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Part 4

5 – Catching Apples

There were raids on Relief Villages, sometimes. That was pretty scary. There were a few soldiers to guard each Village, but it wasn’t much. Talk about raiding parties increased once the phones were back up and running. Arthur didn’t know whether this was because it meant the raiders were able to organise themselves better, or whether it was just because it meant people talked more, and the more people talked, the more they were going to spread stories that weren’t entirely the whole exact truth. When the alarm finally did go up that a raiding party was on its way, nobody knew what to expect. Everybody panicked. Well – everybody except Douglas and Arthur’s mum, but even then, Arthur could see those same tummy churning looks they’d had in their eyes when they’d had to fight off the infected people. Herc and Skipper had gone as white as sheets, but even though Arthur would have thought they were all fighted out, they still grabbed what weapons they could and went down to the ground floor with the rest of them to defend the tower block. There were about a dozen soldiers with them outside. They had guns, and were shouting to the rest of them to remember they were hardened survivors, who had held back waves of furious Infected, not that that brought much comfort to Arthur. He hadn’t “fought” the infected that much – more just escaped them. And from what people had been saying, the raiding parties were even worse than the mindless hoards of The Incident.

In the end, the raiding party barely got close enough to see properly. The soldiers started shooting – first over their heads, which scattered them but didn’t make them stop. Then a few of the raiders got hit, and they either stopped to try to help their wounded or they ran away. What surprised Arthur was that they weren’t all just thuggish men waving meat cleavers around. There were a lot of women, and older people, and young lads and lasses, only just out of puberty. They looked skinny, and cold, and sick.

After it was all over, they all went back up to their flat quietly. They didn’t celebrate. It didn’t feel like any sort of a victory.

‘Why did they do that?’ Skip asked in a small voice, after a while. ‘Did you see them? They didn’t stand a chance. Why did they do it?’

‘Because they’re desperate,’ said Carolyn.

‘But we’re all in this together, it’s hard for all of us… we’ve never pulled that sort of trick…’

‘We,’ Carolyn told them all, ‘are very, very lucky. There’s around 43 million people in this country right now, all displaced, all living day to day on what rations they can get. We’ve managed to house about 10% of that number, so far. There’s other people still in refugee camps like that wretched leisure centre, and many don’t even have that. There’s a lot of people without so much as a roof over their head, still. So, yes. They truly are desperate. Doesn’t mean I’ll stand by and let them take all the basics we’ve managed to scratch together, but these are the people we’re all trying to help, when we clear more areas to make them fit to live in – when we fly about more food and medical supplies. Poor bastards.’

Arthur watched out of the window. A helicopter was whirring towards them.

‘Come to take the injured to the nearest medical camp, I imagine,’ said Douglas, watching the helicopter’s approach. ‘They’ll be fed there, at least. Doubt it’s worth it, though.’

‘Aren’t they going to arrest them?’ Skipper asked.

‘Where would they take them, Martin?’ replied Douglas.

They watched in silence that night, as the helicopter landed and took the screaming, stranded stragglers of the raiding party away.

-x-

The following week, Arthur came home from a long, tiring day clearing a housing estate in Withywood to find a particularly cheerful looking Douglas. He had that expression he generally had when he’d done, in his estimation, something even more clever than usual.

‘Hallo, Douglas!’

‘Hello, Arthur.’

‘Done something clever, have you?’

‘Oh, yes. Oh goodness, gracious, yes.’

‘Brilliant! Can I know, yet?’

‘Let’s wait until the others are back, shall we? Spam & tinned tomatoes with our rice for dinner, tonight.’

‘Wow – it really is a celebration tonight, isn’t it? Jolly good!’

Douglas waited until everybody was gathered and had finished their dinner before he revealed what it was he’d been looking so pleased about. And, everybody had to admit when they saw it, he certainly had every right to be.

‘Apples!’ Arthur exclaimed. ‘Wow! Brilliant!’

