The grey of the cement was broken by a single thrusting flower. Its grey-green stem thrust valiantly through the dead ground into the thin air. At its peak was a single bloom, simple red petals in a circular bowl of vibrant colour, transparent and yet more real than anything else.
The flower had somehow seeded itself into a miniscule crack. It had nowhere to retreat when the girl came over and yanked it thoughtlessly from its hard fought roots.
She looked at it closely, sniffed it, looked at it again with a fraught brow full of questioning confusion, and then ate the fragile petals in one sudden gulp. The discarded stem was dropped, pointless and lifeless now, to the ground. The girl stuck her tongue out in distaste.
‘Don’t do that.’ An elderly man, raggedy but with the kind eyes of one who has known what manners were, came hurrying over to the girl. He slapped her hand and she looked up at him with the threat of tears in her almond eyes. ‘I told you not to do that. These flowers are precious, they’re rare, and they’re not for eating on.’ He sighed, knowing his words fell on deaf, insensitive ears.
The girl shrugged, started to look around eagerly for more mischief.
She was too much for him already, the old man acknowledged to himself and he watched helplessly as the girl ranged around the long abandoned playground. It was his role, his purpose and his given task to keep her safe and to try to instil in her some values that might fit her for her own given task. But he was beginning to feel real pangs of despair. The more time he spent with her the more it was becoming obvious to him that she held no sprouting tendrils of potential greatness. Kass was mean spirited, stubborn in her ignorance, cruel to the few creatures they encountered on their travels, and ungrateful to her guardian. The old man was beginning to wonder how he could end this charade and yet still keep hope alive within their community.
A moment of inattention and Tess had wondered off out of sight.
The old man stood for a moment more. He inhaled the freedom of her absence, noting the sudden lifting of the weight of her company, savouring the natural silence. But then he froze, hearing sounds of other voices beyond the high wall to his side. He snuck towards the wall, tilting his head to hear more. There was one voice only. It was deep and gruff, manly and sure. It started with sounds of entreaty, promise, and then moved quickly to sounds of cajolement and, finally, threats.
Reaching deep into the right hand pocket of his long woollen coat, the old man pulled out his knife, its dull, short blade refusing to glint in the low sunlight of the new dawn.
He held the knife like a bar-room brawler, one finger tight along the edge, the blade itself half obscured in the folds of his too-long sleeve.
‘What do you want?’ he asked as he rounded the corner, ready to fight but ill prepared for the sight he saw in front of his weary eyes. The knife dropped to the floor and clanged as it bounced on the stone.