Little Bug; A Short Story
He was too hungry, now, to feel much fear.
He crouched in his habitual place, one eye on the door, the other idly watching the big, black roaches that prospected hopefully about for dropped crumbs. There were none, of course. The lopsided cupboard had stood tall and empty for days now.
One of the roaches ventured too close to baby Bea, and he reached out and flicked it away. His movement disturbed her and she whimpered in her sleep, curling up tighter against him. He could feel the knobbly bones of her spine digging into his leg.
He grimaced at a sudden, tight hunger pain that clawed his gut, and wondered, briefly, if roaches would be any good to eat. Little Bug was always putting strange things into her mouth, he thought, so why not? He studied her face, shadowed by a tangle of black hair, watched the way her rounded lips moved in the half-remembered act of sucking, and decided, no. There had to be a better way.
A sound from outside caught his ear, and his gaze lifted automatically to the door.
Probably just the wind.
"Three days." Father had said, "If I'm not back in three days, then you take your sister to the charity house. And I'll come and find you there...if I can."
He had nodded. Solemn, silent, but inwardly vowing that it could not happen. He would not take Little Bug to that big, ugly, cavernous place, where men, women, and children alike went about with shaven heads and coarse, ill-fitting clothes and the air reeked of pestilence. Father would come back. Father always came back.
So he had measured out their daily portions just as Father had told him, and every morning, when the sun had climbed enough to shine through the small, high window, he had made a tiny scratch on the floor with the broken blade of his penknife. There were seven scratches, now, and Little Bug had cried for most of the last two days, even though he had saved his final portion to give to her.
He sat very still, so as not to waken her, and watched the roaches trundling over the floor on their spindly legs.
My legs aren't like that. He thought. They are long and strong, and I am fast.
The boys in the street gangs were bigger than he was, but he knew that he was faster than any of them. He'd proven the fact on several occasions.
They would let me stay, he reflected, if I remind them of how fast I am. They would let me stay, and maybe they wouldn't take Little Bug away like they would at the charity house. They would know the good places to hide. They would be able to get food.
Alone, he didn't think they stood much of a chance. Bea was too little. And she made so much noise when she cried. He was afraid that the landlord or one of the neighbor women would discover them and carry them away to the charity house. He'd heard of it happening before.
When Father came home...well, they should be nearby, waiting for him.
He flicked another roach away.
Bea stirred again, and this time, she opened her wide eyes and looked up at him.
"Hungry." She announced, too loudly.
"Shush!" He commanded, finger to his lips.
He eased away from her and pushed himself to his feet. He looked around at their sparse surroundings. There was really no reason to stay.
Another hunger pain stabbed through him.
"Little Bug," he whispered, "would you like to go somewhere?"
"Go?" She repeated, wonderingly.
He moved quickly, decided. He gathered up their few things and stuffed them into a sack. The roaches scattered away from him, scuttling for their dark corners. It satisfied him, somehow, to see them go. They were ugly things.
Bea sat watching him, her thumb jammed into her mouth, wonderfully quiet. When he returned to her, she held up her arms to be carried.
"Go." She said again, as he settled her small body against his chest.
There was something about their proximity, her small, beating heart pressed up against his own, that filled him with warmth and courage. He would do whatever must be done, he decided.
He went to the door and unlatched it with a firm hand.
Bea laced her arms around his neck, and he let his cheek rest briefly against her hair.
"It's going to be all right, Little Bug." He whispered. "I'm sure."
Story written in response to Art Stew 52 prompt, Insect. I'm in the very experimental stages of planning a story that involves street children, so this served as a bit of a warm-up, to dip my toes in, so to speak.