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Fanon:Gift (Scarf)

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The parcel is wrapped in rustling brown paper and tied with a green string, the ends scalloped into patterns racing up and down the velvety lengths. Bracing himself against a chilly breeze promising another few weeks of coolness before winter at last gives up its final breath and turns over the rites of the season to spring, Mako trudges down the sidewalk, a newspaper carefully wedged under one arm, the parcel under the other.

Oh, it's taken a while, now, to save up the odd pieces here and there to barter and trade and sell, steal and beg and request, all for a round patty maybe a hand's length across and two centimetres high sitting in glossy silver foil speckled with dark brown crumbs and streaked with hints of chocolate icing, the moistness and airiness of that miniature wheel exquisite enough to permeate through the paper and make his heart sing with joy for its deliciousness and its symbolism prior to him even unwrapping it, drawing it out of its nest of café to show it proudly to the city.

The firebender smiles at the thought of his brother's grin, the bubbling laughter and the cries of surprise and of delight, the wild clapping together of palms creased with dirt, the showers of compliments and adulation about to be cast onto Mako for thinking—for thinking of—such a present.

A birthday present.

He continues down the path, slowing near a street performer with a battered instrument Mako vaguely recognises. A pipa. The woman strums the viper catgut strings with ease, a jazzy melody spilling out into the open skies, the player's tapping foot beckoning her audience to come along for the ride of a lifetime. A note here or an arpeggio there is out, just by a hair, yet the firebender's ears catch the errors and make him wince. Still, he wishes he had money or food or anything to toss into the black case at her feet: It's pitifully empty, vacant as an abandoned lot save for a handful of shiny red bills folded and tucked away into the corner. Unlike with the other vagabonds with their tin cups and their tricks of taking every donation to put it away and beg anew, Mako believes in this woman, believes that she wouldn't do the same.

"Your playing," he says suddenly. "It's beautiful."

The woman beams at him, her teeth yellowed and crooked with the signs of abuse, her skin mottled-white, but something about her happiness at her own music gives her the kind of beauty no natural looks could ever overcome. Her eyes might be sunken in with a tint of clouded milk, but the passion shines through clear in the murky brown.

She responds nothing to him, and he gives her nothing back but for the exchange of two smiles there in the street.

His hope restored, the firebender swerves past a pair of teenaged women strutting down the sidewalk with men's jackets and non-existent skirts, feathery boas slithering around their necks and hanging downwards amid glitter and pink. At first glance the adornments almost make them prettier, almost bring out something that wasn't there before. But then Mako looks again only to see the sloppily applied make-up turning them into leering clowns and garish ghouls, eyes stricken with greens and reds as though diseased, lips painted the colour of blood, skin paled to corpses. Shuddering, wondering why someone—anyone—would try to make themselves look anything but alive, the firebender avoids them. But he takes some comfort in their presence: If those kinds of people can walk unmolested, then he's no longer in the dangerous areas he once was.

Mako pats the parcel and moves onwards, glancing into the street to watch the Satomobiles rushing past him, glittering like massive bugs with wings aflutter and antennae arching through the air to feel for the next turn, the next intersection, the next moment to bolt free.

What's the price of freedom nowadays, anyway? He hears it's going on the market cheap, cheap enough there might be barrels and crates delivered, and if they are, it'll be all the easier to filch a few.

Satomobiles. So new, and yet so old. He remembers Dad talking about them, leaflets clutched in his hands, eager to rave and rant about how Republic City has become a centre of technology and culture, a beacon of hope and light for the rest of the world.

If Republic City is supposed to be a beacon of hope, then what is the rest like? He doesn't think he wants the answer. Not now, not ever, the poverty, sickness, and death he sees bitterness in his mouth.

Mako pauses at the edge of the sidewalk and shifts the parcel and the newspaper together to lay in the junctions of his upper and lowers arms, flat against his chest. The lines of the crosswalk blend and mix in his vision, the ribs of the city itself, jutting out from the salty grey-brown road the shade of rags. A magnificent sable beast of a Satomobile stalks about the corner and prowls forward, its wheel leaving black marks in the cement. About to walk across, the firebender hesitates, embracing the parcel close. The newspaper's headline jumps out at him—Order reports Avatar has mastered waterbending—but so too does the date.

Bolin's birthday.

Growling to a halt at the crosswalk, the Satomobile whines when it stops, its engine purring like a giant tigerdillo clad in shining black metal instead of striped orange-white fur. The rotund man within impatiently waves Mako forward, and he gratefully dashes across, stopping only once his heels have cleared the rim of the sidewalk on the other side. He turns his head to see a young girl with vibrant green eyes watching him from the passenger's seat.

On a whim he waves to her.

She smiles and waves eagerly back.

And then the Satomobile travels onwards, as does Mako himself, Bolin's birthday awaiting him.

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