Reaping day is a weird day, if I can say so. Everybody walks around with fear in their minds, but with blank expressions. People act selfish: they hope it’s not their child and praise the lord if another kid they probably don’t even know, goes off to be killed in the most brutal way ever.
The whole concept feels so weird and artificial to me, even though I know that I grew up learning about the reaping and the games. I was only just born when I saw my first hunger games. To me, it feels like we go back into time, to an era long ago, filled with brutal murder.
I am Ash. I turn seventeen today. Today is reaping day, and children will die. I can’t remember anything else that matters, no information. My doctor has always told me to tell things to myself when I wake up, some may mean nothing, but they should help my memory. I have no idea why it should, and it doesn’t at all, but I try to do the things that the doc tells me to do, because I know that my memory will only get worse again, until the complete amnesia strikes again and I have no idea who I am in this world. Nobody knows when it will happen, but everybody knows that it will.
I already know that today will be a bad day for my memory. I cannot get much further with my brains. They refuse to go further than this basic information. My brains are like a sheet of paper: blank.
My mom, at least I think that she is the woman who raised me, pulls open my curtains violently and allows the little sunlight that bothers the sky to filter through my window. I know that I should clean it more often and that keeping my room clean should be my responsibility, but I have more on my mind these days.
“It’s time to get up,” she says, looking at me with a waiting look in her eyes. The way she had been waking me up the last couple of days, or at least, I think that is the look. Ever since last week came by and I apparently had a major relapse, they have been tiptoeing around me. Avoiding certain subjects, stopping their whispers as I approach, as if there is something that I can’t know, that is forbidden territory. Now that the Games and the reaping are approaching in such a quick pace, and the day has even come by, they become silent way more often than they used to, and it freaks me out, makes me paranoid.
People that probably know me, but I can’t remember them go silent as I approach them at the bakery, or in town, and even the baker's son can’t afford to look me in the eyes without the pity in them. I have started to avoid looking at them and walking around talking to myself silently; my plan worked, people ignored me.
“I’ll get up in a second,” I say moaning, throwing the blankets on the floor as I rise. She looks at me, hope in her eyes. “Mom?” The moment the first letter rolls over my lips, she smiles a little, nodding, but the second the ‘o’ falls, she shakes her head and looks at me with disappointment. I have disappointed her, big time.
She shakes her head and looks at me, annoyed. “No, I’m not mom. God damn Ash, I am not that old, I don’t even look that old. It’s Mel, Melanie? Your sister.”
“I’m sorry,” I say, looking at her. “You indeed don’t look that old.” She forces herself to smile a little. “Melanie? I really am sorry. I can’t remember."
“I know, “she says, “thank you.” She turns around, shrugging, and leaves the room.
I get up and put the blankets back on my bed. Little particles of dust glitter in the light, but I don't look at them for too long before tiptoeing to the crib in the corner and finding Ruby still safe and sound, no baby nightmares to wake her up like the last couple of weeks. No forceful crying at two AM, nothing.
I cover her with the blanket a little better, put the little stuffed animal on the shelve and smile slightly as I make my way downstairs.
Silence hangs over the breakfast table as the food is being served, it’s a short and sober breakfast, but it fills us up. A person, this time actually my mother cannot hide the looks at me and my worsened condition, making the heavy silence only worse.
My mother forces down some food and tries not to look at all of us too much. I know that my sister has turned eighteen only a few weeks ago, and is glad for that. She is safe. She can’t be reaped anymore. I try to be happy for her, but the fact that I am the only one in the family still able to die in the arena bothers me a bit. Officially I am not the only one. My brother can still get reaped, but there are more boys than girls in District 12, and he is one of the younger people. If he were to get reaped, somebody would volunteer, or at least, that is what we all would like to believe. I’m not too sure about that, but if they chose to believe something that will probably never happen, I am not the person to shatter their hopes again.
I am glad that my mother says that I should probably go upstairs to get Ruby dressed and get her down here so she doesn’t get too used to sleeping in later in life, meaning when she is a toddler. She almost ushers me up.
