Hector didn’t stay with the young family for much longer. There were still others in need of assistance, but the encounter certainly left a lasting impression on him. Hector had been a bit reluctant to ask Garovel for more details, but now he was simply growing too curious.
As he was helping a similarly-branded old man with a large stack of boxes, Hector had to ask, ‘Can you tell what crime these people committed? I mean, like, does the brand specify or something?’
‘Yes, it does.’ Garovel allowed an appreciable pause. ‘This guy you’re helping now defaulted on a loan from the state.’
Hector had to stop and look at Garovel. ‘What?’
‘The Sandlords take debt very seriously. If you fail to pay off your debts, you’re considered untrustworthy. It’s a pretty strict cultural taboo.’
Hector eyed the old Moabani man another time. If anything, Hector felt even worse for him. The brand didn’t exactly look recent, and the old man looked about seventy years old or so. After a moment, though, Hector set back to work loading boxes into the back of the old man’s station wagon.
‘So that couple we helped earlier couldn’t pay off their loans, either?’ asked Hector. ‘That’s horrible. They’re so young, and this is gonna follow them for the rest of their lives?’
‘Yep. But their brands weren’t for debt. Women can’t be branded for debt. Only men can.’
‘Well, it used to be that women couldn’t even take out loans in the first place. These days, though, they can. And the branding laws haven’t changed to account for them. Which, I suppose, is a good thing. Sort of. It created a new kind of gender inequality, which is unfortunate, but the branding laws are pretty fucked up in the first place, so. It’s good that more people aren’t getting branded, at least.’
‘Huh... Then what were their brands for?’
Hector nearly dropped the box he was holding. ‘Oh...’