Two nights in these bunk beds and I already feel like my back is broken. I think sleeping on the ground in the Oregon wilderness was better than this. I dare not compare these beds to the ones back at the apartment – a luxury of the past, no use revisiting the memory. When I finally muster the willpower to get up and stretch I notice Kevin sitting on the edge of his bed, and I give him a nod.
“Food gets delivered today,” he says.
“Will you take me? You’re more familiar with the system than I am.”
He looks to Georgia, still sleeping, and I sense that he worries about leaving her. Considering they’ve just been reunited after four years apart, I don’t judge him for having some separation anxiety.
“Or, you know what, it’s okay – just tell me what to do. I’ll take a few with me and you can hang out with Georgia and Johnny. I get it.”
He gives a weak smile. “Thanks, brother. You should leave soon before a crowd gathers. Trucks usually arrive around noon.”
I nudge Aiden awake and ask if he wants to join, and he grumbles an answer that I take to be a yes since he rubs his face, gets up, and laces up his shoes.
“Where are you going?” Kennedy whispers from her bunk.
She nods and her head disappears, but a minute later she jumps down. “Me too.”
Half of our newly recruited duo joins too – Nathan, apparently eager to prove his helpfulness. I divvy up our group’s 24 meal tickets, each of the four of us responsible for claiming six of them. Considering we’ll each be carrying enough to feed six people for a week, I suggest we take pillow cases to carry the packets in.
We head out and start in the direction Kevin instructed. It’s a chilly morning, foggy. I thought we would be beating the rush to the delivery trucks, but there are many other people already walking in the direction we are.
I clear my throat and try to make conversation with our newest member. “How long has it been just you and Sonam?” Now seems like a good time to get to know him, maybe the smaller setting will be less intimidating, and there’s not much else to talk about.
He frowns and seems to study something in the distance. “About six months now.”
“Who were you with?”
“My sister, Sonam’s…” he trails off. “Tyler. He’s only three. We just hope he’s with my sister. Or someone safe.”
My heart sinks – a kid, a baby. “I’m sorry, Nathan.”
“The four of us had just started up with another group, but soldiers came in the night. We ran, but not all in the same direction. We looked for Morgan and Tyler for days but couldn’t find them. We didn’t know whether to hope they were still with the group or not because we didn’t know how safe the strangers were. But Morgan is the tough one out of the three of us – you saw Sonam and I on the bus, brawn isn’t really what we have to contribute.”
“Then I’m sure she’s keeping your boy safe,” I offer.
Nathan makes a face I can’t quite read, and opens his mouth to speak then stops. When he starts again it’s back to the story. “When we heard the buses were picking people up and taking them to a refugee camp we figured that was our best bet – if Morgan heard about them this is where she’d go. We spent all day yesterday looking but, nothing. We asked if anyone had seen them, with no luck.”
“We’ll keep looking. Our group will help you,” I promise.
“It’s hard to know who to trust these days,” Kennedy chimes in. “The three of us, plus a handful of others back there have been together for several years. But most of the group is new, we met up with them on our way out of Portland. It was a rough start, but you can only afford to have so many enemies at once. We didn’t really have a choice but to stick together.”
Silence. I’m not sure what Kennedy is trying to say, but it doesn’t feel very comforting so far.
She seems to understand the need for clarification. “All that’s to say…I’m sure if they’re with the other group they’re being taken care of.”
Nathan shakes his head. “No one wants a kid in their group. It’s not like he can contribute anything. Just another mouth to feed, slowing them down, putting them in danger. They expressed their, uh, concern before we got separated. If they could manage to ditch Morgan and Tyler, they would.”
The conversation dies and we are all left to our own heavy thoughts, but it’s not long before we arrive at the delivery site, where the bus unloaded us two days ago and where food is being delivered sometime today. A crowd has already gathered, and I start to worry – Kevin had mentioned it was a first come, first serve kind of system, and that they always run out.
Extra soldiers are already stationed at the camp’s entrance for crowd control. One of them stands in the bed of truck and starts speaking into a megaphone. “Clear the area,” he commands. “You know you can’t gather here.”
Most people stand their ground.
“The trucks can’t come in if the space is this packed. You need to clear the area.”
