channels. Narrow bridges connected the opposite sides of channels through which one could go from one sidewalk to another as they were cleaned by labourers when the Capital was constructed and hence needed link to travel. Later they were replaced by robots that were more efficient in cleaning and wouldn’t die of sickness. Rose had found the pipes during her first year staying at Mr. Lawrence’s house. With time, she learned the route to different parts of the Capital through the underground network. She used to visit her friend, Lace Greene, whom she met when their mothers lived in Recruitment Building but stopped going there when Lace too followed her mother’s steps and started entertaining men which didn’t suite Rose as she thought she wasn’t meant for the job and deserved better. Arguments became differences and Rose couldn’t see her friend being miserable, even though she was paid highest among women. Though she wished when she would leave the city, Lace would join her and like to start a new life.

Judd and Rose were walking carefully to not slip by stepping on moss. She kept telling him about where the manhole would open, each time she would spot one but he didn’t give much heed. She told him stories about her visits to the Shadows and how once her mother caught her and forbade her from leaving her room but found her way through the school’s manhole. She got caught again and was made to promise to not visit the place. She kept her words until her mother died and then after she couldn’t see marks on her friend’s body. Judd was thinking to tell tales about Capital to his parents- things that his father told him about- and seeing his father happily retired. He was excited to do his family ritual with his parents. He was singing the words to make sure that he hasn’t forgotten his roots and to prove to his father that he didn’t let the city trap him in its magnificence-

Oh dear merciful God, please bless our lost souls.

Dear virtuous father, grant us strength to fight for truth.

Beloved mother nurture us, so we can walk on our own.

Rose heard him singing but didn’t question him because she had realised that he wasn’t interested when she told him about the manhole that opened into bank. He followed him until they reached the end and the pipe opened into Pfecka River. They climbed up the embankment to get to the road. The weather was hot and Judd breathed the heavy air after a long time. The sky was covered in grey clouds. Rose looked up and stood petrified. Judd didn’t notice her and kept walking thinking about what to say when he’d meet his parents but then he too looked up to see the Recruitment Building.

The building wasn’t there but a fumes of fire. It must have been burning for a while as the only sound that was heard was cracking of the charcoal. Smoke was rising like souls departing from the bodies. Judd rushed to the building but was stopped by the Union Soldiers but he pushed them and started knocking the iron door of the Building. As they aimed their guns at him, Rose screamed, “Stop! I’m Lawrence’s daughter…He’s with me.” They put their guns down but ran to catch him. Two of them surrounded Rose. Judd’s knocks were sync with his grandfather’s recitation. One. Two. Three. One. Two. Three. And then One. Two. One two. He was singing the words, in hope to hear a response from the other side-

Oh dear merciful God, please bless our lost souls.

Dear virtuous father, grant us strength to fight for truth.

Beloved mother nurture us, so we can walk on our own.

Any sound synced with his knock would have done but there was nothing except cracking of the bygones until a soldier said, “Get him!” He was dragged away and put into van with Rose. Judd sat like a statue. Two soldiers sat on his either sides and so did on Rose’s. She was filled with regret. She knew the Union Soldiers were standing there for a reason. They weren’t trying to put off the fire, so it was obvious they were making sure the fire burned to ashes. It must have been his father’s order, she thought, he was responsible for containing the disease. She knew him well to believe that he could order something like that. They were taken to No-Law’s house.

“How did you not listen to my orders like that?” Mr. Lawrence screamed as he entered the house.

“Listen to your orders? Like the Union Soldiers? You’ve killed hundreds of people.” Rose cried. “Innocents! Why? So you could sit on that damn chair?”

