The Town Spectacle

By Abrahim Harb

This is an excerpt from a short story inspired by Kafka's "Hunger Artist."

The interest in becoming a hunger artist grew into an obsession. My father quit his job, leaving the family with no income. Two days, then four and a week pass by. In his quest to become a hunger artist, he dragged the three of us into it; my younger brother sick with a fever and my mother portioning out morsels of the remaining stale bread.

For two weeks, he sat in the cage—like an animal would—pacing back and forth, as people passed by the cage looking with bewildered eyes that had a glimmer of suspicion. They would whisper, some in disbelief, others with skepticism. He would soon begin to play with the hay he lain in as a bed. He had a peculiar look in his eyes. Around that time, the foreman began to taunt him, bringing food to the door of his cage. My father refused, continuing to play with the hay. All he asked for was fresh hay and extra for his makeshift bathroom—which I thought was useless. He consumed no food, nor did he drink a sip of liquid. My mother later would tell me that he had food still in his body. I suppose I am the only one who will know the truth. My room has a clear view of his cage, where it stood, next to the gazebo. I repositioned my bed to be opposite the window, so I could see him laying in the cage. Often during the rain, curious onlookers would huddle beneath it, starring for hours on end, as those who resided in the town scoffed with boredom, as they walked through the crowd.

Throughout that week, mother sat on her chair and stared out of my window, waiting for the crowd to grow weary. Suddenly, we would hear the door slam—I would rush to the door—to witness her scurrying towards my father’s cage, with cautionary haste. She would disguise her desperation for support; first she would carefully gather all the food that onlookers left and then sweep around the cage and clean out the old hay.