Author : Jacqueline Rochow

We’re going camping.

Mum finishes packing my bag as Dad prepares a celebratory stew. I packed the bags already, but Mum insisted on pulling everything out again to make sure that I didn’t forget anything. Food, clothes, gun, bandages, antibiotics – how hard is that? She still finds problems, though. Takes out my favourite leather jeans, replaces them with some good poly ones. Takes out the bread and pastries to replace them with something more nutritious.

The stew is delicious. For dessert we have fruit salad; I savour it. I’m not a fan of fruit but I know that I’m going to miss it.

Bobby asks where we’re going, what’s the occasion. We have been talking about little else for the past month but he doesn’t understand. He’s never seen anybody off camping before. Mum explains it to him, in hushed tones.

After dinner, Mum and Dad take me aside and press a small box into my hands. I open it. Vitamin tablets! I ask them where they found the money for such a prize, but they brush the question aside. I bury the box deep in my pack, out of sight of muggers.

We meet Jessa’s family and walk down to the city gates together. Jessa nibbles on the ear of her stuffed bunny. I wonder if she’s really going to take that useless ball of fluff with her.

There are many gifts. Aunts, uncles, and friends who have already been or are too young all give me something. Mostly useful things – a knife, protein bars, a good pair of shoes.

I thank people, trying to contain my excitement and nervousness. Jessa hugs her teddy and stares dumbly at everyone. She won’t be able to handle herself out there. We have been friends since we were little, and it will be up to me to keep her safe.

Almost a hundred twelve-year-olds stand just outside the gate, all gripping bags. “Take no more than you can carry” is the rule, and some have pushed that rule to its limit. Those ones will abandon most of their gear soon or drop, I think. A few black-clad border guards are about, looking imposing on horseback. As usual, they make no attempt to interact with anyone. I am glad of this; I am not sure that I want to hold a conversation with somebody whose primary job is to shoot me if I stumble on the exodus or attempt to get within sight of the city before the trip is over. It would be… creepy.

I go to exit the gate, only to find myself anchored by my mother’s hand. She does not want me to go. But I must, and she cannot leave the city, so I give her, Dad and Bobby one last hug before prying her hand away and stepping over the imaginary line between city and wilds.

The border guards call a final warning. Behind me, the gates begin to close.

For my parents’ benefit, I turn and wave, but I don’t try to seek them out in the crowd. I don’t want to see my mother’s tears, my father’s last mouthed message to his “little princess”. I didn’t even bring any photos; they would just be another object to guard and treasure, a waste of energy that I could little afford. I will recognise them when I get back. I’m sure I will.

We start walking, and Jessa offers me a hold of her stuffed bunny. I decline.

We’re going camping. Save some dinner for us, Mum; we’ll be home in a year.

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