All Stories, Fantasy, Science Fiction

Be Aware, the Hand That Feeds by Stephen Oram

Clara runs her fingertips across Rose’s palm and analyses her sweat. “You need food,” she says. Rose looks down at Clara, her small human-like daughter, and mutters her agreement. Hand in hand they saunter along in search of sustenance, checking each restaurant as they go. What they want is an elegant meal in good company for Rose, and a beautifully presented snack of kitchen waste biofuel for Clara. Up ahead, Rose sees a few friends, also hand in hand with their little helpers, walking into one of her favourite places to spend a lazy afternoon. Not wanting to miss out Rose speeds up. Clara tries to hold her back, but Rose drags her along until they reach the door. Clara resists going any further, but Rose gives her one almighty yank and Clara relinquishes her determination.

They stroll across to the table of friends and Rose relaxes into her seat. Now that she’s eye to eye with Clara who is standing next to her, she smiles and lets the appreciation of her good fortune settle inside her. She has nice friends. She has Clara, rather than those crude invasive implants she can see under the skin of the young waiters and waitresses. They are from the less fortunate, or as her wife calls them with a chuckle, ‘the deserving poor—they get what they deserve’.

“You cannot eat here,” says Clara.

Rose grabs hold of Clara’s hand and sucks her thumb. “Show me the best things on the menu,” she says.

Clara analyses Rose’s saliva and highlights three options. “These,” she says, “but you can’t eat here.”

“Be quiet girl,” says Rose. “Go and recharge.”

With a petulant sneer, Clara shrugs her shoulders. “You are the mistress,” she says, as she leaves Rose to join her own kind sat at a table tucked away in the corner.

Rose and her friends chit chat away while they sip at the most wonderful cocktails and the afternoon unfurls pleasantly, with friends taking it in turn to order cocktails and delicious delicacies. When her best friend Bess asks her what she wants, Rose sniffs the air. “What is that delectable smell? Show me girl,” she says to the nearest waitress. The young woman indicates the item on the menu that matches the silky sweet aroma wafting from the table behind her. “Good, get me one of those,” says Rose, happy that it also happens to be one of the options Clara had picked out for her.

Rose ponders her friends—the local elite. Men and women who have partnered wisely and spend every day maintaining the essence of the place that draws their husbands and wives home after long days of wealth building. Theirs is the re-enactment of a grander age, a modern version of a bygone era—one of society, etiquette and good manners. Their very presence will rub off on the serving staff and that will help them better themselves. If not them, then their children or their children’s children. Philanthropy in action.

As the last sip of a cocktail touches her lips and the last morsel of food enters her mouth, she beckons the young waiter over. “Same again for everyone,” she says without looking at him.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t serve you,” he says.

Rose lets out a tipsy giggle and waves her finger around the table. “Which one of you put him up to that?” Her friends look puzzled and slightly embarrassed, checking each other to see who has played this practical joke. Nobody owns up. Rose turns on a nearby waitress. “Girl,” she says. “What does he mean?”

The waitress takes a step closer. She glances at Clara. “Your daughter has alerted us to the fact that your currency won’t work here. It’s not compatible.”

“What.” says Rose. “Not compatible. It’s smart money, you idiots. Don’t you know what that means?”

“Yes madam,” replies the waitress. “Unfortunately, your currency will not allow you to purchase from an establishment that has contracts with any corporation that donates money to the homeless. Our sincerest apologies.”

Rose shoots to her feet. “My wife specified that currency extremely carefully.”

“I’ve no doubt,” says the waitress.

Rose is about to protest when she feels Clara’s hand in hers. “We must go,” whispers Clara. “Your friends have data-disowned you and so have all your favourite places and shops.”

Rose stares at her. “What do you mean?” she says. Meanwhile, her friends have all cast their eyes downwards, away from Rose.

“You’re—” Clara pauses as if she’s searching for a new word. “Persona non grata,” she says. “Accepting hospitality without being able to return it is the pinnacle of rudeness.” She gives Rose’s hand a gentle tug and begins walking towards the door. Reluctantly, Rose follows—she’s seen this happen to others but never imagined for one moment that it could happen to her.

Outside, Clara leads Rose by the hand to the side of the restaurant and into a dark alley-way full of rank smelling bins.

Rose resists. “Where do you think—”

Clara interrupts her. “While we’re here, let’s see what we can find for your supper,” she says and gives Rose’s hand a squeeze.

Stephen Oram

Image – Pixabay.com

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