Burn

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Kita walked along the gravel road, barefoot as usual. She had grown used to having no shoes; after all, she had no choice. After her father left, her and her mother were left impoverished, fighting to keep what little lifestyle they had afloat. The two lived in a small house made of wood, straw, and some bricks for support that they found in the nearby garbage dump. Their small abode was on the outskirts of town; that was where the higher class designated the people of color to live. Her mother’s small income only allowed them one meal a day.

Veering to the side to make room for a passing horse and carriage, she walked onto the grass, stubbing her toe on a stone. She instantly knelt down to nurse it. She had a long walk home anyway. Just then, a man in boots and ragged clothes approached her.

“You alright, young lady?” he asked. She recognized that voice. It was none other than the gruff, but soothing voice of her father. She looked up, and there he was, smiling down at her.

“Dad!” she exclaimed. “I thought you’d never come back!” She instantly stood up, ready to embrace him.

“No, no,” he said, holding out his hands. “No hugs, Kita. You’re a bit cleaner than I am. And I don’t want people seeing. They might go tattle to your mother. So, let’s keep this little rendezvous a secret, okay?”

“Sure thing, dad.”

“Now, here are you off to?”

“Back home. Mom wanted me to go to the store to check if the price of salt was still the same.”

“And is it?”

“Yeah, unfortunately.”

“Well, you shouldn’t keep her waiting then.”

“But I want to stay with you!”

“I have some things I need to do here. Besides, you don’t want to keep her waiting, especially not tonight.”

“What’s tonight?”

“Remember? Every year, the mayor or the mayor’s assistants go door to door asking for ‘donations?’”

“Oh, right…”

“So, off you go now. Don’t worry, we’ll see each other again soon.”

“Okay…” And reluctantly, she continued to walk back to the little shack she called home, alone, never doubting once that her father was still there, watching her go.

---

Kita returned home as the grey fog of dusk began to cover the sky. Her mother bustled around the fire, throwing various items into a kettle of stew. She didn’t even notice Kita walk in and pass her by, going to sit down on her small bed. Her thoughts were taken up completely by her father. He had finally come back, for her, she was sure.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a loud pounding on the front door.

“Coming, coming!” Her mother called, putting down her spoon on a small napkin. She opened the rickety door to see a man in a suit with a briefcase. “May I help you, sir?” she asked after a moment. Kita peered in on the scene from behind a pillar.

“Ma’am, today is tax day. Mayor’s orders.”

“Twenty?!” she exclaimed. “The neighbors across the street only needed to pay fifteen! I heard them!”

“Mayor’s orders, ma’am.” He said strictly. “We’ll be expecting it by the end of this week.” He tipped his black hat. “Have a good evening.” And he turned away, walking down the gravel path, back down to the town. Kita stayed in her position long enough to see her mother slam the door and begin to cry. They both knew there was no way they could afford twenty whole dollars by the end of the week. And that’s when Kita sprang.

She jumped up and grabbed her father’s old matchbox from the small drawer and squirmed her way through a small hole in the foundation, out to the backyard. She got as far as about two hundred feet before a familiar voice stopped her in her tracks.

“And where you do think you’re going, missy?” her father asked, leaning against a tree.

“Dad! I just—I’m going to follow the executive, that’s all.” She replied. He gave a suspicious look, but it soon faded.

“Be back in an hour.” He said with a wink. She grinned.

“Thanks, dad!” And with her newfound encouragement from her father, she bolted off. She didn’t even see the smirk on her father’s face before he faded off into the night.

---

She followed the man in the suit until she watched him take off his hat and walk through the front door of his home. She knew he lived there—alone—from seeing him leave and return to the place constantly.

“What goes around comes around, sir.” She muttered, and with the cloak of night as her confidence, she crossed the road and knelt by the side of the house. Taking out two matches at a time, she struck them up, and set them down, sprinting out of the way as the flames rose. Striking more matches and throwing them down in the wake of the other flames, she ran all the way around the house, only stopping when the entire base was burning. She watched at a distance as the flames slowly at the executive’s house. Even though she was out of breath, she knew she couldn’t stay to admire her work any longer; she turned, matches in hand, and ran back up the street to her house.

“Kita!” Her mother exclaimed as she ran up to the front door. “The executive’s house—it’s on fire! We have to—” Her gaze shifted downward to Kita’s right hand to see the girl clutching the box of matches. “It was you…?” She asked, horrified.

“He made you cry, mom! And dad told me it was okay, and—”

“Dad?”

“He’s here! He was right outside! He told me not to tell you he was here though.” Her mother covered her face in her hands and let out a soft sob. “Mom? Why are you crying?”

“Kita…” she whispered. “Your father died a year ago…He got into a fight with one of the executives collecting taxes and…he was shot.” Kita’s hand loosened around the matches until they dropped to the ground. And together, the two watched the smoke rise in the distance.

The executive died in his home that night.





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