Hunger stole upon me so slowly that at first I was not aware of what hunger really meant. Hunger had always been more or less at my elbow when I played, but now I began to wake up at night to find hunger standing at my bedside, staring at me gauntly. The hunger I had known before this had been no grim, hostile stranger; it had been a normal hunger that had made me beg constantly for bread, and when I ate a crust or two I was satisfied. But this new hunger baffled me, scared me, made me angry and insistent. Whenever I begged for food now my mother would pour me a cup of tea which would still the clamor in my stomach for a moment or two; but a little later I would feel hunger nudging my ribs, twisting my empty guts until they ached. I would grow dizzy and my vision would dim. I became less active in my play, and for the first time in my life I had to pause and think of what was happening to me.
“Mama, I’m hungry,” I complained one afternoon.
“Jump up and catch a kungry,” she said, trying to make me laugh and forget.
She was ironing and she paused and looked at me with tears in her eyes.
“Where’s your father?” she asked me.
I stared in bewilderment. Yes, it was true that my father had not come home to sleep for many days now and I could make as much noise as I wanted. Though I had not known why he was absent, I had been glad that he was not there to shout his restrictions at me. But it had never occurred to me that his absence would mean that there would be no food.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Who brings food into the house?” my mother asked me.
“Papa,” I said. “He always brought food.”
“Well, your father isn’t here now,” she said.
“Where is he?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
“You’ll have to wait until I get a job and buy food,” she said.