My legs hung under the swing, swaying slightly as the sun shone relentlessly
overhead. Frizzy blond hair lay matted on my face, and my shirt clung uncomfortably to sticky skin. I hated the summer weather. Why couldn’t school vacation be in the winter with the rain and clouds surrounding me? A protective blanket of dampness that frightened away the crowds of people.
I glanced at my phone; four o’clock. Way too early to go home and be trapped in the apartment with my Grandmother. Emily had been gone for most of the summer, and staying inside all day was so dull. You can only read Bible verses so many times before they start to lose all meaning.
This recreation area was a small one, but I still loved coming here. It was the closest one to my home, and it was only a twenty-minute walk. It had a tiny playground with swings and an old fashioned metal slide that burned your legs in the summertime.
Several young families gathered on the nearby beach, and packs of small children ran around wildly, while their moms clustered into groups, chatting and ignoring their little ones. A giant concrete wall loomed on the other side of the lake, casting its shadow over the still waters.
I have always been fascinated by the wall. Most of my friends thought it was creepy, and it made them uncomfortable. They liked to go to the park in the center of the city, closer to their fancy homes where the wall was not in view to remind them of what lurked on the other side. I preferred to imagine what it was like over there. Grandmother said they were the ones that believed the lies in the war, and that made them dangerous. Did they still have families like us?
I didn’t mind that no one wanted to go to this recreation area. Being alone was fine with me. I pulled my sketchbook from my worn pack and turned to a fresh page.
Glancing at the wall for inspiration, I attempted a portrait of a girl that lived on the other side. She would be like me, but more sorrowful because all she knew were the lies. A few lines here, smudging a bit under her eyes to show the shadows.
Most people thought my drawing was a waste of time. Not Emily. They never understood me as much as she did. I had missed her so much this summer.
Emily and her family had traveled to one of the beach cities, Vashon, for a whole month. Her family always invited me to go places with them. Grandmother would usually let me, as long as it was within the walls of the city. Unfortunately, going to Vashon had involved taking a ferry and leaving Fremont. It was so unfair that I had to miss out just because she is afraid of everything. I was angry that she had said no, but I kept my mouth shut.
I tried to be careful never to say anything that would hurt Grandmother's feelings; she did take me in and raise me when my parents died. I could have become a ward of the city, and that would have been awful.
I heard that wards didn’t get to take the eighth-year assessment. They were all slated to graduate into boring labor jobs. Emily said they didn’t even have regular school because they didn’t have parents that tithed. It wasn’t fair. I had asked Grandmother if we could help them, but she said they were fine, and the church supported them.
Taking a deep breath, I stretched my legs in front of me, shifting to unglue myself from the seat of the swing. The chains’ metal felt warm on my hands, and I tilted my head back, feeling the breeze blow on my face. I heard a shout from the water. Dressed in their impeccable black uniforms, two enforcers strode forward. What was this? Hopping out of the swing, I gathered my pencils and sketchbook and moved closer to get a better view. I didn’t get to see enforcers that often; they dealt with criminals and guarding entrances.
A family was sitting on a blanket in the beach’s sandy area, two young children dining on sandwiches, hands sticky with jam. Placing myself near them, I tried to blend in, like some awkward teenager, too cool to sit near her family. Clutching a nub of a pencil, I started a rough drawing of the enforcer closest to me. He was young, with blond hair peeking out from his cap, and he had bright blue eyes. I tried to listen to what he said to his partner, but his voice was too soft.
They confidently approached a wooden dock. Somebody had tied four small crafts to evenly spaced posts. The boat closest to the shore had a bright blue tarp stretched over it, as though protecting it from the rain. I leaned in closer, pretending to read my sketchbook. The blond enforcer tapped the boat lightly with his foot. Nothing happened. The second enforcer was larger, and he looked angry, lips pursed, and eyes narrow. As he ripped the tarp back, I leaned forward in anticipation, trying to see better.
"Out of the boat," A gruff voice erupted from the second enforcer.