I’m not surprised by all of this if I am honest. Today is a sad day, reaping day and people always hide their sadness and grief from people who have become alien to them. I am the alien in this house now, I realise that, and I am the one causing myself to be the stranger.
The four people that I shared the dinner table with were strangers to me. They felt familiar and I did sort of feel connected to them, laughing at a tense joke, but I cannot recall any memories with them, nothing. They are empty shells to me, people I once knew and adored but now don’t even know.
Upstairs, I can hear a baby cry, and my heart warms up a little. That baby, in her white crib with pink sheets is probably the only one I can really connect with, the only person who will really care about me if I die one day. The amnesia hasn’t destroyed the bound that I have with that tiny little creature; it has alienated me from everybody, but not from her. I carried her for almost nine months, discovered that I was carrying her in the hospital and have felt her kick in my belly too many times to forget. Ruby almost caused me a fractured rib, thank you very much, that I wouldn’t forget. She is the reminder of a love affair that I will probably never regain, our offspring. I can’t even look into the eyes of her father because I know that he still loves me, but I no longer love him. It hurts for both me and him.
I pick her up, her little hand tugging at my braid resting on my shoulder, and looks up at me with wide eyes. She silences a little as I feed her and change her diaper, falls back asleep when I put her against my warm chest and sit down in the rocking chair that is in our room. I would risk my life for her, my little Ruby. The love that a mother has for a child is a whole new kind of love, different, and for some reason, that part of my brain doesn’t want to leave.
I gave birth to a little baby girl when I was sixteen years old. She now is two months old, and beautiful. I love her to pieces. She is the only one who I really care about.
I silently sing a nursery song to her and watch her eyelids flutter. She will have to be there later on, during the reaping, even though I don’t want her to be there. I cannot go against the capitol, that I know, and everybody is supposed to be there, babies too.
“Do you know that it is mommies’ birthday today?” I whisper to her. She looks up at these words, as if she understood them, while I know that she didn’t. “Nobody really thought about it, but you did, didn’t you?” I try to resist the smile that tugs on my lips and fail. “You are here and happy, and you make my world so much brighter.” I stroke her little head with a gentle smile on my lips. “Why don’t we get you dressed? I bought you something, even though you are not the birthday girl. From mommy, to you.” I take the present from my nightstand, the little teddy bear with her name embroidered loosely in my hands. She coos, reaching for it with her hands, or at least, trying to reach for it. Laughing, I let the bear kiss her on her little nose. “Mommy has a feeling that you like your little buddy. “Grandma wants me to dress you, so we’ll do that, huh baby?”
I try not to take too long dressing her, but fail miserably. Dressing her isn’t that hard, but I can feel my attention slip away so many times that I accidentally put the little dress I picked for her and stockings on backwards. She complains about it loudly, and it takes me a little while, staring at her with puzzlement in my eyes before I notice it. Today is certainly not my best day.
I lay her on my bed as I get dressed. Dressing myself doesn't even take as long as dressing her took. Maybe that is for the best, because by the time that I go downstairs again, they are all patiently waiting for me. Patiently probably not being the correct word.
"We will be late!"
I feel lost as I stand with the others in the crowd, suddenly feeling way too young. My family doesn’t even know that I belong in the seventeen, or at least, they didn’t. They frowned when they saw me walk away to the seventeen year olds, suddenly realizing that their daughter celebrated their birthday that day. Yes mom, it’s a merry day. Saying goodbye to little Ruby had been hard, giving her to somebody who was practically a stranger to me. As I line up with the others, fear creeps through my veins, though I try to repress it as much as I possibly can.
If I die in these games, it will be best. I will no longer be able to hurt others by not knowing them. I will not be the alien in our household. Ruby would miss me, but forget all about me after a little while. Even Ruby would not miss her momma, but see my mother as her mother. Things would work out okay.
