A short story by Rowan Blair Colver
The evening bell clamoured against its old wooden hammer, in the tower framing sunset on the cold and winter dinner time. The smell of sawdust, cordite and hot oil combined in currents of stagnant drifting air pockets that rose into the nostrils in subtle leaps like a ballerina covered in tingling spines. Irritant to the eyes and although an aroma which became invisible after time, clung to the skin like a festering acid.
The dinner hall was meager and the table long and stout, roughly planed wooden beams banged together in a row, then stapled with some legs that wobbled to and fro, the door in the corner, at the top of a simple stair began to open with the sound of the final ring of the bell, from the tower, in the sunset, over there. A crack of light and a sound of breath, the flash of eyes and a smell of death, a river of children fell through the stairs, over each others slippers and toes, each finding a short wooden chair. Their clothing was stained, and their sleeves and legs were ragged, a patchwork shirt was ample wear when treading mills and chopping cabbage. As they sat, and awaited in glee, their tired muscles aching and screaming "feed me", their learned etiquette for the master who saved, the one who provided a home and who gave, a job in the factory, for a little bit of pay, and lodgings and food every single day, and as they sit, and pray, they wait.
Another door swings, from the other side of the room, and through its gaping portal, a woman with a spoon. She carries a huge pot, brimming with oatmeal stew, boiled in milk and water, maybe some vegetables too. As she staggers over to the table, her angry eyes weasel at the girls and boys and with each in turn she scoops a bowlful of food before them, in silence.
The children look solemnly into the broth that sits there properly, steaming and inviting, saying "please dig in" but still they wait and sit and stare, possibly wondering what was cooked in there. Soon they will see. And finally, the large lady finishes dishing up, and with her almost empty porridge pot, staggers into the darkness from which she came, almost gone in an instant was the memory of her face, too angry and cold, not like the food in the bowl, hot, steaming, inviting, nourishing wholesome grain. But still they waited again. A nod and a smile at a little boy to the right, his eyes lit up like two little lights, as the custom of charity ensued at this time, as he ate his bowl quickly, they savoured his smile, enjoyed the expression as he gobbled and filled, enjoying his dinner, not a drop did he spill. Then as he stood, he knew the condition, taking his bowl round, they gave one more addition. A spoon each from their, they gave him some more, his face was a picture, it was what he lived for. As they smiled and gave a spoon of their dinner to this boy, they said "happy birthday" and then theirs they began to enjoy. So as he went round and refilled his dish, each person ate and began to finish. His eyes met each others, and they smiled in a nod, he returned to his seat and wolfed down the lot. So one by one they left, as their bowls were cleaned dry, and the birthday boy sat eating, with tears of joy we cried. As he soon finished his second helping of food, a small girl took his bowl, and said, "I'll wash this for you".