The Patterns We Make
All bright, clean streets and colorful shops in the main square, but move a couple miles out from the main marketplace and you hit the slums.
Already packed with homeless neopets, the slums became even more crowded after the great Event that caused so many owners to leave at once. Most of the abandoned painted pets managed to find homes. Some of the unpainted pets were old enough, strong enough, or simply lucky enough to find jobs to support themselves. The remainder crowded together for support, and sacrificed dignity for food on a daily basis in order to stay alive. The soup kitchen began to run dry, and had to limit the number of visiting pets per day.
An owner picked his way through the slums. He wasn’t rich, but he had four pets of his own and worked hard to take care of them. Sometimes, this meant going to a market in the slums—the food wasn’t as good as in the main shops, but it was cheaper. His own pets always stayed locked in the house when he came out here; if something bad happened, he wanted them to be safe.
He watched a small cluster of Grarrls out of the corner of his eye. He was dressed in old, worn clothes so as not to attract unwanted attention, but he still stood out like a target. Pets sat on the road to either side of him. He saw a green Aisha, its fur matted and missing one earstalk; a red Kau with her ribs clearly visible; a Yurble whose coat was so faded he couldn’t identify a color. He would have taken them all in if he could afford it, but he barely had enough for himself and his own pets.
Finally, he came to the marketplace. The stall owners seemed healthier than the pets he had passed on the way here, but he noted not for the first time that they were all quite thin.
“Hey sir,” came a voice to his side. “Can you spare a few neopoints?” The owner usually shrugged off requests like these, since giving change to one pet would usually trigger a cascade of pets asking for a handout. He would end up either giving away all of his money or shooing away a cluster of expectant pets with hunger in their eyes. But feeling an odd urge, he dug into his pocket, grabbed a few coins, and dropped them into an open palm.
“...This isn’t very much.”
Suddenly realizing exactly how much money he had just given away, the owner finally looked up at the recipient. It was a blue Techo, and in his hand were four neopoints. “Sorry,” the owner mumbled. Struck by an impulse, he added, “Let me buy you some lunch.”
The Techo’s face lit up with a wide grin. “Oh, thank you, master!”
“I’m not your—” the owner began, but was cut off as the Techo scurried to a nearby stall. They were selling a rich, flavorful soup with many different ingredients. The owner noted that it smelled much better than the soup from the Soup Kitchen. He took a closer look at the Techo. He was older, certainly not a child, but looked extremely skinny. He was covered in dirt and grime, and looked like he hadn’t had a bath in months. He checked the prices on the stall sign—100 neopoints a bowl. The owner cringed. He only had 400 neopoints, meaning he himself would probably have to go without dinner tonight. Oh, well. He decided to make the most of it.
“What’s your name?” he asked the Techo, who was staring so intently at his soup that it seemed like he was trying to make it levitate.
“Jan,” he said. “I came from Mystery Island because I wanted to find a job and send money home to my family. It didn’t work, and now I can’t go back.” He spoke quickly and energetically in between large slurping spoonfuls of soup.
“How long have you been here?”
Finally, Jan broke his gaze away from his food, and looked up at the clouds. “Hmmm... maybe eight months, I think. It’s hard to tell. Do you have any pets?”
“Uh, yes, I do.”
“What are they?” Jan asked, still smiling widely.
“A Nimmo, a Zafara, a Buzz, and a Kacheek.”
The Techo’s eyes widened. “Ohhh, so many! Are you rich?”
The owner tilted back a bit in surprise. “No, not at all.”
“Well, I think you’re more rich than me. I come to this marketplace every day and ask people for money. Most of them ignore me and walk away, and some of them only give me a little bit like you did. If I get enough money, I get something to eat at one of the stalls here. I sleep over there.” He pointed across the street to a shop front covered by a closed metal gate.
The owner worked quickly, trying to process all of this information. “When you came here, what kind of job did you want to get?”
“I want a shop,” Jan answered. “The people here don’t respect me. They see me dirty, skinny, they see me sleeping on the street and they think I’m not good for anything. If I get a shop, I can sell them things and then they’ll respect me.”
“A shop is expensive,” the owner said. He found himself liking this Techo. “You need a lot of money to buy a place, and then you need all the items to stock in it. Maybe you can get a shop eventually, but you can’t right away.”
“I know,” Jan said. He was still smiling. “It will take a long time. Right now I want any job I can find.” After a few more spoonfuls, he was finished with his soup.