I do not follow the whole thing with attention, only when Effie says that she is going to start with picking the girls names, I get my attention back to her. She grabs in the bowl of names, and I can't stop thinking about the people that I don't know around me, some biting their nails, other friends holding hands.
It almost feels like a bucket of ice cold water falls over my body when the little paper that Effie takes from the bowl doesn't read a name that I don't know, doesn't have a person on it that I have absolutely no memory of. No, this person isn't at all weird to me, at least not anymore.
I feel a hand on my shoulder, a gentle push. The thing I need to get my feet walking and my mind racing around. People look at me with mixed feelings, but I am glad that most of them breathe sighs of relief. It's not somebody whose mind is completely fine; it is not somebody who could be of use to District 12 someday. No, it is me.
Even though I know that it would be better for myself if I was scared, scared of dying, but I'm not. I'm not scared of leaving people behind and dying. The Hunger Games are the Hunger Games and harsh things happen, you cannot not acknowledge that, but I'd rather have me dying than somebody who has chances in life. I have to go back to the hospital every three months because my memory keeps getting worse and worse, and I sometimes look in the mirror without even knowing my name. I break down often and cry. I am weak. I still bear the struggles on me that the traumatic event that nobody wants to tell me about left on me. They still force me to wear the bracelet that tells other people that I am mentally unstable and if I start acting out, they have to take me back to the hospital. I am useless to the District, I should die.
A sad smile covers my lips as I walk up the stairs to the place where Effie stands, I try to repress it as hard as I can, but I know that everybody that is seeing this live in the capitol, would be happy to see some emotion. I don't know what I should do, but about one thing I was completely sure, I would not go working in the favour of the capitol, I need to stay my own for as long as I am in the games that will probably take my life.
I don't want to look at the people in front of me, the crowd full of people that are looking at me with pity and sadness in their eyes, but I can't stare at Effie either, because it hurts my eyes too much, so I am forced to stare at the wooden floor planks underneath me, the colour changes in them. Chips in the wood that stick out of them at certain intervals.
I seldom look up, but when Effie heads over to the boys names, I have to blink two or three times before it finally hits me. I know the person who is coming with me to the arena. Peeta Mellark.
Peeta makes his way over to the stage just like I did, looking down and barely looking up at the people surrounding me. There is no expression in his eyes, he stares into the distance and doesn't acknowledge anybody standing around him.
He has become famous in District 12 for his mental state, just like I did. The two of us must be the ones who are the most fucked up, and aren't even hiding it. Most people try to help us get on with our lives, but nothing helps. For Peeta, it is working in the bakery, but if I can trust what people whisper in my parents' ears, he is distracted all the time. Muttering to himself.
I have found myself a person that I sort of know to be an enemy in the games, I have found myself the perfect person not to want to kill.
He too seems to be distracted as he enters the stage and everything is wrapped up, the show is over, they no longer need to display our good behaviour for a little longer, they don't need to hide it.
When Effie asks us to shake hands, she almost has a heart attack. His white band lowers down to the end of his sleeve, and mentally unstable is clearly readable. She has found herself a pair of people who can never be victors, who can never win even as they try their best, because they are so insane that they can't even keep their stuff together.
I refuse to say goodbye to my 'family'. When they open up the door of the room that I have been put in to say goodbye and give me a hug, I don't return it. I don't want to look at them.
The only one I cry for is Ruby, my Ruby. She is clinging to my body like a little monkey, her head resting on the breast that has fed her ever since. I cannot breast feed or even feed her anymore, I cannot give her the things that she will need to grow up. An absent smile covers my mouth as I stroke her little head and tell her that everything will be alright. She breathes in the same rhymn that my heart beats, slow and steady.
"If she doesn't want to go to sleep," I tell Melanie, "you have to take her in you arms and turn on the light that reflects the shadows of sheep on the walls. Let her feel her little sheepy." My voice sounds thick as I tell her that I have some breast milk in the fridge for later, but that she will have to get formula.
I allow them to hug me before they are ushered outside, ignore the peacekeeper that is looking at me like I am an alien for not crying.
