I spring to my feet as the bell sounds, cutting through the dismal silence permeating the room. My desk scrapes the floor as I push it aside, clambering up the stairs. It has been one of those mornings when I was lucky to leave the house with both of my shoes on, let alone grab any food; breakfast had not been an option. The heavenly smell of French fries wafts down the steps, and I rummage through my bag for my wallet. As I lean in, scrounging for coins, my foot slips, but I steady myself and dash towards the table in the middle of the lunchroom. Pressing four dollars into the register, I watch as the vendor scoops a generous portion of fries into a small paper carton and push it into the big metal oven. An eternity ticks by before he pulls them out, fresh and hot, and hands them to me. Balancing the carton on my elbow, I tear open a ketchup packet and sit down. I pick up a fry and am about to take a bite, when suddenly-
“Can I have one?”
The voice behind me is hesitant and sweet, as if to say, “You really don’t have to.” But I know the truth.
“Of course!” I reply, pasting a huge smile on my face. “Go for it.”
“Are those French fries?” rings out behind me. My heart sinks as a second girl sidles over. I nod, affirming that the dish in front of me is, indeed, French fries. I watch for a moment as she stares at me expectantly. I sigh inwardly.
“Would you like one?” I ask, stretching my lips into as close to a smile as I could muster. An air of surprise crosses her face.
“Oh! Um. . . well, okay! If you’re sure you don’t mind.”
“No problem,” I say stiffly, placing a precious fry into her hand. I watch as she leans over and drags it through my ketchup. Who on earth uses that much ketchup?
“Can I have one, too?” a third voice pipes up to my left. When did she get here? “Just a small one,” she says, reaching over and pulling out the biggest French fry I have ever seen. It must be two or three stuck together.
“Of course,” I mumble.
“Are you sure it’s okay if I take one?” she asks, pushing the fry into her mouth.
“Yeah, are you sure it’s okay if I take one?” echoes a fourth girl, who I had definitely never told she could take one. One by one, the fries disappear before my eyes, until finally the crowd disperses. Bending over the white tabletop, I count six small French fries left sitting in the limp carton. My stomach rumbles and I reach for a fry.
“Are those French fries?” calls a voice from across the room. A dark shadow crosses over my face. I clench my fists and stare at the floor. Patterned pink ballet flats march closer and closer, coming to a halt at my table.
“Can I-I mean, would it be okay if-I could maybe have a-”
I inhale sharply. “NO!” I cry, grabbing the carton and pulling it to my chest. “This is my lunch! This is my food! I haven’t eaten anything all day and I just want to eat my fries!”
Her timid smile abruptly changes to a scowl. “Gosh, I just wanted one fry!” she says, turning on her heels and walking away. “You have a whole box. I just wanted one fry.”