In the Sunshine Mine
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
Mimi was sent down to the Sunshine Mines began just like any other.
grandmother had sent her out early, to scrape up a bucketful or two of frozen
sun before anyone was about. They desperately needed the sunshine, to melt out
slowly and fill the little house with a bit of warmth and light. They had
almost none left, and no money to buy any from the corporation.
her head out of the door and looked around carefully, the way she had been
taught, left and right, and left again, and then upwards at the steel-grey sky.
She squinted slightly – the warmsuit’s visor was old and scratched, so that
everything had a slight halo – but couldn’t see any watchers, not even the
speck of a drone glittering coldly in the light of the dawn. What was left of
the previous evening’s sunshine lay in shallow red-golden pools and ragged sheets
on the frozen ground. It wouldn’t be there much longer before it began to
evaporate; and, besides, as the temperature rose and the air began to thicken,
people would begin to stir and then it would be too late.
glanced back over her shoulder at her grandmother, who was all she had left in
the world. Life had aged and bent the old woman, and she was far too slow now
to harvest the sunshine. Stealing sun was a job for children.
Mimi reported. "I’m going out."
careful," Mimi’s grandmother replied, her eyes worried. Some of the last of the
sunshine they had glimmered dimly in the lantern, throwing into relief the nest
of wrinkles which made up her face. "I hate to send you out like this."
all right," Mimi said with the confidence of eleven years, wrinkling her nose.
"I’ve been doing this for months and months, grandma." With a last look
to left and right, and a glance overhead, she hurried into the street, holding
the buckets so the scrapers inside wouldn’t rattle.
hour the village was still sleeping, the houses blank-faced humps of stone and
earth sheathed in gleaming blankets of frozen air, their little doors all
sealed tightly shut. Mimi bent beside the nearest pool of frozen sun, scraping
quickly with both hands, feeding both buckets at once. Speed was of the
essence, but she was hampered by her warmsuit. It was too small for her, the
material stretched tight over her growing limbs, and she knew that in a few
more months she could no longer put it on. What she would do then she had no
idea, because they certainly couldn’t afford a new warmsuit, and she couldn’t
use her grandmother’s because she was already taller than the old woman.
she thought, scraping away furiously, they couldn’t afford to move. She wished
they could, if only to a house with a yard, one which caught a bit of sunshine.
They couldn’t do anything to you for harvesting the sun which fell on your own
yard. But nobody who had a yard would ever give it up, for that very reason.
almost filled both buckets, the warmth of the sunshine beginning to seep
through her gloves, when she heard a slight – very slight – sound. Quickly, she
glanced up, her muscles tensing, but it was already far too late to run.
have been watching her for a while, almost from the beginning, and had moved
carefully to cut off her retreat. There were four of them, their warmsuits
camouflaged in white and grey to match the dawn, except for the small blue and
red Corporation insignia on their chests. Mimi looked at them and quickly
kicked over the buckets, sunshine spilling red-gold on the frozen ground.
do you any good," the nearest of the men said. "We’ve got you on film." His
hand shot out and grabbed Mimi by the upper arm. "Let’s go."
knowing it to be useless, feeling the motorised fingers dig into her flesh
through the warmsuit. "I haven’t done anything wrong," she said.
to the judge," the man said. "You kids think you can get away with anything."
He began to pull Mimi down the street. Looking over her shoulder, she saw one
of the others pick up her buckets and scrapers, while a third was making his
way to her grandmother’s door. So they knew where she lived, as well.
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