The rest of the day continues as normal. After lunch people started to forget about what happened. A couple of people were talking about it, with hushed voices, when I walk into the next class, but after I sit down they stay quiet. Stuff like that happens all the time here. Not to me, but we all see it enough. I just try and stay out of it. I’ve got a plan. Try and get some qualifications and make it out of the hell hole. My dad can stay here if he wants, for whatever reason that is, but I’m not going to. I want to live in the city. Just to be able to have an actual house. Not just a wooden shack. That’s all I want out of life.
As the final lesson ends we all start the walk home. I say goodbye to a couple of people who I was sitting next to in my last lesson and walk out onto the street. The scattering rats all escaping from the cage of school. The sun is setting, leaving only the lamps to light the way home. Since it’s winter the lamp-lighters were out while I was still in school. I find them interesting. One of the only things not built out of wood, is the metal lampposts, dotted along the dirt paths. All the shacks look as if they are about to fall down, but the lamps stand strong. Beacons in the darkness. Most of the houses I walk past don’t have glass windows, just simple shutters to keep out the elements. We’re lucky in that respect. We have some luxuries. Not many people have a two story house, even if the bottom floor is mostly a shop.
Most of the other houses I’ve been in are pretty much just one room. Some of them have a stone wall with a fireplaces built into them, but not many. Most people just wrap up to stay warm in the winter. Can’t risk burning the whole place down. If it gets too cold then they will open up the town hall to people. The whole place is made from timber and stone. They don’t like doing that though. The people who work in the town hall live in the city. They like to tend to us like livestock. But they don’t want to leave us too cosy. My dad says they do just enough to keep a rebellion at bay.
I believe the people outside of the city are kept here because most of us work on farms or in the mines. No one really wants to do that, at least the people from the city don’t. They come and buy meat, milk and eggs from the farmers, but they are barely arriving before they leave. They keep us happy so we do that. There isn’t that many people in this slum of a village. Probably about two hundred, two fifty. I’ve never counted, but I know most of the faces. The houses as so close together it’s hard not to. We live on the outskirts, near the farms. The school is closer to the city wall. On clear days you can see the top of it blocking out the sun, even from our house. But not at this time. It’s too dark. You just know it’s there, with the lookouts watching us in the darkness. Even though they are watching for attackers it feels like they are watching us. I’m sure that’s why the lamps were ever put here was too light us up during the night.
It’s just part of life, though. We’ve all accepted it. There is a reason we were born outside the walls, and they don’t stop us from entering. I’ve never been myself though. I know the actual city isn’t straight inside the wall, that it is at least an hour walk away from the entrance. My dad goes there quite often, sometimes he comes back with books for me. He tells me he will take me there one day, but it probably won’t be for a while. He only goes there for business, and when he does that I have to wait at the shop. Just in case someone wants something while he’s gone. I write their name in a book, and try to tell them when to come back. If they leave the watch or clock with me then it’s even easier. Most of our customers come from the city, but occasionally some come from the village. Not many have the money to afford a clock, but some have ones that need repairing. Being able to tell the time is a luxury as far as most people are concerned. Dad fixes anything from the village for free
I open the front door to the shop, and let the wave of ticking thrash upon me. I wade through it to the counter where my dad is tinkering with the insides of something.
“So how was school,” he asks without moving from his concentrated pose.
The small candle next to him flickers. I hesitate hoping I didn’t extinguish it through opening the door to quickly. There is a street lamp just outside to light our shop. Joseph is the lamp-lighter for this area of the village. I see him quite a lot when I’m walking home from school. He has a lamp hanging from his arm, while holding a little stick that transfers the flame from his lamp to the posts. In his other arm he carries a ladder so he can climb the lamps. That’s something I would like to do. Be a lamp-lighter. Maybe that’s what I can do in the city. Not the most sophisticated job, but better than this. Joseph tells me that his lamp is lit from the fire at the Lamp-Lighter’s base. A fire that has roared for generations, without ever going out. I imagine that it sits in an ancient bowl, illuminating the whole cave. It has to be in a cave, doesn’t it?
“School was okay,” I say shaking the cave out of my head.
“Are you sure?”
“Okay, just checking. You sounded a bit down. Anything happen?”
“Not really,” I state not wanting to tell him.
He finishes with the clock, turns it around and looks at the hands as they start to move once more.
“Look at that, another job finished. Just in time for my trip tomorrow. Double the work done than expected. Have you made a decision about seeing you Mum yet?”
He added the question so casually, as if this was a choice everyone makes.
“I haven’t really thought about it. I would like to see her, I can barely remember her, but it’s weird being able to. I had accepted that I would never be able to see her. As much as I want to jump at the chance, I’m not sure if it’s the right thing to do. I can’t just expect her to be there for me all the time now. I don’t want to mess up the life she actually has.”
“I understand. There is no pressure. No right or wrong answer. It’s just something you can do. I was just wondering if you would go.”
“I might, but how would I even find her?”
“With ease, I imagine. I can show you. She worked in the City while going to univeristy. That’s where I met her. After dropping off a clock that my dad had worked on, I took the tip from the man and decided to buy a drink before I went home. It just so happened to be the cafe that your mum worked at was the first one I saw. I walked in and sat down, not thinking anything of it. And then she came up to me, and looked at me with those gorgeous eyes. The pale blue still shocks me to this day, just thinking about it. I could take you into the city and show you where it is. The cafe’s still there. Same owner as well. Then when you go back you would know exactly where to go.”
It seems to good of an opportunity to miss. I really just don’t know what to do. I really want to see her in real life, but I want her to be a part of my life. This just somehow seems unnatural.
“When could you show me?” I ask, knowing it couldn’t cause any harm. That no decisions have been made.
“What about tomorrow. You’d be staying at the shop anyway, so if we closed for a few hours, what’s the harm?”
“But customers? You have a business to run.”
“I’m sure they’ll understand. Hell if it’s anyone from the city we would probably walk passed their carriage on the way.”
“Can I ask a question?” I ask. He says nothing, just looks at me. “Why don’t you move to the city. Most of your customers come from there. And I’m sure you could afford it. I know you say your place is here, but why?”
“We could have moved into the city generations ago, and neither one of us would of thought about this place. That’s not what I want. This place is real, it isn’t going to go away if we do. I spend the excess money helping the farms. I give a lot to them for new equipment. So they can afford the farm hands. It’s all there for a reason. I don’t expect anything in return from it. I just want to help people in any way I can.”
That makes sense, I suppose. I must sound selfish not thinking about that in the first place. My dad always tries to help people. He will fix people’s clocks for free, and every winter he helps out at the town hall with the feast, normally not eating anything himself.
“So I can come with you tomorrow then?”
“Of course. It’ll make a nice change to have company.”
I almost skip off, behind the counter and beyond the door to our actual house. It’s not even just being able to see mum that I’m excited about, but going to the city. It’s something I’ve always wanted to see for myself, and tomorrow morning I will finally be able to, I can’t hold back the squeals of excitement.