The room was of plain décor. It was designed that way for efficiency. No time was wasted in upkeep or cleaning. An air conditioning unit kept the room at an all too cool temperature and a self-timed air freshener shot waves of ocean breeze into the room. Zade caught himself wondering if they had changed the scent since yesterday.
A short man stood before him in the queue looking nervous. Zade stole a glance at his time pad. It was nearly empty. No wonder he was nervous.
A few years ago the government had issued a food scheme. It was designed to give each man a fair food ration. The more you accomplished that day, the more food you were rewarded at day’s end.
Since food was scarce, it worked out better this way. Every one got at they deserved.
Zade checked the time. 8.53pm and 20 seconds. The rations station was taking longer than usual.
“Over here sir we haven’t got all day”.
A large man stood behind the counter. Zade produced his pad and the man scanned it. “Not a bad day sir” said the man.
Zade gave a grin. It was a good day. Since he had cut out tea breaks he had more time to achieve. More achievements meant more food.
“All done sir, see you tomorrow.” The officer handed him a 3.8kg satchel.
The street was busy. Most people were racing to the ration station with seconds to spare. Doors were locked at 9pm sharp. Zade looked toward the overcast skies and decided to zip up his jacket before pushing his way through the crowds. A few drops of rain hit the pavement.
“Sir,” came a voice, ”can I offer you my umbrella?” Zade stopped. He turned to see the middle aged man who had been in front of him at the ration station. Such gestures were uncommon. Umbrellas were for the upper class, why this man would help put him on edge. Besides, he was wasting his time, helping others achieved little reward.
“No offence mister but I saw you at the station. Your pad was nearly empty. What’s the catch here?”
The man clearly took no offence. Leaning in he said, “Oh, there is no catch. I just want to bless you.” He extended his arm an announced “Eli.”
He shook the man’s hand. “Eli huh. The name’s Zade.” He seems kind enough.
Eli popped his umbrella open and raised it high. The rain was light but just enough to slow the trains down. The two men walked toward the bus terminal, Zade setting the pace.
“So Eli, you from a rich family?”
Eli’s rosy cheeks lit up as he let out a laugh, “Oh no. Far from it. I just have different priorities to most, if you’re referring to my time pad.”
Zade felt a little guilty for being so bold. It was uncommon – if not unheard of – for people to skimp on their time sheets. Everyone was in a rush to achieve. Time was food. Food was life. Eli’s care free attitude intrigued him.
“Food fills the stomach Zade. It helps,” Eli let out another laugh, “but at the day’s end I like to look back at my true investments”.
A young woman pushed between the two men in a bid to get past. They had only covered fifty meters or so. Zade checked his watch again. 8.59 and 28 seconds. This conversation is slowing me down.
Zade spun on his heels as if shocked by Eli’s words. “Without food people would cease to exist!”
“Maybe so. But people are worth more are they not?”
Zade paused in thought until his watch sounded 9pm. “Thank you Eli. Food for thought.”
“My pleasure” Eli stood alone as Zade ran to the covering of the bus terminal.
Eli swept his surroundings and caught sight of a young mother with a baby strapped to her back. Reaching into his bag he pulled out a sandwich.
“Excuse me ma’am. How are you today?”
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