Raphael drew hard on his last cigarette as he considered the exchange. It calmed his nerves. He and his family hadn’t eaten properly in months and his insides wrenched as the smoke inflamed his acidic stomach.
Maria had begged him not to do it, but he’d heard about a guy trading tools for food; a knife would get him a loaf of bread. He'd been told to arrive early. The guy would only trade at the front of the food-line, in daylight; that way both parties ran an equal risk of getting caught. Smart but crazy, Raphael thought, as he concealed the blade.
He was one from the front now. A grimy bead of sweat rolled down his forehead and stung his eye, his head jerked slightly. Look for the blue cap and stand to his right for the handover, he recalled. A guard patrol hovered close by. ‘Dogs,’ Raphael said under his breath and spat at the guards shoes. He shouldered up to the man in the blue cap and slowly inched the knife from his pocket, glinting the blade as proof of exchange. It might as well have been a flare.
‘Caught with a weapon!’ The guard struck him with the butt of his rifle, knocking him to his knees.
‘You know the drill’, the guard sneered as he stooped down, grabbed the knife, and pocketed it. ‘No food line for a week,’ he said and shoved the barrel of the gun deep into Raphael’s empty stomach.
Eyes to ground Raphael trembled, incredulous at the guard’s leniency. His heartbeat rang loud through his head as he strained to listen to whatever was being shouted. The rifle jarred his ribs once more. The searing pain was nothing; it was the thought of Maria when he returned home, empty handed, that filled his eyes with tears.