Written in an exercise for Mark Welker’s blog, the inspiration for this piece was a picture of a punnet of strawberries:
They were packed into the carriage like strawberries at a grocer’s. The wooden walls of the enclosure were sodden but somehow still managed to hold the teeming mass in, molding around their shivering forms. As the carriage rattled along the tracks flakes of paint floated down until the air was thick and choking. Mothers huddled children against their naked skin, bruises flowing from parent to child as though they were living organisms.
Those unlucky enough to be on the edges were speared by splinters from the walls, thin slivers of pain that stole purposefully beneath the skin of the prisoners arms, legs, back or buttocks. They were crying less than the others though; their pain was immediate and physical and much easier to steal yourself against.
In the precise centre of this punnet of human misery stood a fifteen year old boy. He was tall for his age though, so that he stood over everyone else in the carriage. He was looking upwards, his eyes immune to the flaking paint, the tears that he had been crying for days now serving him well. He was looking at the vague split that ran along the centre of the roof; the rusted hinges that adorned each side.
He imagined the claw that would come down through the roof; saw its rusted metal edges, the unyielding steel that would scrape at the tender flesh, opening up angry red cuts. And he knew that, inevitably, he would be the first one chosen. He wished he could crouch down, wished he was as bruised and beat up as some of the others. But he was not. He was, in fact, almost perfect, at least to look at. He could have just walked out of his shower back at his grandmother’s house. The sweat in his hair made it glisten as though he had just shampooed and conditioned it; his emaciated body looked toned and fit.
He wasn’t afraid of dying. He doubted anyone here was; those tears, the ones for their lost lives, had dried long ago. The tears that he couldn’t stop from running in fat rivulets down his cheeks were not for himself, but for the vacuum in his life where his notion of humanity once had nestled.