Story 25: The Stranger in the North

For StoryADay May Challenge

Nobody noticed the stranger from the South as he wandered among the alleyways, a bottle of beer in one hand, a lamb burger in the other.

He had arrived in the Northern City several months ago, with nothing but a wallet of cash and a dream. But like so many other migrants before him, he found himself in a dirty, cramped apartment with all the other jobless men like himself.

He worked on his resume, went to interview after interview. But all of the hotshots in their business suits took one look at his old suit, heard the name of his hometown, and shook their heads, leaving him pacing outside on the street.

He found a part time job as a street sweeper, but in the end, even that fell through, and now he was down to his last buck.

The stranger used his last bit of money to buy a burger and a beer. There was no point in buying anything else–he would not be welcome home, and he didn’t want to return as a failure, anyway.

He wasn’t the only one in the alley. Every few yards sat another disappointed man, usually nursing some form of alcohol, if not passed out drunk, entirely.

The stranger sat down with his half eaten burger and beer on a littered corner and finished his meal. Then he leaned his head against the wall and fell asleep.

He awoke to the growling of his stomach. The burger had been tiny–the only thing he could afford–and it was growing dark. There was nowhere to go.

Half asleep still, he thought he smelled the scent of warm soup emanating from his dreams. It was the most powerful olfactory experience he had had.

The man’s eyes snapped wide open. He wasn’t dreaming. That was soup–the most fragrant, delicious-smelling soup he had ever smelled. Around him, other homeless men–the conscious, not-totally-drunk ones were also standing up and looking for the source of the unusual scent.

They didn’t have to wait long. Around the corner came a food cart, manned by a little old lady flanked by four young people–two young men, two young ladies. Without a word, the old woman opened the lid to the giant pot in her cart, and started scooping out bowls of warm soup, which the four young people delivered to the men in the alley.

Several men jumped to their feet, forming a queue for the soup. But the tallest young man said: “Please stay where you are, we will come to each of you in turn,” in such a commanding yet gentle voice, that what could have been a mob settled into quiet anticipation.

One by one, the young people gave bowls of soup to every single person in the alley, with a smile and word of encouragement. When they got to the stranger from the South, he didn’t reach for the bowl right away.

“Who are you?” he asked the girl who was holding out the soup to him. “Why are you doing this?”

The girl smiled. “We are a family,” she said. “My mother and brothers and sister and I were once where you are now. We have never forgotten how much it meant to have a bowl of warm soup on a cold day, so we decided that when we had gotten back on our feet, we would come back and bring our alleyway brothers and uncles soup to remember, and to help.”

The stranger took the bowl of soup worldlessly and took a sip. It was rich, flavorful, and filling–with vegetables and beef and even grains of rice.

“Thank you,” he said, and the girl smiled at him before she went back to get another bowl of soup for another man.

The stranger from the South did not feel like a stranger anymore.

 

(Inspired by: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJSpGXxkCqE)

 

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