Judd was sitting motionless on sofa. His ears were hearing quarrelling sounds of the father and daughter but his brain was too soaked in grief to comprehend or care. He was still mouthing his grandfather’s recitation. He remembered his mother’s smile. His father telling him about Capital. Warning him about the world. Their family ritual. How they would huddle in winter and how they bathed in Aryter River during their stay at Shrose town. He was trying to hum like his mother used to, while cooking. He was missing the way his father caressed his hair. The tried to remember the last time they called his name. He didn’t realise when No-Law left the room in anger.Judd sat there the whole day. For next few days, he didn’t utter a word. Rose understood her pain and didn’t pressurise him to heal before time. His tears had dried. He started noticing rail falling off the glass window. Sometimes he would stare at the Union flag and sometimes at the grass in the lawn.

Two weeks had passed. Mr. Lawrence didn’t visit his house once. Everything was going smoothly in Capital. The disease was also controlled. His sole focus was winning the upcoming Chairman election. He was trying made sure everyone remembered his deeds for the unity of the Union. No-Law also had prepared a speech and drafted some bills.

The aeroplanes were bringing fresh resources from the cities to Capitals. Will came to know about Mr. Lawrence’s order to burn the Recruiting Building too. It acted as a drop of water on heated pan. He and his group which now consisted of more than just unemployed members; some residents of the Capital also joined him. They got hold of the aeroplanes when they were leaving for Capital and instead of resources, filled them with people with stern believe against the Union. They landed at airport in Blue Hills where they took it under their control.

“Let’s leave!” Rose told Judd who had been getting normal since a few days. Although his wounds weren’t healed his blood had clotted. “We don’t live in this damn place anymore.”

“Where would we go?” Judd asked.

“To free city of Knuckl.” She announced.

Lockdown was lifted but they were under house arrest as per No-Law’s order. Fortunately Rose was able to hide her manhole route from him. So, through the pipes, they went to the bank to exchange Bizenuts she had collected in her piggy bank- to spend when she’d leave the city- into free city currency. The bank was just as grand as any other structure in the Capital. The manger sat behind the desk in the hall, signing papers and issuing cards. Rose gave him her bank passbook and the money to exchange as without passbook, the process included standing in queue and risking getting recognised by No-Law’s loyals.

“I’m sorry ma’am you’ll need to update your passbook for the process.” the manager said, after typing entries on the passbook since her last visit.

“Update? But there’re still five pages left.” she replied.

“Yes ma’am but there has been a change in your information lately.”

She glanced at the new entry. Mr. Lawrence had made visited bank the day before and had made some changes in their particular. He had also used the family locker. Rose too demanded to visit the locker. Judd stayed in the hall, as he was supposed to since he wasn’t a Lawrence.

The manager opened the locker. Rose recognised most of the things; her mother’s wedding ring, the property papers of their house, No-Law’s Committee membership, some other documents and Mr. Lawrence’s will that didn’t interest her even once. Then she noticed a newly sealed folder. It must have been the reason he had visited the bank before. She opened the folder. The front page read ‘Adaption Papers’ under the Union’s emblem. Just a small glance more and she found Judd’s name too. No-Law had adopted him. That’s the particular that has changed in his passbook. What a monster he is to burn his parents and then use him to gain in election. Great No-Law adopted a working class an orphan. But Judd was Lawrence too now. Should he know about it, she thought, would he be wanting to call No-Law his ‘dad’ and would he like to leave, knowing he’s heir to his dark land too. Rose couldn’t comprehend what to do. Should she tell him or just push the truth under carpet.

She kept the papers back into locker and manager locked it. Suddenly Judd entered the room. Has he come to know about his adaption, Rose thought looking at his dull face, or has No-Law been informed that his kids have left house in secret and were in bank. Then Patrick came following him.

“Capital’s under attack!” Judd screamed.

A few more people came into the room. “That’s the manager! Take him and I’ll deal with these pests. Been a while I entertained someone.” Patrick told them and smirked.

The people laughed like a horse’s snore and took manager with them.

When they left, Patrick took No-Law’s children in a corner and said, “Leave this damn place, they’ll come after every recruiter and their loyal labourers. Rose leave this place. Take Judd with you to a safe place and don’t let anyone know who you are. You never know if they work for money or blood.” Then he torn their clothes from stiches and joints and left.

