“Don’t hurt me, I’m just hungry.” She stood looking at the chicken as it cooled on its spit at the side of the fire.
She reminded Ogg of a deer. Alert, edgy, about to run. He listened some more. Still nothing. He had seen Daddy turn others away, people who said they were tired or hungry. “Nobody ever gave me nothin’.” he would say. “Go on.” Then he would give them a mean look until they turned and went away.
“Nobody ever gave me nothin’.” Ogg said. “Go on.” He gave a mean look. Or what he thought might be a mean look.
“What? “The boy’s … the woman’s voice cracked.
Ogg knew this was wrong. Somebody had given him something. Just this morning, Dusty’s mother, and the day before, the man and woman in the wagon. And Keeper Twill and Keeper Flak. He glanced at the chicken and back at the hungry woman.
“I only got one chicken left.” That was true.
“I only want a bite. Just one bite. Please.”
Ogg watched her and thought. He knew you had to be careful when one bite was being requested. He had lost large amounts of many meals to Queedle or Bosco before he learned that one bite could almost empty a bowl or strip a chicken leg of all its meat.
“Okay,” he replied with a reluctant tone. “One bite.”
The woman stepped across the creek and started toward the chicken. Ogg raised the axe to block her path.
“I’ll give you a bite. You stay there.”
She jerked to a stop. Ogg held the axe straight out, watching her and listening again. She was small. Bigger than Dusty, but small. Like a small man. Ogg could see now that she had long hair. It fell from under her cloth hat. He ran his hand over his head. His hair was short. Daddy would cut his or Queedle’s or Bosco’s hair when it got so long that he could grab a handful.
He lowered the axe and waited to see if she would stay put. He backed toward the fire, keeping an eye on her. He crouched down and pulled a wing off the chicken. It had cooled enough to eat it without burning his mouth. He stood and took a bite. Glancing at the woman he ate most of the wing, leaving what he considered a “bite” on the bone for her. He listened again. He was now pretty sure there was no one else nearby. The woman stood with her hands at her sides, watching him.
He walked to her and held at arm’s length the remains of the chicken wing. She reached for it tentatively, like she was expecting him to pull it back to tease her. Queedle pulled that trick on Ogg often. Ogg didn’t think it was as funny as Queedle thought it was. He held the wing as the woman took it. Not jerking it away or holding on to make her fight for it. Ogg wondered briefly why Queedle did that.
He watched as she stripped the bone clean, sucking on it to get all the good. She dropped the bone in the creek.
Ogg looked at her wondering what to do now. She stood licking her fingers.
“Go on now.” he said. This was all he could think to say. He had given her a bite, like she asked. Instead of going, she sat down at the edge of the creek. She watched Ogg carefully.
She reminded Ogg of animals he had brought home when he was a boy. Injured animals he had found. A raccoon, a possum, a bunny. Each had brought him trouble with Daddy. He had learned to “leave them wild critters be.” Or to not bring them home anyway. And this woman was as unfamiliar to him as any “wild critter”.
Since she had sat down, Ogg figured he would just leave her alone. He walked back to his fire and sat with his axe still in his hand, across his knees.
She leaned over and drank from the creek. Then she scooted away from the creek a bit and leaned back against a tree root that twisted out from the bank where the creek had washed the dirt away. She looked like she was going to stay.
“You need to go on now,” he said. He was not at ease with her in his camp area.
“I’m tired. I’m going to rest here.” Her voice sounded tired. He never should have given her something to eat. Now she was going to stay around. It was a good thing Daddy wasn’t here.
“This is my camp. You can’t stay here.”
“I’m not in your camp, I’m over here by the creek.”
“This whole area is mine.” He waved his arm, showing her the sand bar up and down the creek. She was clearly in his territory.
“You own this land?” she asked.
She had him there. “No, but I got here first. This is my camp.”
“But you don’t own it?”
Ogg knew ownership of land was important. It had to do with staking out the boundaries and defending them.
“I was here first.” He knew that counted heavily in territory disputes.
“But you don’t own it.” Her voice was becoming more defiant. It wasn’t a question anymore.
“Yes, I do.”
“No, you don’t. You’re just like me. You’re just passing through.”
He was beaten. He had set no boundary markers. He hadn’t thought it necessary. Then a response occurred to him.
“It’s not your land either. You don’t own it.”
Ha! He had her there. But it didn’t seem to make much difference. She was still here. He looked at the chicken. He really didn’t feel like eating it now. He thought to wrap it up in his face-wiping cloth, but his Daddy’s fingers were in there. In his shirt pocket. He touched the pocket, feeling the lump there. He remembered the cloth that had been the wrapping for the food that Dusty’s mother had given him. He dug it out of his pants pocket and placed it on the ground. He placed the chicken on it and wrapped it up, the grease and juices soaking the cloth. He tied it with the string he had kept in his pocket from the bundle. It was a dripping mess. He glanced at the woman. She was watching him. Where could he put this where she couldn’t get it? His plan had been to put it in his pocket, but there was only so much of a mess that he could tolerate in his pants.
He was getting mad now. Why was she here? How could he protect his chicken from her while he slept? He was sure now he wanted to save it for his morning meal. He had a ways to go and wasn’t sure there would be any more chickens along the way. He put the package down and stood up. Turning towards the woman he raised the axe and walked towards her.
“You go away,” he threatened.
She scrambled to her feet. Her eyes were wild with fright. She held her hands in a defensive gesture.
“Why?” she pleaded.
“Because. This is my camp.” He fell back on his first argument.
“I’m tired.” She responded.
“No, you’re hungry.” Ogg knew why she wanted to stay; she was after his chicken. It was his. He had found it, stolen it, run with it and cooked it. It was clearly his.
He looked at her. She held her hands over her face and made a low noise. What was that? She was crying.
What did this mean?.