The Colour of Hunger by Joni McCollam

They are all different sizes, these throw away kids, I know many by name and worse by their stories. Smiling they stand in line at the long tables that are filled with Christmas goodies, fruits and all sorts of tasty nibbles. They don’t dig in because they are used to waiting for food, sometimes for a long time. They look upon the delicious feast wearily, they know it’s for them but they always hesitate. Young eyes that have seen too much, hands that have fought for the last crumb at some filthy table somewhere else.

You need to see beyond the new clothes and freshly combed hair, today they are all dressed up to be normal for a while. The dirt may be gone, but the weight of stolen childhood is tattooed on their faces. Parents awkwardly pretending that they care what these children eat, desperately searching for a moment of normalcy. They try to dote on the kids but it’s too late. Gently the parents ask them what they want on their plates, vegetables perhaps, like it was a daily thing….. this care……this calm…….but we know better. The kids know too. Some of the older kids just stare at the parents wondering how long they have to pretend.

They are playing house with their bags of dollar-store presents and cheap clothes. Secretly they long for the next fix or drink or maybe it’s just easier to be free…………. I want to hate these parents but I can’t. Their eyes are filled with the bleakness of their lives, they know what we are thinking. They do not weep for the children but for their own lives wasted and lost. Selfishness is part of their souls. Someone taught them that.

Some children come to the table alone, their mother or father hasn’t shown up. So I smile and act all cheery and entice them with goodies while my heart weeps inside. My head seems to want to explode from the tears I hold in. These children all in a line waiting for a little morsel of kindness. I want to scream at the parents lost in their world of self loathing.

The children look and carefully choose their meal then go and sit hunched over with little arms encircling their plate like it was a lost treasure. They are protecting it from other kids who might be bigger and swipe it away. They gobble as fast as they can and we try to get them to eat more. It is easy to pick out the children who live in group homes from the ones in foster care.
They smile and laugh but their eyes are blank like those on some discarded dress store mannequin.

So I laugh and joke with them until the visitors leave. The drivers come to pick the children up to deliver them to another type of punishment for being poor and unloved. Some cry, others go not looking up from their big bags of toys and new clothing that some upper class mom has bought. These kids know the routine and they accept it. They eat every bit of candy or treat because they know the battle to survive will start over again as soon as they leave…..

Hunger for food, or love or normalcy has no colour.


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