Lies - Between Friends and Lovers
Chapter 28 - Relena
by Dyna Dee
Sitting in the corner of the shared bedroom, wrapped in a previously-used but much appreciated blanket, Relena once again contemplated her roommates, sleeping noisily while she remained awake and unable to find even the most necessary of escapes. She thought it must be the lack of exercise and so little mental stimulation that kept her from sleeping. Having been confined to the apartment with nothing to do was the worst form of punishment for someone like herself, used to a lot of activity and interaction with others.
She curled in on herself as her stomach grumbled loudly. Good lord but she was hungry. Even though she'd tried her best to stretch her reduced number of tasteless rations, she was hungry all the time and felt almost hollow. If it wasn't for her roommates giving her several spoonfuls of their own precious rations each meal time, she would be suffering far more than she was presently. Of course the other four didn't have to share their rations with her, which was why their kindness in her hour of need touched Relena all the more deeply. This new level of food depravation, matched by her roommates' kindness, had changed her opinion of the other four, and indeed her views about the other people on L2. She no longer judged those she associated with by their appearances alone, nor for their lack of manners. Instead, she now regarded them with understanding and a deep sense of gratitude for their charitable behavior towards her, as ironic as that seemed.
Being a person born to a privileged life, Relena never knew what depravation was, having taken for granted a bottomless bank account, a loyal staff of servants, a large beautiful home to live in, a wardrobe most women could only dream of as well as a say in the political arena. And look at her now, housed with four strangers whose only valuable belongings were a coveted week's worth of food packs and water and the ragged clothing on their backs. Their common goals, which Relena now shared, was looking forward to their next meal as well as struggling from day to day to survive. Never in her wildest dreams could she have imagined herself living on L2 and on the brink of starvation with these poor and lowly people who were showing charity to her by sharing a portion of their sustenance. Each mouthful of food they gave her was one less for them, and a precious gift. Their sacrifice for her benefit touched Relena deeply and she would never, ever forget it.
In an effort to deal with endless hours spent with nothing to do but think of her constant hunger, she had engaged her roommates in conversation. It was amazing, she thought, how much one could learn about a person after asking a few questions. All four adults seemed wary when she first began to question them about their lives, but it didn't take long before they accepted that her curiosity and concern were genuine, then all hesitance passed and they opened up, eager to share with her the tales of their pasts. She'd learned quite a lot about those she lived with during the past week, including their tragic pasts, their hopes and the dreams they'd once harbored. Between the four, they had a wealth of stories to tell, about their own lives as well as others they'd known. She was coming to care very much about these forgotten people, to worry about their survival and future, that is if any of them had a future. Blaming hunger or inactivity for keeping her awake at night was really only a small part of the reason sleep eluded her. In truth, it was her fears for the people of L2 that kept her awake hours after her roommates had fallen to sleep.
A large snore suddenly erupted from one of the men. Havoc Reel, she decided. The older man with the deep lines etched in his face looked very much like a scarecrow to her, with his long, lanky arms and legs and a hat on his head when he went out of the apartment. When asked about his life, the older man told her that after being a Sweeper for twenty years he'd been employed on L2 as an environment-maintenance specialist, a job he continued to labor at despite a lack of pay or parts for the ever-breaking machinery that kept the colony from letting the vacuum of space into the dilapidated tin can and killing all the inhabitants.
Havoc was a widower, his wife having passed away in 185 AC. They'd had no children. With no other family, Havoc stayed on L2, believing his job was important enough to tolerate the corrupt government and lawlessness. Even now, with the deteriorating conditions the colony lived in, he continued to patch up any malfunctioning part or machinery, hoping to keep them all alive in the event that those in charge on Earth would come to their senses and save the stout-hearted people of L2. Relena contemplated the older man and couldn't help but admire him for the tenacious spirit of hope he carried in his heart, believing that a day of deliverance for L2's citizens would come, eventually.
Within the faint light of the room, coming from the crack in the blanket that was tacked up over the window, she saw Kirk roll over and away from the man sharing his mattress. No doubt his slumber had been disturbed by Havoc's snoring.
Kirk was a surprisingly warm and accommodating individual, his brown eyes often reflected his feelings. He had a kind way about him that Relena felt was quite remarkable, considering the circumstances. Like all of the men on the colony, Kirk was very thin, his face gaunt despite the unkempt beard. When she'd questioned him about his past, Kirk admitted to having been a postal worker, delivering mail and packages to those few on the colony who were privileged enough to be on the receiving end of a delivery. It had been a good job, he'd told her. But his occupation had come to an end when the violence and lawlessness on the colony had escalated to a more dangerous level, and then the embargo had been set in place. He now spent his days walking the vehicle-empty streets, trying to maintain his strength while waiting for liberation in any form to come.
