Better Days

In this chapter from my novel, Eneko, held prisoner, reminisces about his childhood.

The slot in the door opened, and a tray of food slid into Eneko's cell. He picked it up, and looked at it in disgust. It was covered with flies, which crawled over the surface of the meat like ants on a dead rat.
Eneko set it down without taking so much as a bite. He had not eaten anything this week—not because he did not want to, but because the meals were so revolting that he could not bring himself to put the food in his mouth. He had been surviving on water alone, and it was beginning to take its toll on him.
He turned away from the tray, and looked around his cell as though he might find something else to eat, tucked away in some corner that he had not yet discovered. He was not surprised to find that there was nothing.
He sat down on the floor, and leaned against the wall. He closed his eyes, and tried to think of something other than food.
He remembered a time when he was very young—maybe five or six years old—and he was walking in the woods with his father. They were searching for mushrooms, and Eneko had been given a basket to carry them in once they found some.
Eneko's father stopped suddenly, and pointed at a tree. "Look," he said, "a squirrel."
The little boy looked up into the branches of the tree where his father was pointing, but all he could see was leaves shaking slightly in the wind.
"Where?" he asked. "I don't see it."
His father smiled, and pointed again. "There," he said, "in the tree."
Eneko looked up at the tree again, and this time saw a squirrel sitting on one of the branches. He had not noticed it before because its fur was so much like that of the leaves around it that his eyes had passed over it without seeing it.
Eneko's father reached into his pocket, and took out a handful of nuts. He threw them up into the air, and the squirrel immediately began to scramble down from its branch to collect them as they fell back to earth.
"See?" Eneko's father said with a smile, "He's very hungry."
The little boy nodded in agreement—he had never seen anything so desperate for food before in his life.
"What do you think we should do?" Eneko's father asked.
Eneko thought for a moment, and then said, "We could give him more."
His father smiled again. "That is very kind of you," he said, "but that was all I had." He paused for a moment before continuing. "I have an idea—why don't we give him some of our mushrooms, and then we'll go home and make a nice big dinner for ourselves?"
Eneko nodded again. "That's a good idea," he said.
The two of them emptied their basket into the grass at the base of the tree, and then walked back home together. They had not gone very far when they heard a rustling sound behind them—they turned around to see that the squirrel was following them.
"What do you think he wants?" Eneko asked.
His father smiled, and said, "I think he wants to come home with us for dinner."
Eneko laughed out loud at the thought of a squirrel sitting down to eat with them. His father picked him up in his arms, and they continued walking back together—the squirrel following close behind them all the way.

 


Eneko opened his eyes, and looked around the cell. He wondered if he would ever see his father again. He hadn't visited his parents often since leaving the southern continent, and now he regretted it. They were getting old, but they still had many years left in them—he hoped.
He stood up, and walked over to the wall where he had drawn a picture of Arylise. Then, he took his charcoal and began to draw another picture—this time of his parents.
His father was a tall man, with dark hair and eyes. His mother was small and blonde—the opposite of her husband in almost every way. Eneko had inherited his father's height and his hair, but not his eyes—Eneko's were green like his mother's.
He drew them both smiling at him from the wall of his cell, and then he sat down on the floor again to wait for whatever would come next.
"What are you doing over there, Eneko?" Friend asked from the adjacent cell.
"I'm drawing," he replied.
"Drawing what?" Friend asked.
"My parents," Eneko said.
"Oh," Friend said. "That's really nice. I wish I could draw."
"You can," Eneko said. "All you have to do is close your eyes, and remember what something looks like."
"I know how to draw, you dolt," Friend said. "I just don't have any charcoal."
Eneko laughed. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'd share mine if I could."
"Don't worry about it," Friend said. "Are your parents still alive?"
"I think so," Eneko said. "I haven't seen them in years."
"I hope you can one day." He paused, then added, "Both of mine are dead."
"I'm sorry," Eneko said.
"Don't be," Friend replied. "I'm glad they don't have to see me like this."
"I don't know how you keep your spirits up," Eneko said.
"I don't either," Friend replied, "but I try. You sound like you're doing a lot better than you were the first day I talked to you."
"I realized I need to keep my mind busy," Eneko said. "Talking to you helps a lot. And reminiscing about my past life. My childhood, my family, all of that."
"I hear you," Friend said. "Can you tell me another story? I'm bored in here."
"Is that all I am to you?" Eneko said. "A storyteller?"
"Oh come on, you know what I mean. I enjoy them. You've had an interesting life."
"I know what you mean," Eneko said. "I'm just giving you a hard time. What would you like to hear about?"
"Tell me about something that happened when you were younger."
"Everything happened when I was younger," Eneko replied.
"Tell me about something that happened when you were a young man. Tell me about a time you got in trouble."
"I was born in trouble," Eneko said.
"Then this should be easy," Friend said.
Eneko thought for a moment, and then he smiled. "I was very artistic when I was younger. I liked to draw, and paint, and sculpt. So, one day I got this idea in my head that I could throw some clay pots and bring them to market to earn some extra coin. I made a dozen of them and loaded them onto the cart. I was so proud of myself, because I'd never done anything like that before."
"What happened?" Friend asked.
"I was sitting there in my stall, and this old woman came up to me. She had no teeth in her mouth, and I could barely understand her."
"What did she want?" Friend asked.
"She wanted me to make her some new teeth," Eneko said. "But I told her that I'm a potter, and that she should go to the dentist."
"What did she say?"
"She said that the dentist was a fool, and that I should make her some teeth or she'd curse me."
Friend laughed. "Did you do it?"
Eneko laughed along with him. "I did. I told her to come back in a week and I'd have them ready for her."
"So what happened?"
"She came back, and I gave her the teeth. They were awful things! They were crooked and yellow, and the two front ones were so big that they stuck out of her mouth like tusks. But she was very happy with them. She kissed me on the cheek and said that I was a good boy, and then she gave me a gold coin for all my hard work."
"That's amazing!" Friend said.
"It gets better," Eneko laughed. "Then a few days later, this man comes into my stall shouting about something. He asked me if I was the boy who made the yellow teeth, and I thought he was going to beat me. But instead he pulls out his dentures and says, 'You made such wonderful teeth for my wife that I was wondering if you could make some for me too.'"
"What did you say?" Friend asked.
"I said of course!"
Friend howled with laughter. "Was your second set any better?"
"They were worse!" Eneko laughed. "I made him the ugliest teeth you've ever seen. Not on purpose, but they were so big that he could barely close his mouth around them, and they were all crooked and yellow like hers. But he was very happy with them and told me that he'd be sending his friends to me in the future."
"What happened?"
"I made a small fortune," Eneko said. "Until one day a guardsman came into my stall and asked me if I was the boy who made the teeth. I said I was, and he said that I was practicing medicine without a license."
"Oh no," Friend said.
"Oh yes," Eneko said. "I was taken before the magistrate and fined ten gold coins."
"Did you pay it?"
"Of course I did!" Eneko laughed. "I made twelve gold coins in profit!"
Friend laughed again. "That was a good story," he said.
"Thank you," Eneko replied. "…I don't make teeth anymore."
"Thank the gods," Friend said. They were silent for a few moments, and then Friend added, "You can't give up hope, Eneko. You have too much to live for to let them break you."
"I have good days and bad days," Eneko said. "Today I want to keep fighting."
"Good," Friend said. "Then I'll try to help you on your bad days."