Dulce et Decorum est

It is an oddly warm November day. Not a single white patch can be seen in the vast dome of blue. Not even a single puff of black smoke from the chimneys can be seen. The regular hustle and bustle of city life remains. Dealers lurk in the shadows, while the rest go on with their daily, mundane lives. The streets are crowded with young children as they colour the city with their imagination. Lush meadows and sunny fields juxtapose quite well against dirty brick and steel.  It is a shame that such creativity will need to be wiped out later. It is a world where order and creativity cannot exist in harmony.

Estelle leans on the balcony fence and turns her gaze to the children below, as they draw on the concrete with colourful chalk. There is something in them that always brings a smile to her face, something that elates her spirits. The feeling is replaced with jealousy. These children are free to think, free to dream. They envisage worlds with no boundaries, realms that will be slowly torn away by reality as time passes. For in this day and age, freedom is nothing but a luxury for those who can afford it.

The sound of the gong heralds the beginning of another work day, snapping Estelle to her senses. The children begin to scrub their works of art, stored in their young minds until they are free to draw again. She makes her way from the balcony to the ground floor. The district hall’s foyer is slowly being flooded by people. Four officials stand in one side of the room, each with a folder of today’s schedule. In less than three minutes, Estelle and thirty-nine other teenagers stand in a single file in front of the officials.

Such an inflexible lifestyle bores Estelle. Her schedule does not invite much variety. Fourteen was the age when one is required to join the labour force, or rather, it is when they begin to use them for physical labour.  Success and attention to detail is paramount, for anything less attracts punishment.

Estelle looks at her schedule with despair.  With a sigh she leaves the foyer and walks out into the sunlight, letting the warm rays immerse her before being imprisoned in a world of books.

She feels an elbow nudge her. Her gaze meets with Marina’s; a close friend of hers. The expression on her face makes Estelle ask the obligatory, ‘is something wrong?’

Her eye catches a folded piece of paper in Marina’s hands. Gesturing towards it, she asks, ‘what is that?’

Marina ignores her. ‘You know your way underground, don’t you?’

Estelle regards her for a moment, constantly eyeing the piece of paper in her friend’s hand. ‘I usually take the Lowtown route if it’s raining. I don’t think I need to take that route today though. The weather is so nice.’ After a small pause, she descends down the stairs.

A giggle escapes Marina’s lips as she follows her friend. ‘Sure. A walk is always nice before work.’

After a few minutes of trying to get as far from the district hall as possible, they reach Lowtown.. Marina holds up a sign that she’s been holding the entire time. The small poster is literally in front of Estelle’s eyes. She stares at it for a moment in an attempt to comprehend it. A familiar face catches her attention.

‘Guevara?’ she asks with the raise of an eyebrow.

‘Thank you, Captain Obvious,’ Marina rolls her eyes. ‘Do you know who he is?’

Estelle shrugs. ‘I may know a thing or two.’ A thing or two is an understatement. She has read about him many times when she is surrounded by pages upon pages of her world’s history. It is a surprise that they didn’t remove his name from history. They are fond of history revisionism, after all.

Lowtown is notorious for being a hub of criminal activity. Many rumours circulate about the things that happen here. Some say that crime lords reside here. Some rumours even go as far as factories of various drugs can be found in here. It’s not ‘out-of-place’ for talks about a revolution to occur here.

‘Think about what would happen if we join this,’ Marina says, her voice full of joy. She might as well be singing.

‘I know, we’ll die, right?’ Estelle asks with a chuckle. The only response she received was a pout. ‘What? Is there a reason why I should join this… revolution?’ her voice shows a hint of doubt..

Before her friend could speak, the sound of sirens flooded the area. One by one police cars start to gather in front of Lowtown’s entrance. The black-clad police swarm the entrance, only to find two teenagers in the middle of their path. The red-haired girl with braids holding a sign catches their attention.

Without a second thought, Estelle grabs the poster from Marina and says in a stern tone, ‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have shown you this at all. I can’t force you to change your mind.’ And with that, the entire focus of the police turns to her instead. Estelle’s eyes drift to a rather baffled Marina. A small smile escapes her lips.

One of the officers walks over to her, eyeing the crumpled piece of paper on her hand. The poster’s distinctive colours and the familiar icon alarm the officer. He walks towards her, his height adding to his intimidating stature. ‘What do you know about this?’ he asks, nodding towards the poster. His voice is so low and menacing, Estelle is tempted to just cower and cry.

She breathes in, trying to muster up the courage to reply without making herself look like a fool. After a few moments, she replies with, ‘Not a lot. I only saw the poster in the alleyway and I thought “Hey, why not?” and came here.’ She purses her lips together as a gesture to Marina, silently begging for her not to blow the cover.

Estelle’s composure is shattered by a ringing sound. It’s only happening to one ear, the same side where her cheek is throbbing in pain. Her neck has also been strained. Her face turns a full ninety degrees, her widened eyes meeting the officer’s smug ones. Alongside her pain, she can feel Marina’s fear and concern from a few feet away.

‘You are under arrest,’ the officer says as he cuffs her hands behind her back.

Estelle tries to struggle only to achieve bruised wrists ‘What did I do? I didn’t even do anything!’ her voice was full of desperation. Tears begin to stream down her face. Even she doesn’t know why she’s crying. Pain? Embarrassment? Fear?

‘You’re not where you should be. And you expressed interest in breaking the law. Isn’t that reason enough’ the official says with a grunt. Officers step to the sides as he makes his way to the police car, his left hand tightly wound around her arm. Estelle feels every eye look at her with contempt and disgust.

Estelle’s chest feels heavy, wondering how her family will take on the news. From this day forward she is now known as a criminal, a threat to them and society as a whole simply because an officer expressed his dislike for a piece of paper. From this day forward, she will forever be haunted by a criminal record due to something so trivial.

Marina’s voice echoed in her mind. ‘Think about what would happen if we join this.’


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