A Cup of Tea by Connie Hong

I wish to scream at everyone in this humid and foul smelling room to shut up. The constant banging of cups against the wooden tables is making me feel nauseous. To add on, the air smells like booze and days old worth of unwashed clothes. I stumble to the counter, one hand pressed to me burning forehead.

“Kitty, do you need a break?” My younger brother, James, asks from behind the counter. He’s only a few years younger than me, but he always seems to be the more composed one out of both of us. He hands me a cool cloth, which I press to my forehead. I sigh in relief, the coldness providing refuge against the stuffy air.

“DEATH TO THE KING! DEATH TO THE KING!” The crowd chants. I roll my eyes. Our tavern is typically a haven for drunk Patriots. Although we are constantly pressured to join a side, my family chooses to stay neutral. I march to one of the wooden tables, and climb on top. My skirts make it easier to trip, but I manage to stand up.

“Quiet!” I holler, in attempt to silence the crowd. My attempt is futile, only stirring up them more. Just then, my older sister, Marian, saunters into the room. She reminds me of everything I’m not, with full lips, curves, and dark, silky, hair twisted back into a ruthless coil. Marian walks over to where I’m standing, and slams the point of her boot onto the table. The entire crowd suddenly grows still at the sound of her stomping.

“Silence.” Marian says, sternly, as if she was scolding a misbehaving child. “Roughness is not tolerated in this tavern.” Upon saying so, she steps off the table. The crowd parts at her command. She sashays to the back of the tavern and  I rush to follow her.

“Why are they so loud today?” I complain once we get into our places besides James.

“You don’t know?” She asks. “Oh, of course you don’t.” I want to kick her under the table. “Lord North sent a few ships laden with tea. Rumors say that it’s holding up to 500,000 pounds. It’s sitting in the Boston Harbor now. The crew’s too afraid to unload to tea because of the vast number of rebels. Such a waste,” she sighs, twirling her finger in her drink before licking it.

My jaw drops at the news. 500,000 pounds of tea would be worth almost a fortune. Even if I manage to even get only a few pounds, it would still sell for a lot on the market.

“Oh, and apparently the rebels are going to dump the tea into the Harbor tonight. Some sort of protest they’re doing to persuade Parliament take away the taxes. I personally think it’s not going to help them at all. It’s going to be pretty great though.” Marian adds on.

I pounce at the news, picking up important details from her babble. It’ll be easy to get away this time, with the chaos the Patriots will cause. I have to take this opportunity.

Outside, the sun begins to set. It casts a warmish, pink, glow through the tiny window of our tavern. I look at the light streaming through the window, calculating in my head. There might be a few soldiers stationed near the Harbor, but I doubt it will be many. They’ll have little chance of actually harming the Patriots, since the number of colonists greatly outnumber them. That means I’ll have to sneak on the ship with the Patriots, and then take one of the back streets out. I review my plan over and over in my head, waiting for nightfall. The men slowly trickle out as the sun sets, crying promises to overthrow the king as they exit.

Finally, the last customer walks out, leaving my siblings and I alone in the tavern. We leave our posts and start clearing off the mess. Marian scoops up all the cups, and fills them with water to soak overnight. James and I both grab wash cloths, tending to the leftover stains of liquor. I scrub hard, making sure to catch every spill on the dirt-stained floor.

It takes half an hour to finally clean the whole room. By then, my knees hurt from rubbing the floor and my shoulders are aching. I collapse over one of the tables, exhausted. James comes and joins me. We stare at the ceiling, silently appreciating the moment of silence in our busy lives.

In the distance, I hear faint chanting. I groan and roll over on my back, turning to face James. He smirks back at me.

“Sure makes it a nice day, huh?” He yawns. “Some tea would be nice.”

Suddenly, I bolt up from my lounge. Tea, I remember. I run upstairs into the room I share with Marian. There, I reach for a spare of a pair of pants and a loose blouse tucked in a corner on top of our cabinet. I quickly dress, exchanging my petticoats for a more practical set of clothes. I grab my cap sitting on the nightstand, and tuck my braid inside.

