A deep rumble woke Ben. He sat up and looked around the loft of the stable thinking he’d been caught by old man McKeen.
The rumble came again only louder. It wasn’t the old geezer tossing him out, it was Ben’s stomach. Four days, it was four days ago his mama had left him at the station.
She left him behind, telling him to sit and wait. She would be right back with the tickets. They’d go to Virginia to live with his aunt. Mama never came back from the ticket booth. Her carpetbag was gone. All Ben had was his small pack and the Bible she gave him.
Dawn was breaking. He needed to get out before the old man really did catch him. Quietly Ben made his way to the street and around the backs of the buildings. Maybe he could find a scrap of something. Anything he was so hungry.
His insides felt like they were shriveling up as he stopped at the rain barrel by the inn. Cupping his hands he took a few long drinks to try and fill the void.
As he splashed water on his face a scent drifted down the alleyway. Ben’s stomach clenched with hunger as the scent filled his nostrils with one of his favorite things in the world.
Fresh baked bread was somewhere close, very close. He sniffed at the air and turned down the alley. He followed the smell, stomach growling loud enough to make the stray dog napping in the shade raise his head.
Ben stopped at the window there they were. Three fresh baked loaves of bread. The steam was still rising off the tops. His tongue licked along his bottom lip as he took a step forward to get a deeper breath of it.
Something hit him on the back. Mr.Grove the owner of the inn shook the broom he’d just walloped Ben with. “Get, you urchin. Take your filthy self back to the gutters.”
Didn’t he recognize him? His mama had done some work at the in. “Mr. Grove, sir… “
Before Ben could finish the broom was raised again. He raised his little skinny arms and ran back down the alley.
The innkeeper satisfied the boy was gone went back to sweeping the stoop.
Ben sat behind a barrel and rubbed his lower back. He could still smell the bread. It made his mouth water. If he didn’t eat something soon he’d turn to dust and blow away.
He tried to drink some more water to fill his gut, but, that only made his stomach groan and ache worse. The bread smelled so good.
He could feel it in his hands warm with a crispy crust and soft fluffy inside. It would melt in his mouth as he took a bite.
The sound of the inn’s back door closing made him open his eyes. Mr. Grove had gone back inside. There wasn’t anyone in the alley.
He crawled on his hands and knees to sit under the window so he could smell the bread. His belly ached to the point of tears now. Ben was so hungry. He could take it. There were two more loaves. They surely wouldn’t miss one.
No, he couldn’t take it. He didn’t have no money and stealing was a sin. Ben’s mama always told him to be good. Be a good boy and grow into a good man. He couldn’t do that if he stole. That would make him bad.
Lifting his face up he could feel the warmth from the fresh loaves. If he didn’t eat soon he wouldn’t make it past the age of eight to become any kind of man.
Stomach tight with hunger Ben raised his arms up and grabbed the edge of the cheesecloth. Slowly he pulled it toward him.
Mrs. Grove called out to her husband startling Ben. He jerked his arms back and hugged his knees waiting for the innkeeper to come back with the broom. Nothing happened. Mrs. Grove went back to humming.
Sitting there had become torture, he didn’t want to make his mama angry. What if she came back and found him with the stolen bread. She’d have his hide for sure.
Ben looked up at the loaf. It had been four days since he saw his mama last at the station. She wasn’t coming back, no one was going to help him. He had to help himself.
He stood stomach aching and growling as his breath panted with fear and excitement. Before he could change his mind again Ben reached out and grabbed a loaf of bread. He took off running as fast as he could behind the buildings.
Turning a corner he ran to the ladder of the livery loft and climbed up. Hiding behind a stack of hay bales he hugged the loaf to his chest. It was still warm and smelled so good. He was panting still from his run. Waiting for someone to catch him.
When there were no shouts he began to relax and looked down at the bread. Ben licked his lips as his
fingers dug into the crust and it apart. Steam flowed out as he pulled a hunk of the soft white fluff into his mouth.
Tears rolled down his face as he ate. His belly hurt from not having anything this solid in so long then it started to feel full. That feeling was the best thing he’d ever felt. He wasn’t a good boy anymore. Maybe he wouldn’t be a good man but he wouldn’t be hungry again.