If you had ever been taught anything about anyone in the Lowerhalf, it was "don't get involved with gang members" and definitely under any circumstances don't get involved with Caesair. No one really knew how old he was, but his father, Summa, used to be the most feared and powerful gang leader for decades. When the gang warfare was at its prime before I was bor |||n he ruled it all, but in his late years Summa died under mysterious circumstances. It had emerged that Caesair was responsible for his death. All other gangs and their leaders feared him from then on, and not just because he was the son of the most dangerous man you could have met in Lowerhalf. Now the gangs weren't as prominent and kept their business between themselves as opposed to carrying out killings publicly and forcing everybody to run scared of them. It was only made worse through being low-key though as you could barely tell who was even in a gang anymore, it was like treading eggshells. Caesair was now the infamous leader of The Ferox and he was one that you didn't get on the wrong side of unless you had a warped death wish.
It was the following day and after Kieran's potent refusal to let on that anything was up, I left it and figured today would be the day he'd have to let something slip. The sun glistened over the horizon, at least I'd imagined that it must have because it was slowly getting lighter and it was ridiculously difficult to tell when you lived in a giant pit. Kieran hauled me out of bed at the crack of dawn with a basket of his least rotten vegetables from his precious plot with the idea that we were going to apologise to Bulky.
As we stepped out, Buckley, our creepy old neighbour in the filthy hut next door was hanging around with his mangy mutt of a dog Fred. Kieran jumped at the sight of him and not that I could blame him, but it was unlike Kieran to be so skittish; he always greeted the guy, but apparently this time was different. I couldn't help feeling that it may have something to do with Caesair.
Buckley was old and withered. His skin hung loose off of his pointed face and his once dark hair was grey and barely there. The sallowness of his cheeks weren't helped by his protruding bone structure. Staring into his sunken washed up eyes was like staring into the pit itself: unnerving and a labyrinth of mystery and memories. Fred the dog was much the same. His fur was scruffy and fleas leaped about on his matted grey coat. He had a collar made out of an old belt, that was just as leathered and worn as his owners skin. A deep black swirled in his eyes, almost vicious, like Kierans.
'What was that about?' I asked when we were out of earshot.
'Nothing.' He blankly responded; it was clear his mind was elsewhere so I fancied picking his brains a bit.
'Are you worried that he'll rat you out to Caesair?'
'I don't know where you have got this idea about... but it's just not true.'
He kept his voice in hushed tones as we waded through the huts into Central Lowerhalf, the main market of the whole city and the place in which my stolen bread once sat.
'It is' I said calmly as we weaved in and out of the other moth eaten civilians- each one looking the same as the next: tanned, olive or dark skin, dark hair and dark eyes. The colours of poverty. His silence was either a "go ahead and ask dearest sister" or a "go on. Ask. I dare you." Either way, he had to tell me sometime. 'You are the worlds worst liar Kieran, you've never been good at it. Just admit that their's something going on between you and Caesair.' Some nearby citizens stopped to look around in fear at the very mention of such a name. A couple looked over and judged us to see if we could pose any kind of threat to their sad little lives. Immediately Kieran grabbed me by the wrist and spun me to a halt.
'Mary will you shut up' he whispered 'if someone hears-' he stopped to glance over his shoulder
'You can't hide it from me forever' his head whipped back round and I saw an angst in his eyes that I never had before. Something was definitely wrong.
'Look, I will tell you' there was tiredness in his voice mixed with defeat, but not just from having lost this battle with me; there was something else. 'Just not here, not now.'
'I demand to know when and will you let go of me' his hand pulled away leaving a violent stain of red on my skin where he'd had a hold on me.
'Later okay? Not now.'
After a persistently quiet walk, Bulky was stood in front of me behind his stool, which made his giant body look like it was wearing some sort of wooden skirt. Kieran pushed me closer and hung back, forcing me to do the inevitably embarrassing.
'I don't serve thief's' he spoke, cruelly grinning with dead eyes.
'I wouldn't expect you to, that's why I've come to...' I looked back at Kieran and rolled my eyes. Why did he have to do this? 'Apologise' I smiled as best I could but I fear even that would have been seen as overly false. Placing the basket on the table I bored into his eyes and saw nothing but empty, bottomless sockets. Bulky met my gaze for a while, and then opened the basket, revealing the barely healthy veg.
'What is this? Do you mock me here again little girl?' Arising from his seat, he tried to assert his dominance. His large sausage-fingered hand lumbered for his pocket, where out he drew a knife with a thin and fairly pathetic blade, but times were hard and it was a blade nonetheless.
'Hey hey hey, we don't want any trouble' Kieran came up behind me and placed a hand on my shoulder 'she said she's sorry now let's just leave it.' Their eyes met and a glint of recognition passed between them. Bulky suddenly stumbled back at the sight of Kieran.
'Oh' he stammered 'sorry sir, I didn't realise she was with you' Bulky's eyes glazed over with fear.
'It's fine' Kieran was calm and alarmed himself 'we don't want anymore trouble okay, have a nice day.' That was the first normal thing he'd said since the argument. His arms met my shoulders and he steered me away uttering the words "come on" into my ear. I froze and in all the shock I barely made out a word until we were near home.
'What the hell was that?'
Buckley was rigid like a soldier, stood closer to our hut than his, just staring blankly ahead, Fred at his heels. Kieran smiled at Buckley and dragged me inside, pulling the shutters across the window and seating me down at the table. My eyes trailed over Sammy and looked up to a flustered Kieran who almost had tears in his eyes. His body arched over the table and his hands made fists on Sammy's ceramic scalp.
'Well?' I pressed on, knowing he was about to reveal some truth that could be badass or fatal.
'I don't want him to hear' he whispered, gesturing to the door.
'Buckley's harmless! Creepy... but harmless nonetheless. Just tell me what's gotten into you. I mean it can't possibly be that bad.' Kieran was shaking, but I had to ramble on until he burst it out of his system.
'I've been gambling!' he spluttered 'I've been gambling' this time much more quiet. I didn't know if this was a sadistic joke, but the way Kierans hair and shirt were wringing with sweat and nerves I assumed not. No words were coming from my mouth and for once I was speechless. Instead I sat in shock, waiting. Waiting for him to tell me exactly why this gambling had gotten him into trouble.