Chapter 4:

How Do You Like Them Apples?

The Leigh Theory

I’ve always hated the scorching sun.

Walking under the blazing heat has always been a struggle for me. I needed to deal with my non-stop sweat and in some cases, headache. Leo’s golden hair was also shining under the sun, not helping with my situation. Our water supply has run dry but on the brighter side, we finally reached Chora City.

The sun's rays felt like it was noon time or maybe just a few minutes past noon. My throat was so dry and I had been craving some refreshing water.

We removed the fabric that we used to cover our faces, wrapped our weapons with it, and carried them like sacks. We then entered the city, quietly looking around to check for security or guards from LX. Thankfully, the city was not that strict. Kind of alarming, though.

I might’ve forgotten what cities used to look like since all we saw in the facility were makeshift houses, a bunch of scraps, that one building, and underground tunnels. The establishments around us were made of concrete and steel, and the people filled the bustling streets. However, very little care was put into the city’s order and cleanliness.

“This place looks a lot better than Anned,” Leo said as he was looking at the dusty buildings and houses.

“Wait, you’re from Anned City as well? How come we’ve never seen each other there?” I asked him as I tried to recall if I’d met him before.

“Maybe we were in different parts of the city? I mean, Anned was also huge, though, not as busy as this one,” he replied as we headed straight to the plaza.

The plaza was situated in the middle of the main part of the city and was quite a distance upon entering from the main entrance. It was surrounded by various stalls and shops and in the middle stood a steel pillar that says “Colony of Paradise”. I guess this city was claimed by Paradise during or after the Great Decline. We then looked around and saw a public washbowl on the right-side edge of the plaza.

I didn’t think twice and hurried to the faucet, opened it, allowed the water to flow freely on my face, and caught it with my mouth. It was the best-tasting water I have drank so far.

After washing my face and rehydrating, I stood up and saw Leo drooling as his eyes jumped from store to store. He pointed at every food store that we could see in our direction with pure excitement.

“I have to try every food here! I must try that one! Oh, and that one!” he said as his eyes sparkled at the food while pointing at the stores.

I could smell the gentle waft of various foods coming from multiple directions. I could smell the buttery bread on my right and umami on my left.

My stomach rumbled as I thought about food. However, we were faced with a major problem.

“How can we get something to eat? We don’t have money or anything that we can use to trade.” I asked as I squatted and rummaged our things.

Leo wiped the drool on his face with his right hand and turned to his back. He bent towards me and put his left hand on my right shoulder with a smirk on his face. He then stood up confidently and pointed at himself with his right thumb.

“Leave it to me,” he said while raising his eyebrows rapidly.

I followed him through every alleyway and was curious if he knew where he was going. I tapped his shoulder and asked since it felt like we were going nowhere.

“I’m following the smell. Don’t disturb me right now,” he answered as he sniffed the air.

I was too tired and hungry to argue with him that I just let him do what he wanted. Either way, both of us were hungry and if he couldn’t find anything, we wouldn’t be able to eat.

“We’re here. Don’t say a word and I’ll handle this,” he said as he knocked on the door of the shop.

A sign was dangling on its roof and it said “Harris Bakeshop”. The smell of newly baked bread made its way through the crevices when suddenly, the door creaked as it opened.

A muscular, tall man, with dark blue hair, appeared in front of us wearing an old, yellow baking apron on top of a white shirt, brown baggy shorts, and a pink oven mitt in his right hand. He had a bearded face and looked like he was in his mid-forties. He was probably the baker or maybe even the shop owner.

“Good day sir! Do you have leftover bread or any food that you’re about to throw away? We’d like to ask for some to feed our pets.” Leo asked the man with the most polite face that he has ever shown.

Yeah right. He couldn't fool anyone with that. Skinny build, tattered clothes, dirt all over the body, and carrying soiled sacks. No one will ever think that we looked like people who could afford to have pets.

The man looked at both of us and smiled. At that moment, I knew that he was disgusted with us; two homeless kids bothered him in the middle of the day and asked for measly crumbs.

“Alright, wait for me at the backdoor. I have to bag it up first.” the man replied in his deep, resounding voice as he closed the door.

I think I was wrong. I hoped that I was wrong.

We waited at the backdoor of his bakeshop and after a few minutes, the door opened with the man handing out a large, brown paper bag.

“These aren’t exactly leftovers from other people but bread that went unsold yesterday. I can’t have your pets eat food that already came from other people’s mouths,” he explained.

I couldn't help but notice the emphasis on the word ‘pets’.

“Don’t worry, these are still fine for, maybe, another day,” he said to us as Leo reached out for the bag.

We both peered inside and were astonished by the amount of bread. We looked up at the man, completely frozen. This man bagged up food that wasn’t for little pets, but for two, hungry teenagers and could last for two days.

“Oh, the food’s not enough? Hold on let me–”

“No sir, these are more than enough! Th-thank you so much!” Leo stuttered as he responded to the man. We were both surprised by the man’s generosity.

We both bowed at the man and left, then went to sit on a bench in the plaza.

Leo grabbed a whole piece of round bread from the paper bag and divided it equally for both of us. I then took my part and immediately went for a bite.

I nearly cried as the starch dissolved in my mouth. At that moment, I said to myself that people with kind hearts still existed and were willing enough to help others. I then turned to Leo and nearly choked myself as I saw him in a rather silly situation.

“Dish ish…sho derishosh!” he cried as he filled his entire mouth with bread, with tears overflowing from his eyes.

