The Food Peddler

This post is a vignette, a snippet of time or a short episode depicting characters and helping establish what sort of world they live in. This post serves as an example for another post, which is located here.

John stood up, stretching his aching back. The noon-day sun was at its zenith, signalling that it was time to break for the midday meal. He followed the other farmers to the edge of the field where the Food Peddler had his shack and joined the long line.

As he shuffled slowly forward, acutely aware of his rumbling stomach, he listened to the chatter around him. The line was one of the best places to pick up gossip. Some might scoff at gossip as nothing but a pastime for idle tongues, but John knew better. Gossip gave you the temperature of the current state of affairs. Who was fighting with who? Who was courting who? Who was sick? Who was looking plumper and healthier than usual?

Finally it was John’s turn, and he approached the cart.

“One rat on a stick please.” He grunted, fishing the last few coins out of his purse. He wouldn’t be paid until tomorrow after work, so unless he managed to bring some bread from home he would have to go hungry tomorrow.

“All out of rat. You want pigeon on a stick?” The sweaty man in the window said, leaning out and looking down at John.

“Pidgeon gives me indigestion. What else do you have?”

“Vegetarian option.”  Granted the man, clearly eager for John to make a decision and move on.

“What’s the vegetarian option?” Asked John, trying not to sound eager. Almost anything was better than pidgeon on a stick.

“Potato on a stick.” Grunted the man, narrowing his beady eyes.

“Does it come with any spices?” Asked John. He hadn’t always lived like this. His childhood had been comfortable. There was always food in his belly, and on Sundays they had even eaten chicken. He could almost taste the juicy, delicately spiced flesh in his mouth.

“Is dirt a spice?” Asked the man, getting more irate. Most farmers had been born and bred to be submissive, ask no questions, and accept their lot. John had never managed to get the hang of it, not that he wanted to.

“No. Dirt is not a spice.” He said tersely. His stomach rumbled angrily. “One pidgeon on a stick then please.”

The sweaty man took his money and passed him the lump of meat. The bird still had a few feathers stuck to it, and its empty eye sockets stared at John accusingly. At least they cut the heads off the rats.

He took his food and stepped aside, looking for a comfortable spot of ground to sit on. He heard a female voice behind him and turned suddenly.

“One rat on a stick please.” It was Molly, beautiful, vivacious, charming Molly. John turned red and looked down at his feet. He should have paid more attention! He could have spoken to her in the line, or at least gazed upon her face until she frowned at him to stop.

He held his breath and both prayed she would notice him and begged God to make him invisible.

“For you my darling girl. I kept this one aside just for you.” The sweaty man arranged his features in what he probably thought was a charming smile as he handed over an enormous rat on a stick. It even had a little bit of cotton string tied to its base, forming a crude bow.

“Oh, thank you.” Molly, initially startled, smiled gratefully and the Food Peddler beamed. John fummed. What was Molly thinking, letting an oaf like that sweet talk her? He sighed and turned his attention to his pigeon. Still, at least the Food Peddler would keep her warm, fed and happy. That was more than John could ever hope to offer her.

As Molly and the Peddler chatted John skulked away, mournfully chewing on a stringy bit of pigeon meat.

What did we learn about this world? What did we learn about John?

This world is at least partially agrarian, and wages are low. Food is dull and most people are too poor to afford anything of real nutritional value. The fact that John’s back hurts indicates that the farming labour is hard work, and that he is a low-status individual (since higher status individuals undoubtedly do not engage in hard labour). We also learn that in this world there is a God, or at least religious beliefs, as demonstrated by John’s plea to be both rendered invisible and get Molly’s attention.

John is now a farmer, but it is implied that he once lead a much more comfortable life. He also has a crush on Molly, but has never approached her about it, instead preferring to observe her from afar. The food peddler gives Molly a rat that he specifically set aside for her, and he even decorated it with a small bow. This shows he is infatuated with her as well. The fact that she responds so well shows that she, and possibly the larger world, tends to appreciate gifts of a practical nature. Molly is also willing to flirt with the Food Peddler in order to secure more resources for herself. She may even consider marrying him in order to ensure her survival and obtain access to a steady supply of food and a somewhat comfortable existence.

This shows just how food insecure a lot of people in this world are. The Peddler gives Molly a large rat, thereby ensuring she gets more to eat than most of his other customers, as a way to show his favour.

We also learn about John by seeing how he reacts. At first, he is jealous of the Peddler for flirting with Molly, and wonders what she sees in someone he finds so uncultured and repulsive. Then he concedes that she might be doing it for economic reasons, which in this world may be more important than marrying for love. John also comes across as entitled, and even a sexist. He feels that he is entitled to Molly’s affections, and feels that she might not be the best person to decide who she ends up with.