We were reading in class about a girl in West Africa who had been orphaned when her mother starved to death and her father was shot. A girl in the class, T, said,
"You can die of that? Starving to death?"
"Yeah, Retard," said another kid (who is usually much kinder), "Of course you can die of that."
"How long does it take without eating?" T asked me. I didn't know. Then A, who is always compassionate and kind, said,
"A week. It takes a week to starve to death. That's what they said in Health."
I was thinking of the biography of John Lennon I read, where he fasted for a month once, and I informed them that it could take a few weeks, depending on how large or how healthy you were to begin with.
"Well, it don't matter none, anyway," burst out T. "My mama keeps the cupboards full of food all the time, so it don't matter none, anyhow."
This seemed callous to me at the time. I went on with the class and didn't think about it until afterwards, when I realized: first, that T's father was recently shot and almost died, and second, that she is not being selfish in saying it doesn't matter because she's got food; rather, she's actually concerned that her family members are going to die and leave her alone. She's going down the list: Dad got shot, he could die! But we've got food. We won't starve to death. Mom won't starve, at least. I won't be an orphan like the girl in this story.