Mina crouched behind the bushes. Her breath ragged and heart racing. “ please, oh please let them not have seen me” she prayed silently. Making herself as small as possible, to avoid detection, she appeared more like bundle of old rags than a 9 year old child. Shouts and men’s voices could be heard but no one found her hiding place. After what felt like an eternity the searchers seemed to give up. Their voices faded as they headed back down to the mountain trail, surely she would be forgotten as soon as they spotted another potential smuggler. As her breathing slowed and the danger seemed to move on Mina stretched a little and pulled an old flour bag out of her tattered dress. There was no hope for it, she had lost the flour and the few pennies she would have earned smuggling it across the border. There would be no going home tonight. If she went home, she would be beaten and sent back out into the night, there would be no bread, no hot soup for her tired little body. But, this was not new for Mina and she didn’t cry or feel self-pity, this was life, the only one she had ever experienced, in her narrow world there was no other way.
Confident that the danger had passed, Mina was still cautious as she peered out of her hiding place. The men had been gone for at least an hour and the sun was starting to dip down towards the horizon. It would be a cold night, the mountain nights could be frigid and dangerous. It wouldn’t be safe to light a fire this close to the border, and besides, any firewood she found would be better off going into her flour sack to be sold. Mina considered her options, she could try to sneak past the guards in the dark or she could head back down the mountain in the hopes of finding other urchins like herself to huddle up with and keep warm. Neither option was very appealing and there were dangers either way. The guards could catch and beat her then turn her over to the police, and without even a crust of bread to pay to share their warmth, the other street urchins were likely to refuse to share body heat or worse yet, require other forms of payment. By the time Mina had made up her mind the the sun had dipped below the horizon and the moon was up, a shinning sickle of a partial moon sending a wan glow to light her way. She would sneak past the border guards, they would be cold and more interested in trying to stay near their small heat sources than investigating every small shadow that seemed to flit through the underbrush and around rocks. With practiced silence, Mina crept out of her hiding place. Her naked feet , sensing the ground around them, silently carried her slight form down toward the narrow rocky border checkpoint. To the right side of the checkpoint was a sheer drop off, no chance to sneak past on that side, just a few straggly pieces of brush sticking out from a few pockets of loose earth. Any attempt to cross on that side could only be done if she could fly. The left side was nearly as bad, with a wall of rock and boulders rendering it impasible to all but the smallest lizards, spiders and snakes. It almost seemed that the only way through would be to pass directly under the noses of the border guards warming themselves around a small fire.
But Mina had been climbing the mountain trails and sneaking through tight spots since she was big enough to trail along behind her older brothers. She had learned that small cracks thought too small to let a anyone through were often cleverly disguised crawl spaces that a small, poorly nourished child could often slither through undetected. Shifting earth and rockslides, frequently changed the topography so she could never be sure if a narrow ledge or a hole between two rocks that she had used before was still a useful avenue or if a new crack had opened up offering new opportunities.
As she approached the checkpoint, her eyes darted along the path assessing the rocks, outcroppings and bushes dotting the barren mountain side. The moon was not particularly bright anymore and clouds partially obscured the stars, Mina stopped about 50 yards from the checkpoint and squatted near some bushes, it was getting cold, too cold. She was shivering, and the cold was making her fingers stiff and her toes were getting numb. Numb toes and stiff fingers were a bad combination, it could cause her to be clumsy and make a mistake. Sliding her hands into her armpits for warmth Mina silently assessed the guards. Two were sitting near a fire while another lounged against a rock smoking a cigarette. Usually there were anywhere between 2 and 4 guards at any given time so there could be another one somewhere unseen. An icy gust of wind tugged at her ragged clothing and stung her nose. Pulling her coverings closer around her, she began to creep closer, a slight dip in the ground provided necessary cover when the smoking guard glanced in her direction. Breathing out a puff of white smoke, ice crystals mixed with tobacco, the guard walked over to the fire and sat down with the others saying something and nodding his head in the direction of her hiding place. The other two glanced her way also, seemingly uninterested in what might be lurking in the dark. Had he seen her? She wasn’t sure, they weren’t looking in her direction now though. Taking a chance while they weren’t looking she darted closer, sliding into the shadow of the rock wall she inched closer. She was about 10 feet from the nearest guard hidden in a sliver of shadow when she felt something cold and serpentine sliding against her shoulder . Mina froze, barely breathing, she knew movement could be deadly if the viper was poisonous. Sensing her body heat the snake undulated against her shoulder and upper arm, then arching it’s body it swayed across her chest, sniffing and sensing, searching for purchase as it glided against her. Stoically she held out, trying not to move as the snake slid against her, praying that the guard, just a few feet away, wouldn’t catch sight of her. As if sensing her fear the snake raised its head looking straight, unblinkingly into her eyes. It’s tongue flickered and in the dim light Mina could see the red markings, indicating it’s poisonous nature. Mesmerized by fear, Mina stared back into the snakes cold eyes, willing it to go away. As she stared at the snake, almost without thought, her right hand slowly rose up, fingers slightly bent and thumb positioned as if to pinch something. Nearly as fast as lightning her lithe hand snatched at the snake, clasping it tightly behind the head, the snake writhed in surprise. Coiling itself around her arm it fought silently to loosen itself from her grasp. Pulling out her flour sack, all thoughts of the guards catching her put on hold for the more immediate danger of a poisonous viper. Using the flour sack she grasped the snake’s head with her other hand and pulled the sack inside out trapping the snake inside. With the snake safely confined, she knotted the neck of the sack and turned her attention back to the guards. Lounging against a rock, a few feet away the guard who had been smoking earlier had lit up another cigarette. His dark eyes rested directly on her, there was no doubt now that he had seen her. Straightening up he flicked the tip of his cigarette and exhaled a plume of smoke.
