Sakiya, a 10 year old Aksoo girl, jumped up and down with excitement. The pink beads, which had been put into her braids a week ago, banged against each other; and the red rusty coins, which her mother had sewn into her silver dress for good luck, jingled from her movement. Her mother watched her daughter with amusement, and she told her, “darling you sound like a broken music box.” Sakiya did not care, because nothing could distract her from the excitement of going to her first Offering.
Sakiya lived on the island of Kondato, a place that had been ravaged by civil war. This war had occurred long ago, many centuries before the birth of Sakiya’s grandma. She had learned about this war in school, from dusty history books that had many missing pages. Kondato used to be the home of many tribes; however, each tribe had wanted full control of the metropolis. They killed each other with no remorse. Even at a young age, Sakiya knew about the atrocities of the famous war. Children had been set on fire, women had been raped, and men were chopped up into pieces. The Aksoo had a strong advantage over the other tribes. Their leaders were still on friendly terms with the country of Aksoon, the place where their ancestors had originated from, and the Aksoon leader sent ships filled with soldiers to replenish the ones that had been murdered. This advantage had allowed the Aksoon to win. They had run all the other tribes out of Kondato, and the people who would not leave willingly had been drowned at sea. These drownings, know as The Great Sink, had done something to the water. The shores of Kondato had turned acidic, and all ships leaving and arriving to the metropolis island would dissolve before they reached shore. The telephone lines which allowed communication with the outside world had also dissolved. Kondato had turned into a shipwrecked island.
Many chemists, like Sakiya’s father, spent every day trying to create a material that would not dissolve in the acid. However, these chemists had not been successful yet. Sakiya remembered how she had asked her grandma about these incidents. It was on a night that her parents had gone to the Offering, and Sakiya lay in her bed under a brown tattered blanket. The Aksoo were too busy using their resources and energy to raise food and collect water for their growing population, to waste time on making new materials. All the fabric in Kondato was at least a hundred years old. As her grandma told her bedtime stories about other worlds, she had interrupted her and said “Granny, how come the people from other lands don’t try to contact or rescue us?”
“They are mad at us because of the massacre that occurred during The Great Sink. They think we are monsters. They don’t want to help us.”
“But it wasn’t us who killed all those people. It was our ancestors!”
“That is true, but the world is slow to forget.”
“How do we even know the world exists? We haven’t had contact with them for centuries. Maybe they all died by now.”
Her grandma laughed. “You are such an inquisitive child. Perhaps your curiosity will be what saves our people.” Sakiya was old enough to know her grandma only said that to be nice. However, she still enjoyed hearing it.
Sakiya stared at her plate of fried lemons and rat chunks, but she was to0 excited to eat. If only her father would get home, so that they could go to the offering. Sakiya looked at her food, and she wished, as she had often before, that her plate had did not always have the same type of food on it. Two years ago, during a visit to the library, Sakiya had seen a photograph of a feast. The names of the foods in that feast had been forgotten by the Aksoo, but Sakiya had marveled at how juicy the food looked.
Once a week, when her mother had a day off from the Fields, she would take her to the library. Her mother worked on a green patch of land known as the Fields, that was in the middle of their city. The workers who toiled there, mostly woman, would raise rats, grow lemons, and collect water for the consumption of the Aksoo. They would also raise dogs which were used during the Offering. Each family had a ration card, and each week they would get a seven day supply of rat meat, lemons, and drinking water. The drinking water was collected from the rains, and to make sure there was never a shortage, it was heavily rationed. Each family was only allowed to use the Shower Houses once a month. In the times of her grandma, when their had been less people living on Kondato, the Shower Houses were used once a week. However, since that time, a dry soap had been invented by the chemists, and there was no need to waste precious water in order to get clean. Although the dry soap kept the dirt off the skin, it gave the skin a gray tint, and it had strong rustic smell. Each family was only allowed to go to the Wash house, the place where clothes were washed, once a year. So even after Sakiya took her monthly shower, the rusty smell of the soap which was used to wash her clothes, still lingered in her nostrils.