I know the boy that enters next and sits on the sofa next to me, but not because I actually know him. He looks too much like Ruby to actually be anyone else like her father.
He doesn't hug me or says goodbye, he just promises to keep an eye out for Ruby. He tells me that he has loved her ever since, he tells me that he loves me. That it is a shame that I haven't gotten my memory back yet, that he wishes that things end like this, with my certain death.
I let him rage on, until the peacekeeper gets him out. I cannot say that I am not glad that he is going.
When we get to go outside again, I appear about as heartless and cruel as I possibly can for the camera crews, and I know that. My eyes aren’t red, and I do not look as if I have cried, while Peeta looks like he did. He clearly looks like he did.
My heart weighs heavier and heavier as we step closer and closer to the train that will take us away from everything that I love. My heart is with District 12, it is with my daughter, Ruby, not with the arena or the Games. It isn’t with Haymitch, who will probably be drunk the whole time we are in the arena and out of it, Effie, the woman whose hair will probably light up in the dark the minute you turn off the lights. Peeta is a little better, he is part of District 12 for me, he reminds me of the hospital I was in for such a long time before I was discharged.
When we get to the train, we have an hour to spare before Effie will come and fetch us for dinner. I don’t really know what I should do, but I do know that I have no appetite whatsoever. They can give my food to the dog, throw it out of the train, give it to my ‘family’ I don’t even care.
My room in the train is large for what I am used to; there is no crib, no changing pad, all of the room is to use for myself and the best; I have my own bathroom.
I take a long warm shower and allow the tears to plummet over my cheeks. I miss my baby, I miss District 12. I miss everything.
My cries are muffled by the shower, but I know that my eyes are still bright red when I arrive for dinner an hour later. Haymitch doesn’t joke about it, Effie stays silent about it, but Peeta looks at me with curiosity in his eyes.
On the table is more food that I have seen in a very long time, and I know that I should probably be super hungry after my quick breakfast, but I find nothing that sounds or tastes even remotely okay. Even the thought about food makes me want to throw up.
After one, maybe two bites of food, I push the platter away. It falls to the ground, the food covering the wooden floors. An Avox comes to pick it up, and I remotely remember excusing myself about thousands of times. Effie looks concerned too, but I make the choice to ignore her.
“I am going to bed,” I say.
“But we still need to speak about the games,” Effie says in her cheerful way. “And you have barely touched your food. You need to be ready to go into the games, dear. We need you to listen to the strategy, and watch the recap of today’s events.”
“One,” I say, more annoyed than I should probably be, “I am not your dear, I am Ash. Two, I am not hungry, and three I do not feel like chitchatting about my inevitable death around the table. I have only just heard that I will say goodbye to my baby, I will never hold her in my arms again, I already lost my mind. So sorry that I cannot be your step on the staircase to another District Effie. Emotionally, I am up ‘till my ears in trouble, so try me. ” I slap down the napkin on the table and almost run of. The sound of Haymitch laughing hung in the room.
I’m not followed as I head off to my room, and I am glad. I must have spent at least an hour sobbing in my pillow, after having climbed into bed only in my underwear. The capitol clothes that I had pulled on made me miss home, and frankly, the only thing I have from home is my underwear and my locket that contains a new-born picture of her and on the other side, her name, Ruby Lillian Reese, her birth weight and date. I hug it around my body, the last reminder of District 12 that I have.
I don't know when I fall asleep, and how long, but I know that when my eyes open again I hear a knock on the door, and somebody opens it even though I did not even bother to say something to the person, assuming that it was either Effie, or Haymitch and I have no single wish of ever meeting with those people again today.
“You okay?” It’s not Haymitch coming to get me, nor is it Effie. When I look up, I look into the concerned eyes of Peeta Mellark.
“I’m fine,” I almost snap, not meaning to be rude, but doing that anyway. “Sorry.” I prop myself up on my pillow, making some space on my bed so that he could sit down too instead of standing awkwardly in the door frame.
