Vally panted and pushed his back further into the wooden walls of the stall. He examined his exposed left foot, now bruised and grubby with black matter. He let some tears fall from his eyes as he whimpered silently. He never wanted to come to the garage today, but Uncle Abel had insisted. Maybe all would’ve been better if they had gone to the Open Market like everyone else in Zone 2. They would’ve got great bargains for choice food from Zone 1. Uncle Abel would’ve still been alive.
The four men had come into the workshop, talking and laughing haughtily in the way most people from their affluent Zone 1 usually did. Uncle Abel was half under the hoisted tyre-less vehicle, so he didn’t see them come in. Vally did, because he’d been at the other end of the large workshop, having his lunch. One of the men, dressed much better than the others and obviously some sort of leader, came forward and posed a question to Uncle Abel. Vally didn’t hear. He didn’t hear Uncle Abel’s reply either, but from his movement under the car, he was clearly irritated. There was a harsh exchange between them, the other men getting involved.
Then Uncle Abel had tried to emerge from under the car, but the leader put a big boot on his stomach, preventing him from getting up. He was a big man, way above six feet and with appreciable biceps, so his weight was enough to keep Uncle Abel down. Uncle Abel was struggling, a bit of apprehension underlining his rage. The leader kept saying things with this unnerving calm, and Uncle Abel’s hysteria grew, as did Vally’s. He was aware he didn’t match up to the big man in any way; what could a lowly, scrawny teenage apprentice in a run-down garage in poor Zone 2 do? But he stood up anyway, abandoning his food and running over to the scene.
He had barely come halfway when the man kicked at the first of four jacks under the car. The whole setup shook vigorously, but stayed in place. Uncle Abel shouted, struggling even more. The man raised his leg and dropped it hard on his stomach. Uncle Abel yelled. The other men had, together, began kicking at the other jacks. Uncle Abel shouted for help. Vally was running, shouting, asking them to let him go.
Two jacks slipped from under the car, and the whole setup came crashing down, the deafening noise peaking with Uncle Abel’s screech.
Vally knew what the look the leader flashed him meant. Without as much as a word, the other three men were already moving on him, their eyes telling him not to run, to stay put. But he didn’t oblige. He turned and took flight, flying with the taste of fear on his tongue. He ran out the back and into the gutter, where his shoe got caught in the goo. After scaling the high fence without difficulty, he was out in the deserted street.
No one had passed up the Open Market to work as they had. Every shop was closed and there was nowhere to hide, except for this half-built storage shack he’d ran into and hid.
He peered around the corner now. The street was still empty. They must’ve given up after looking for me, he tried to assure himself. Or they could be waiting for me to come out. He shuddered at thoughts of what they would do to him if they found him. There was no doubt they would kill him. He was the only one who’d seen what happened. The only witness.
He had to get out, away from here. He had to tell someone else. Anyone.
As he moved out of the shack, the last thing he remembered was a large fist appearing out of nowhere and striking him hard in the face.