by Rae Cod
‘Get back into bed, love,’ hushed Ayla’s mother bustling into the room. Caught in the act, legs dangling, toes stretched in anticipation of freedom. She’d almost made it.
‘Aw, come on Mama, I’m fine, look at me!’ Ayla jumped up and broke into a round of star jumps, dressing gown flapping to reveal sheep patterned pyjamas.
‘That’s not what your well-link says. If you don’t rest up, you could become seriously ill.’
‘Says whatever health rhythm is running that link!’ cried her mum, exasperated by her daughter’s complete lack of concern for her own well-being. ‘The rhythms were created for a reason, Ayla. I couldn’t stand it if anything happened to you, not after your brother.’
Ayla’s bounce fled and she sat down heavily on the bed, guilt twisting her gut as she met her mother’s eyes, where dark circles reflected shades of fear.
‘This is different to what happened to Theo, Mama, you know it is.’
‘Humour me – please. It’s only a week. Better safe than sorry. Most eleven-year-olds would love a week in bed.’
Ayla looked out of the window longingly. She could see the sun climbing above the horizon, the lengthening shadows cast by the treetops would make a great photograph. Her fingers itched for her camera.
She looked back to her mother whose face was pinched so tight she looked like she’d dropped five pounds.
‘Better safe than sorry,’ she sighed, climbing back into bed and pulling the covers over.
Fifteen years later…
‘Mama, Mama, can I go out to play?’ begged the little boy, tugging on his mother’s sleeve. She looked down into his beautiful brown eyes, so like his namesake’s.
‘Not today, Theo. Remember what your link says.’
‘I’m not sick Mama, see…’ his hair flopped wildly as he hopped around the room on one leg.
She couldn’t help but smile, his energy was infectious. A distant memory fluttered its wings against the corner of her mind and a kernel of fear blossomed in her heart.
‘I know you feel fine Theo, but what does Nona always say?’
‘Better safe than sorry,’ they chimed together.
‘We’ll always be safe, Theo, as long as we follow the rhythms.’
Ayla thought back to her short time with her big brother, an ache in her heart so sharp it could have been freshly broken.
Theo, so righteous, so brave. He was going to save the world. Instead, he ended up in a mass grave, along with the rest of the so-called dissidents.
‘Better safe than sorry,’ she murmured as she cuddled her son close so he couldn’t see the tears that fell from her eyes.