Martin Hooijmans | Lars de Ruyter
The famished girl had trouble breathing, as she stood before the shopkeeper. Every visit to his small, grimy store was unnerving, but today Lisa’s heart literally beat out of her chest. She would take her business elsewhere, if any other businesses would still exist in Lincoln Valley, New Moscow. During the war, all stores had been looted, money and supplies vanishing in clear daylight. Post-war — in a brilliant move by the self-declared local leadership — a dirty, gruffly, miserable excuse for a man had been put in charge of any supplies that remained, to be sold for any bullets or arms people could manage to get their hands on. Weapons were the new currency, which ensured that when the day came that the Russians from the other side of New Moscow broke their promise of peace, the Americans would have plenty of lead to pump into their thick skulls. It also ensured that a capitalistic mindset was always maintained. Handing out supplies was a communist flaw, never tolerated in Lincoln Valley. Everyone understood that.
The man behind the counter emptied the contents of the little box in his hand, then used his other to scratch his graying, untidy beard, a trait he had developed when examining items. The sound put Lisa even more on edge, and in an attempt to distract herself she began browsing the various items on display in the shop. There was the assortment of dried and canned food, a tasteless but necessary commodity in these dark days and the store’s main seller. Next was the clothing, in all sizes imaginable, mostly belonging to families that had perished in the war. Lisa wondered why the man still kept these items on display, as everyone simply scavenged for the garments they needed. The third category of items that stood out was the one Lisa had come for: medicinal supplies. In no way was the ruffian tending the store a pharmacist, but he had enjoyed his substance abuse way back in the day. He could not state what any pill or powder exactly did, but he could tell you what it would help you with, and for any intents and purposes that was alright.
“These be blanks,” came his heavy voice. As always, it was thick with accent and mumbled, forcing the recipient of his words to lean in closer to the reek of his breath. For this reason, Lisa regretted all the more that she did not understand him the first time. “I’m sorry?” she inquired. The man was quick to go on, spraying saliva wherever his words reached. “Blanks! Can scare chicks an’ dogs, no men!” and as if to empower his words, he grabbed a handgun, loaded one of the shells and fired it into the wooden wall. The bang was deafening, but the rotten boards remained unscathed. It startled Lisa to the verge of tears, but that went unnoticed. The shopkeeper shoved the useless bullets back into their box and handed it back to the trembling girl in front of him. “Go. I’ve no use for ‘em.”
Lisa stood frozen to the ground, eyes wet, head shaking in disbelief. She had risked her life for that find, and it turned out to be worthless? She could not accept that. “Sir,” she tried in a trembling voice, “please. My brother. He’s in bad shape. He needs his medicine.” She waited for a reply, knowing she should have known better than to ask. There was a reason the man in front of her had been selected for this position. Miserable as he was, he was a mountain. Firm. Unmoved by anything. It was said that he wouldn’t even help his own child without the proper payment. When asked for anything he would not give, the man went silent. He did not scorn, he did not argue, he just shut up. It made it impossible to negotiate, and thus Lisa was in a bad position. Her brother had been injured badly in a minefield the other day. A woman who had worked as a nurse for a long time had patched him up, but without the proper medicine his wounds would fester. He was all Lisa had left, and no man would stand in the way of his well-being.
She screamed, at the same time leaping with all her force over the little counter at the man who still held out the box. It took him by surprise, and as he staggered against the shelves behind him he was showered by cans and clothes. Seizing the opportunity, Lisa swiftly grabbed the little bottle of penicillin she had already identified before, then dove through the shopkeeper’s flinging arms and out of the door. “I know who you are, thief!” the man bellowed behind her, suddenly a lot clearer than his usual way of speaking. He would not follow, though, entangled in clothing as he was.
Lisa knew discipline would follow. She had an idea of how severe it would be. But that was in the future. She lived in the present.
And in the present, her brother would live to see another day.