As the guard continued to stare at her without alerting the other guards or making an attempt to grab her, Mina became confused. Why wasn’t he snatching her up and beating her, why hadn’t he called the other guards? Briefly the thought that he was blind slipped through her mind but was quickly pushed away as impossible, who would post a blind guard at the border, and besides his eyes were focused directly on her.
Leisurely the guard raised his cigarette to his lips again and inhaled, letting the smoke trickle back out through his nose and mouth. With his free hand he crooked his finger, indicating that Mina should approach him. Trepidation ran through her body, she couldn’t run, if she did he was close enough that he would catch her easily. Hesitantly, she did as he indicated and stepped out of the shadows cast by the stone behind her . Clasped tightly in her right hand , her precious flour sack with its new occupant squirmed.
“That was a pretty good catch” drawled the guard pulling another drag on his cigarette and nodding toward the flour sack. “you do that often”?
Mina shook her head “n-n-no” she stuttered and shuffled her feet uncertainly.
He stared at her a moment longer, “Bet you are wondering why I haven’t blown your cover, huh?” He exhaled,
Mina nodded, fear gripping her stomach, her quick street wits racing through ways out of the situation.
“Ya see my buddies over there"? he indicated the two guards still sitting by the fire.
"We had bet"
Neither of the guards at the fire had noticed anything yet. They were comfortably warming themselves by the fire, one took a swig of something from a mug, but neither of them turned around.
Surprise flickered across Mina’s face.
He grinned “My buddies figured you couldn’t get past us without getting caught, I bet 5 silver pennies that you would find a way to get through” He shrugged, “ the problem is, I don’t have 5 silvers to pay up if I lose, but if I win I get 5 silvers from each of them and shucks, 10 silvers would come in real handy”.
“But you’ve already lost” Mina whispered in an unsteady voice, a faint hope pounding in her chest. “I mean, you caught me didn’t you”?
“They don’t know that” the guard said looking at her meaningfully, then glanced over his shoulder to make sure the other two hadn’t noticed anything. Taking a last drag off of his cigarette he dropped it on the ground and crushed it under his heel exhaling a wreath of gray fog. “ Besides, it seems to me, that if I had caught you, then I would already have dragged you over there to the fire and taken a stick to your backside, seems to me” He winked, “that you haven’t been caught at all, and you could just slink right on past me unseen, and it seems to me that for a couple copper pennies you could make sure that once your all the way through the checkpoint, those two goof-ups over there see you and give you a good chase”.
Mina stared at the guard, trying to figure out what kind of trick he was playing. This couldn’t be real, guards didn’t just let smuggler children through checkpoints. Guards didn’t just offer pennies to smuggler children for sneaking past them either. There was something different and strange, almost surreal about the situation. Mina knew she was out of her depth, but she was desperate, already it was getting so cold that by the time she got to town she would be ready to turn blue from cold. And here, here was a guard of all people offering her pennies. The ultimate nemesis of smugglers chldren, was offering to help her. If she had pennies when she got to town the orphanage would let her in and give her bread, soup and a place to sleep. If she had pennies, she wouldn’t have to sleep with the goats, and best of all there would be no beating for being a lazy layabout. The offer was too good to pass up. Mina nodded “ok” and held out a dirty little hand.
Reaching into his pocket the guard pulled out two shiny coppers. “wait until a few minutes after I get back to the fire before doing your thing “ he whispered. “ I don’t want them to think I saw you, and if you get caught you’ll get no help from me “ With that the guard dropped the two pennies into her hand and walked over to the fire sitting down near the other two guards. Mina watched as he picked up a steaming hot mug warming near the fire and took a sip. She envied him that warm drink and the toasty fire, but her spirits were high and she allowed herself a little smile.
Slipping back into the shadows Mina clutched her two pennies in one hand and the flour sack in the other. The snake had quieted down a lot, it was probably cold and wouldn’t get active again until he had warmed up. Her confidence high, Mina flitted along the shadowy wall, crouching she watched the two guards she was supposed to attract the attention of she waited patiently until one of the guards stretched a little and stood up, walking over to the cliff side of the checkpoint, he began to relieve himself over the edge. Now was the moment, running for all she was worth, Mina darted past the men at the fire and the one at the cliffs edge and through the checkpoint. Shouts erupted behind her as the two startled guards realized that she had just run through their encampment. As if she had wings on her feet Mina fairly flew down the mountain path, the sounds of men’s feet running faded behind her.
*******let me know if you like this and would like to hear more, I enjoy writing but have never tried to get any of my work published. This is a small portion of one of my writings and I would like to know if it is any good. My friends love my writings but of course they are going to give me great reviews. I figured I would get more honest answers letting people who did not know me read it.******