‘Fresh food!’ Skipper picked one out of the box. ‘Something that didn’t come out of a tin – I didn’t think we’d see the likes again – not for years.’

Herc bit into one, and closed his eyes in delight. ‘Mm. Apple that actually tastes of apple. Douglas, wherever did you get these? Tell me you haven’t been scrumping.’

‘They’ve got a few farms up and running down in Somerset. I was flying some fresh goods up to Manchester today, but thought – Hell, they were never going to miss half a dozen apples.’

‘So in other words,’ said Arthur’s mum, ‘you have been scrumping.’ She bit into an apple. ‘But in this case,’ she added, ‘you very much do so with my blessing.’

Arthur sat back as the others tucked in. He tossed his apple up and caught it in his other hand, with a satisfyingly solid, cool, feeling and the faint clap of the fruit’s skin against his own. He did it again. It felt good. Toss and catch, toss and catch… his mind started to wander, as it generally did… well, all the time really, but especially when he was tossing and catching apples. He found his thoughts going back to the raiding party from the week before.

Seemingly out of the blue, he blurted ‘But we got to have Spam for tea.’

The others all looked at him, in various stages of apple eating.

‘And is there Spam yet for tea,’ said Arthur’s mum. ‘What’s your point, exactly?’

‘Not just Spam,’ added Arthur. ‘Tomatoes, too. And we get soy sauce, and tea bags and UHT milk, and hot water and soap and clean blankets and DVDs… all these little things. Is it really fair that we get to have all these apples to keep to ourselves as well?’

The others paused, either frozen, staring at the apples in their hands or chewing thoughtfully.

‘Well, to be honest,’ said Douglas, ‘I was going to share them around a little. A couple for Zoë and her mum, some for the kids on our floor…’

‘But they’ve got all these nice little things that we’ve got, too,’ argued Arthur. ‘What about the people who’ve got hardly anything? What about the people like the ones who tried to get in the other night?’

‘Arthur,’ said his mum, ‘I told you, we’re helping those people out as fast as we can.’

‘But some apples would be an extra help,’ said Arthur. ‘Just a little thing. Sometimes, it’s the little things that just keep you going for another day when you didn’t think you could really face it before. Isn’t it?’

He rolled the apple from palm to palm for a bit, and let the others think.

‘There’s a refugee camp at Castle Park,’ his mum said quietly, after a while. ‘I’ve gone past it walking the dog a few times. Military tents – most likely people waiting to be processed, like us in the leisure centre.’

‘Bit cold for camping though, this time of year.’

‘Yes. Yes, it is.’

Arthur turned to Douglas. ‘Would you mind, Douglas? There’ll be other apples, but would you mind if I took the rest of what we’ve got over to them?’

‘Arthur,’ Douglas sighed, ‘there’s only about 20 apples left – you remember how many of us there were just in the leisure centre. 20 apples won’t go far. What if you start a massive fight over them?’

‘They can cut them up,’ Arthur protested. ‘Or I can give them to the soldiers – there’s always soldiers at those places – and ask them to cut them up and share them fairly. Quarter of an apple’s still better than no apples at all.’

Douglas sighed, deeply. ‘You can try, Arthur. You can but try.’ He pushed the box with the remaining apples in over to Arthur. ‘But do brace yourself – how do you really imagine these people will react to somebody coming over from a guarded, all-mod-cons Relief Village with the handout of a box of apples?’

‘There’s only one way to find out,’ replied Arthur, tossing his apple one last time before setting it back in the box, ‘but `I imagine by and large, they’ll say “thank you”. That’s what I’d do.’

The next morning, he took Snoopadoop for her walk, and made the refugee camp his first port of call. He and his dog walked out again half an hour later, completely unscathed and feeling pretty pleased. He’d been right. They had – by and large – said “thank you”.

As he walked back from the camp, he made the mental note that giving apples to other people made him just as happy, if not more, than tossing them.

Part 6

November 2013

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