Once a day, that’s how often he plies his trade. Once a day he wakes and prepares for this one task, cooking for all that have the coin. To prepare, he seeks food in its various states. The morning is cold when he steps outside, his breath comes out in a white cloud. The old boots on his feet, resoled many times, but personal to him so each stain on the soft leather surface he can remember, take the beating well as he picks up his speed and jogs. The street is empty as he leaves the village and enters the ancient forest. A place of many memories. But changed since the war came.
Instead of a rifle, he swings a spatulae as a weapon and with the sun an hour away he’s not ready yet to put hash on the grill. So he puts a bit of hustle in his step. When the day starts he will need eggs, and other produce the forest can provide and none of it will be openly available without a fight. He is happy to do this chore, gather the morning’s ingredients- even with the battle so close that it stings his nose with rot and cordite.
Soon enough he shoos a wild hen from her nest and finds a dozen eggs, then by a trickle of a stream, some wild garlic, and under a bush, dug up by a wild boar, a few tubers.
Supplied and happy he is able to open for business. Soon enough he is telling the men, children really, not meant to know anything more than how to pray and how to die, that he has mushroom omelets, and fresh-baked cakes available. They don’t know the difference or care and only want more and quickly he sells out.
Cleaning up he talks with one of the senior enlisted.
“Going to be a big day Cookie, do or die, type day.”
Cookie nods, because that’s life isn’t it? Do or die. and he tells this to the top-kick and gets a chuckle, “you say that now, but bettin’ at the pointy end of a bayonet your tune sounds different.
Cookie nods again because sometimes that’s all a damn fool can do. And he knows tomorrow he won’t be so busy.
And he’s right, there almost is no tomorrow- after the enemy comes in what the historians will call the last will of the patriots.
And the next morning after the invasion he finds himself waking early in a small prison camp that once was his home.
That morning he finds a small heel of stale bread early on, but with the forest filled with soldiers he was told, not once, but over and over- with the dangerous end of a rifle- to get back to town. So he made due, carving out the crumb and using a few chutes of fresh garlic-grass and some lucked-out-to-find dandelion-greens, growing almost within arms reach. He makes a small fire and over a few orange coals cooks his small meal, lamenting, “I wish I had a little fat.”
Suddenly a hand, “Here.” In the palm, creases packed with black soot and the dried blood of patriots, are a few old olives presented as if an ageless treasure.
Cookie takes them because they will do nicely and after a bit adds some water and cooks the mush down into four cakes.
He gives two to his new friend and the next morning the enemy military moves on. As does he. Going further North, where the scraps are even harder to find. But he survives one guest at a time, because there is always something to cook.