Hungry for Pride

June 4, 2008
By Elizabeth Bentivegna, Harrington Park, NJ

The outward appearance of the Washington Food Bank looked cheery enough, but Leocadio knew better. Standing enveloped in its menacing shadow, he saw the sickeningly neat lines of tulips fencing in the perimeter, as though the seductive lull would hold you captive there. Whitewashed cement and mulched flower beds beautified the otherwise horrid grounds. It wasn’t exactly located in the nicest part of town; litter invaded as stealthily as any assassin, and the sidewalk was punctuated by black splotches that Leo refused to believe were ancient gum.

But Leo knew what a façade it posed, how convoluted a design it was. Oh, yes. He had seen what just stepping in the door had done to some of his closest friends, people who he knew, or thought he had known, inside-out. A layer that had covered and toughened their skin had been brutally stripped off, leaving them pink and tender and meek. Leo figured they must have a special room inside the food bank where they stored the skinned pride of these confident men. In his mind, they drooped on shiny metal hangers, row and rows in alphabetical order. A hanger waited for him, but he had vowed that it would never be filled.
So, why was he now here, three yards from the door? How had Leocadio Acevedo come to this? Even he could not recount exactly how it had happened. One thing after another had gently infiltrated their life: less hours working, more time in the Classified section, less money in the hiding place, more hunger pains, until his wife’s livid nagging had carried his feet to this place. He swiped at his sweating forehead, unsticking the thick, dark curls from the adhesive skin. This is not where I should be, he thought anxiously. If one of the guys sees me, I’ll never hear the end of it. He had found the only positive aspect of his unemployment; he wouldn’t have to see them until his wife, Helena, let him go to the bar again. His fair features and bright, big eyes, although diminished minutely by age and worry, could still attract a pretty girl, and Helena was not about to risk that. Their marriage was already teetering on the edge of a knife.
The building’s utter perfection repulsed Leo even more so that he felt he might be sick. Hunger nausea was replaced by revulsion nausea coupled with disappointment, the worst kind. There was no way he was going in. Nope. Not a chance.
But Leo had more important things to consider other than his ego right now. Helena had hinted that she might be pregnant again, and they couldn’t afford to feed both a two year-old and a new baby. He had been shedding fat too copiously to be considered well-fed; even Helena’s cheekbones had pushed themselves out of her skin more in the past seven months. The losing patience in her hooded eyes became clearer as of late. He had to do it.
With his first step, the obnoxious javelin of a car horn pierced his skull. “Hey, hey!” broadcasted a few laughing voices. “That cannot be our Leo I see, yeah?”
He turned in horror and faced the gruesome sight of five of his friends in a shiny, poison-apple red Corvette, waving and snickering at his pitiful situation. “Hope the canned Chef Boyardee tastes fantastic!” yelled one, and they sped away, hooting gleefully.
Rigidly, Leo turned from the food bank. Not an expression passed his face as he commenced his defeated march home. Helena would just have to understand.

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