Free

Always the same run and mile with the crew that works behind the shop my dad owns. They hassle my mother and sister for being women; women uncovered in this climate always draw more attention then the ones who keep their looks hidden beneath a covering shawl. But my family has always been free. You can trace our blood back to the first brought to this land, our names marked on ledgers of boat cargo. Funny thing, their kind would have paid top dollar for women like my sis and mom back before the world ended.

Now, buying and selling was synonymous with crime and chaos, and there was already so much of that out in the wasteland that no one living within the settled lands of the world would risk a total breakdown of systems just to get a taste of what a black girl is like. When I was young, my father pulled me aside and explained the world to me in one sentence. It’s stuck with me all my years, turning all my interactions into fraught conversations-a tug and pull of personal power.

That’s how I get in close with Lloyd the so-called leader of the crew in the back who keep causing a rowdy roist, waking up the Devil, God, and Mary all in one foul swoop. Lloyd’s not a man or a woman or anything in-between. Lloyd is very much so just Lloyd. If you can accept and respect that, you’re in, but if you take it a step further and allow Lloyd to pull you into the overhanging of the abandoned storefront turned squatter hotel that rests beside our home and shop and listen to what it’s like to taste evil from a demon’s mouth, then you’re considered a friend to one of the most dangerous flounders in the East.

With so much familiarity hanging in the air between us, Lloyd feels comfortable letting me in on his business dealings and future plans which of course included the subtle and aggressive take over of my family’s shop. Without us, without the wares my brothers go out and risk their lives in the wastes to bring back like water, tape, cloth, medicine, canned foods this trading post so many of us call home will be nothing more than a dead end stop in a dead end world. Lloyd believes that what the East needs isn’t provisions but entertainment to heat their cold, dead lives.

In a way, Lloyd is right. What the people, or more directly Lloyd’s people, need is a show, something to hold their attention. We are gonna give them all the things they want and more once my brothers return from the waste. On that night, we will wait until they are at their most riotous and strike. My sister will descend on the door-boys from her window. She is skilled with a razorback-claw like no other wastelander her age. Then my brothers will come up from the street to cage them in and block their exits for they will flee once my father and I begin dumping incendiary grease all over their heads. Before Lloyd can call out the last words that will ever leave Lloyd’s mouth, my mother will strike a match on the roof ledge and drop it while we laugh at the roaring hollers of the fire, a freed family once more.

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