Sofia

Sofia has been hanging around the boys for as long as she can remember. The older one is Gregor. He says he’s the leader. Sofia notices that he struts when he walks, letting his too-long jacket hang open to display his knives that hang from the velvet lining by worn leather straps. Sofia also knows that Gregor has a long blade tied to his left thigh, just in case he should ever lose the jacket. He scowls when he speaks, spitting out consonants like they were nails. Gregor says he’s a Razor Child, but Anton says he’s dreaming and doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Where Gregor is loud, Anton is quiet. Sofia knows that Gregor is secretly afraid of his peer; Anton has a menace to him, and an intelligence that Gregor cannot comprehend. Despite the fact that the are the same age – at least, as far as she knows – Anton seems a lot older than Gregor. Anton never shows his weapons, and only speaks when he needs to. A few months ago, he traded some favours with a Mechanic and now has a gear-wound dirk – his legerdemain – that extends from his right sleeve when he twitches his fingers a certain way. Anton would let Sofia look at how the moving parts worked together, but does not let her touch it.

Sofia does not carry any weapons. Gregor says she’s a mascot for them, but she knows it was Anton’s idea to include her. They had seen her set upon by another boy their age. She had not realised what the boy was trying to do, but told him to stop. When he didn’t stop, she took his hands and moved them somewhere else, away from her. There was some resistance so she pushed, a little harder, and the boy stopped. He had begun to yell then, a high-pitched scream. She didn’t like the noise and was happy when it stopped.

Gregor says that the boy was from a rival gang, and didn’t know how to treat a girl like her with respect, but they did, and would offer her protection if she wanted to follow them. Anton just nodded and smiled his little smile. Sofia liked it when people smiled, she knew that it meant they were happy about something. Anton never really looked happy though, especially when he was smiling.

So she followed them, watched as Anton talked to men and Gregor showed his knives, and they were handed money or food. Sometimes Anton would use his clockwork blade, and the men would yell like that boy had yelled at Sofia, and then fall down and go to sleep.

The boys would sleep in warehouses when it was cold, on rooftops when they were warm. Sofia would follow them there, and sit down next to them. She can’t remember sleeping, but she knows sometimes she closes her eyes and when she opens them time has passed. She knows that when you do this you’re supposed to be dreaming, and she wonders if that’s what Anton means about Gregor dreaming he’s one of the Razor Children.

One night, they broke into a workshop and found all sorts of interesting things covered in dust. They were things called books, which Gregor threw off shelves into a pile. Anton stacked them neatly, but not before flicking through the pages. There were lots of pictures and scratchy marks inside, like dead squashed spiders, but Sofia did not know what they mean. There were also devices, filled with gears and wires like Anton’s blade, but different.

There were lots of things to look at in the workshop, and after a while Sofia stopped following the boys and stayed there to play with the interesting things. Some nights Anton and Gregor would come back, and sleep on the floor. Other nights they would be somewhere else, and Sofia would sit and turn the pages of the books to make sense of the pictures. She couldn’t tell if there was a story in the pictures or not, but thought it might be like a puzzle, where you have to stare at the page for a long time to find the hidden mouse or frog.

One night Anton came back alone. He was covered in blood and his clothes were torn, and Sofia knew some of it was Gregor’s. Anton fell asleep on the floor, right next to the door.

Sofia watched Anton grow thinner over the months. She would keep him clean, chasing the rats away, and picking flies from the air when they flew too close. He never talked or moved, and after a while she decided that he must not want to play with her again. She carefully removed his legerdemain, unfastening the wires and bands that trace up and down his arm. It slipped right off, now. She took paper from one of the countless shelves and a nice stick of charcoal from a fire that Gregor once lit, months ago, and drew the gear-blade’s intricacies. When she ran out of paper, she moved onto the floor, casting great swirling whorls onto the pitted cement and packed dirt. It took her a few attempts – her scale is all wrong, to begin with, and the charcoal smudges and breaks – but with practise and more drawing tools she got it just right. She tried to draw it sideways, upside down and inside out, just for fun, each layer adding new sprawling arcs. She decided to move shelves and clear walls, once she runs out of floor.

When Sofia is done, she was in the middle of a design that radiated out from her in sprawling arcs. And then she waited, at the middle of the workshop, wondering when her father will arrive to take her home.

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