Season of Hunger

The dog walked for miles because there was no food left in the village. The people all disappeared and left everything behind, their homes, their jobs, even the animals in the fields. Months of waiting, and still they had not returned. There were bad sounds at night, sounds even louder than noisy trucks or pounding hammers, but they were always far away, or at least far enough that the dog did not worry. The marshy fields spilled over with weeds, chickpea bushes overgrew and the heavy-headed millet grew too high and fell about in messy piles. The dog followed the road in a direction it remembered vaguely, riding on the back of a pickup truck as a puppy many years ago. Big square trucks came down the road sometimes, the kind that used to bring food or supplies to the village. They were terrifying at night, groaning loud and shooting their lights, and the dog barked but they did not stop. The dog passed a farmer leading an ox down the road and another village lay not far after, a cluster of houses and paths that smelled more strongly of smoke than the last one had. The dog was starving and exhausted, but it gathered the strength to run down to the village.

This village had no food left either. The animals were not in pens and wandering where people would not like them to be. There was a river to drink from, but nothing to eat but fish in the river, and the dog was not fast enough to catch them. It chewed grass by the roadside and picked through old carrion and slept irritably on an empty stomach. There were sounds far away, sounds like branches on fire burning and popping, but loud — as if the fire beyond the mountains was as big as the sky. There came loud buzzing cars up in the sky, too nimble to chase, that appeared and vanished as quickly as birds.

People came back during the night. All at once, with cars and talking and strange smells. The dog was frightened, even out of sight on the fringe of the forest, but it heard the other village animals. There were other dogs and two goats that knew to return to the people, so the dog followed. These people had all sorts of bags and metal things to carry around and put down, and they all smelled like and fireworks and dirt and sweat. But they had food.

A great fire was built, fueled with something that burned with an ugly smell and black smoke, and chickens were put on spits and roasted. The dog barked with the others and ran in long circles around the camp, meeting all the people and tussling over feathers and pungent leavings. The people pet the dog’s head and offered it morsels which it readily devoured. The fire was warm and it was exciting to have the people come back. The world was not lonely anymore, as it had been for weeks and weeks. Everything felt good again. The dog thought that perhaps the people had come back to the other village, too, and the idea made it too excited to be tired.

As night fell, the dog began to think that these were the wrong people. They did not behave like they belonged in the village. They paced the streets uncertainly and they did not go back to their own homes, and instead stayed together in a few houses near the fire. They were not doing jobs or putting the loose animals back where they were supposed to be. The other dogs were brave, or did not know better, and slept inside the houses. The dog who had walked from the other village stayed outside so no people would be upset. In the morning, the people left along the road and the stink of their fire remained. The dog slept for a very long time and awoke when the goats began picking through the rubbish. The other dogs left their smell along the road the same way the people had gone, back toward the other village.

The bad sounds began again, sounds like thunderstorms that echoed on the mountains, close enough now to be scary. The dog wanted to return to its village, but its paws were blistered and tired from the days of endless walking that had brought it here. The people had fed it delicious scraps, but it was weak from hunger even after eating the chicken bones and gristle the other dogs had left. It went into the house where all the people had been and barked the goats away. It lay on the straw bedding and watched the bright world outside through the doorway. There was no food in this village now, but there was still a smell like people had been here. If it waited long enough, the people would have to come back.