Today is Blog Action Day and the topic is food. I was going to write something about how food is unevenly distributed throughout the world (much like wealth) but the other day on Twitter Gabrielle Bryden mentioned something about storms in the morning in Queensland and how it was unusual. So then I got to thinking about Cyclone Yasi and the Queensland floods earlier this year and I thought about how it must have affected food supplies (even though I didn’t think properly about it at the time.) And then I thought – what if a cyclone hit Sydney? A really bad one. And people couldn’t get any food. People actually might starve.
And thus a story was born. Sorry about the length. Please support Blog Action Day if you can. As always – thank you for reading….
They had been walking for days. Paula’s feet were beginning to hurt; when Junebug had said they would have to walk to find food she had thought she meant just down to the supermarket. The supermarkets were either boarded up or burnt out. Looters, rioters, starving people who had taken everything. Paula didn’t blame them, it sucked to be hungry.
She was so hungry she felt sick. She kept thinking about her Mum’s roast dinners. Every Sunday come rain or come shine. Sometimes lamb, sometimes, beef, sometimes chicken. With all the trimmings. Paula liked the end bit of the lamb where it was all caramelised. It was delicious dipped in gravy with a bit of fresh rosemary. She couldn’t think about the roast dinners because she couldn’t think about her Mum. She had gone to find food two weeks ago and hadn’t come back. Paula and Junebug had existed on instant noodles and boxes of cereal past its use by date since then, but now they had no food left.
Junebug had heard on the radio broadcasts that came through intermittently that there were food banks on the Pacific Highway. 200 kilometres from Sydney. There were no buses, no trains, a lot of the roads were underwater from the cyclone. Paula didn’t see how they could get there without any transportation but Junebug had been insistent. ‘We walk.’ She said.
Paula cried like a little kid with snot running onto her lip and everything. ‘I can’t walk all that way,’ she said. ‘I can’t make it.’
‘You can and you will,’ said Junebug. ‘If I have to drag you. And stop crying – you’re getting on my nerves.’
Paula sucked the rest of her cries up. They lodged in her chest waiting to choke her. Between the hunger and the choking she was getting really fed up. This was the first time ever she had felt like she hated her sister. Junebug was a dictator.
They didn’t see anyone on the roads. The stormwater drains and the gutters were full of muddy water. Paula thought she saw a hand, a real human hand just floating along but she didn’t want to admit it. She also saw a cat, all puffy and bloated. Its pale green eyes looking up at the sky as if asking for help.
Paula found a bit of material on the road. Purple. She tied it round her head. ‘I look like one of those Africans,’ she said. ‘They wear bright colours. Even when they’re refugees they still have all the bright colours on. We’re like them. They walked for food too. Hundreds of thousands of them. Through the desert.’
‘Shut up,’ said Junebug. ‘It’s not the same. They had a famine. They were starving. They were dying. We’ve just had a cyclone and flooding. Our food supply’s been interrupted, that’s all. Once we get to the food we’ll be fine.’
‘But we might starve before we get there,’ said Paula. ‘Or die.’
‘Oh, for God’s sake, Paula, shut up,’ said Junebug. ‘People don’t die of starvation in Australia. We’re a First World Economy. We have plenty of food. This situation isn’t the same as a famine. It’s a natural disaster.’
‘But I thought a famine was a natural disaster,’ said Paula. ‘I thought it happened after a bad drought.’
‘Well, it does,’ said Junebug. ‘But there are other reasons for famine too. Look, I don’t want to talk about this now. I just want to concentrate on getting there. We’re going to be fine, I promise. We live in Sydney. People don’t die of starvation in Sydney. Besides, I’m sure someone will come along to help us soon. Maybe the police. Maybe even the army. We just have to keep moving.’
Paula wanted to argue with her sister but she saw a little bit of a tear in Junebug’s eye. Junebug never cried about anything, even that time Sharon Blake poked her with a compass in maths class. She didn’t shed one tear then even though it must have hurt, just gritted her teeth. When Paula saw the tear in Junebug’s eye she panicked a bit but she swallowed it down. The panic rose again when she thought about the police and the army. Their Mum had been gone for over two weeks and the police and the army hadn’t come to tell them what had happened to her. Paula was beginning to think the police and the army were never coming back either.
‘We’re like the hobbits from Lord Of The Rings,’she said, trying to sound jolly and distract herself. ‘We’re on a quest to find the ring. I’m just like Frodo’.
