They tell me that I have exactly five minutes with each of my visitors. I don’t know if that means I have five minutes with my family altogether, or if I have thirty five minutes with them since there are seven in my family. I am hoping for the latter, although I don’t know if I can deal with leaving them after that. Before I can ask about it, the Peacekeeper has left and I am all alone inside this room. Alone and waiting.
The first person to come to my door is Raven, a skinny boy who has been my best friend since forever. He bursts through the door and almost knocks me over with his hug. The whole hugging thing is not like Raven at all; he’s usually one who steers clear of girly ways of showing affection such as the tight embrace he’s locking me in right now. My arms are pinned tightly to my sides, and despite my efforts I cannot return his hug properly.
“Let me go, Raven,” I say, wriggling in his arms, “My arms are numb.”
“I won’t let you go,” he tells me, all the while releasing his grip around me, “Not to that godforsaken place.”
“What are you going to do about it? Set our mockingjays on the Capitol?” I say sarcastically, a tone of voice that is very uncharacteristic of me.
“Rue,” he says softly, evidently saddened by my strange outburst at him.
“Sorry, Raven. It’s just...”
“That you’re terrified?” he completes my sentence, “God knows I’m terrified, and for you it must be a gazillion times worse. I wish I could go instead of you.”
“Don’t be stupid,” I say, “I’ll go and be back here before you know it.”
“But you’re tiny Rue.”
“And you are any bigger than me? Come on, you know how good I am at hiding and surviving. I’ll make it.”
“I hope so,” he says, his voice small, “Just hide and stay alive, promise me that? Let the others kill each other, you just stay in those trees of yours and don’t come down until it’s all over.”
“I’ll try,” I tell him, because I’m not sure if I would be able to keep that promise of staying alive. aven says nothing to that, his head bowed and his eyes avoiding mine. We sit in silence for a while, not wanting to talk about anything because there’s nothing to say that won’t bring on a bout of pain. He reaches his hand out to me after some moments, and I hold on to it so tightly I must’ve cut off his circulation. It feels like we’re so much older, like two adults sharing their fears and their pain rather than two children hanging on for dear life.
“I’m so scared, Raven,” I confess to him, “I don’t want to go.”
And I don’t want to die. I don’t say it, but I’m sure Raven understands my unspoken words. He grips my hands tighter. Suddenly he straightens as if he remembers something, and drops both my hands in order to search through his pockets.
“Here, you have to take this,” he says as he gives a roughly carved star, “I was going to work on it some more, so that you could have it for your thirteenth birthday. But take it now. They allow you one thing from your district in the arena, don’t they?”
I nod, although I have not thought about that rule at all. The star is light in my palm, its edges still a bit rough from the carving knife.
“I’ll take it with me,” I tell him, “Thanks, Raven.”
Outside the door a chair scrapes back and the sound of the Peacekeeper asking for the next visitors to come up can be heard. My time with Raven is nearly over.
“You’re smart and determined and wonderful, Rue,” whispers Raven as he stands up slowly, “I know you’ll be back.”
“Take care, Raven,” I tell him as the Peacekeeper opens the door, “I’ll miss you.”
He hugs me one last time before he is pulled out by the grim Peacekeeper. He’s only my first visitor, and yet my eyes are about to drown in tears. Before the door closes, I whistle four little notes to him. He manages to return the tune, his whistle breaking at parts.I already miss you,each note seems to say.
The door closes momentarily as the Peacekeeper lines up my next visitors. I slip Raven’s star into my skirt’s pocket, glad to have that one piece of him with me when I’m alone in the Capitol. The wooden door swings open before I finish buttoning the pocket, and my large family streams into the room.
“Rue!” say my siblings simultaneously as they crash into me, all hugging and crying and clinging on.
“It’s okay, love,” I tell them as I try to memorise the feeling of their arms around me, “I’ll be back soon.”
Anise looks at me sceptically as I say those words, her huge brown eyes brimming with sadness. She knows what my chances are. I say nothing further about my survival, not trusting myself enough to keep those lies not transparent. The little ones will know soon enough.
When my brother and sisters finally let go of me, I am enveloped in my mother’s arms. Which is where I want to be, except perhaps not under these circumstances. She says nothing, just stroking my back gently as she holds me. I feel like I’m six again, not having to think too much about tessera and chances and death. All the tears inside me overflows, and I cling on to my mother.
“You’ll be okay, Rue,” she tells me, “If anyone will survive, it will be you. They can underestimate your size and your age, but I know you can do it.”
Wiping my nose, I nod and try to smile. The Peacekeeper is already opening the door to let my family out. Ma kisses my forehead and whispers to me that she loves me, before giving my father the last few seconds. He lifts me off the ground like I’m a willow wisp, his strong arms shaking as he hugs me for the first time in years. His beard scratches my skin as he too kisses my forehead. I hug him hard, my arms twining themselves around his neck. Finally he has to set me back on the ground. As the Peacekeeper shepherds my family away, Pa starts to sing the chorus of our favourite song. The rest of my family join in, and they sing until they are bundled into the elevator and I can no longer hear them. I hum the last few notes as the door close, clinging on to the music and the memories because I have nothing else.