She sat staring out of the window, watching everyone going about their day, as the bus rattled along through the city traffic.
Warm sunlight filtered sporadically through the gaps in the buildings, but their touch was all too brief and failed to raise Tay’s temperature. She sat with hands clamped under armpits, goosebumps pricking her skin.
The bus was busy with people going to work. Heads buried in phones, music drowning out their neighbours' conversations. The seat next to Tay was empty, people standing rather than sitting next to her. She knew why, hated herself for it, could smell the chemical scent leaching from her pores. The body's way of expressing the phreno, a chemical reaction under the skin that made the user smell as if they had bathed in lemon-scented window cleaner.
Tay banged her head against the glass, a few heads turning at the noise but quickly looking away. She felt wretched. A hatred of herself creeping from the back of the skull like a stranger's hand pushing up from her neck, fingers getting caught in her hair. She squeezed her arms, trapping her hands, stopping them from scratching. Her scalp crawled, pins pricking at her skin, thousands of them. Tay gritted her teeth and focused on a single brown hair poking over the crisp white crease of the passenger in front’s shirt collar. Her vision narrowed, the edges fading into a grey wash. She knew that this came with the drug, came every time she tried to escape from reality. It was almost the part that she wanted, not the high but the comedown, the psychological crash that pushed her into the ground. Her horizon resetting itself to somewhere in the gutter. Only this time it felt different. Something cold formed in her gut, she could feel her blood turning to ice as it ran through her veins. The itching stopped, her mind slowing, the sense that she was on the verge of some great realisation, that while her vision narrowed, focusing on a single brown hair, her understanding of the world expanded.
There was something in her mother's attitude, a pretend indifference. She saw Tay as a weakness, as a source of pain. Was this an opening, she thought, a chance? Tay found herself uninterested in the idea. The notion of a mother, of this mother, held no value. Her mother needed her but didn’t want her. The bus passed an intersection, a beam of sunlight broke through the towers and Tay saw her mother bathed in light and then she vanished. Tay didn’t chase the dream, just let the memory fall away.
Blinking, Tay turned her head and stared out the window once more. The edges slowly filling up with storefronts and pedestrians, beggars in doorways, cups set in front of them, and a militiaman out front of a shop, eyeing people as they filed past.
Tay’s mind continued to work even as her eyes drifted over the world outside.
Shouldn’t she feel happy that the burden of hatred was now gone? Instead, she felt betrayed, and not just by her mother. Osiris was another thing altogether, in some ways more important than the woman who gave birth to her, she was after all her other half, the partner in all things. She had thought she had lost her, been convinced, but then to have Oz laugh as if it was just a joke. Tay was used to her callousness. It was part of who Oz was, but to be disparaging of their bond? That their paths had diverged lately wasn’t either of their faults, but Tay had still hoped that they were sisters, not from blood but from life. If there was no Oz, then what would Tay do?
Maybe she was adrift, lost in an ocean, like one of those jellyfish, no mind of its own, just pushed along by the currents, until one day it washed up onto a beach only to be prodded by bare-foot children. The thought made her even angrier. Life in the sector was never isolated, it existed in relation to so many lives, not just people but objects, things. Even the concrete dictated how she lived, at least as much as the wind and rain did. Funnelling her along paths, unable to deviate and too small to see over the wall, to know that there was another way of living. Trapped and channelled. Friendship, the bond with Osiris, an inevitability. They had no one else. Small children left to fend for themselves while the adults stripped themselves of reality, dependants seen as peripheral to the truth, a nuisance, mouths that had to learn to feed themselves.
Tay’s first foot forward, her first breath dictated by another, and the ‘Family’ had moulded her life until the day she broke free. Then what had she done with her freedom? She had gone back. But in the years in between, it had been her and Osiris on the streets, falling through the cracks, picking at the scraps, stealing, and running from the law. More concrete, choices narrowed by buildings and roads, options limited to sources of heat and food. Tay was sick of it.
People in Central didn’t live to rules, they had money and power, and could do as they wished.
The bus slowed, and she jumped to her feet. Dashing into the aisle, scowling at a passenger that got in her way. She jumped down onto the pavement, then turned and saw the man take her seat, his face turned away.
She felt guilty and watched as the bus pulled out. She wasn’t used to the pharmaceutical concoction the temple used, not any longer.