Marian stands in the doorway, arms crossed as she examines me. I almost think she’ll prevent me from leaving the house, but she just heaves a sigh and walks into the room. She slumps on her bed, and quickly falls asleep as I prepare.

I tiptoe out the door, my boots silently slipping on the wooden boards. I rush to the door of the tavern and quickly grab a coat from off its hook. James hollers at me to stay safe, then returns back to his work.

The cold air nips at my face, so I tuck my chin into my coat and wrap my coat tighter around me. People have already started flooding into the main streets, chanting as they march past. Some hold torches, lighting up the streets. A few men wearing feathers on their head

join the crowd, paint smeared across their face atrociously. I stifle a laugh. The Indians would be offended.

I slip into the crowd, dipping my hat low in order to avoid being recognized. People trickle in as we passed narrow buildings squeezed together on the sides of the cobblestone streets. I even spot a few women amongst the men, chanting along.

The crowd weaves like a snake through the streets, growing larger as the Harbor nears. I finally make out a tall, white, mass, gleaming in the dark night. I pick up my pace, trying to get to the front of the crowd. A man with feathers in his hair walks alongside me. I slow down my pace, walking just a foot step behind him. I steal a feather from his band, and tuck it into my cap. I might as well blend in. The crowd’s chants grow louder. I realize that we are finally at the Harbor. I run to the front, shoving people out of my way.

The ship’s deck has been lowered. A few people have already began dumping the tea into the cold water. The ship rocks from the weight of the colonists, causing me to lose my footing. I stumble to a crate and wrap my arms around it, raising it off the slippery boards. I hear the tea leaves shifting inside, the sound smooth and sly. The ship suddenly lurches to one side, and the crate flies out of my grasp. I fall back, landing on my bottom.

A man chuckles at me, and offers a hand. I take it, using him as a post to yank myself up. I brush off the dirt clinging to my pants, and thank him. I walk over to retrieve the crate, but then notice him staring. I curse under my breath. Reluctantly, I make my way to the edge of the ship and toss the crate downwards.

He turns away, tricked into believing I’m with the rebels. Luckily, there’s still a surplus of tea left. I make my way back to the stacks, and grab another crate. This time, I steady myself, bracing for another sudden jerk. I push against the oncoming throng of people, and finally make it onto even ground.

I sidle into the crowd on the port. Most don’t bother to notice me as I pass, their concentration fixated on the commotion. However, one colonists catches my eye. He glances down at the crate I’m holding, realization catching up with him. I turn around just in time as he begins to lunge towards me.

“Thief!” He cries. Heads begin to turn, and people join him in the chase. I sprint as fast as my ability allows me, my boots clanking across the cold stones. The group of colonists follow, hot on my heels. I turn abruptly into a dark alley, hoping I’ve lost them. I slow down, panting. My legs burn and sweat drips down my back.

It turns out I didn’t lose them. The man pauses at the end of the alley and spots me. The others soon follow, breathless from their run. He smirks at my bewildered state and grins wickedly.

“Drop the box,” he commands. I turn around and begin to run again, in the opposite direction. Oddly enough, they don’t come after me. I skid to a stop at the end of the alley, realizing it’s a dead end. The street curves down, the stones dropping into the sea. I hitch in a breath, realizing there’s no way out of this situation.

Unless I jump.

The colonists step closer, smirking at my bewildered state. I look at the water. It looks angry, fiercely slamming against the stones.

But I only have one choice.

I suck in my breath and launch myself off. I’m briefly suspended, then the air rushes forward and I’m falling. I cannonball into the water, holding the crate tight at my side. The water is cool and refreshing against my burning skin. Above, I hear snippets of their chattering.

“He probably drowned–”

“At least the tea is dumped into the Harbor.” They share a laugh before heading back. I wait underwater until their footsteps to quiet down. I surface to the water, flailing. The air feels fresh, and I gulp it in large breaths. The box drifts quietly a few feet away. I swim towards it, and hold on, using it as a float. I pry open the lid. The leaves are soaked, but they’re still mine.

In the primers Mother bought for us, they taught us the Puritan attitudes towards life. Always behave, she would repeat, or God will punish you.

But lord, did it feel good to commit a sin.

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