When we enter the Training Centre the heads of the twenty-two other tributes turn to glare at us. I squirm. Are we so late already? A tall woman called Atala doesn’t pause in her speech. She points to the different stations and tells us to have fun.
Fun. I don’t think I even know what that means anymore.
The crowd disperses with the majority of people heading towards the weapon stations. I head to the only station with no people; the knot station. Adrian follows me and the person in charge of the knot station looks relieved that people are coming.
Being from District Four Adrian and I could tie the most complicated knots blindfolded but I know nothing of trapping animals in snares. The trainer shows us how to make a simple snare to catch small animals and once we grasp that he shows us a more complicated version for capturing humans. We practise until we’re perfect and then Adrian and I go our separate ways.
Over the next three days I try my hand at everything but fail miserably at all. My arrow refuses to stay against the string so much so that I can’t even pull it back to shoot. I can’t even lift the weights and all the knives, swords and maces are too heavy for me to carry.
With each failed venture I feel a heavy hand clasp around my heart. I resolve to learn how to survive and I abandon the weapon stations in favour for the survival ones. I learn to start a fire with leaves and flint, how to tell if there’s water around from an animals muzzle and I try to memorize the pictures of all the edible plants.
Early on the third day the Gamekeepers arrive. One by one, first male and then female, we are called into the training room to show them any special skills. Being the District Four female I go in eighth.
The Gamekeepers line a balcony in fur robes of purple. Some are looking at me but most are drinking gold goblets and chatting amiably with each other.
I freeze not knowing what to do. I have no talent for weaponry or anything that impressive. Instead I do the only thing I know how to do.
I go to the knot station and my hands move swiftly with the ropes creating a complicated net. Moving quickly I build a trap and I allow myself to glance at the Gamekeepers. More are looking at me now. They’re curious as to what I will do.
I drag a dummy used for boxing and roll it into my trap. The net flicks up trapping the dummy inside while a rope falls around the dummy’s neck. I poke its cage with my foot to show what would happen if the dummy struggled. The rope squeezes the dummy’s neck until it rips off showering me in a spray of dried rice.
Some of the Gamekeepers look impressed and they tell me to leave. I run from the room to the elevator and shoot upstairs to my floor. Finnick waits for me at the door.
“Well?” he asks crossing his arms, “How’d it go?”
“I tied some knots”
He tightens his lips and sighs motioning for me to join Adrian inside. I can hear him mumble underneath his breath, “Knots? She’s not going to win that way”
I don’t say anything. I don’t expect to win.
I learn that Adrian is quite adept with knives as he tells me he shot twelve knives in a row directly on target about a hundred metres away. Finnick and Mags look impressed and I squirm.
“I do all the carving of the fish back home and throwing the knives at them was a game I used to play with my brothers” he admits.
After a dinner of moist roast legs of lamb swimming in pools of gravy with bits of vegetables and potatoes bobbing around like buoys we sit down to watch the screen shows us our scores.
As expected the tributes from One, Garnet and Topaz, and Two, Wren and Flint, all got scores between nine and eleven. Adrian gets an eight which pleases everyone no end. Then my face flashes on the screen with a measly five. Mags squeezes my knee and Adrian can’t seem to look me, the only one who speaks is Finnick.
“Guess they didn’t think much of your knots” he says but when I blush angrily he reminds me that the boy who won last year only got a three. It doesn’t make me feel any better.
Adrian and I congratulate each other but now his eyes only hold pity. I wonder if he takes back that wish he made when we were in the chariots. His wish that I would survive.
I lie in bed, too tired to even sleep. The room is in complete darkness and I can stand it no longer. I tip-toe from the room and into the sitting room to stare out the window like I did last night. It seems someone has anticipated this. Someone who found me last night.
Finnick sits where I sat last night tieing and re-tieing that frayed rope of his. It feels like our roles are reversed. That I’m his mentor and he’s the tribute. I can see his eyes are glazed over and his face looks wet. He hasn’t noticed me yet so I turn to leave. I’m not going to intrude on this private moment of his.
I freeze. Finnick’s staring at me, a steely look settled over his face but I can’t rid myself of that image of him sitting there, looking younger than he is, and broken. I join him on the coach and we sit there in silence for about fifteen minutes.
“Why do you do that?” I ask him gesturing at the rope in his hands. He clenches his jaw and squeezes his eyes shut before popping them open quickly.
“It calms me, reminds me of home. It stops me falling apart”
I want to feel sorry for him, I really do, and I suppose a small part of me does. But when he says things like that… He’s has his entire life ahead of him. He can live, get married have kids. Any number of women, inside the Capital and out, would just die for his love.
That’s scary. Choosing to die for a few brief moments in the dark that mean nothing. Back in the District we pretend not to know but we all have some idea of why Finnick spends so much of his time in the Capital and why the District Four girls never seem good enough for him.
I get up to leave but his arm shoots out and stops me, “Annie, it takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart” he grins at me his old cocky self returning, “You’d better start thinking about your interview. Somehow I don’t think you could pull off sex-appeal”
I return to bed unsure of what to feel. Just as I’m drifting off to sleep I notice something. He called me Annie.
The first person to call me by my real name since I got here. For some reason this, of all things, hits me with an over whelming sense of home-sickness.