A father wearing a Braves cap threw a dress shirt over the fence and patted it into shape while he stretched the soaking arms out like a silent crucifixion and let them go limp. A buzzer echoed through the broken intercoms around the camp and the earth shifted its weight as three hundred and forty-five soles pattered down to the food line. Famish took his eyes off the father and sat up in his tent. His hands resisted gripping the edges of the flap and walking out, so he sat on them. His belly ached from the pregnant bubble of methane it was creating. One of the mothers carried a child on her hip and held a muddy coat over her forehead as she stopped in front of his tent.
“Famish what’re you doing? You’re going to miss your meal again.” She popped one hip his direction to balance the child and placed her fist on the other.
“Just praying Martha.” He smirked and her eyes rolled like billiards.
“That’s what you said this morning. Come eat. You don’t know when you’ll be able to do that next.” Her child whimpered and she shifted it to her shoulder and patted its back and hummed softly. Famish stared but didn’t say anything.
“Whatever. This isn’t like back home remember that. There are no fridges to keep old beans.” He waved at her dramatically as she left, kicking up the loose dust on the ground as she did so. Famish leaned back.
Rays of simmering yellow and orange sun outlined the veins of maple leaves in the large oak next to his section of the camp, blinding his retinas for a few seconds. He wasn’t sure where he was, but probably somewhere with more oaks like that one. His stomach bubbled again. Guess I’ll see what they have.
Grunting and sighing loudly, he got up and placed his bare feet on the dirt path towards the main road. Limping slightly, he rounded the corner and could already feel the vibrations of the subwoofers. The Catholics brought an ‘04 stereo system last week and Famish was sure it was a trick to convert them. The boys who controlled it only played electronic instrumentals that he never liked even when he could choose what to listen to. Chain-link fences lined the exterior of the camp rusted and covered with torn and faded tarps, shielding them from the outside.
The food line stretched along the fence and curled around the front office where the Catholics and police rested in air-conditioned coolness. It was a jeer. He used to be the one in the white box with windexed plexiglass windows. But that was long past now. He left it with his shoes after passing the border on that repurposed Apache. Officials wearing navy motioned the crowd forward and they moved towards a broken-down RV used to prepare the food.
Famish approached the ’85 Winnebago Chieftain full of nuns placing old Tupperware steaming and scalding on a plywood countertop while the refugees grasped for them desperately, some hugging ten or twelve to their chests and running. The navy officials stopped the thieves at the other side of the enclosure and took the extra boxes back. Famish stared at the nuns but didn’t grab a box. The others bumped his shoulders as they rushed past to take their helping.
“Sir?” One of the nuns had walked out and touched his shoulder.
“Are you going to take a Tupperware?” She was elderly, some hairs moved on her upper lip as she spoke and he tried not to stare.
“Well, I was, but now I’m not sure.” She smiled kindly, but he moved his eyes back to the trailer.
“We made it just today. It’s very good. You should have some.” She pushed his shoulder gently towards the Winnebago but he resisted.
“Sir?” The elderly nun turned her head and stopped. He shook his head.
“You haven’t eaten today yet Famish. Eat.” It was the mother from before, holding a box towards him aloft like she was handing him a baton to run with. He ticked his eyes between them breathing deeply, sweat drops forming in his hairline and creeping down his temples.
They stared, and the people around stared. “I can’t eat it.” The mother raised an eyebrow.
“It’s just navy beans and white bread.” He grimaced and shuddered.
“Don’t you know what’s in that?” The nun let go of his arm and her eyes slanted quizzically.
“What are you talking about?”
“That bread. Beans too. I can’t even imagine what’s in it.” Famish stuck his tongue out and made retching noises. The mother rolled her billiards again and turned away.
“We don’t have anything else.” The nun tilted her head and Famish dropped his shoulders.
“Well, I’ll be on my way then.” She stared at him as he slinked slowly back to his tent. His stomach was pressing at every side from emptiness and his intestines slithered gas bubbles. The father in the Braves cap was changing the diaper on his 2 month-old next to his tent on a flat slab of concrete, his Tupperware stacked and washed while another daughter sang “Are You Washed in the Blood?” Famish sat down abruptly in his tent and lowered his chin into his hands and stared at the dust. The father finished applying a clean cloth diaper and sat up the screaming child. He spoke something to the older daughter and she sat next to her sister while the father stepped towards Famish’s tent.
“Not eating again?” He crossed his arms.
“No. It would only make it worse.” Famish turned his head away and sniffled.
“I think you’re insane.”
“Insane. You have nothing left. You don’t even have shoes.”
“I’d rather have a meal I like than something for my feet.” The father shook his head and laughed.
“Famish, you’re crazy.” He walked back to his daughters who were both staring at Famish.
“At least they like you.” The father laughed again and picked them both up, his eldest struggling to get away. She broke free and started to run, a fading giggle passing as she ran over to the road. The father held tight to the other girl and ran after her, slight concern on his face. Famish smirked, but his eyes drooped and he fell asleep cross-legged.
Small chattering brought him back to the evening, all light gone save the generator operated street light next to the large oak. The father had stoked a fire and was staring at something in a small cast iron pan. Fragrance coated in sugar flooded Famish’s nostrils and he sat up from where he had leaned during his nap. He attempted to untangle his legs but soreness ripped through them with every movement so he forced them apart with his hands, grunting loudly. The father looked at him and smiled.
“Cornbread Famish?” Famish walked over.
“What did you say?”
“Cornbread. Would you like some?” Famish turned up his ears.
“Yes.” The father wrapped a thick towel around the pan and held it up, golden plump bread inside. Famish nearly slobbered but held it in.
“What…what’s in it?” The father put down the pan and cut some with a pocket knife and dumped the scorching bread into his hands. Famish bounced it in his hands and blew on it while he crossed his legs again and almost shoved it in his mouth. Instead he held it cupped in his hands like a fasting saint’s prayer. He closed his eyes inhaling the sweet corn smell, swaying and humming the daughter’s hymn. Others gathered behind him and hummed along. The chorus swelled and bumps spread over his skin until his shoulder was touched and his eyelids struggled awake. It was the Braves cap father.
“Hi. Famish? They’re telling us to pack our things. We’re being moved.” Famish put his sore palms on the ground and rose slowly. Nuns and priests flooded the camp assisting the refugees, their black hats and white square collars walking briskly like an army of badgers. Famish folded his tent and walked to one of the rusty school buses at the entrance of the camp.