Friday, October 23, 2020

Soup

This is always the tricky part, when making soup- too much and it’ll overpower the broth, too little and it won’t work. Careful now, a little more… perfect. I’ve done this lots of times, but it never gets any easier, because it has to be perfect, each and every time.

I pack the soup into jars and hurry off. I must finish before it cools. It’s great soup, heavy with chicken and rice, carrots and potatoes, fragrant with onions and herbs. I resist the urge to taste it- maybe I’ll make myself a fresh batch when I get back.

There are 10, 20 beggars on this street. A few see me coming and clamor for alms. I hand them the soup; soon everyone wants some- in a few minutes the jars are gone. I see them eagerly opening the lids, inhaling the fresh aroma. It is the only meal they’ve had for days, and best they’ll have. Eagerly they tuck in, slurping the broth, picking out the chicken- a mother gingerly hands the hot rice to her baby, a few children squabble over the ‘best’ bits. A few remember to say a heartfelt thanks, but I wave it away. The results of my work is thanks enough for me.

I’ve saved one jar, actually. There’s an old beggar a little further out, a shriveled old man with a face skewed by too many years of suffering. He leans on an old umbrella, barely able to stand. In my mind’s eye I can see his dirty clothes, his unsteady hunched posture with bent knees and outstretched hand. He needs this.

He is there, as always, on the corner of the busy street, waving at passing cars. Most drive by, a few hand him a coin or two. His mouth hangs half-open, twisted agape by some disease. I see the despair in his eyes, and my heart lurches. This soup will do him good as well, I know.

I smile and wave, but he does not respond. I offer him the jar of soup. He looks at me questioningly, as if unsure. I smile again, open the jar and hand it to him. Slowly he lowers himself to the ground and reaches for the food, afraid, unsure- yet he knows I bring food, and at last instinct overcomes suspicion and he takes the jar. It’s still warm, and quickly, hungrily, he drinks the broth, taking great gulps between gasped breaths. It’s obvious he hasn’t eaten for days. I should have done this sooner.

I watch him eat, feeling myself fed as he feeds; I see some of the soup dribble out of his twisted mouth, but he manages to eat enough, catching the rice with his good hand and shoveling it in. Soon it’s finished, down to the last drop. Some rice is stuck to his cheek, and a few carrots are on his shirt. Shakily he wipes them off and puts them in his mouth. To a starving man every morsel is worth more than gold. He licks his lips again and again, savoring eyer drop. Mutely he looks at me with a satisfied kind of joy, before sinking into the pavement, exhausted.

The soup works fast, it’s comforting warmth filling his body. Now fed, he quickly sinks into sleep. I hurry home, satisfied that my work is done.

My weekly ministrations take a lot of time; the soup I make must be perfect, delicious- but this is a labor of love; my gift to humanity. I do not count the cost. Does anyone notice? I do not think so- but it does not matter; the resulsts are its own reward. I have eased the suffereings of others, and that is enough.

But someone has noticed- I find an article the next day, tucked into the back of one of the dailies. Some editor deemed in worthy to print or fill space with. “Beggars found dead!” the title screams. But in a city as busy as this, no one notices a few beggars more or less; I doubt anyone else reads the article, but I do. It’s rare that one’s work gets noticed.

“Death due to unknown causes” it says, “probably disease.” No police reports or panicked agencies. They will be buried in a common grave, perhaps some priest will think to offer mass. Everyone else will shake their heads and get on with their lives. But I alone know what really happened.

Everyday I watched these beggars struggle, eking out an existence closer to animal than human. Their struggles moved me; clearly the charities weren’t doing enough. They had their programs, their drives and relief goods- but what good was that? The goods were soon used up, and once more the poorest of the poor returned to their miserable existance. I knew what I had to do. It was hard work, at first, but my heart bled for their sorrows, and I persevered. My ministrations are perfect and absolute; I do not just lessen their burden, I take it away. They need not suffer anymore, after I visit. I release them from all worry & pain. Does that not make me the kindest, noblest of men? But now I must get back to work. There is still soup to be made.

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