Rose and Judd went down the manhole. “I know the way to Pfecka River opening” she said. They were running on the sidewalks and even stepped into channels, in hurry, instead of bridges. Will and his group had taken over the Blue Hills or maybe had moved forward than that, Judd didn’t know, the only thing Patrick had time to tell him was that Will had come to avenge the Great War. Rose eyes were fixed every, replaying the route she had only walked on twice during her childhood. First time to find the way out and next time when she had packed her bags with sweaters to leave but Lace ditched her at the eleventh hour. She was running, holding Judd’s hands. Judd trying to match her speed was sure he had stepped on a few mice on his way. After half an hour, they finally saw light from the other side of the Pipe. It must been exit. They turned and then stopped with their shoes sliding against the floor. Rose nearly fell, if she weren’t holding Judd’s hand and if they slid for a few centimetres more, his shoes would have ripped the already worn out sole.

Will was standing there with an elderly man. They must be talking about something serious when they walked in on them. Will recognized Judd as the boy who left in the tram that day and who didn’t know Rose, No-Law’s daughter whom he had adopted.

“Good thing! My knife hadn’t taste the blood, at least it ca have the name.” Will said.

Rose swallowed hard. Did he mean by her or did he know that now Judd too had Lawrence’s name. She tightened her grip over Judd’s arm.

“You were right Sir. The day is ours he added.” he added and starting walking with his knife pointing towards them but the man who was standing with him grabbed his arm and explained, “Look at these pests! They are nothing to you and what you are aiming at. Don’t waste your time on them. Go up and prove to them, that no matter whose blade it was, the courage was yours. Give them your leadership before someone else gets hold of their ears.”

“Let her live the life his father gave you. It is best punishment for her.” he added.

Rose realised it was meant for her and not Judd. Will ground his teeth and nodded and while walking past them- his eyes fixed at her- he punched Judd’s nose and kicked his left calf. Judd tumbled on his back. The old man and Will walked away and faded into silhouette.

Rose asked if he was okay. Judd agreed. She supported him to stand and then they stood on the end of the pipe which- as thought- opened into Pfecka River. They took a deep breath of the gentle air and jumped into the water but it was deeper than they had expected. They were moving their feet to find the bottom when a raft approached them. It noticed them struggling and hence threw a rope.

“Are you residents?” a blond boy asked as they got hold of the rope.

“Look at their clothes, must be from working class!” a boy- who looked older than him- replied.

Rose and Judd didn’t reply. The old man who was also sitting on the raft said, “Let them up. They would fight for their identity when they are even afraid to share it. Sons let them up.”

They pulled the rope and Rose and Judd climbed up. “Rest for some time and then you two will row the boat.” The old man said, giving them a piece of cloth to wrap.

“Where are you going?” Rose asked.

“To some free city. Would sit on this wood until it can tolerate river’s rage and then might walk or look for a look some other vehicle.” the blond boy replied.

“And where are you going?” the older boy asked.

“To some free city too.” Judd said.

The Capital was getting far with every row.

“Do you think the war has ended in the Capital?” the older boy asked.

“This isn’t war, my child. War precedes revolution. This is the time of change.” The old man explained.

“And what’s next?” Rose questioned.

“A rise in power and then fall from grace. Everything would return to zero. Like a river in drought. But then a new age will start. Plants will get alive again. Water will flow in river, mosses will cover its bed. And then flood will come and then another war. Followed by revolution, rise and a fall. And then another new age would start. That’s how it had always been.” the old man replied.

The Capital was getting farther. Rose noticed that the Union Flag was not rippling on National Building. Someone had removed it. Rose remembered hearing it meant dissolution of Union. She was caressing Judd’s hair when she told him, “I always had a flat nose, and yours was more pointed. Good thing he punched it, now we look like siblings.” Judd chuckled.

And the raft continued its journey to the free city as far as it could.

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