His breath came out in a painful struggle.
Legs wobbling, he fought against his own losing battle, as he tried desperately to sit up.
One side of his face was bleeding profusely and he couldn’t see out of his left eye.
Groaning, he spat out sand.
What kind of inhuman cruelty could possibly have descended upon him?
Looking around with his one good eye, he took in his surroundings.
He took in the sight of his battered clothes and his torn pant pockets where his mobile phone and wallet used to be.
Getting up with as much strength as he could muster, he dragged his foot as he walked towards miles and miles of trees and bushes.
“Honey, where’s my wallet?”
“John, you always leave it around! Here! Here it is. Right on this table. My god, it’s heavy! How much money are you carrying with you, John? You could get mugged!”
“Darling, you worry too much”
A peck on her cheek. A confident walk out the door.
He grimaced at the memory and then winced in pain.
How ironic this was.
For over ten years, he’d been carrying wads of cash around with him and nothing had ever happened.
One word from his wife and it was all gone.
The monstrous grumble from his stomach silenced his thoughts.
Great, he thought. This is fabulous! Where am I going to get food at the middle of nowhere?
As the seconds turned into minutes and the minutes turned into hours, he gradually began getting used to all the pain.
But the hunger just grew stronger.
Eventually, it got to a point where he started searching for just one morsel of food.
Anything to get rid of this ache.
At a distance, he saw a bush full of red fruits.
His mouth watering at the sight, he headed towards them, his arm outstretched.
By now, the vision in his left eye had become blurry.
As he got closer, he remembered how his daughter had lectured him once.
“Did you know?” She started.
He sighed and put his book down.
She’d give him all sorts of useless facts now.
Grinning from ear to ear like a good father would, he smiled at her.
“Tell me, sweetheart”
“Did you know that a lot of berries are poisonous?”
“No, I didn’t. That’s wonderful!”
His mind raced over his stomach that was now growling at him.
Slowly he moved backwards, deciding to grit his teeth and walk away.
No decision in his life, he realized, had ever been this painful.
Hunger was literally killing him.
He could die of starvation here.
Would his family care?
Thinking back to all the suffering he put his wife through, he vowed to treat her right if he survived this horror.
Along the way, he got so disoriented that he pinched himself to check if he was dreaming.
His yelp of pain answered his doubt.
This was very much happening to him.
After hours of walking around, he realized that he was still surrounded by what looked like acres of forest area.
Weakness descended upon him till he finally let it take over and collapsed to the floor.
“The soup is delicious” His daughter exclaimed, clapping in delight.
He smiled and patted her head.
“Happy Birthday, darling” He said, ruffling her hair.
His wife looked on lovingly.
The restaurant was beautiful, decorated in balloons and streamers.
It was a wonderful setting and he had paid a fortune for it.
As he drank his soup and waited for his main course, he saw a little boy standing outside, in the pouring rain, peeping into the restaurant through the glass pane.
Shivering visibly in the cold, the boy adjusted his torn sleeveless shirt as his eyes pierced into all the food that he could never have.
Anyone else would have taken pity at that sight.
But John was annoyed.
Calling the waiter, he asked him to take the boy away because it was disturbing their meal.
As the boy was being dragged off, his eyes connected with John’s as he pleadingly asked for a morsel.
John turned away.
Startled, he sat up, panting in fright at the dream that was more of a memory than a nightmare.
Frowning, he realised that he was still in the forest.
A drop of water landed on his swollen cheek.
Then another. And another.
Soon the rain showered onto him, making him get up and try to find shade under a tree.
It was then, that at a distance, he saw a yellow light.
His heartbeat getting faster, he ignored the rain and the shooting pain up his leg as he ran towards it, his mind solely on the food that he’d be able to get his hands on.
It led him to a busy street, much to his delight.
“God’s on my side” He said, smiling as he realized that he was close to home.
The door made a loud thud as he stepped in.
In a corner, his two lovely ladies were sobbing inconsolably.
Perhaps, for him.
But his eyes went to the apples on the dining table.
“Dad?” His daughter exclaimed.
“Oh my God! John! What happened to you?”
But he didn’t even glance at them.
The apples were all he wanted.
Gobbling them up, one after the other, as his wife and daughter looked on at the terrible sight that he was, John realized that hunger was the strongest form of pain that he would ever endure in his life.
The little boy’s image flashed in his mind.
He decided that he’d find that boy the next day and treat him to the most amazing meal in that restaurant.
His heart warming at that thought, John reached out for another apple.