“Why are you here?” was Jenna’s greeting when she opened the door. Rihka bit her tongue and ignored her younger sister’s disdainful glare.
“Where are mum and dad?” she asked, pushing past the thirteen-year-old. Jenna picked at her nails, nonchalantly ignoring Rihka as she popped her head into the kitchen and living room. “Well?” Rihka asked exasperatedly, when she came up empty. Jenna looked away from her darkly painted nails as though interrupted from some activity detrimental to her well-being.
“Not here duh,” she snapped, “You shouldn’t be either, don’t you people have a curfew or something?” Rihka looked at her seething, the ‘you people’ comment grating on her last nerve. She’d already had a bad enough day as it was without Jenna adding to it with her snide remarks. Though her sister looked near identical to Rihka, the mocha skin, dark eyes and shoulder-length dark brown hair physical traits mirroring their mother’s, that was where the similarities ended. Rihka knew Jenna merely tolerated her. Even when she’d lived with them, she and the younger, more petulant girl, had rarely gotten along. She was about to start one of their legendary arguments when she heard someone running down the stairs.
“Rih!” her brother exclaimed when he saw her. He scooped her into a hug with a wide grin and squeezed her tight. “Been too damn long kid, sorry I missed you last week,” he said setting her down. “Have you gotten her anything to eat or drink Jen?” Benn asked, motioning for Jenna to do so.
“She doesn’t have to do that,” Rihka said quickly, but Benn pointed towards the kitchen.
“She can do it herself,” Jenna whined pouting.
“Jenna,” Benn retorted sharply and she flounced off to do as she was asked. Rihka shook her head,
“I have no clue how you get her to listen to you, she hates me.” Benn sighed,
“You know how it is, Jen’s sensitive, she wants all our attention for herself, with you around, well . . .” he let his sentiment trail, leading her to sit in the family’s living room. When they were sitting across from each other in the leather club chairs their father was so fond of, Benn asked more seriously,
“What’s going on Rihka, you know you’re not really supposed to be here.” Rihka sighed. Though she knew her brother was right and that he was only asking out of concern, the question still stung. Where Jenna had been the bane of her existence growing up in the Melawe household, Benn had been her confidante. Just a year older, they had been inseparable in the early years and that affection had not lessened with her leaving. Rihka wrung her hands,
“I was hoping, just for tonight, I’d hoped I could maybe stay here.” Benn took a sharp intake of breath. He leaned back in the chair contemplating what she’d said.
“Mum and dad aren’t here, so of course you can stay until they get back, but Rihka,” he held her hands in his, light brown eyes like their father’s earnestly searching hers, “You already know what’s going to happen don’t you?” For the second time in as many days Rihka felt as though she’d burst into tears. Instead she smiled bravely,
“I couldn’t go there tonight Benn, I just couldn’t.” Benn kept her hands in his, coaxing her to talk. At first she resisted, not wanting to share that part of her world with her brother, but he wore her down and soon she was spilling everything, from her inability to buy new books, to her run-in with Neyro and his crew. Benn’s amicable expression hardened as she went on.
“If you want Rihka, I can make sure you get on the airbus safe after work, my friends won’t like it, but they’ll help if I ask.” Rihka shook her head vehemently.
“No way, I know how skilled you are Benn, but those types fight dirty, the last thing I’d want is for you to get hurt because of me,” she looked away, “I was lucky you know, it could have been much worse.”
“That’s what I’m worried about,” Benn said quietly.
“Look,” Rihka said turning to him with a reassuring smile, “You hear these kinds of stories all the time on the island, I’m accustomed to this kind of thing.” Seeing his uncertain expression she added, “Where I’m from, you’d be the soft one,” she said poking his arm playfully. To her surprise, he didn’t laugh.
“You’re not from there Rihka. You’re not like them.” The way her brother said it made her stomach churn.
“I am now,” she said quietly. They stared at each other for a few moments, neither sure how to break the uncomfortable silence that had grown between them. Jenna helped.
“Here,” she said entering the room with a plate of buttered crackers and green tea. The clear mug she served the tea in revealed that Jenna had carelessly left the leaves in and they floated happily around the rim.
“Thanks?” Rihka said, placing the plate on her lap and the mug on the floor.
“Homework,” Benn said, when it seemed as though Jenna was intent on hovering.
“Who died and made you dad?” she asked rudely. Benn shrugged,
“Fine, don’t do it, you’ll just fail the second Test and end up locked away on Tabor Isle, I’m sure you’ll find tons of those cute mini-skirts and (something) you like over there.” Rihka laughed in spite of herself,
“Newsflash,” she added, “You won’t.” Jenna scowled at her, but didn’t argue anymore. As the sound of her footsteps disappeared upstairs, Benn leaned in conspiratorially,
“So, tell me more about this Jack guy.” He winked and Rihka scoffed.
“It’s nothing like that,” she said in protest, “He was just some stalker dude and he’s not anymore.” Benn looked unconvinced.
