Published: September 1, 2017
The funny thing is, a week ago we were all starving.
Famine hits slow, but it hits hard. First it’s just hunger, but it gnaws away inside you until every little thing is reason enough for a quarrel, a fight, a murder. Slowly, day by day, the flesh wastes away from your bones – and all the bones of those you love – until everyone you see is nothing but ribs and knees and elbows, limbs too long, eyes too sunken. The old and the young and the sick, they die first. You watch them die, and you feel the hunger gnawing at what remains of your flesh, and your thoughts wither and die before you can think them. Next thing you know, you’re fighting to the death over scraps in the street.
If you’d asked me how I wanted to die – a week ago, a month ago – I would have laughed, would have twisted my wishful fantasies to macabre extremes: overeating, I might have said, swallowing more than I can chew.
Drowning in porridge. Choking on sweet millet.
The streets vanished days ago, and with them those too weak with hunger to flee. Is it a comfort, I wonder, to taste milk and millet a last time as you die – to know what crowds the breath from your lungs is nourishment, sweet and wholesome? For some, perhaps; but I expect all its flavour is nothing but salt in the wounds of the starving.
I fled upwards. Others fled outwards, out of the city, and I wonder now if they had it right; I thought this – whatever it is, wherever it came from – would be just as much there as here, and so I thought it better to stay where the roofs are tall and the walls are easily climbed. But those roofs are islands, now, pointed spines jutting out of this yellow sea, with only their chimneys left to climb to. And still its thick waters are rising.
I’ve given up the hope for my life – you can’t swim through the stuff; to sink is to drown – but I can’t bring myself to end it. I cling to my chimney and wait, and watch my death creep ever nearer, ever higher, inch by inch by painful inch. I’ve nothing to do but to watch it. I can barely move.
Food, at least, is easy to come by. The more I can eat of it, the longer I’ll be able to breathe.