No air had ever been fresher than that first breath taken when leaving the mines each day. The only thing more refreshing was the announcement that everyone else had made it as well, that his brother and father were alive and well and every other miner had survived to bury themselves under ground another day. They wandered up the lane ahead of him now, and Caliban wondered how any of them had ever gotten into this position. He could still faintly remember the days before the war was over—the days when they weren’t all starving and it doing anything they could just to stay alive. How many people had died in the uprising just for all of them to keep dying? This isn’t where he thought he would when he grew up, but he didn’t know anywhere else he could be either. This was all Caliban knew, and it seemed this was he ever would either.
The evening sun sent the coal dust covering every inch of the city up into embers. The dancing, red light was a momentary moment of beauty in an otherwise sad and dark center, so, instead of following his family, he wandered a bit. His very bones ached to asleep, but more of him ached to be in the open air just a bit longer. It settled cool against his cheeks and eased his aching body.
Wives greeted their husbands as Caliban wrapped around the streets to take the long way home. The houses there were little better than his own street, small and threatening to fall apart at any moment, but now they were alive again after one more day of all of them staying alive. How priorities lined up when their lives were all they had. It was what they fought for in the uprising, and it was all they got to keep now.
There were a few blocks still before he got home, so Caliban slowed down his pace and enjoyed his breathing and his hard-earned life for a little while longer.