The pre-dawn air teases my skin into bumps as I make my way through the quiet streets of District 8. I’m not the only one awake this early – there are folk just going home from night-long shifts at the factories, others heading to those same factories to squeeze a few hours’ work in before the day’s activities, still others who probably just couldn’t sleep. I don’t blame them. Today is the reaping.
But I’m not thinking about that right now. Right now I’m heading to the only place in the district where I feel at ease, the only place I can forget about the Capitol and the reaping and the Games for awhile and just be me, alone. I’ve done it every year since the year I turned 14. Sort of a ritual with me. Helps me keep my head. We all have our way of coping. The place I’m heading is the site of a condemned factory. It was left to ruin before I was born, and now there’s barely even a pile of rubble there. It’s just an empty, cracked concrete lot with a few fragments of worn-down walls and some bricks, rotted timber and broken glass. I'm not going there because of that. I’m going because there’s something else there, something you’d be hard-pressed to see anywhere else in the district. Plants. Everywhere you go in this urban sprawl of factories and shacks, all you see is concrete, bricks, metal and glass. There’s barely even a blade of grass. The place I’m going is the one exception.
We call it the Weed Garden. I reckon the dandelions were the first to break through the pavement – they always are. Tough little things, they are. And when they set the example, the grass and moss helped break up the concrete even more. Enough for a few other things to poke through in tiny clumps, here and there. Mostly buttercups, and daisies with their big yellow centres. They all seem to glow as I approach, even in the low light. Everything else at this hour is some shade of blue or grey, but the yellow beams out like the darkness can’t hide it. Like the shadows don’t exist, don’t matter. That’s what I love about the Weed Garden.
That, and the fact that pretty much no one else comes here at this time of day. Especially on Reaping Day. I like to have some peace, some quiet time to myself. Life at the District 8 Home for Girls affords little privacy. I also need the space to practise my passion: dance. I’ve been dancing since I can remember and when my parents were still alive, they worked double shifts to buy me lessons from Ms. Bobbin uptown. When both my mom and dad were killed and I went to the home, I couldn’t afford them anymore, but she still let me watch and listen during other girls’ lessons. She even let me have a few old, beat up books with pictures. I’ve practised every day since then, whether it means getting up extra early or finding a space between shifts. It’s what keeps me going.
I walk out into the middle of the Weed Garden, picking my way over the clumps of moss and rubble. The cracked surface of the concrete looks like mud when a puddle dries up. I pick a spot and take a deep breath of the cool morning air. Out here, I can almost pretend I don’t smell the factories’ smog. I look around at all the little yellow flowers for inspiration and then close my eyes. Then I dance. It’s like the opposite of a dream-within-a-dream; like waking up when you’re already awake. I feel like the rest of my life is just limbo and I only come to earth in these moments. The rest of the time, I’m just a wind-up doll; when I dance, I come alive. I let the world into my limbs with every breath. With each heartbeat, I feel the blood carry my mind into every nerve in every extremity. The ground becomes an extension of my feet, there to support my every step and catch my every landing. I let go of my worldly cares and let my body loose.
When I open my eyes, I see the sun. Time to wind the key.