Risa stopped halfway down the wall, and waited. The guard on patrol several feet below her had paused and was now looking around. He must have heard her climbing. The rank smell of his cigarette drifted up to her and she shut her eyes, willing him not to look up. He spat, and cursing loudly, moved off down the street.
Once his torch light was little more than a mere speck, she scrambled down the rest of the wall, landing lightly on the ground with feline grace. Then, keeping to the shadows, she ran, and she didn’t stop running until she reached the slums.
She stopped to catch her breath, holding herself up with the help of a wall as she felt her pulse begin to slow and her muscles relax. She lent her head back and closed her eyes and breathed deeply, feeling safe in her home turf.
She started as a deep voice echoed from the darkness,
“I’ve got you this time, you little thief! You cannot escape me now. I’ve got your accomplice too.”
She leapt forward off the wall, dropping into a crouch, the glint of a knife seemingly to have magically appeared in her hand.
“What...? Who’re you? What do you want?”
A boy with dark skin stepped out of the shadows and said, his voice familiar now,
“I want a kiss from my favourite little friend.”
“Zee!” She stood up and dusted herself off, the blade seeming to have vanished, “Don’t scare me like that! And I’m not little. Just ‘cos you’re about 7 foot!”
But he just grinned.
He watched her as she started rummaging through the pockets of her tattered clothes, finally drawing out a small package wrapped in a dirty old cloth. As she unwrapped it, she said,
“ Well, I got a good one today. How much d’ya think you’ll get for it?”
She held out a beautiful pearl necklace, each of the pinkish balls reflecting the light from a nearby lamp.
“Risa! I told you before, don’t put yourself in danger like that, someone’ll notice that it’s gone!”
“Nah they won’t they’re rollin’ in ‘em, there were five others in the box. They won’t miss it.”
“Yeah? Well, something happened, I can tell by the way you reacted to me earlier, what was it?”
“Oh, nothing, the patrol guard heard me climbing down. Started looking ‘round, didn’t look up though.”
“Oh Risa! You have to be careful! I’d say we should stop with this but I know you’d still do it all, and you’d take the stuff to Kane yourself too, the stealing’s safer than that. And we both need the cash...”
He lowered his voice and looking round the deserted alley as he did so, handed her a small parcel,
Talking about that , here’s your share. 50 odd, we can go to school tomorrow, Kali an’ Ren’ll be there too, and of course Cato.”
“Yeah, well I’ll see you there then, g’night.”
She turned and started to walk away when Zee called after her.
“I’m still waiting for my kiss, Princess. You’ve not given it to me yet,”
She turned back to him and said,
“Zee. You know you’re no more likely to get a kiss from me than from Kali. And you’ve tried before. And you know I’m not a Princess, the total opposite most like. So don’ call me one. I’ve told you that before too, not that you ever listened.”
“That’s cos you are a princess. Your my little princess.”
Risa cuffed him lightly on the cheek and then turn and walked away, calling over her shoulder as she melted into the darkness,
“See ya tomorrow, Slave.”
“Slave? I’m not a slave!”
“If I’m a princess, then you’re my slave. I’ll want my boots polished ‘til I can see my reflection in ‘em done by mornin’”
Her laughter floated back to him as he stared after her, muttering about ‘laws of human rights’ and ‘not getting his kiss’, when a small Chinese boy appeared next to him and said,
“ She just called you her slave didn’t she? Why’d you give her a chance to do that? She’d really expect her boots to be polished by tomorrow if she actually had any. In fact, I’m not even sure she owns any shoes at all.”
Zee turned to him in surprise.
“Miki?!” he exclaimed, “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, I was just walking by when I heard you talking”
“Just walking by were you? What’? At half twelve? Yeah right. You really think I’m gonna believe that? last time I saw you, you said you were gonna head home. So wotcha doing? Going on a midnight stroll?”
“Seriously, I was. Ru wasn’t back and I’ve lost my key so I went to your place but you weren’t there so I was gonna try at Ren and Kali’s. I’m on my way now.”
