My heart pounds as I try to not be seen. I have never been this close to being caught before. Quickly, I observe my surroundings, trying to find an escape. Footsteps pound down the hall. The only way out close enough for me to get to in time is the window. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but now I am on the second floor. I run towards it and crash right through onto the concrete. Luckily, I have done this before and know how to land without breaking anything. I check my belt to make sure the pouch of valuables is still attached. When I find it there I smile. The plan is complete. A long time ago I used to feel guilty for stealing from innocent people, but I’ve done it so many times it’s like second nature. Besides, I have no choice. Luka and I wouldn’t have enough money to survive without stealing. Sticking to the sides of buildings in the shadows, I make my way back to where Luka is waiting for me.
“Hey Cassie!” a voice at the end of the street calls. It’s dark and the only lights I can see by are the street lights, but I know that voice anywhere.
“Luka, you scared me,” I whisper. We make our way into the slum district without being noticed. Here there are less cops and the streets are darker. Finally we get to where we had been staying the last few months.
The stadium was long since abandoned. A faded sign on the front said “Red’s”. I walk through the rusted gates with Luka and we head to seats at the top of the stadium. From here we can see the whole field. Once we sit down I take out the pouch of money and start counting it. It doesn’t take me long to realize that we will have to lower our portions of food this week until we can get some more money. “Make sure you save some of that bread for later, kiddo.” Luka picks at his bread with a frustrated look on his face. “Don’t worry, Luka. Someday we will be able to make a better life for ourselves,” I say, putting my hand on his knee.
He sighs. “Why does this keep happening? We keep stealing and planning for when we will steal more money. But it’s never enough. We never have enough. When will this life you promise of happen? Because it sure doesn’t seem like it will happen in my lifetime.”
“It will. I promise. All we need to do is train.” I stand up quickly and help Luka to his feet. Training is important so that we can rob and take care of ourselves. In the slums, if you don’t know how to fight, you could easily be killed. We walk down to the field, where we spend days training and nights that have good weather staring at the stars. Standing in the middle of the desolate field, we get into fight position. I would never actually hurt Luka, but we practice defending ourselves against attacks and become stronger. After hours of this, we eventually retire to our makeshift beds; old mattresses and clothes used as pillows.
The next day I wake up and just sit there for a while, thinking. Then I decide that we need more food. I grab some of the money I had gained on our last robbery and head to the market. While I’m bargaining prices for food, I can’t help but notice a small girl watching me from across the street. From the looks of it she is about fourteen, a couple years younger than Luka and I. She is so thin, it is clear that she is starving to death. After I finish buying the food, I suddenly start to feel bad for her. Usually I can walk by starving people or children with nobody to protect them without feeling guilty or like I have to help them. But this time I couldn’t ignore the urge to help her. Picking up a small loaf of bread from my basket, I hand it to her and then start to walk back to the stadium. It doesn’t take me long to realize that she is following me.
When we are alone I spin around to face her. “What do you want?” I demand while glaring at her.
I expect her to be intimidated, but instead she glares back at me with just as much force. “It’s none of your business!”
“It kind of is. You’ve been following me for the past ten minutes.”
“Fine, I was hoping I could join you. From what I can tell, you can take care of yourself and I need a partner,” she says, holding her breath.
“Yeah? Well, I already have a partner.” I feel bad for crushing her hopes, but there was only so much I am willing to do for her. As I turn my back to her, I feel guilt weigh at my heart, but I continue to walk.
“Wait!” she blurts out. “Don’t go! I can help you.”
Curiosity got the better of me and I look at her expectantly.
“Well, I have experience with robbing, and I could fit in small places that you couldn’t.”
I sigh. It was true that having someone who could sneak in without getting caught easily would be very useful. Saying no would be stupid of me. “Fine, but one
mistake, and you’re out.” The rest of the walk back I worry about what Luka would think. We already have enough mouths to feed. Maybe letting her join was a bad idea, but it is too late. We near the stadium and my heart pounds faster. Walking inside slowly, I see Luka sitting on his mattress. “Luka!” I call. He jumps at the sudden noise.
When he sees the girl, he looks confused. “Who is she?”
“This is-what is your name, anyway?”
“Ember,” she responds.
“Well, she’s here because she can sneak into places that we can’t and with less chance of getting caught. She begged me to let her join. I couldn’t just let her starve.” Luka nods hesitantly.
Later that afternoon, we are training again, and I show Ember some moves that she can use to defend herself against other people. Then we sit in the middle of the field and go over the plans of our next robbery. “So, you use your talents to steal from innocent people and you keep the money for yourselves?” Ember asks.
Luka answers. “Yeah, why? How else would we be able to survive?”
“With your skills, you could rob places that have a lot of money and don’t need it. You could use it to help not just yourselves, but also to help others. Maybe you could even rob government buildings. It’s them who deserve it anyways. They’re the ones who treat poor people like nothing and don’t give them rights. We could also use the money to make a positive difference.”
“What are you implying? That we should try to save the world or something? Besides, it’s too dangerous to rob places with lots of security,” I say dismissively.
“If we keep training, and with our skills, we could rob places with more security and more money. And I’m not expecting you to save the world, I just think we could try to make the slums a better place.”
“Steal from the rich and give to the poor? Like Robin Hood? Luka asks incredulously.
Ember shrugs. “Sure, just think about how much better we could make the slums with all of us working together. Maybe we could get more people to join us, too.”
Luka and I listen intently. But something was still missing. “Wait, how will we be able to change the slums from poor people living with harsh conditions to a district just as nice as the others?” I ask.
“If the government doesn’t listen to our complaints, we will have to rebel against it and start a new one.” Ember explains.
“Wow, a little ambitious,” Luka says worriedly. “Are you sure we can rebel against the government?”
“The population of the slum district is far larger than the population in the other districts. I’m tired of the government treating kids who don’t have an education or aren’t as wealthy as if they aren’t people. They can’t just deny us jobs and let us live in such horrible conditions forever. Eventually there will be an uprising,” she says, excited at the idea of rebellion against our unfair government.
I decided that the terrible treatment given to us by the government could be ignored no longer. “I agree. We can’t live like this forever. Using our abilities just for ourselves is selfish. Sometimes other people’s needs are more important than our own. It’s time for a rebellion.”