“It’s fine,” he says, walking through the door and sitting on the edge of my bed. “I’ve had worse.” He stares at me with a sad look in his eyes. “You look like her when you are angry.” Confused I look up, not knowing what he was trying to say. Who did I resemble? “Haymitch is having the most fun he has probably had since her. Effie is, well, she is angry, but it’s not that bad that a sorry can’t fix it. Do you want to watch the other District’s reaping with us?
I doubt for a long while before I nod and stand up. "Okay. Fine." I think about something for a little while, and then turn to Peeta.
"You lost Katniss?" The though suddenly popped in my mind, after a lot of fussiness in it because of this boy. I don't know why I suddenly remembered it, but I do remember it now, and I am happy. He nodded, saddened suddenly, and I know that I shouldn't have asked him.
"Yes," he says, "I did."
"Does it ever get easier? The grieving? The sadness?" I don't know why I ask, but I ask him the question, play with the locket around my neck. My little Ruby.
"For me," he says, looking at his feet, "it doesn’t."
I don't think that I can appear any more heartless than I do. We are watching the reapings of the other people, but I can't really look at them. By the time that District 12 comes by on the screen, I swallow at the sight of my mother with Ruby in her arms. The crowd is just the same as in other Districts, heartless.
Haymitch has made a wonderful impression, that you can see without even listening. He stumbles and falls, and is as drunk as he will probably be throughout the whole Games. I never noticed it before, but now it is clear that he is still scarred from before, when he won the games, now almost twenty-five years ago.
When they call the girls name and I move forward, the people in the capitol must have immediatly taken a dislike for me. I do not look like I am sorry for ending up there, I do not look like something at all. Maybe a little scared, but my eyes are just like pools of dislike. I do not show emotion at all. Peeta does his job better, he looks more shaken, but still not at all good.
There is a comment that one of the people narrating it gives that kind of bothers me. He says that we both aren't strangers to the capitol and that we had friends in the arena, but I can't remember who was my friend in there.
When I crawl into bed a little later, tired and worn out from being with Haymitch, who is drunk out of his mind and Effie, the ever so cheerful, I feel like I have run a marathon. The thought of sleep sounds so good to me that I know that I will drift into sleep the moment that my head hits the pillow and my body is covered in the soft Capitol pillows.
Faith however, and the odds so to speak, weren't in my favour. After only a couple minutes of restless sleep, I am screamed awake, literally. Haymitch and Effie are walking around in front of my door, pacing back and forth. When I pull open the door, they look at me, almost wanting to push me back into my room. Even though he is in my district, I cannot see the weakness of somebody that may be the one I will be killing or trying to kill in the arena.
“What’s going on?” I ask sleepily when a new shout echo’s through the train.
“We thought it was you,” Haymitch says, not even ashamed about the assumptions.
“Oh right,” I mutter, “my famous nightmares.” But I know somebody else who has famous nightmares, at least in the hospital. “Go back to bed, I’ll sort it out.”
I leave Haymitch and Effie puzzled and wait until they head back to their cabins until I look for the source of the noise; Peeta. Something about the scream sounded so familiar. I can’t put the memory to the moment, but I know that I remember it, somewhere deep down.
The scream suddenly stops, and when I gently open the door to his room, he is sitting upright in bed, sweat dripping from his face.
“I’m fine Effie,” he snaps at me, looking up, and falls back in his pillow. “Go to bed.”
“It’s not Effie,” I say, slightly embarrassed. I took a step out of his room. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine.” I can hear the creaking of his bed and him walking towards me. The sound of his footsteps grows louder and when I look up, he is standing in the door. “What’s wrong?” He looks like he just fought a battle; his clothes are all crumpled, his hair is all over the place. He looks like a zombie almost.
“I just came to check-up on you,” I say, looking up in his face. “Haymitch and Effie thought it was me screaming. I kind of have a reputation.” Now I sigh too. “And I already thought it was you. Are you okay?”
“No,” he says, honestly. "But I don't know." He shrugs and steps back, closing the door behind me.