Gustav slouched in the chair behind his candy cart, chin in hand and eyes blank. The sun was beginning to set and he hadn’t had a single customer the entire day. He had tried Main Street at lunchtime. Nothing. He tried the schoolyard during play time. Still nothing. Gustav supposed these days, people had more pressing things to think about and spend their money on than candy. The headline on the newspaper displayed beside him drove the thought home.
JUNE 4. 1944. FRANCE INVADED; ALLIED TROOPS LAUNCH MIGHTY OFFENSIVE.
On top of this dry spell, around lunchtime some filthy street kid had snatched a Milka bar right off the front of the cart. Gustav must have chased him down for half an hour, scanning the crowd for the child’s distinctive red scar above his eye, but it was no use. The boy was faster than a train it seemed. The Milka bars were one of the most expensive things on Gustav’s cart. Making a profit for the day was already going to be a herculean endeavor. In one swift motion that greedy child had made it impossible.
Gustav stood up and folded his chair, deciding to call it a day. He looked hopefully into the face of every passerby he encountered on his way to the building where he rented a small room, but no one paid a second glance to him or the treats he was wrestling uphill through the town square. Once he arrived at the building, Gustav hoisted the cart up the stairs, step by step. Once he arrived at his hall, he was stopped in his tracks by a notice tapped on his door.
NOTICE; EVICTED FOR NON- PAYMENT.
Placed by the door was a greasy laundry bag. He untied the top and found all the things he had to his name. His “good” pair of slacks, the bag of beans he had been living on all week, the framed picture of his parents…
Gustav sank to the floor and tried to think of where he could go. This late, all the shelters would be filled to the brim, and there were rules about the homeless setting up camp in the streets. Surely he would be stopped by an officer and arrested. There isn't a single place on this earth I am welcome, he thought.
He stood up, hoisted the bag onto his cart and somberly made his way out of the building. It was dark now, and he could hear bombs falling somewhere far but not too far, followed by frantic screams. It seemed the bombs were getting more and more frequent.
“Hey!” A voice yelled from behind.
Gustav spun around and locked eyes with a uniformed officer, whistle in hand and a pistol on his belt.
“There’s no vending after dark!” The officer yelled. “You there! You have five seconds to get that cart out of here! Are you listening boy?!”
Gustav turned on his heels and, taking his cart with him, took off in the opposite direction with no destination in mind. He ran and ran until - THUD - something, or someone, hit the front of his cart, bringing him to a halt. Gustav stood frozen almost too afraid to see who or what he struck. When he finally mustered the courage, he slowly shuffled to the front of the cart and found a little head of brown hair, bent down and nursing a fresh gash on his forearm. The head looked up to reveal a dust-covered face, marked by a scar above the left eyebrow.
“You…” Gustav muttered.
With no hesitation, the boy leapt to his feet and sprinted away, taking another milka bar off the front of Gustav’s cart. Gustav had had it. Abandoning everything he owned, he chased after the boy through alleyways and markets, until the child disappeared into the remnants of an old building that had been destroyed by bombs months ago. Gustav followed. It seemed the building was an old drugstore. The marble counter was still standing and the floor was littered with newspaper, cigarettes, shoelaces, all kinds of odds and ends. The swinging door marked EMPLOYEES ONLY swung open, then shut. Gustav ran over with a devilish grin, sure he had finally caught his thief. Then he stopped short. On the swinging door was a small window looking looking into what was once the drug store’s kitchen, and Gustav could see everything happening inside.
The boy knelt on his knees before a group of about seven or eight other children, all smaller than himself. He pulled the milka bar from the waist of his fraying trousers, unwrapped it then carefully broke it into tiny pieces. The pieces were then distributed to each member of the group, all of whom devoured the gift without a second’s hesitation. The boy took none for himself, the gash on his arm bleeding freely and fiercely. Instead, he curled into the ground, closed his eyes and fell rapidly to sleep.
Gustav shuffled out of the drugstore, feeling utterly foolish. He made his way back to his cart, praying the whole way it hadn’t been stolen or confiscated by an officer. By the grace of god, it was waiting for him right where it had been abandoned. With not a place to go or a soul to turn to; he rolled his cart back into the rubble, grabbed the box of Milka chocolates off the cart and left it at the door of the abandoned kitchen.