Honor

September 1, 2007
By
I would rather starve than steal anything, even food.Ó



Tuyet had said this, blindly sure of her honor, knowing she would never have to make the choice. It had seemed an easy statement at the time, sitting in the cozy firelit dormitory with a couple of other students, far away from any hunger or hardship. She had picked up a round chocolate filled cookie and Harpann had asked her if she would ever steal anything, even if she was starving. The answer had seemed self-evident, as she ate the cookie.


Harpann hadnÕt argued, but sheÕd seen the look in his eyes, the look that said she was mad.

Tuyet crouched in a dirty alley, her back pressed to the cold stone. Her stomach ached constantly, a dull pain that she could almost, but not quite, forget. Her head felt empty, floating, and her thoughts wandered. She couldnÕt remember the last time sheÕd eaten. Six days? A week? It didnÕt matter. Nothing mattered. She didnÕt even know how sheÕd come here. Why wasnÕt she still at school? She struggled to remember, but all she could think about was the warmth of the dormitory common room, the food-laden tables in the dining hall, fuzzy images of her friendsÕ faces.


She heard a sound and stiffened, peering down the alley through her tangle of filthy black hair. It was just a rat, and she leant back, sighing, her fingers relaxing their grip on the hilt of her knife. Yesterday sheÕd seen a loaf of bread sitting on a windowsill. No one was in sight, and the hot smell of the bread filled her head, making it hard to think. Something, though, had held her back from stealing; the honor sheÕd thought sheÕd lost.


She was standing before she was aware that she had moved. Her steps took her through the maze of alleys until she reached the house. A loaf of bread sat on the windowsill. It was fresh, baked that morning. No one was watching. The kitchen was empty, the alley deserted. A step closer, and she ran a finger along the bread, feeling the bumpy-smooth texture and the light grease of the butter. Her fingers clenched, and her stomach cramped. No,Ó she whispered, her voice cracked and barely audible. I canÕt.Ó But she didnÕt move, her eyes fixed on the bread. Words ran through her head, droning on; she had no idea what they meant. Stealing is against the law. You must not steal. If you steal this bread, you will be thrown in jail, but worse, you will never forgive yourself.

When at last she turned away, tears ran down her face, but she was unaware of them. All she could see was the loaf of bread, hovering before her eyes. Sightlessly she walked through the alleys, finally returning to her own particular spot. There she sat, trying to remember. What had Harpann asked her? Why didnÕt she steal the bread? She didnÕt know. Perhaps she was mad.





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