“Rihka, you’ve mentioned three boys to me. Majin, who I know you’re not into, that guy you liked who kept picking fights cause he thought you were hot when you were mad and now this guy. Of course I’m going to sit up and take notice.” She punched his arm lightly, her face warming in what she liked to refer to as a ‘black blush’.
“See why I don’t tell you anything?” she said still laughing.
“This is why you tell me everything,” he replied with a loud guffaw. Not everything, she thought. As though sensing the sombre change in her mood her brother leaned in again,
“I’m really sorry about your books Rihka, I wish I could help but if I give you any of mine mum and dad will have a fit. They’re making me save them for Jenna.” Rihka nodded,
“I know, it’s okay, I’m just happy you even think of helping me, it’s more than I can say for anyone else,” she said sadly. Her brother seemed about to say something then stopped. He opened his mouth again, closed it.
“What?” Rihka asked. Benn shook his head uncertainly.
“There’s this thing in Sector 10, kind of like Lady Luck, but underground, just students ya know?” Rihka crinkled her eyebrows listening. Benn sighed as though already regretting his decision to tell her, then gave in, his words coming in a rush, “The Gifted bet on Undesirables in chosen feats and the winners take all. Some of Gifted even compete against you guys,” he paused with an apologetic look, but Rihka waved him on, interested, “They’re all kinds of competitions and the purse keeps getting bigger cause more and more Gifted are getting into it.” He sat back, watching her face,
“I don’t get it, how come I’ve never heard of it? Not much goes on with the residents that we all don’t know about,” Rihka finally said with a frown.
“Oh not this, this is way under the radar. You talk, you’re out and no one messes with the guy who’s behind it all. I shouldn’t even be telling you about this,” he replied, shaking his head.
“Who’s in charge of it?”
“That I can’t tell you, you only find that out when you’ve won a few competitions.”
“You’re a spectator?” Rihka asked slowly,
“Yes, but only cause a good friend of mine competes, you know I wouldn’t do anything like this otherwise Rihka,” he said as though ashamed.
“Don’t worry Benn, I get it, who knows, if I was Gifted I might too.” Benn seemed relieved,
“I only told you cause you said you were having trouble paying for your books and I don’t know if . . . no, it’s crazy right?” Rihka didn’t say anything at first. The wheels in her head spinning into overdrive as she tried to make up her mind. On the one hand this seemed a prime opportunity to up her finances, on the other hand she had no real idea what she’d be getting herself into.
“Okay, how do I get in?” she asked making the decision to go through with it.
“Are you sure?” Benn asked laughing nervously, “The competitions aren’t easy, some people say they’re as tough as the Tests.”
“Well then that’s just what I need, practise,” Rihka said steadying her resolve. “So? Details?”
“I can’t be the one to give them to you and it can’t seem like I sent you to them either. You’re not at The Crater on Thursdays right?” Benn asked. Rihka shook her head.
“Good, meet me after school at Bagai Terminal in Sector 10, I’ll point you in the right direction, but that’s all I can do. They can’t know I sent you Rihka,” he repeated. The intensity in his eyes made her just as nervous as he seemed and she nodded.
“I won’t tell anyone Benn, I wouldn’t want you . . .”
“Benn? Jenna?” Rihka’s stomach flopped as she heard her mother’s voice ring out from the other room. Benn looked just as frantic and gave her arm a quick squeeze before running from the room to greet them. Rihka sat there, her legs threatening to shake as bits and pieces of her parents’ muffled conversation with Benn drifted into the living room.
“Come on dad, you can’t do this,” Benn said his voice raised and moments later her father entered, his body rigid with anger.
“You come here? You come here when you know it’s not allowed and put your family at risk?” Her mother who was not far behind gave her an apologetic look,
“Rihka sweetie, don’t you want what’s best for your family? Well this is not what’s best sweetie, you must know that.” Benn came to stand behind her, putting a protective arm on her shoulder.
“Can’t we tell them in the morning? You don’t know what’s happened, she only . . .”
“I don’t care what’s happened!” their father roared. He turned his wrist over, tapped it twice and waited.
“Please enter source code for authority transport,” a smooth-toned computer-generated female voice said.
“Dad,” Benn pleaded, as he tapped in his unique five-digit number. Rihka stared at her stone-faced father.
“It’s alright Benn, they’re right, I shouldn’t have come,” she said.
“Please verbalise authority transport request,” the voice prompted cheerfully.
“Yes, this is Devan Melawe in Crescent Hill West, I have an unauthorised Undesirable from the Tabor Isle currently on my premises. Requesting transport,” he said, still glaring at Rihka.
“Does Undesirable pose immediate threat to residents, pets, or property?” The voice asked next and Rihka bowed her head, I won’t cry.
“Undesirable poses no threat, it’s my daughter Rihka Melawe. She missed the last airbus back to the island.” The lie did not surprise Rihka. Anything other would have raised too many questions for her family. After the digital face on her father’s arm had blinked a few times while the system updated his inputted information, the voice said warmly,
“Authority transport with arrive for Undesirable in ten minutes.”
Thanks for reading! I always liked Rihka’s spirit. The story itself was inspired by an antiquated academic practice of scoring students used in the Caribbean.
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