The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes
The Last Loaf
My mother and that woman had been walking all day, all the way to the other end of the city. For a while they took the streetcar but it stopped before the bridge and they were told to get off and cross the bridge on foot. They were frequently stopped by young boys with machine guns who demanded their identification.
They stood in the line-up for what seemed like hours. Neither of them had a watch. Long ago they had exchanged their watches for food. The line-up formed in front of a bakery, one of the few still operating. The rugged group of people, mostly women, a couple of old men and a few children stood there, silently waiting. The wind whistled around the corner and the people huddled closer to each other, trying to keep warm. They stretched out their necks and sniffed the air, hoping to catch a whiff of the tantalizing aroma of freshly baked bread, but only the cold muddy smell of the nearby river crept close, making them shiver.
At last, the large iron gate of the bakery opened. The people pushed towards it, shoving each other. The fragrance of bread, most overpowering, made them swallow hard and feel faint with hunger. They watched the lucky ones at the front, greedily, as one by one they appeared with their precious loaf and then quickly disappeared in the depths of the vacant street.
That woman got the last loaf. The gate of the bakery closed. My mother felt like crying but no tears came down her emaciated face. Her tears were spent long ago. She embarked numbly on the long trek home, defeated. Beside her that woman walked joylessly, her bread clutched under her coat. They were frequently stopped by young boys with machine guns who demanded their identification.
Suddenly, they were forced to stop at a crossing and wait for a group of people that filled the street to pass by. The people carried suitcases and bundles and many wore several layers of clothing. Some had children in their arms. A little girl wore a pretty red coat with a genuine fur collar on it. Everybody in the group seemed weary and apathetic. They were led by young boys with machine guns. These boys kept yelling and pushing the people who lagged behind. One of the boys kicked an old man who had fallen on the pavement. The other people in the group watched this, horrified, but silently. Finally, the old man stood up and the group dragged on.
My mother and that woman with her loaf of bread under her coat stood at the curb, staring at the pavement, waiting for the group to pass. The old man collapsed again. That woman suddenly reached out, helped the old man to his feet and then, after a moment of hesitation, handed him her loaf of bread. One of the young boys with machine guns saw this and grabbed that woman by the arm and pushed her into the group. My mother watched silently, powerless to move. That woman turned around and looked my mother in the eye. My mother still could not move. She watched as that woman and the group and the boys with the machine guns disappeared around the corner, down the street towards the river.
My mother stood for a long time on that corner, petrified. Then she walked down the street towards the river. There was nobody at the end of the street. Further down, at the water, she saw a battered suitcase on the ground, open, its lining slashed. It was empty. There was no sound but for the splashing of the muddy water. A pretty red coat with a genuine fur collar floated down the river.
© Beata Gallay Jan 2011