‘Oh no,’ said Junebug. ‘You’re definitely like Sam with your enormous feet. You could be a clown with those feet. You wouldn’t even need fake shoes, you could use your own feet. The circus would never fire you because of all the money you saved on those long fake shoes.’
The sisters laughed. The laughter cut harshly through the still day. There were few sounds around them. No cars, no planes, no dogs barking, no birds. Only the lapping of the water in the drains.
When their legs were beginning to cramp with weariness they came upon a house perched right on the highway. Paula liked the look of it because it had a yellow door. ‘Let’s rest for a minute’, she said. ‘I’m exhausted.’
They tried the door. It was open. ‘Hello,’ said Junebug. ‘Anybody home?’
The house was empty. The floors were dry. There were crackers and cans of baked beans in the kitchen pantry. And bottles of water. They ate the beans cold washed down with plenty of water. In a drawer in the kitchen dresser Junebug found two big blocks of Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate. Paula felt like it was Christmas Day. They ate half a bar of the chocolate then fell asleep on the couch in the living room, snuggled together like toddlers.
In the morning Paula found Junebug standing on the front porch. ‘I haven’t seen anyone pass by at all,’ she said. ‘Not since sunrise. But I’ve checked the map and I know where we are. We’ve walked over one hundred kilometres. And guess what? There’s a car here. And it has petrol in it, enough to get us to the food bank. We don’t need to walk the rest of the way. We can drive.’
Paula could have cried with relief, but also with regret. She liked the house with the yellow door. It felt like home. ‘Maybe we could come back here when we get our food,’ she said. ‘Maybe we could live here.’
‘Maybe,’ said Junebug. ‘We’ll have to wait and see.’
The car started. They both whooped, giving each other a high five. They filled the back seat up with the rest of the crackers and chocolate and headed off. Junebug was a good driver. She’d only had her licence for a year but everyone said she was one of the best drivers they’d ever seen. Good enough to be a chauffeur.
Paula hoped Junebug knew where she was going. She hoped that help would come. She hoped the food bank actually existed. She hoped that what she and Junebug were experiencing right now wasn’t in fact the end of the world.
They drove all day, pretty much in silence. There were no other cars on the road. Junebug had to drive right in the middle of the road to avoid the water on both sides. It was like those James Bond movies where Bond’s put in a sealed room and the walls start to close in on him. If the water started to close in on them they might have to get out and swim. Paula didn’t want to swim in that water. She’d seen other stuff in there. Gross stuff. Dead birds and lizards. Hundreds of them. She also thought she saw a foot with the high heel still on. As if the woman had been going to a party before the waters got her.
Towards nightfall Junebug pulled the car to a stop. Paula was drifting in and out of sleep, dreaming of chocolate bars floating down a river.
‘We’re here,’ Junebug said, her voice shaking with excitement and relief.
There was no mistaking where they were. FOOD BANK. It said it in huge blue letters. Junebug was crying. Paula felt like she had reached the entrance to Disney Land.
Suddenly, they were surrounded by jeeps, police cars, blazing lights. Someone told them to get out of the car. The police and the army. They had been here all along.
They were ushered inside, given blankets and hot coffee, huge plates of toasted sandwiches and soup. As they ate they were asked questions – Where had they come from? How did they get here? Did they see anyone else on the roads? Did they hear anything? Did they see any evidence of disease? The questions went on and on until the sisters heads were reeling.
‘We can’t answer all your questions,’ said Junebug. ‘We don’t know the answers. We heard about the Food Bank on the radio and we’ve been alone for nearly three weeks ever since our Mum went out to get food and didn’t come back. We really don’t know what’s going on. We thought you could tell us.’
One of the policemen took Junebug and Paula to a warehouse. It was full of food.
‘We have enough supplies here to feed and clothe tens of thousands of people,’ he said. ‘When the cyclone hit we began to stockpile our supplies. We have been ready to help people for weeks but no one has come. We have also gone on reconnaissance and haven’t been able to find anyone. You are the only ones. You might be the only ones.’
Paula saw that tear in Junebug’s eye again. It made her want to lie curled up on the floor and never get up. She couldn’t even make the joke she’d been thinking of about how that meant more toasted sandwiches for her because it occurred to her that if other people hadn’t come then that might mean people did die of starvation in Sydney. Or other things.
The police and the army told Junebug and Paula to go to bed. They gave them their own room with two nice beds, comfy. In the middle of the night Paula climbed into Junebug’s bed. She couldn’t sleep on her own anymore. Junebug shifted over, grumbling a bit. Paula drew in her sister’s warmth, sighing. The two of them slept till morning, snuggled like toddlers.