As to whether or not he had a family, Kirk had answered that it was something he didn't want to talk about. The ensuing silence that followed had prompted Relena to end that more personal line of questioning.
"Mama." Gian mumbled the word with such longing that it made Relena's heart ache for the pregnant young woman. Gian Dupont's story was sad, though not unusual for a female living on L2. She was a child of the streets, raised by a single mother after her father had been killed while being mugged on his way home from work. Her mother had done her best to gain employment in order to support herself and daughter, but the part-time job at a food outlet didn't pay enough to make the rent and they soon found themselves living on the streets, carrying with them only what they needed to survive the cold, harsh world they had been forced into.
Gian's mother died of an untreated illness, leaving her teenage daughter unprotected and alone. Gian had learned alongside her mother how to stay out of the way and remain unseen as much as possible, but it was impossible to avoid any detection, especially by gangs and those men and women preying on the poor unfortunates.
Gian reluctantly spoken of a woman who approached her one day and had offered her a job. Believing she was going to improve her circumstances, Gian followed the woman to her business with the understanding that she would be waiting tables in exchange for room and board. Less than two months had passed when she had been forced into prostitution. The woman who hired her was, unknown to Gian, a ruthless madam.
She remained at the whore house until one of the colony's gangs tried to extort a large protection fee from her employer. When the woman refused to pay, the establishment was burned to the ground and she was once again out of a job and home.
Reverting to her old ways, Gian hid from everyone, stealing by slight of hand during the day and huddling in dark shadows by night. That was until the blockade and the hard times really began. Several years ago, she'd been rousted from her nest of rags by the Guardians and brought to this very apartment and given a meal tag. Even as the colony struggled to live, Gian had been given a life better than the one she'd previously known.
One evening, several months earlier, she'd failed to make it back to the building before the lights went out, and a nameless dark shadow pounced upon her, dragging her into an alley where an unidentified man ruthlessly took what he wanted and left her with an added burden.
Relena couldn't help but compare her own life with Gian's. While her royal birth parents had perished during the attack on Sanq when she was but a baby, Relena had somehow escaped their fate and had been taken in by the Dorlians, a rich and politically influential family. She had been given everything a spoiled, upper-class child could want, and though she hoped she had been grateful for what she'd received by doting, adopted parents, she now felt more than a little guilty in light of all the trials and deprivations this other girl, similar in age to herself, had endured.
At first she thought it odd that Gian didn't appear to resent carrying a child of rape in her womb. Instead the girl seemed content and actually looked forward to having the baby. Considering their circumstances, Relena asked the mother-to-be if she feared bringing a baby into an world of hunger and uncertainty. Gian smiled as she lowered her gaze to her round belly. With a hand gently stroking the large swell, she answered, "This babe is a blessin'." And then with a small, sweet smile she added, "Now I won't be alone anymore."
A snort drew Relena's thoughts away from Gian to Rida Darbro. The older woman was hard on the eyes and her sometimes unintelligible mumbling was difficult to comprehend, but Relena found her to be a simple and gentle soul. Rida loved stories, and because there was rarely anything else to do she had read out loud to eager listener. The older woman's face would more often than not go slack and her eyes would close while she listened to each and every word being read. Relena could only think that Rida, her life and experiences limited to L2, was trying to imagine the scenes being read, equating what she knew into the stories often depicting life on a planet that she'd never visited, other than in written word.
Rida didn't talk about her life before the embargo. The woman seemed to live each day as it came and consigned her yesterdays to the past, not to be revisited or discussed. It was something Relena found hard to accept, but after seeing a look of contentment in the older woman's eyes as she read to her, she began to think that Rida's lapse of memory was a coping mechanism, a way to deal with a very unpleasant reality. Having come to that conclusion, Relena left off asking the others about their pasts, realizing that the recollection was probably painful to them.
Yes, her view of her roommates had certainly changed since her arrival on L2. During those first few days she'd been unable to comprehend how a group of people could allow themselves to sink so low as to live like they did. But after listening to the other four speak of their lives, of how they had been shaped by this colony's political and social climate, she began to understand that circumstances had a lot to do with how people lived rather than it being the result of being weak and unwilling to make things better. Her own naivete and former ignorance of the situation here had blinded Relena to the suffering of L2. But no more. She now had faces and names that went with the words starvation and depravation, and she was almost certain that she would never be the same for the experiences she'd had on this seemingly forgotten colony. Reluctantly, she admitted to herself that she would not have had this unusual and harsh education had she not been kidnaped and forced to live as just another unfortunate citizen of L2. For whatever reason she'd been brought here, to live and suffer and starve with everyone else, Relena hoped she would be able to strong enough to endure whatever was to come with the same grace, kindness and fortitude her roommates displayed on a daily basis. With any luck and a bit of effort, she might come out of this experience not only alive, but a better, stronger person.