Chapter One: Deianira: The Boy and the Oranges
Merchants filled the streets in attempts to sell their goods. They sold anything between fruits and bakery goods that filled the air with a tone of sweetness and home to workshop-crafted iron daggers with cheap handles. The sound of the merchants trying to bring in people was almost deafening, even dwarfing the clattering and shrieking children.
The woman walked through the square with confidence, though she stuck to the sides. She dodged gracefully around the children and adults, hardly anybody noticing her presence.
She caught the eye of a child stealing from an orange merchant. Panic flared within the boy, who could not have been more than eight years of age, and he moved to replace the orange into the cart. The woman offered him a small, kind smile, and shook her head to the side. As she passed the child, she lightly grabbed his free hand before he could move away and led him to a more secluded part of the street.
Empty cans that once had parcels of food inside them laid dented, empty, and forgotten around the alley. Though mere feet away from the hustling square, all seemed more quiet and lonely. There was a distinct absence of human touch, the alley rich with the scents of animals and wastes.
The woman let go of the child's arm, and before he could bolt, she spoke. "Don't flee, child. You are not in trouble and nor am I turning you in," she smiled kindly as she looked into the boy's eyes. "What is your name?"
The boy was clearly nervous, which was made more evident by his stammering. "I uh, my name, my name is Malachi." He looked down at the ground, refusing to meet the woman's eyes.
"That's a nice name, Malachi," the woman replied. "I have another question though. Is that okay?"
"Yeah... yeah, I um, I think it's okay."
"Okay. I have to ask why you've taken this orange, Malachi," she replied. She took the boy's hands in her own, holding his palms up facing the sky, lifting them up a little way.
The boy became panicked again and tried pulling his hands away, but the woman held them still gently.
"It's okay, little one," her voice soothed. "I am not going to ask that you bring it back."
"But... but stealin’ is illegal! I've 'een bad I think," the boy pleaded.
"Why are you stealing, then, if you know it's illegal?"\
"My... my family, Miss's. My um, my Momma can't ‘et us food ‘ometimes. And my Dadda was tak'n for the war," the boy started to cry.
The woman dropped the boy's arm, the one that wasn't carrying the orange, and gently wiped the boy's tears away from his cheeks. "Child, when people are starting, that doesn't mean they do not deserve to eat. Your mother tries her best, you know this right?"
“You deserve to eat oranges. You deserve to eat this orange. Every little boy, every mother trying their hardest, everyone making an honest effort deserves to eat.” Using her free hand, the woman took the boy’s chin and turned his head slowly, so he looked her in the eyes. She held his head there tenderly.
“But Miss’s, stealin’s illegal- "
“Hush child, stealing might be illegal based on the law, but is it illegal in your heart? Would you rather be happy with a full tummy stealing, or sad, not stealing?” the woman held the child’s eyes in her own.
“I wan’ to be happy,” he replied. His eyes teared up again, and salty rivers formed underneath them in curvy lines.
“I know you do.” She lets the boy’s hand drop and grins as he begins peeling back the orange’s skin, impatient as he dug to the juicy, nutritious insides of the fruit. “You may not remember me when you’re older, child, but I want you to remember that you and your family go above the law. The law should not tell you to not steal if you’re starving. Do you understand me?”
“’es, uh, yes Miss’s. Thank ‘ou, Miss’s,” the boy beamed. “I love ‘ranges!” he said as he took his first bite of the fruit. He bit straight into the peeled fruit, not splitting up the insides into bite-sized pieces.
Noticing, the woman laughed softly and showed the boy how to better take apart and eat the orange. “If you do it this way, then it’ll be easier to eat… see?” She took one of the pieces and placed it in the boy’s mouth, watching as his face brightened as the orange touched his tongue. “You need to go back home now. Remember to be stealthy when you steal,” the woman said, ignoring her implication that the boy would steal again, not saying if he stole again.
The boy scurried back into the busy streets. When he was at the lip of the alleyway, the woman heard him whisper to himself: “I ‘eally like ‘ranges… I’m ‘onna go get some ‘ore for my Momma!” with that, the boy was out of sight and back to bouncing around market stalls on the busier streets of the village.
The woman began walking back to the streets and out of the alleyway as well, sticking to the shadows so she would not be seen as she started travelling back on the road. She once again passed the dizzyingly crazy merchants and the children still hopping around, but now her eyes were focused on another target. She weaved her way delicately through the gaggle of people and carts, homing in on her new destination with a killer’s eye.
Her target, a dilapidated door with squeaky hinges and a lack of grace, laid on the right of the road in front of her. She made her way through the maze of business and eventually reached the door’s handles, hoisting it open as she stepped inside.