“Don’t bother, you can stay with me. You can help me deal with Risa tomorrow morning when her boots ain’t polished.”
“I’d rather stay with Ren now.”
“No chance, your comin’ with me.”
"Risa! Wake up! Rise an' shine. Time to get up."
Risa yawned and sat up. Her grandmother was bending over her, shaking her shoulder gently.
"Oh good, you’re awake. Your mother will be back soon. Come on, I need you to wake Jal. I'm making breakfast."
As Risa started rooting around for clothes, her grandmother busied herself with heating a pot of oats on the small gas cooker.
Once she was dressed, Risa went over to the corner that her younger brother Jal favoured and shook him awake, telling him to get up and ready for school. He moaned and turned over, pulling his flimsy blanket over his head. He refused to get up until Risa told him that she'd go without him, and that Azzo and Aki would be there.
After breakfast, they set out toward the school, meeting up with Zee and his brothers at the end of the street.
"Where are my boots, slave" she asked Zee as he fell into step along side her, "they had better be polished well."
"I knew you'd be like this. I shoulda forced Miki to stay, then at least it would have been two against one. Not just me..."
"Miki?!" she interrupted, "He was here? Where'd he go? What was he doing here, anyway?"
"Lost his key and Ru's away. So he stayed over at mine last night. He appeared just after you left yesterday."
"He appeared did he? What? Just out o' thin air?"
"Basically, yeah. He said he was just out walking. I'm not sure I believe him though."
"I wouldn't. You can't trust him as far as you can throw him," she looked at him for a minute, and then said, "though you could probably throw him quite far."
She laughed, and he smiled. She seemed to have forgotten the insubstantial unpolished boots.
The school was a small building next to the square, which as usual was a sea of colours and scents with odd shout of "Stop thief!" and merchants competing over who could shout "Bananas! Get your bananas here!" the loudest.
Once inside the school, they made their way towards two blond teenagers, who were staring at each other sullenly.
"What's the argument today?" Risa asked the girl.
"He refused to let me dye his hair green." She replied, flicking her own red streaked hair over her shoulder.
"What if, unlike you, I care about what others think of me." Her twin interjected, "I mean, yeah, I'm sure having different colour hair each month is great, if you're a girl. But I'm not and I have standards."
"And I don't? Is that what you’re trying ta say? Huh? Well I know what you can do..."
"Kali! Ren! Stop it" Zee interrupted, "Just listen to yourselves! You’re arguing about hair dye, I mean come on!"
"I s'pose..." Kali turned and pointed at her brother, "He started it though."
"Who started what?" said a voice from behind them.
"Cato!" Zee greeted him, "How you doing, man? We've barely seen you for ages!"
"Been studying, I'm hoping for a scholarship to Phillia High."
"Oooo! Mr Brainy. Don' you need glasses though? You know... to get in?" Kali asked, almost seriously.
Risa rummaged through her pockets, and drew out a pair of bright orange frames. She handed them to Cato.
"Here," she said, smiling sweetly, "I was gonna to use 'em as a disguise next time I went into the city, but I think you need 'em more."
"Ha ha very funny." Cato replied drily. He turned to Ren, "Was Kali trying to dye you hair again?"
Ren nodded, "Yep."
"She wanted to dye it green." Zee smiled slowly, "You'd look like you'd been dipped in algae!"
Ren rolled his eyes as Mrs Chamois called for order.
As they sat down and past around the books, Zee cursed.
"Dammit! I've forgotten my pencil!"
Risa sighed and handed him one.
"Do you actually own any?" She asked, rolling her eyes.
“Mmmm…Yes.” Zee replied.
“You don’t, do you.”
“Nope!” Zee grinned and Risa sighed again.
“You might as well keep that one then.” She said, nodding towards the pencil.
“Nah. I’ll just lose it, and then I won’t be able to borrow yours.”
Risa shook her head and turned back to her book.
Outside the schoolhouse window stood a small Chinese boy, shaking with laughter.