My heart stops. That’s my name. My real name. No one calls me Andrea. Only my parents used to call me that. It sounds dirty coming Raven’s mouth, like a bad word. All I can think of is that my good luck necklace didn’t work. I’m pushed to the front of the crowd and ushered up to the stage flagged by two Peacekeepers. Polite applause ensues and I think I can hear one cat-call before that breaks as though someone punched the source.
And suddenly I’m standing in front of a crowd of fourteen thousand people and I can’t really remember how I got there. Raven calls on and continues his speech and asks if anyone would like to volunteer for me.
The applause stop. The entire square is deathly silent. My eyes wander hopelessly over the crowd, some faces that I recognize and some that I don’t. I try to find Nana in the crowd but she’s gone from her place. I can’t even feel worried for her anymore. I catch sight of my face in the large screens. Hopeless, desperate, longing for someone to volunteer. No one does.
My mind is spinning so fast I barely register the name of the male tribute being called. It’s Adrian Fen, only sixteen years old. He’s lived his whole life as a merchant’s son not doing much more than buying and selling fish and eating well. I see in his face that he knows. He knows he won’t see his home again. I know I won’t either.
Suddenly a microphone is pushed in my face and Raven’s asking me if I have anything inspiring to say to my district. I can’t say anything my throat has closed up. I stand in silence for what feels like forever until Raven gets the picture and asks Adrian the same question. Adrian says “I wish I ate less” and Raven is in peals of laughter actually crying at Adrian’s wish. The crowd are crying too but they’re crying because they know that Adrian’s wish is true.
No one volunteers for Adrian either. We’re both alone and abandoned with only one possible end to our situation. I know neither of us wants to think about it. We look at each other for a moment and all I can see in Adrian’s eyes is an unbearable sadness. My eyes swell with tears again.
The Mayor begins to read the long and tedious Treaty of Treason but I can only hear her through a blanket of water. Everyone’s voice is muffled and drowned. I stare at my feet for the duration not bringing myself to look anyone in the eye.
Eventually the Mayor finishes and I have to shake hands with Adrian. His hands are soft and sweaty with sand ingrained in the nails. They are like my hands, merchants hands. Not meant for fighting. Not meant for killing.
I can’t look at him anymore, not at his hopeless eyes. So instead I focus on the floor. I watch as the wooden stage gives way to wooden steps, then the cobbled stones of the square before the white with green flecked marble stairs that leads to the justice building. From there my sandaled feet find lush carpets and I’m struck by the fact that although no one lives in the Justice building it’s the nicest and largest building in town.
I’m taken to a large sitting room with rose patterned walls and furniture. A vase of lilies sits in the centre of the room on a low table and the air is heavy with their perfume. The door closes behind me and my head echoes with the ending of the national anthem. I collapse onto an armchair, finally free to cry. But I can’t. No tears come. I feel ill and empty all at the same time.
Eventually I hear a knock and Nana enters. Her eyes are red and swollen and she knots the front of her dress in her hands. The minute she sees me the dress falls from her hands and suddenly her arms are around me and my head is pressed against her neck. I can smell the salt and fish that clings to the pores of every District Four person, even the ones who don’t fish. She stokes my hair and tells me over and over again that it’s going to be okay, that maybe I can win.
I let her say these things even though I know they’re not true. I can’t win. I may be from a District known for its career tributes but I’m no career. I make nets and jewellery from shells and sell it at street corners while Nana tries to sell bowls of her chowders. We get by. But how is she going to get by without the money I make? She can’t make knots anymore, not since her brittle bones started rotting from the inside out. Even now I can feel her swollen joints struggle as she strokes my cheek.
“When you come home I will have every single one of your favourite meals waiting for you. So many bowls of coddle! So you have to come home Annie. Come home dew” I can see she’s trying very hard not to cry and she almost succeeds as the
Peacekeepers lead her away. I tell her I love her and she touches her heart with three fingers spread out in a trident shape and she points them back to me. A District Four salute saved for loved relatives at their funerals as a mark of respect.
When she leaves I’m alone. No one else comes. No one else cares. A Peacekeeper opens the door and tells me the train is leaving. I get up and take one last look out the justice buildings window at the square. I’ll never see it again.
We’re driven to the train station in the head Peacekeepers car. I’ve seen one or two of these around, reserved only for the Peacekeepers though. Everyone else makes due with carts or feet. At the station the place is crawling with journalists and camera crews scuttling around like crabs trying to get a view of mine and Adrian’s faces. I try to keep my face blank but on the screens I look terrified and green, like I’m about to puke. Adrian looks better than I do. He has a steely expression on his
face and his eyes are cold and hard. He looks frightening. I wonder if that’s his plan, to make himself look stronger so that he’ll last longer. I doubt that’ll work, they’ll probably just kill him first. I silently hope in my brain that either we both die or that he comes home. I don’t know how I’ll face my District with his death on my shoulders.
We board the train and are led to our separate rooms. Raven seems bored as he shows me my wardrobe and shower and tells me to change. I panic slightly that I won’t get to see my mother’s dress again but he assures me that they’ll keep it and in the event that I win it will be returned to me. I make him promise to return it to Nana so I can be buried in it.
I shower and change into another dress similar to my mothers. It is a dark forest green with gold buttons in the shape of shells. It reminds me of home. I wait until Raven finds me and leads me to dinner.
Adrian is already sitting at the table and once I’m seated the courses start; thick pea soup with crunchy chunks of flavoured bread, huge bowls of lamb stew with dark plums steam in front of me and I practically inhale everything I can see. Adrian does the same. You can tell we’ve never seen food like this before. After living on nothing but fish, bread and rice and occasionally dry pork for eighteen years the explosive
flavours of the capital food almost seem worth the sacrifice. As soon as I think this I stop eating and promptly throw up on the floor. Raven recoils in disgust while Adrian, to his credit, solidly continues eating.
I stand up shakily just as our mentors walk in. First Mags hobbles in with her cane grinning at us with teeth that are half-real and half-gold and then Finnick follows looking as ill as I feel. Upon seeing that I’ve been sick he immediately calls for a waiter to clean up. He helps me to my room where I lie down and he sits across from me. We don’t say anything. He just stares out my window at the blurring landscape while I rub my stomach. I decide to say something.
“I don’t want to die” it’s almost a whisper but it’s still loud enough to hear.
Finnick continues to stare out the window and I wonder why I don’t feel star-struck like the other girls would have.
“No one does Andrea”
I say nothing after that. I don’t even bother to correct him on my name. Eventually he leaves and I fall asleep.
I have a dream where both Mags and Finnick are standing at the foot of my bed. They look at each other and then at me. I can’t hear what they’re saying but I can see their lips move. Their lips move up and down, moving quicker and quicker until they twist and morph into a gaping hole filled with razor sharp white teeth. Each tooth becomes a mirror for President Snow and I’m looking at a thousand mini pictures of him all laughing hysterically. The teeth close around me ripping into my skin and I begin to bleed letters. Not blood. Letters. The letters twist and form a word. Just one word over and over again pooling around my feet, the black words a stark contrast against the pallor of my skin.