An old man slowly rose to his feet. Long dark hair was streaked with gray and had a single feather hanging from it. His skin was leathery and brown. Apart from the farmworkers, I’d never seen anyone with skin so dark. His face looked cross and deeply lined, but his eyes were friendly. Unsteady on his feet, he rose and stepped onto the dock, rocking back and forth while putting one foot forward gingerly as if he hadn't walked for days.
Was this a criminal? I reached for my sketchbook again, turning to a blank page. His eyes seemed too kind to be evil, and he was old, like, ancient, older than Grandmother. Criminals were supposed to be young and hardened like the ones you would see in the movies, right? I added a shadowed line on my page to portray the uniqueness of his eyes’ small but piercing.
Grandmother had always made criminals out to seem like frightening wild monsters; This man could barely walk. He looked like he belonged in a hospital, not on a tiny boat in Fremont City.
I stealthily made my way to a garbage can that was closer to the dock and strained to listen as the enforcers spoke with him.
Their voices no longer carried over the beach's noise. The man was waving his arms emphatically, looking distressed. He reached towards the pocket on his worn jeans, and in an instant, the larger enforcer grabbed the man's wrist and struck him on the side of the head with a stun stick. The man crumpled to the ground in a heap and was still. The blond enforcer looked troubled for a moment and glanced at his colleague briefly. He then gave a shake and reached into the pocket of the old man, pulling out a small rectangular book.
I felt a knot in my stomach. Something felt wrong about this. No one else seemed to react to the violence of the enforcer, so it must be nothing. Grandmother always said I was a little too sensitive.
The old man finally moved and started to sit up, but the enforcer pushed him down again, using a foot to pin his chest. The man struggled, and the enforcer barked out some instruction resulting in the man going limp. I shifted and felt sorry for him. It seemed like this man needed medical staff, not an enforcer.
The crowd of people on the beach started to take notice, whispering in hushed voices. Many openly stared. A woman near me spoke quietly to her friend.
"The crime homeless people bring to this city is horrific; the next thing you know, he would have been selling drugs to our kids out of his boat! Thank goodness for the enforcers."
“I know, right!” her friend replied.
It was hard to think of the older man as a bad person. I tried to picture him selling drugs to three-year-olds and homemakers while sobbing and hobbling at them.
"Drugs, drugs for sale," the image in my head spoke.
I laughed out loud. The woman turned angrily and gave a loud huff. I wanted to stick my tongue out at her or roll my eyes but thought better of it and lowered my head respectfully.
A flash of movement caught my eye, and in an instant, the old man jumped up as agile as a cat, pushing the large enforcer back and sprinting away. I had never seen anyone as fast as that man! Had he been faking his frailness the whole time?
The blond enforcer started to jog after him, but the old man had already crested a nearby hill and was halfway to the treeline. I watched closely as the two enforcers argued for a moment, but the only words I could catch were get and away.
The blond one made his way to the growing crowd on the beach, walking upright, with purpose. He had a stoic look on his face and spoke with a quiet authority, telling everyone:
"This man has been tagged and will be apprehended shortly. Please be assured that the matter will be taken care of, and you are safe. Go about your business as normal."
The area cleared quickly. Families returned to their spots on the beach, not giving the enforcer a second look, resuming the day’s activities. I grabbed my stuff and began to walk towards the street. I should probably be getting home, and if Grandmother somehow heard about this, she would ask me why I hadn’t left immediately.
The enforcers had climbed into their sleek back car and were pulling out of the parking lot. How were they going to catch the man if they left? I looked back to where he had run, eyeing the treeline at the top of the hill. I really should go home, but what was back there? I had never left the confines of the park. When I was younger, Grandmother had warned me about being out of her sight. She told me the wild animals might take me away and eat me. That had been enough to keep me in line. I was thirteen now and knew that nothing dangerous would live in the woods. All of the dangerous animals were outside the wall.
I still had a little time, and it was unlikely Grandmother would hear about the event anyway. I veered away from the road and headed towards the hill, my decision made.