Famine


Famine

Which is better, feast or famine, or scraps every day? (3/2006)

 

She promised me that we’d feast, that there’d be lavish, opulent platters of every kind of delicacy known to man. Sure, she also told me there’d be days of hunger too, difficult stretches of famine. But for quite some time now, there’s been too much too little and not enough too much.

We lived on the streets of Rotterdam. Most days, we had clothes on our backs that fit. Sometimes the clothes were even clean. Sometimes, though, our clothes were tattered and torn until we could find a shirt or a sweater or a pair of pants in a dumpster somewhere, in better condition.

For food, we scavenged like everyone else.

When I first found myself on the streets, I did what we all did: I rummaged through trash bins wherever I was. It’s amazing what rich people consider garbage, what they throw away: half-eaten pieces of bread, perfectly edible vegetable rinds, even scraps of uneaten meat.

When we first became partners, she came up with the idea: we would station ourselves behind the Governor’s mansion. The Governor was sure to toss out huge amounts of perfectly edible (even delectable!) food. His garbage would be our feast. She enticed me with visions of lobster, prawns, beef, cheese, and eggs. She tantalized me with the promise of leftover crème brulee, seven-layer cake, and bread pudding.

In the beginning, it worked. While others were chipping their teeth on stale bread and gnawing on turkey carcasses, we gorged ourselves on mangos and papaya, lobster and exotic fish platters drowning in sweet and savory sauces. It was amazing, more than I ever dreamed possible.

Of course, we didn’t feast every day. Not even every other day. But often enough. Often enough that the bad days – the days filled with nothing but stabbing hunger pains – were bearable.

But over time, we feasted less and starved more. I was never sure why. Maybe the Governor’s servants noticed us, decided that they themselves were more deserving. Maybe the Gods turned against us. Who knows? All I know is that the good times trickled to a halt. The opulence ended. Sure, every now and then we’d get lucky, but it was too infrequent. Too little, too late as they say.

The physical side effects were expected enough. Our already frail bodies became all the more emaciated. This, somehow, I could live with. What was harder was the emotional whack. It caught me by surprise. When we were blessed with bountiful feasts, I felt like the Governor himself, on top of the world. There were enough good days to sustain me through the difficult ones. But then, the gifts came less and less. And less. And I was left with, well, a hole in my heart.

It was an emotional roller coaster going from feast to famine and back again. Hard enough to deal with, but in the end I guess those succulent meals – frequent in the beginning, sporadic later – made it bearable. Then the days of emptiness came. Day after day, night after night with nothing. By this point, we were lucky to get the Governor’s scraps a few times a year. It was hard. So very hard.

When I talked to her about things, she got angry. I suggested we go down the hill and back into town, with the others. We might not get the fancy stuff, but at least we’d get something – scraps, even – everyday. But she could not – would not – see. By then, she knew no other way of life.

So we talk and argue and fight and scream at each other. I want to go down the hill and back into town, with the others. I desperately crave some kind of consistency. I no longer care about lobster or cherries or curried lamb; I just want something to eat every day. Just a little something every day. Is that too much to ask? But she’s set in her ways, unable to change. She knows no other way of life.

So what am I to do?

I live with the hunger. She is my partner, after all.

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