Other soldiers start pushing the crowd out, clearing the courtyard, and we back away. Just as the crowd starts to dissipate the gate is opened and the front of a train of trucks start driving in, and people rush, ignoring the soldiers: the food is here.
“Hey, watch it!” Kennedy barks as she gets jostled in the frenzy. She gets knocked into me and I place my hands on her shoulders to steady her. “This is insane,” she says turning to me.
“Keep moving,” I tell her, pushing her onward.
The soldiers that brought the delivery are starting to distribute meal packets – I try to see over the heads in front of me to get a look at the transactions. Though I only manage to get glimpses, I see that refugees trade the blue meal tickets for a packet. I feel for the tickets in my jacket pocket, just to be sure.
Yup, still there.
We finally make it to the front, and I give the soldier the six tickets I’m in charge of, almost expecting him to question why I have so many. But he says nothing, and soon I’m holding what is apparently supposed to be enough food to feed six people for an entire week. It all fits into the one pillow case, which I carry over my shoulder out of the crowd and wait for Kennedy, Aiden, and Nathan to reappear.
One by one they emerge. Nathan is the only one to look shaken. Aiden’s face remains as serious and downturned as ever. Kennedy is the last one to join us, and she just looks angry, which makes me smile. One hand holds the pillow case but the other is balled in a fist at her side.
“Next person that pushes past me is getting punched,” she says, walking past the group. We turn to follow her lead as she marches through the camp. “Animals.”
“That’s war, sweetheart,” Aiden grumbles.
“Don’t actually punch anyway, okay Kennedy? The last thing we need is some kind of brawl breaking out – let alone one with you in the middle of it. We could get kicked out,” I remind her. But then I let the image of Kennedy laying waste to some poor pushy crowd members and laugh. “Not to mention, you’d probably do some serious to damage.”
Kennedy is one of those fighters that will surprise you – people tend not to expect much from girls, and especially short ones like her, but she’s relentless. I saw her beat the shit of a guy we’d let join us for awhile a year ago. He was by himself and desperate. We caught him trying to steal some supplies and run off in the middle of the night. Or I should say, Kennedy caught him. By the time the rest of us woke up (from a combination of his begging for mercy and Kennedy’s expletive shouting) and ran into the hallway there was nothing left to do. I was the one that pulled Kennedy off of him, once I was able to unfreeze from my state of paralyzing awe, and he just ran. Left the stuff, and we never saw him again. Frankly, I was a little disappointed. He was the first person we’d seen in a long time, and the last one we’d see until Anna’s group.
“Delivery!” I announce upon our return. “Everybody gets one – make it last, it’s all there is until next week.”
“Do we have any ground rules about the food we brought with us?” Kara asks. “Is that still communal?”
“I think we should try to make do with what they give us. It’ll be good to have backup in case we come up short another week with the meal tickets. It was madness today. Good thing Kevin told us to get there ahead of time, the trucks were early – if we’d been late we wouldn’t have gotten food.”
JJ crosses his arms. “So who makes sure that happens?”
“What do you mean?”
“Who makes sure our store of food stays untouched.”
I shrug my shoulders. “We’ll just keep up what we’re doing now – always have two or three people in the room so our stuff is never unguarded.”
“I mean who makes sure none of us touch the food.”
“Is that really-”
“We’ve picked up three new people since we got here, and I still have my doubts about some of the rest of us.”
“Let me remind you pretty much all the food we do have came from the apartment, so it’s not really yours to be worried about anyway.”
“So it’s not communal? What happened to the teamwork family shit you normally spin?”
“Alright, fine, you want a ‘keeper of the food’ then who do you suggest?”
“Sorry, no. Go fish.”
“I’ll do it,” Dylan says quickly, stepping forward. “I’m probably the most neutral one here.”
Silence. I like Dylan – I trust Dylan. And he has been one of more peaceable ones. Aiden is one of the stingiest (and therefore best) supply watches, but JJ and his group don’t seem to like him too much. Which I guess is fair. And, in reciprocation, it wouldn’t be fair for Allen to watch the supplies since he’s their leader. “I’m okay with Dylan doing it,” I say. “If you find that amenable. If everyone,” I gesture to the room, “finds that amenable.”
Nods and murmurs of agreement go around the room.
JJ exhales dramatically once it seems he’s the last one to approve the decision.“Fine.”
I’m really starting to hate this asshole.