Born in Cigarette Smoke (flash-fiction)

We’re the bad kids, the ones grown in broken households and in cigarette smoke that puffs from ever blast of breath from our families’ mouths. We’re train-hopping tyrants who never pay for a meal and have no fear of punishment; we face the truth with a snarling grin and take nothing for granted, only that life is painful and holds blades always pointed in our direction.

Fighting to catch my breath I sit in the back row of the train while Ezra paces back and forth. She’s testy, anger is the only substance flowing in her veins. She paces in a tight circle with her hands on her hips, eyes surfing through the other train passengers for someone to give any look in her direction, just so she can start trouble. That’s what she lives for, why she started this group in the first place, but how she finds so much enjoyment out of it, I’ll never understand.

We’re kids. We evolved from sucking on candy cigarettes on the playground to puffing the real deal, and any other substance one can puff. We’re a gang driven out of anger, and for me, fear, mostly of my sister but also for the repercussions that will come from all that we’ve done if we’re captured. So we live on the run, hopping trains, stealing cars, and lots of walking on foot. We have the blisters and stained shoes to show for it. But there will never be rest, we will forever be on the move and I will forever be bound, with Ezra there to keep me in line with the rest of the group. Every painful beating to remind me of my place. Every shot taken by my body with whatever is closest at the time: wood planks, metal rods, rocks, fists.

My eyes begin to burn as the dirt coating my face begins to run. With nothing clean enough to wipe them, I clench my eyes tight for my tears to wash them, but clenching them only sends the dirt deeper.

Through my hazy glaze and stinging eyes I see Ezra glaring in my direction. Her black hair radiating from her face as her brown eyes glisten with red rage. She huffs and rolls her eyes before turning away and staring back into the passengers again, more deliberately this time, clearly searching to start trouble.

I look down at my arms for a clean spot of shirt, only to find it torn, dingy, and some strange color between grey and tan. My dark hands are covered in black soot with dirt coating around and under every fingernail. My fingers run over my left forearm, a vision of pain and burning red metal blasts through my mind; the pain of losing my family, knowing how and who done it, their hands wrapped around your fingers as something cold and heavy rests so easily in your hands as they tighten their grip, then tightening yours. The pain of feeling your first powerful recoil, the vibrations you feel all over your body that has since never left. The buzzing and vibrating of clippers as they glide across your head as every strand of curls fall from your mane. A once beautiful lioness deduced back to a cub, head bare, body scrawny and weak, skin brown and scared below the left elbow. A symbol of your dead past and the forever painful future. This is home now. This is my life.

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