Fransica was honored and pleased with the comment. “I am so glad you are with me. I know you miss your mother, but know you are like a daughter to me.”
Jovana’s eyes glistened with moisture as she sniffled and replied, “My mother would have liked you. I know she would be grateful I found a safe haven. Life was so bad after we were captured and confined. So bad.” Her voice trailed off as she squeezed her eyes shut to hold back the tears.
Fransica secured the final corner to the clothes line and then wrapped her arms around the fragile girl. “Are you ready to share those details, darling girl?”
Jovana nodded her head, and Fransica led them to the benches on the porch. As they sat together, she poured tea for them both and waited.
Jovana gathered herself and stared out toward the hills in the distance. The vegetation was lush and green, birds were singing merrily, and the gentle breezes of the wind seemed to stop time.
“Our small village was in the north, eking out a living as travel guides, local craftsmen, and jewelry artisans with our abundant supply of amethyst quartz. My father was a guide people asked for by name and knew all the best places for hikers and campers. He took me on long hikes a few times and the survival skills he taught me helped me survive as long as I did after I escaped. These men came and overran our village and herded us, along with several surrounding villages in the area, to a secluded compound patrolled by drones. Everything we said or did was monitored.” Sipping her tea, she took a breath and continued.
“One by one people died from starvation, trying to escape, or hanging on until those potential avenues of rebellion were removed while we slept. It was awful and scary. When food was so scarce that my parents and I shared a stale piece of bread per day along with a handful of berries, I nearly gave up. I was going to tell my parents I was leaving when I found them…”
Fransica gave Jovana a reassuring squeeze and then sipped her tea while she waited.
Jovana stared at the boards below her feet, almost in shame. “They were both dead. Holding hands, but dead. I found a note they had scrawled that they wanted me to have it all as I was their future. But they had no future. They were dead.”
“I know they loved you very much, Jovana, to give up all for you. It is what parents do for their precious babies.”
“That evening my friends created a diversion further enhanced by a loud storm, and I escaped through the latrines. It was disgusting, and I kept thinking those drones would follow, but I have seen nothing of them. Should I be afraid still?”
Fransica frowned thoughtfully. “We’d heard some gossip from people traveling south through here, but nothing in the detail you are sharing. Nothing from those that come in from São Paulo or other cities near us. Why would you think they might find you?”
Jovana took a deep breath for courage. “I dug out this metal from my hand. That was the wound you noticed when we first met. My father had told me it was the way they kept track of us. It was supposed to transmit our health, state of mind, as well as location. They used the statistics to determine our food and clothing requirements.
“I tell you this now because I want you to know before I leave.”
“Leave? What do you mean leave, Jovana? You don’t need to leave. I don’t want you to leave.”
Jovana leaned next to Fransica, who had become the closest thing to a mother for her. “I know you haven’t asked me to leave, but Madam Marino is insisting that I accompany her to São Paulo. She has a doctor’s appointment for a status check after her surgery several months ago. The doctor wants to verify she is doing her physical therapy, which she does daily while I am there. I am to be her witness.”
Fransica was confused. What a great opportunity for her precious Jovana. “That sounds like a nice trip. You’ll see a very big city. The first time I saw São Paulo I was amazed at its size, the number of people, and the traffic. Different from anything I have ever seen, but thrilling. You would return in a day or two. I will be here.”
Jovana turned her face toward her as tears rolled like small rivers down her cheeks. “Madam Marino related all the new technology that is used in the city these days to control crowds, locate parking anywhere, tell you what you like or don’t like, and drones helping the authorities to reduce the crime. Her three rich sons are helping to fund many of the changes being adopted, and she is so proud.
“Crime, she had explained, was the issue which kept the tourists away, and drones helped with matching faces to wanted lists. I will be found out and taken back to the compound. I am so afraid to go. When I told Madam Marino I would rather stay here, she said if I didn’t go with her then my job was finished.”
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