My name is Scout. Grandma picked it. She said Scout was a character from a book she read in school a long time ago. Something about how to kill a bird. But I like my name because it’s not only what I’m called, it’s what I am.
Grandma is sitting on the floor in the main room. There’s not much room anywhere else. In fact, our tiny house, which was already crowded with a family of five, is now literally full of people. Oh, and also blankets, and pillows, and food. The main room is home to a grimy oven, which doesn’t function since there is no electricity, but we can build a fire in it to cook things; a few wooden chairs; and beds for all the adults. The other room has beds for the kids. The whole house is dusty and rusty, but there is an overwhelming sense of home.
I go and sit on the blanket with Grandma. My little brother Teven is already there talking to her.
“Grandma, why can’t I go outside like Scout?” he asks.
I know he already knows the answer to this question. He asks either me, or Grandma, or my mom, or my dad, or any one of the adults or teenagers living in our house every day. But, every time, he doesn’t seem satisfied with the answer. So he keeps on asking.
“Teven,” I begin, but Grandma puts a hand on my leg to silence me. She wants to answer this time.
She purses her wrinkly lips, then says, “You are still very young, so I know it’s hard for you to understand. But before you were even born, and Scout was about your age, the world went crazy. Some thought it was a good idea to put an end to militaries, and severe restrictions on guns, in an effort to make peace. Which would have worked, if the world was perfect.”
She takes time to pause, and make sure Teven is soaking this all in. Since he’s probably heard this story a thousand times, he could recite it with perfect details. He is looking very bored, with his fist on his chin, but he nods anyway.
“But, the world isn’t perfect. And without any armed good people to stop the armed bad people, there was chaos. People live like animals now. The strongest can take what they want. And so it’s not safe for you to go outside.”
Teven shoots back sarcasticly, “So how come it’s safe for Scout and not me?”
Grandma scowls a little. “You know why. She has experience. She is quiet--”
Teven starts to interrupt that he could be all those things too, but Grandma continues, “And she is older. Nearly an adult. She can decide for herself what she wants to do. If she wants to take the risk, that’s up to her.”
Adult. the word is strange in my mind. I’m fifteen. If things had stayed the way they were, I would be in school, right on track to a good education and career. But no. In this sick world, I am almost grown up. And responsible for getting food and supplies for my family.
I say family, because they are. Some of them literally, --my immediate family like my parents, grandmother, and little brother, and also my aunt and cousins-- but some of them I’ve just grown so close to, that they feel like family now. In such close quarters, how could they not?
I see the teenagers start stirring from their positions on the floor, or from helping in the “kitchen.” It’s that time again. I stand up too, and join them. Usually at this time, Teven would make one last plea to go with us, but for some reason he stays quietly on the floor with Grandma.
“Be safe,” my mom says, hugging me.
Teven just looks up at me. His eyes are gray and blue, and full of this emotion that looks like fear, and sadness, maybe confusion. And a little bit of love. Huh. He’s never really looked at me like that before.
Cousins and friends who are of age grab bags, and group up by the door. There’s my friend Ami, we used to go to school together; her older brother Ray; my cousin Zack, and my cousin Charlotte. We call her Charlie. This little ragtag group of teenagers is all that stands between our families and starvation. We have to find abandoned buildings, houses, anywhere that might have food, or anything else salvageable and easy to carry. We will be out for the rest of the day, scouting, as I like to call it.
Grandma kneels and says a prayer out loud. She does this every day, and maybe it works, because we always make it back safe. It’s also probably because we have each other’s backs. We are family, we will run for each other, hide for each other, stand for each other, fight for each other, die for each other. I have absolute confidence that they would do it for me, and I would do it for them.
Teven waves goodbye from the floor, as we head out into the world. A gunshot sounds in the distance. A gunshot that’s supposed to be illegal. Gray smoke clouds the skies, and remnants of houses stand, like bones in graves, to tell the sad story of a world without a fighting chance. How strange that such a thing as family can exist in a world like this.