Every part of my body stings.
I’ve been waxed and plucked and had grainy acrid smelling substances rubbed into me. I have soaked for an hour in a milky blue liquid that smelled faintly of blood. I’ve been dipped into ice-cold water baths and boiling hot water until my skin, puckered and pink, was greased up with sweet-smelling lotions.
My hair is untangled and trimmed retaining its length but it’s smoother now. My nails have been trimmed and shaped into even ovals and painted jade green. My prep team laughs at my squeaks of protest but continue on regardless.
I think they’re triplets because all three are bald with light orange skin and gold tattoos of birds inlayed into their skulls. They all have the same round faces with tiny pink pupils and black lips and they all have the same uniform body: short and fat as all the people in the Capital seem to be. I can’t tell if they’re male or female just that they are all related.
I’m sitting on a stool in a white room with only a thin gown to cover me. The wall in front of me slides open and in walks the most imposing women I’m ever seen in my life. She towers over me and at least seven feet tall she seems even taller than Finnick. She seems to fill every available space in the room with her large body and her skin is so dark and so fluid it seems almost liquid. Black waves of hair fall from her head and land in a sheet down her back. She has squeezed herself into a shiny pink dress with shoes that end in several spikes. Her face glitters and I realise that she has stuck scales to herself in order to reflect the light.
“Well hello Andrea Cresta from District Four!” she practically shouts at me in her high, clipped Capital accent. It is nothing like the brogue we’ve developed in
District Four, “I am your stylist, Marielle!” Everything she says seems to end in an exclamation as if she’s excited about everything. That speech impediment must become difficult when she needs to deliver bad news. But wait, she lives in the Capital. They never get bad news. I mumble a greeting but she barely registers it. She clearly loves the sound of her own voice.
“Well Andrea, I have been working with your friend’s stylist, Sienna, and we have come up with an absolutely super idea for your costume!”
I ignore everything she says and vaguely wish that people would start calling me Annie. I allow her to dress me in whatever she wants. Adrian is not my friend. If anything he is soon to be my enemy.
She grabs chunks of my hair and rubs blue, green and purple chalks into it staining it different colours. She then braids my hair into a tight fish-tail plait. She moves onto the clothes. She makes me wear a skin-tight ankle-length skirt made of glittering scales that scratch my skin. The end of my skirt flares out over my feet in a long fan. I realise that it’s a tail. A mermaid tail.
I’m next made to wear a bra of two shells connected with a delicate braid of gold and silver thread. She paints my face with blue glitter and drapes a cloak of seaweed over my shoulders. I look ridiculous. Adrian more so than me. He also wears the mermaid skirt but without the bra. His torso has shells painted on with blue glitter
instead and his dark hair is twisted with seaweed.
We’re mermaids, risen from the sea to stalk the land. Well that’s what Marielle tells me is the background behind her “brilliant” idea. I think we look like something the sea spat out.
Marielle and Sienna have to help us onto our chariot as we can barely walk in our costumes. When they disappear I realise that this is the first time I’ve been completely alone with Adrian.
“We look stupid, don’t we?” Adrian looks at me and I can see his lips tugging into a grin.
“Yes, we do” we both laugh and Adrian squeezes my hand tightly.
“I don’t know if either of us is going to live but I know that given the choice I’d prefer if you did. You have a grandmother to take care of. My families huge, it can take care of itself”
I’m struck by the kindness of his words and again I feel my eyes sting with oncoming tears. I’m lost for words as per usual all I can do is murmur a thank you before the Capital horses pulling our chariot begin to trot.
The crowds are deafening and in comparison to them Adrian and I look almost normal. I try to smile at the audience, to capture their attention, to make them like me but my face on the giant screens looks like I’m grimacing. I stop and stare straight ahead. Adrian squeezes my hand again and we share a look of mutual discomfort. Neither of us enjoys the attention.
After the parade I’m helped to the floor by two Avoxes. They help me walk to the elevators where Raven and Finnick are waiting. I keep tripping over the skirt so many times that I stop and claw at it until it rips off cleanly. I grab my plait and untie it letting the waves of my hair fall around my shoulders. It feels free.
I hear Raven’s gasp of horror and I look up. Both Finnick and Raven are looking behind me. I turn and see that a lone camera man has been filming me and now I stand a hundred feet tall on the far screen.
I look feral and wild standing there half-naked with whirls of hair in every colour of the rainbow sticking up around my head. My face is a mask of anger. Anger at being filmed, anger at being included in this stupid parade and anger that there’s nothing I can do about it. I look terrifying.