The International Writers Magazine
The Scavangers

The Scavangers
Raymond Clement

There is a village located in the middle of nowhere. It is not unlike hundreds of thousands of other villages throughout the world.

The people there are universally poor surviving on subsistence farming, hunting the local wild game, and by scavenging. Hunger is a constant companion. In a compound near the edge of the forest, lived a father, mother, and eight children. A family not unlike millions of others throughout the world
This family had a little plot for some vegetables in their compound that was surrounded by a stout fence. The house they resided in had belong to an ethnic minority that had been  removed a few years ago. The village leader had awarded it  to the father for his  assistance in the “cleansing” of the minority faction.
The father and eldest son also hunted for game in the forest like the rest of the villagers, but with so many hunters there was little to be found. 
The family  however were renown for their foraging ability. They were scavengers, ‘par excellance’. The father, mother and their eight small children had the uncanny ability to locate food even after the area had been gone over by others from the village.  One thing set them apart from the others that resorted to scavenging as their main source of food: they were not adverse to picking up the carcasses of animals that had been dead a few days, removing the  spoiled parts, and eating what remained. Most of the other villagers frowned on this practice. The head of the family just felt that this left more for them. Since none of them ever got sick or died, he figured it was all right
Tragedy struck the family, the father suddenly dying after eating a dead squirrel he had found trekking home from an unsuccessful hunting trip. Mother was left with a brood of eight to feed. Food was desperately short, and even the youngest was enlisted in the search for things to eat. Many things were brought to the cook fire that was always going in the middle of the compound; mother carefully inspecting it and either putting it on a grill, or tossing it into a big boiling pot that was continually bubbling away. Items that even she would have passed on were now devoured by the family. They did not know it but they were in the middle of a famine that was decimating the population. All they knew was that they were constantly hungry. This was not a time to be squeamish about what they ate. Many days went by with nothing to eat, and it got worse.  It is an oft heard that desperate times call for desperate measures.
Sonny, about twelve, had become  the most resourceful and successful of the family scavengers. Some of the others in the village doubted the source of his success after he turned up with the carcass of a goat that had disappeared under questionable circumstances weeks before. Since it was badly decomposed, it could not be identified. Mother cut away the rotten parts and the family gorged for three days. Chickens mysteriously disappeared, but though there were suspicions that Sonny had been seen in the neighborhood, nothing could ever be proved.
Late, one afternoon, Sonny and two of the other children returned to the compound with a carcass wrapped in an old piece of canvas. “Sissy, get me the cleaver from the kitchen,” Sonny said as he place his prize on the table.
“What have we got here?”, said Sonny’s mother coming out of the house.
Sonny proudly removed the tarp. Mother looked,  “Where did you find it?” she asked.
“Down in the gravel pit, it must have fallen in.”
“It was still alive, but Sonny hit it with a rock,” Sissy offered.
“Fresh meat, Mother.”
“Your right son,” she replied as she picked up the cleaver and with one stroke removed the head, then tossing it into the boiling pot. “Dress it out, Sonny, and save the heart for me.” All the children gathered around, as the body was cut up. Some going onto to the grill, other parts into the cooking pot. The internal organs had been set aside. Mother came out to claim the heart. She took a big bite out of it.
There was a knocking at the front gate. “Now who could that be”, said the mother with a mouthful of meat. The knocking came again, this time more insistent.
She opened the gate a little, and stood, blocking the opening with her stout body,  still chewing. She wiped some blood from the corners of her mouth. “What do you want?”  It was the village leader, and he was in obvious distress.
He started to speak without a greeting or other preamble,  “Our five year old son is missing, have you seen him?  Some people say they saw him playing with a few of your kids?  Is he here?”
Mother looked hard at the sweating man, “We haven’t seen your kid,” she said, as she wiped some more blood from her chin with the back of her hand. End of conversation. Without another word she closed the gate in the man’s face and returned to the cook fire. She poked at the meat on the on the grill. 'I think this is done,' she said as the kids gathered closer to get their share.

© Raymond Clement January 24th 2006

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