A Bite to Eat
The sun was coming up but it could not be seen. The low, heavy clouds allowed a little light to penetrate through to the earth but shielded the sight of the sun from John Sims' eyes. He shivered so much with the cold it was almost pleasurable and he waited with rapt anticipation for the next great tremor to wrack his undernourished body. He was thirty-five years old, unemployed, father to two children, divorced and homeless. If that was not enough, he was also broke, estranged from his ex-wife and children and knew no-one in the town where he had arrived the previous evening. To add to this recipe for misery he had not eaten for two days and last night had slept in the park.
The bench was hard and unforgiving, forcing John to constantly change his position. He sat up straight for a while and then slouched down until that became uncomfortable and then he sat up half-erect with his weight on one lean buttock. He tried not to think of the past but it floated to the surface of his consciousness and bobbed around, unbidden. He remembered only the good things which compounded the feeling of failure he was experiencing. His stomach rumbled and his mouth was dry.
The morning passed and John retained his position on the bench. The day grew warmer and by eleven o’clock the sun was beginning to break through the clouds. He was feeling better but the hunger had intensified. He had never, ever, in his life, been so hungry. Images of fried breakfasts with crispy bacon and hot toast tormented his fevered mind. The more he tried not to think about food the more his imagination fashioned menus of gastronomic complexity. His crazed brain was busy conjuring up an idealised picture of a restaurant he once knew when she sat down at the opposite end of the bench.
She was about thirty years old, petite, with long brownish hair and glasses. Quite attractive. She looked like she worked in an office. John noticed all this in the one brief moment before his eyes fell on the brown paper bag she was carrying. All else was forgotten. He thought that it probably contained food and his suspicions were confirmed at once as she opened it, rummaged gently around, and pulled out a sandwich. She turned around, looked at John, spread the top of the bag wide and proffered it to him.
“Would you like one?” She asked.
Every starving cell in is body screamed in unison, ‘TAKE ONE’ but his mind over-rode the desires of the masses and, not wishing to appear in need, he replied,
He regretted it immediately. His foolish pride had deprived him of what he needed most. He hoped she could not hear his stomach grumbling and groaning but felt sure that she could. Should he get up and leave or should he tell her that he had changed his mind and would like one?
“Just to keep you company.” He would say.
She raised a sandwich to her lips and took a delicate bite. She chewed it slowly as if she was deep in thought and then she put the bitten sandwich back in the bag and closed it again. She took a book out of her pocket and began to read.
John was confused. Why had she sat next to him when there were several other empty benches in the park? He wondered if he should try to strike up a conversation with her. Maybe that is what she wanted. The offering of a sandwich was merely a ploy; an attempt to break the ice and he had been so hungry he had not recognised it as such. What should he say? A hundred opening lines vied for supremacy in his mind but his lips refused to form the words. He could comment upon the weather and compare it with earlier but that was so trite. He considered remarking on the autumn colouring of the foliage but felt there was little to say on the matter. He needed a topic of conversation that could be developed. Just as he had decided on asking her about the theatres and museums in the town she closed her book, put it back in her pocket, and stood up.
John was devastated. She was leaving. His mouth opened to speak but no words appeared. She smiled at him and very gently she placed her lunch bag on top of the nearby garbage bin. With just a quick glance backwards she slowly walked out of the park.
When she was out of sight, and after checking to see that nobody was looking at him, he went to the bin and retrieved the bag. It contained four sandwiches, two chocolate biscuits, two apples and a packet of chewing gum. There were also two paper serviettes. Without wondering why such a small person would pack such a large lunch he devoured, ravenously, the contents of the bag. He felt hope returning and his strength increasing with every mouthful. Life was looking good again. He saved the partly eaten sandwich until last and took his time over it. It seemed to taste better than any of the others.
That night he slept in a Salvation Army Hostel and the next morning received the offer of a job. He was to start the following day. Soon after eleven o’clock he went to the park hoping to see the sandwich lady again. She was sitting there but, sat at the other end of the bench, there was an old tramp with matted hair and dirty clothes. As John watched he saw the woman open her lunch bag wide and offer it to the tramp. He took the whole bag and immediately started eating. The woman did not seem the slightest bit perturbed by this and merely took out a book and started reading. After about ten minutes, while the tramp was still eating her lunch, she closed the book, got up, and walked out of the park.
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