Fiction in response to Zero Hunger
By Kelsey Cashman
CC Image courtesy of Charlotte Kesl / World Bank
Riiiiiing! I sigh as I hear the familiar tone of my alarm clock. My stomach grumbles as I turn in my bed and groggily stare at the time. It’s 6:30. Time to go. Rising from my bed, I shiver. The cool morning chill is much different than the warmth of my sheets, but I slowly warm up as I rush around my room getting ready for the day. I need to hurry- I can hear my mother getting anxious. We only have the one car, which means she needs to drop me off on her way to work, and she can’t afford to be late.
Slipping on my second shoe, I hop out of my bedroom and begin to walk to the pantry, but there’s nothing there. I try the fridge, and once again am met with disappointment. I am hungry, so hungry, but I don’t want to make my mother feel bad. I take a deep breath and turn around, doing my best to hide the pain in my stomach.
“Alright mom! I’m ready to go!” I say with as much enthusiasm as I can muster.
“Sweetie…” my mother begins, looking at me with tears beginning to cloud her eyes, but before she can finish I push past her out the door.
“Come on- we’re gonna be late mom!” I say, and at my words she pulls herself together and gets into the car.
By the time I arrive at school, the pain in my stomach has grown even more intense. I smile and wave at my mom as she pulls away, but the smile turns out to be more of a grimace. As I walk through the halls, people smell of eggs, pancakes, bacon, and more. My stomach speaks to me, begging for food with growls so fierce that people turn to look. ‘Just act cool,’ I tell myself, ‘They don’t know it’s you.’ I make it to my homeroom, and as I walk in the door, my stomach shouts its biggest protest yet. Everybody turns to look at me.
“Good morning everyone!” I say, my face red-hot. I try not to show how hungry I am, covering up the grumble with a smile. But it doesn’t work. When the bell rings for first period, and everyone else is walking out of the room, my teacher calls my name. I stop and turn around slowly. I have been dreading this moment since school began a few months ago. My parents both work- they both work very hard- but a lot of times it is not enough to pay for three meals a day. Good food is expensive, you know?
“Honey,” my teacher says, “I’m worried about you. Every day you come to school looking hungry, and yet I don’t ever see you snacking, or buying lunch, or eating at all for that matter. Are you worried about your weight? Please, tell me what’s going on. I’m here to help you.”
She stops and looks at me, obviously expecting a response. I take a deep breath and try to decide how to respond. Should I tell her the truth? Sighing, I decide that I will- if I’ve learned nothing else in my life the one thing I have learned is that honesty is the best policy.
“Well...the thing is... the reason I’m not eating is not because I care about my weight. It’s been a rough few months in my household, and we haven’t really been able to afford all that much food. So usually I don’t eat breakfast, and lunch and snacks cost money...which we don’t have.” I pause, unable to look my teacher in her eyes.
Though I am not looking at her, I can picture her face in my mind. Sympathetic, unsure of what to say. Maybe a little pity. But when she doesn’t say anything for a good minute, I look up. And there she is, holding out to me a bag of pretzels.
“I know it’s not much,” she says, “but it’s all I could find in my desk. I’ll bring some more tomorrow, and the next day, and the next- if that’s alright with you of course.”
I am stunned. No one has ever offered to do this for me before. Usually at lunch, my friends have let me steal bits and pieces off of their plates- I get away with not buying my own by claiming that I am not hungry- but they have never given me their only snack, or offered to bring more every day. I begin to refuse, but as words are being formed on my lips my stomach growls again. I walk forward, head down, and take the pretzels.
“Thank you so much.” I say.
She smiles and nods, then opens her mouth and shakily says “Now get to class.”
I smile at her, turn around, and walk out the door to my first class, breaking open the bag of pretzels as soon as I am in the hallway. With each one, the pain in my stomach grows less intense. By the time I finish the bag, it is gone altogether.
My teacher kept her word. The next day, and the day after that, and every day until the end of the school year she brought me food. And I am forever thankful to her for bringing me food, bringing me love, and being my unexpected hero.