“How long were you underground?”
I was taken aback by her very direct questioning, and almost felt like I was being interrogated, but I answered her. “— years.”
“Mm,” she said in acknowledgment. “I was down for 12. I came above ground because I was sick and tired of hiding. And I’ve been up here ever since, taking the medication.”
“Do you have family?” I asked.
“Me? No. No. You can’t have family and be above-ground, it’s too risky. How about you?”
I thought for a second, surprised at the question and at the fact I had a wave of overwhelming sadness ripple through my body. “No,” I said. “Just me now.”
“But you had a family?”
“My mom,” I answered. “My dad died in the resistance movement, and we went underground. My mom died a few —– ago.”
“I see. I’m sorry.” She didn’t offer much more condolence, but I saw in her eyes all I needed to see. She had lost someone, too, and it was hard for her to talk about it, too. I felt strangely comforted to know I wasn’t the only one who’d been through what I’d been through, even if the details weren’t quite the same. I could see in her face, it was all making her exhausted.
After a brief silence, she spoke again, “I’m so glad to have you. I’ve been looking for someone to share this with, someone I could have help me keep working on overturning this stupid law. I want you to join us, if you’re up for it.”
“You and who else?” I asked.
“The —–coalition.” she replied. “We’re a sizeable group of people spread all over, most of us decided to come out of hiding when we lost everything we had to live for underground. We decided we wanted to change things, to take back our freedom and our right to exist the way we please. I’ve been working for —x years— to make changes. We need a generation of younger voices to keep up the fight, and that’s where you come in. I’ll teach you what I know, how to work within the system, and how to start planting seeds that’ll make people stop being afraid we want to bring chaos to their lives. I don’t want to take someone else’s peace, I just want my own.”
“I know what you mean,” I said. “Me, too.”
From there, we had an unspoken agreement. She took me under her wing, and I learned all I could about how things worked above ground, how I could start making the changes we wanted.
We met every week, in the cafe. Just a grungy, old dungeon. Quaint and quiet. She showed me the basement room on our third meeting, and true to the underground way, it was so well-hidden, nobody would’ve known it was there unless they were told it was.
When we went downstairs, it was unlike anything I expected. It was clean, almost spotless. It looked well-kept and loved. There were posters on the wall, and I don’t know why I was surprised that she lifted the frames of all of them and showed me there were no cameras, but I was. She must’ve known I would trust her more and open up if I knew I could speak freely. Growing up in the movement, I’d grown accustomed to thinking I had a target on my back. Basically, it was because I did.