We never tasted real food in the past two years and being able to stuff our mouths with actual, delicious food was sort of a renewed experience for us. I could see, in the corner of my eye, gazes from people as they observed a teenager, crying while devouring bread in the middle of the day.

While we were enjoying our food, Leo suddenly stood up and pointed at a stall. It was a small fruit stand and was located right exactly at the exit of the footwalk of the plaza, directly in front of us. It was surrounded by other bigger stalls that sold other kinds of food and merchandise.

“Oliver, let’s go there!” he exclaimed as he grabbed my arm and went towards the fruit stand.

“Why would we go to a fruit stand?! We still have food!” I replied to him while trying to remove his hands from me.

“I know, just come with me!”

I followed him hesitantly as he grabbed me while I was still savoring the bread. We arrived at the stall and saw various kinds of fruits. I like apples but unfortunately, I couldn't buy one. The female vendor was busy counting coins at the back part of the stall and was away from the counter.

“Hello, I’d like to ask if you have–”

“Oh hi, wait for a sec,” the lady interrupted Leo while arranging her coins.

The sweet scent of peaches instantly passed by my nose as she walked to us.

She was a beautiful young lady, wearing a yellow shirt and denim overalls. She wore a white bandana, with stripes, tying her blue, short hair. I’d say that she was also around our age and had a vibrant smile, paired with her fair skin.

“I’m so sorry, I was a little bit occupied. Anyway, what can I get you?” she asked as she arranged the fruits and recommended some to us.

My dear friend was stunned by her beauty.

I tapped Leo’s left shoulder but he was still frozen solid. He had a lot of unexpected reactions this entire morning, but this might be the best one so far.

“Oh, my lord…” Leo muttered under his breath as his eyes were glued to the lady.

The lady smiled awkwardly as she didn’t know what to do or say. I let out a deep sigh and shook my head. I guess I was the one who did the talking.

“Hey, I’d like to ask if you have overripe fruits or anything about to be discarded?” I asked as I stared into her sparkly eyes that had a hint of purple and red.

The lady gazed at me and came back to her senses after a few seconds. She nodded and then searched for a paper bag below the counter.

“Oh, I’d like to ask–” Leo blurted out after coming back from a trance.

“I already asked her. You were gone for almost two minutes, my guy.” Leo looked surprised after hearing that from me.

“I have here a few apples and oranges. The apples have started to go bad, so if you’re going to eat them, better do it quick,” she said as she arranged the fruits inside the bag and handed it over to me.

“Yes ma’am! I’ll take a bite on one right now!” Leo exclaimed as he took one of the apples.

The lady checked if she still had more fruits about to become rotten. As I was talking to Leo about the taste of the apple, a person wearing a black hoodie, with loose, black pants and black shoes, suddenly reached for a bag from the back part of her stall. The bag clanked as he ran away and it suddenly came to me that it was full of coins.

As the person was a few seconds away from me, I realized that he was a thief. I quickly dropped my things, turned around, and pursued him. Leo realized it as well a few seconds after I left. He took one more bite from the apple, left his things, and followed me.

The thief made a quick left turn in one of the alleyways. I told Leo to keep on following him as I jumped up in one of the houses. Both of us were after him; Leo for the ground pursuit while I locked on him from above, as I jumped from rooftop to rooftop. He must’ve realized that both of us could easily catch him so he decided to drop the bag of coins. He must’ve thought that we’d stop chasing after him. He was dead wrong.

I told Leo to secure the bag as I kept on pursuing him. When I got within his range, I quickly jumped off from above and pinned him to the ground. I got on top of him as he was laying on the dirt, face down, while I locked his head with my left hand; his left arm with my left leg, and crossed his right arm to his back.

The townspeople quickly surrounded us to check what happened. The baker that we met earlier was also there, shouting that he was finally captured.

I just caught the most notorious thief in Chora City.

The men apprehended him and went to the city hall, while I returned to Leo, who was watching from the distance with the bag of coins in his hand.

We quickly went back to the lady and returned the bag; she almost cried when her money got stolen. I advised her to secure her money even more since her store was out in the open. After settling things with her, we finally said thank you for the fruits and went our way.

“Wait–” she tried to call to us as we were walking away but a few people went and interrupted her. Maybe they checked on her if she had more possessions that were stolen.

We went outside of the city as the people started to get busy and loud. The robbery was a big thing because almost every store had its possessions stolen by that same person. We immediately went away to avoid the people’s attention.

As we walked around the city walls, Leo started digging for a small hole in the ground. That’s when I realized why he was so eager on checking out the fruit stand earlier.

“Starting today, I will plant as many seeds as I can and help bring back trees into this dead land,” he said as he dropped the apple seeds into the hole, then covered them with soil.

I learned a few things as we went by our day in the city.

I learned that even though the city was functional, it had evidence of struggles. I also learned that there were still good people who walked the Earth. Lastly, I learned that, whether Leo knew how to properly plant seeds or not, my friend was an honest and sincere man.

“I guess we will be spending our night in the dark alleys, huh?” I asked.

“Yep. We’re back to our old ways,” he replied as he stood up and removed the dirt from his hands.

We waited for the sun to go down and then decided to go back inside. We made our way to one of the less busy alleys as the racket in the city finally died. We sat down beside a few kegs and crates and placed our things beside us.

As we partook in a few apples and oranges, we noticed that the place was too dark and the only thing that illuminated the city was a single lamppost in the plaza. It was probably a solar-powered lamp. The only solar-powered lamp.

We closed our eyes as we indulged ourselves in the cold breeze and the silence of the night.

It was not the best living situation but it was way better than our lives in the mines.