Monday, 26 January 2009 - 6:12 pm

Full bellies

Who ever thought that a hairdressing salon would be our salvation. 

It hasn’t been the best of days and tempers have been fraying badly.  We didn’t cover the ground we thought we would.  Ben isn’t doing so well; his burns are still causing him a lot of pain, under the mummy-wrap of bandages.  We had to take his pack off him, and the only ones not carrying anything were Sally and Masterson.  So of course, there were demands that they take the burden.

Thing is, they’re not doing well either.  They’re both barely keeping their own feet and scraping to keep up, even with Ben.  But I’d already used up all of my sympathy credit in getting the others to let them come along and I couldn’t carry a second pack myself.  So they got to carry the bag and started to fall behind.

Thorpe was up front, striding out angrily.  I told Dillon to stay with him, to make sure he didn’t get too far ahead.  Sax and Nugget weren’t far behind; the kid’s not looking too great either.  She hasn’t complained, though, hasn’t even whined or refused to go where she was told. 

Then I walked with Ben, keeping an eye on him.  He told me he was glad I had stood up for Sally and Masterson, and he was glad that there was someone like that here in this group.  I was relieved to hear that someone knew why I did it, that they agreed that we can’t just start leaving people behind because we don’t like them.  At least I didn’t have to fight all of them, at least someone was on my side.  And I’m glad that’s it’s Ben, too – he’s a nice guy, always ready with something sensible and supportive.  I find myself automatically starting to rely on him.


When we reached the next set of stores, we found that they had been stripped too.  Some of them had even been set on fire – whether it happened when the bomb hit or afterwards, I don’t know.  Either way, they were gutted now.  The only thing left that used to be edible was the fruit and vegetables in a farm shop, rotted and putrid now.  The scent of it rolled out and mingled with the leftover smoke, creating a smell that caught at the gag reflex in the back of my throat.

It was afternoon by then.  Everyone was hungry and we wouldn’t make the next shopping district before rainfall.  The emotions were as obvious as the vegetables on the air as we headed away from there, cutting down into a residential area. 

It took me a little while to realise that the unspoken emotions were making me tense, that I was coiling up inside as if about to break into a run.  Or face another fight.  It had that feeling in it, as if we were about to be attacked at any moment, as if something was going to snap and burst all over us.

We stopped at a crossroads to look at the map, and as the backrunners caught up, the tension bunched up even tighter.  I could feel Thorpe and Sax not looking at certain people, and Sally and Masterson were wise enough to keep quiet while the rest of us tried to figure out where to go next.

It was Nugget who found it.  While our conversation started circling around, looking for an argument, she was peeping in through a corner building’s windows.  It was a salon with a café out the back – an unusual combination, and perhaps that’s what had saved it.  Dillon tugged on my sleeve and pointed me towards the kid, just as she disappeared inside.

There was plenty of swearing as we followed her in, but that soon changed when we found that the café hadn’t been pillaged.  The kitchen had been tossed and the fridge was disgusting, its contents turned to stinking liquid when it lost the power to keep it cool.  But the storeroom out the back had been missed – there were cans, blessed cans of beans and sausages and vegetables, and precious bottles of water and soda. 

We all laughed then, mostly out of relief.  Packs hit the floor and some just sank into chairs.  The gas stove still worked, so I was determined to have a hot meal.  I roped Dillon into being my arms and dealing with the big pots, got Thorpe to light the gas rings, and when I asked where on earth the plates were, Nugget was there, holding one out to me. She’s a strange little thing, but not as damaged as we thought.

There’s nothing like the smell of heating food.  It wrapped around us like a homey blanket, reminded us of Sunday mornings and warm sunshine.  It eased the taut air, even when the rain started coming down outside.  My little group all lined up with their plates to receive their portion, and they were generous helpings.  Maybe we should be rationing things, but I wanted to remember what a full belly felt like.  Just for this one time.  Almost everyone came back for seconds, until the pots were polished clean.

Masterson threw up.  He’s really not helping his case with that kind of thing – Thorpe’s language was vicious, giving voice to what we were all thinking.  Food is too rare to waste it like that.  Lucky for the doctor, it was raining and no-one was going to kick him out into that.

I don’t know how long it is since he ate solid food.  That’s why he threw up, I think – his stomach needs to get used to it again.  Sally managed to keep hers down, though she looked ill and ate very slowly.  I’m starting to wonder if they really will make it, even with our help.

For tonight, though, we have eaten our fill and cleared spaces on the floor to sleep.  Things grow quiet and dark, and that’s okay.