The Hungry Man and Squirrel-
Chrisanna Chen, CivE’23
On the outskirts of a small village lay a forest. The trees in the forest appeared no different from other trees in the village, standing tall and green. Venturing closer, one would find the evergreen canopy with a network of roots that scattered across the ground all pointing to a small clearing with a little thatched hut, tucked away. From the opening, one would see the hut deteriorating and consumed by the elements of the forest as tangles of vines suffocated each wall. Inside, one would find a man with outgrown and unkempt facial hair in his rugged, worn clothes and his beloved pet squirrel, Avari.
Being from the forest, excluded from all, the man treasured his only companion and deemed him family as they did everything together. Their daily routine started off with the man leaning on the kitchen counter, sharing morning coffee and reading the clues of newspaper puzzles to Avari, who could alway be found settled on his right shoulder. Every meal was prepared and cooked by the man and happily eaten by the squirrel. The day would then wind down with the man taking out his favorite cigars while Avari searched for the matches. Avari lit the match and held it close to the cigar as the man turned it until the tip glowed and blackened, igniting the outer layers of the cigar. The man took big puffs and held it up so Avari, still settled on his right shoulder, could take small puffs. As night grew closer, the man drew a bath for the squirrel as he scrubbed his fur with shampoo and conditioner, relaxing to soothing music in the background. After his pampering, Avari was put in his matching red plaid pajamas and rested on top of the man’s right shoulder to end their day.
Never stepping a paw outside the hut, the forest was foreign to Avari, making him reliant on the man for food. Priding himself on being able to provide for the squirrel, the man always took the long trek to the neighboring village to purchase food for the month. His labored breathing, chest pains, and hobbled walk showed his troubles on his last journey to the village. Although the man became injured from tripping over overgrown forest roots during his last venture, he deemed it quite successful as he saw Avari’s eagerness to eat the market’s bounty. Despite the outcome of his journey, the man chose to live in the moment and felt relieved his efforts were not in vain, though he couldn’t help but worry over his injuries.
As the days passed, the man’s suspicions came true when his conditions became more severe. He could barely walk, let alone work, as his pockets grew weightless, while the supply of food he bought for the month diminished. They made a point to not waste a single scrap. Eventually, the man and his squirrel went days without eating. Their guts grated in agony, a feeling Avari never experienced before. Hunger made Avari sluggish and desperate. With no signs of recovering, the man begged the squirrel to steal a small share of food from the village, just enough for them to get by for the day. Anguished, Avari was torn between his starvation and his discomfort in leaving the home and stepping into an unfamiliar role. Avari eventually gave into the hunger and agreed.
From the border between the forest and village, the squirrel observed older villagers walking the fields with their oxen, plowing and singing their tunes, and feeding and tending their livestock with their children. He also saw the town center in the distance where merchants bartered and sold their goods at high demand, and so Avari assumed this was where his owner bought food monthly. The squirrel scurried into the village, sniffing to find a scent hoping to not get caught by the villagers. The pungent aroma of a mixed variety of foods wafted through the air from an underground food bunker. Avari investigated and found it to be secured by a metal lock. Disgruntled, he continued to search until he found a farm with sandy soil and budding heads of feathery green leaves spaced a foot apart. When inspecting the leaves, he loosened the soil and pulled it out of the ground. He recognized a carrot and pulled out some more. Before anyone could notice, Avari picked as many carrots as his grubbly little squirrel arms could hold, scurrying away with five in total. He traveled back speedily to the hut so the man could see what great fortune he got away with. Upon his arrival, the squirrel shocked the man as he was impressed that the squirrel was able to steal food and they split the five carrots, scarfing them down. Relieved by the food in his stomach, the man provided much gratitude for the sustenance and patted the squirrel on the back.
The sweet, crispy taste seemed sufficient for the man to send Avari back to the village to steal again. The next day, Avari arrived at the village and picked as many carrots his grubbly little squirrel arms could hold, scurrying away with five in total. On his journey back, Avari felt a grumble and reminded by the taste of yesterday, he stopped on his path and ate a carrot. Arriving home, the man was shocked that the squirrel managed to steal from the village again as they split the four carrots and scarfed them down, ending the day off with a pat on the squirrel’s back.
On the third day, Avari arrived at the village and picked as many carrots as his grubbly little squirrel arms could hold, scurrying away with five in total. On his journey back, Avari felt a grumble and reminded by the taste of yesterday, he stopped on his path and ate a carrot. While eating the carrot, he began to feel wronged by having to pick up the slack of the man and doing all the hard work. Taking the last bite, resentment boiled inside of him. On his walk home, he patted himself on the back, believing he worked hard. While he was carrying all the carrots he could muster, his owner was in bed. Avari trekked the same path the man took every month, however in his mind, Avari felt more deserving as his desperation from starvation turned to spite. He felt the need to save another carrot for the night when he frequently became hungry again. At the midway point between the hut and the village, Avari stopped his trek home to dig a small hole and bury the carrot. He would eventually sneak off from the owner and devor it at night. Arriving home, the man and Avari split the three carrots and scarfed them down.
The following day, Avari approached the village as usual, but this time he noticed the underground unit before the farm was no longer shackled by the lock and was wide open. He crawled in and found the bunker filled to the brim with bountiful tomatoes, apples, bread, yams, potatoes, corn and plenty more that Avari had not seen in a while. Salivating, Avari conspired to steal it all for himself. Taking precaution in his stealth, he took as much food as his grubbly little squirrel arms could hold, scurrying away with what he could manage. Avari quickly dug another hole burying all his finds and made a trip back to the village for another round of food. This time Avari scurried with more than he could manage, stuffing not only his arms but also his cheeks with more of what he found in the bunker, the tomatoes, apples, bread, yams, potatoes, and corn, to bury.
The man developed great concern for his squirrel as fading light from the setting rays of the sun pierced through the clearing to the hut. Normally, Avari would be back with the stolen carrots. His concern led to distress as it slowly turned from scattered pale orange light to dark blue skies as the sun made its way along the horizon and Avari was still not back. With his limp, the man hobbled out in the direction of the village in hopes of finding his companion. After searching at the man’s slow pace, he saw the squirrel’s head peer between the network of roots among the tall trees of the forest. He called out for Avari asking what took him so long and if he got the carrots from the village as he was starving again since the carrots from the previous night were not filling enough to satisfy his hunger. Startled by the man’s voice, the squirrel stuffed himself with the excess food in order to hide it. He quickly gorged, not even bothering to chew and tried to swallow as much as he could in order to not get caught. The man heard the squirrel choking out a muffled “no” to the man. Confused and desperate, the man stumbled close enough to now see the squirrel’s face stuffed full of the food he gathered from the village, scraps strewn all over his fur from his overindulgent gorging. The man scooped up the squirrel, who was apologetically nuzzling his carer’s arm. Suddenly, Avari felt a pinch at the back of his neck as the sky’s dark blue went black. At dinner that night, the man served himself squirrel stew.