The owner got up and paid for the bowl, and turned to Jan. “I’ll be back here in a few days. Will I see you again?”
The Techo’s grin somehow got even wider. “Yes! I’m here every day, so I’ll see you again, master!”
“I’m not your master,” the owner responded. Jan just nodded and walked away. The owner bought food for his pets and returned home.
A few days later, he came back to the market. He had earned some extra money for this trip. Sure enough, as soon as he was in sight of the market, he heard a voice. “Master, you’re back!”
The owner laughed in spite of himself. “I’m not your master!”
Jan led the way to a different stall, this one selling sandwiches. Just like the last time, Jan carried the conversation while wolfing down a sandwich; unlike last time, the owner had enough money to buy one for himself as well. People walking around the market stared at the unlikely pair as the Techo chatted on and the owner tried his best to keep up with the pace of the conversation.
The owner met Jan several more times in the next couple of weeks. The stall owners grew used to this, and began pointing the owner toward Jan if they didn’t find each other immediately. The owner had a plan brewing.
After several such meetings, the owner met with a friend of his, the owner of a restaurant, and told her about Jan. To his surprise, he convinced her to give the neopet a job as a waiter.
“Really?!” Jan asked, his eyes enormous. “You found me a job?”
“Yes, I did, but—”
“Thank you so much, master!” Jan hugged the owner. “The people all around me, none of them respect me. I always tell them that I’ll get a job, that I’ll make a better life for myself, but I see in their eyes that they don’t believe me.”
The owner extricated himself from Jan’s embrace. “First of all, I’m not your master. Second, this is hard work, okay? You will get food and a place to sleep, and a little bit of money. But you have to show up for work every day, and—”
“I know, master, I know!” Jan interrupted. “I’ll work hard and eventually I’ll have money to send back to my family.”
“Good,” the owner said. “But third of all, we have to get you cleaned up.” The master led Jan to the part of the market selling clothes. Jan stared at the array of crisp, clean shirts and spotless pants. The owner bought him several sets of clothes. Finally, he led the pet back to his neohome so that he could bathe.
Clean and well-dressed, Jan started the first day of his new job. The owner had worked hard to get enough extra money to buy the clothes, so he spent the day relaxing.
He went by the restaurant the next day to see how Jan was doing. He was surprised when the Techo wasn’t there.
He found the restaurant owner, who said the pet had simply walked out without giving an explanation.
Several days later, the owner returned to the market. He wasn’t surprised when the Techo greeted him there. “Hello, master! It’s good to see you again.”
The owner didn’t bother correcting him this time. Doing his best to put admonishment in his voice, he asked, “Why did you leave the job?”
Jan’s wide grin was still there, but it seemed stiff. “She didn’t respect me. None of the other waiters respected me. They all thought I was a street rat.”
“Did they say that to you?” the owner asked.
“No, but I saw it. None of them respected me. I think you’re the only one who really respects me.”
The owner bit back many harsh words at this statement. “It doesn’t matter if they respected you or not. That was a job, and you just walked away. Don’t you want to help your family?”
“I want to see my family,” Jan responded. “I want to go back to Mystery Island.”
The owner held his head in one hand. “That’s expensive. You have to earn that money yourself.”
“Can’t you help me?” Jan asked. “You’ve bought me so much food, you got me clothes, a boat ticket isn’t much more.”
“I got you those clothes to help you!” the owner said, raising his voice at Jan for the first time. “But if you aren’t going to help yourself, there isn’t anything I can do. I will go back to the restaurant to see if she will take you back on; do you want that?”
“Yes, please. Thank you, master,” the Techo said. His grin had all but disappeared, but now it flew back onto his face. “Can I have some money for food?”
The owner hesitated a moment, and reached into his pocket.
“I can’t take him on,” the restaurant owner said the next day.
“Because he isn’t ready. He will just walk away again the next time something happens that he doesn’t like.”
“...All right, thank you anyway. I’m sorry it didn’t work out.”
He saw Jan several days later. He was dressed in his old street clothes, rather than the clean ones the owner had gotten him. The owner wondered if he was keeping them safe somewhere. “She won’t take you back.”
“Oh.” Jan shrugged it off as though he no longer cared. He probably didn’t, the owner thought. “So will you help me get to Mystery Island?”
The owner sighed. “No, I already told you. You have to do that yourself.”
“All right.” He smiled again. “But you’ll see me in a few days, right?”
“Okay, thank you, master!”