Sakiya loved going to the library. She was not much of a reader, and most of the books had torn pages, but she loved looking at the photos inside the books. Her favorite photos were the ones where she could see the sky. The Aksoo was not the only tribe who had survived the civil war. The Raploo had also survived. The reason they were not killed during The Great Sink, was because their part of the island had broken off, and flown into the sky. They were somehow able to live upside down, and nobody knew if it was magic or the laws of physics that allowed them to lead such a life. The Aksoo children sometimes refereed to the Raploo as the people in the sky. Their upside down city blocked out the sun, and although light was able to enter the Kondato during the day, at night the island was pitch black. That is it would have been pitch black if not for the fires.
Without the ability to import gasoline, electricity had disappeared from Kondato. It was too dangerous to make fires for light, for the night winds could set the whole island aflame, and water was to precious to waste in an emergency. At night the looters would ravage the Fields, stealing the food and water supply of the city. The Raploo must have heard the anguished cries of the Aksoo, for they started to light fires every night. Without the dark cover of night, looting hardly ever happened, and the Aksoo no longer worried about starvation. Many wondered how the Raploo were able to start safe fires, but they figured it was the same magic or physics that allowed them to live upside down.
In order to make sure the Raploo would keep their fires going every night, every two weeks, as a symbol of gratitude, the Aksoo would offer dogs to the people in the sky. This night was known as the Offering. The Doji of each district, there were ten altogether, would get on a machine that would propel him in the air, and in the middle of the sky he would meet with the the Doji of the Raploo. The Aksoo Doji would have a freshly killed dog in his hands, and after much inspection, the Raploo Doji would take the dog. This ritual would continue all night, until 12 dogs were given.
“Why 12 ?” Sakiya had asked her father when he had first explained the Offering to her.
“I don’t know, it’s always been that way.”
“Why is the Doji so old,” she had also asked her father, for one had to be at least a hundred years old to be a Doji.
“The Doji is also in charge of each district. We need someone old and with experience to lead us.”
However, the neighborhood boys had told her a different story. They said that the reason the Doji were so old was because the Offerings were dangerous. A gust of wind might take control of the Doji, and throw his body against a spiky building, killing him. Deaths were rare during the Offering, but they did occur. “The Doji are so old, their deaths would not be a sacrifice,” they told her.
Her father finally walked through the door of their apartment, and Sakiya began to jump up and down again from excitement. Her mother told her that she still needed to finish her dinner, and Sakiya thought of the images she had seen of the sky to calm her down. The idea of seeing nothing but blue when she looked up made her calm, for when she stared at the sky, she only the black pointy roofs of the skyscrapers of the Raploo. With thoughts about a different world, she began to eat her rat chunks and lemons.
Finally, Sakiya was at the Offering. The women sang the song of Koo, a famous warrior from Aksoon, while the men beat on cinder blocks and whistled. The children danced to this music until the Doji entered the courtyard. She watched, barely breathing, as the Doji, with the dead dog in his hands, was propelled towards the people in the sky. The Doji of the Raploo, was too far away for her to be able to see his face, but she could make out his giant gray head, and his big outstretch hands. Then is was over! The Aksoo began to chant, and she was thrilled that she would be able to see this ritual 11 more times tonight. She looked up at the sky, and she wondered for the millionth time in her life, how it would feel to live upside down.
Fendix, a twelve year old Raploo boy, watched the sky with excitement. Although he had witnessed the Offering over a 100 times, he was still excited every time he saw the Aksoo Doji give their Doji a dead dog. However, nobody except the Doji called them the Aksoo anymore, everyone refereed to them as the people in the sky. Fendix rubbed his ashy hands together. During evenings, after school, he worked as a Fire Boy, and his job was too fan the local fire to keep it in its place; and if a few sparks got loose, he had to sound the alarm. The sparks could start a city wide fire, and that would be the death of them all. He understood his job was very important, and although he enjoyed the responsibility, he sometimes wished it did not stain his hands an orange gray color. When Fendix first started his job, he had asked the Fire Master, his father, why they had to light fires if they were so dangerous. His father had explained to him that because their island did not have any animals they could eat, their main source of food came from the people in the sky. “They are charitable enough to feed us,” his father told him. “ They are like gods, and we honor them by lighting fires in their name.”
Fendix watched as the Doji carefully lowered the dead dog to the ground. He wondered if his excitement sparked from the actual ritual, or because the dead dog meant that he would not have to worry about starvation. He looked up at the sky that was littered with upside down skyscarpaers, and he wondered for the millionth time in his life, how it would feel to live upside down.