“Would you?” I looked up from my paper bags, all neatly lined up in rows based on delivery location. Harmony stared back at me with a level gaze. Everything Harmony did reminded me of a firework explosion, always intense and sharp. However, she handled the hunger with a patience I didn’t see in most.
“What?” I asked as I handed our delivery boy, Travis, another load of deliveries. They shrugged nonchalantly.
“End world hunger. End this,” they said, gesturing towards the few wayward souls milling about the cafeteria in search of food. “If you could.” I thought about it for a moment. My first instinct was to say yes, as it was the moral thing to do. However, the more I thought about it, the more I considered the catch. There must be a catch to solving something as large as global starvation.
“For what price?” I asked. Harmony shrugged.
“What would you be willing to give?” they countered. Something about the way they said it turned the question from an innocent hypothetical to a serious query. However, before I could muse what to answer and whether or not Harmony was truly joking, a woman came up to the front counter and asked for a sandwich. I smiled and allowed my thoughts to drift to my duties at the soup kitchen. Harmony’s question was left unanswered.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. Harmony’s words still haunted me. What would I be willing to give? My life? As much as I would like to believe that I abhorred the thought of dying for something I wouldn’t see come to fruition. Perhaps a body part, or maybe my meager funds. Volunteering at a soup kitchen didn’t bring in any income, and my job at the Insurance Company might as well be considered volunteering. Around one in the morning, I decided that Harmony’s hypothetical was ridiculous. It wasn’t like they could end world hunger anyway, or that any of us would see its end within our lifetime.
The next day was a slow one at the soup kitchen. Travis tried to start up a round of cards with Selena and Juan, but Selena wanted to practice her sign language and Juan didn’t like cards. I leaned against the counter and scrolled aimlessly on my phone for a little while, occasionally snorting softly at something mildly funny. “Did you think about it?” I looked up from my device. Harmony stood in front of me, arms behind their back and a small smile playing on their lips. That smile never reached their eyes. With a sigh, I set my phone down and turned back to them.
“Honestly, the entire hypothetical is ridiculous. Humanity is too stubborn to end world hunger because it would cause a whole slew of problems for the upper class. If I could, I would, at the expense of maybe my money or my dignity,” I answered.
“Or a body part?” Harmony suggested. I froze. Although it wasn’t too uncommon of an answer, the way they asked it raised the hairs on the back of my neck. I remembered musing over the same thought in the early morning, and I didn’t like the way Harmony stared at me as if they knew. Before I could confront them on the uncanny statement, Harmony shrugged and helped serve a young man looking for lunch.
The rest of the day picked up the pace, especially around dinnertime. Travis helped deliver a few orders to the cardboard towns near the bridge, Travis befriended a few of the homeless while serving food and Selene even had a chance to show off her sign language with a deaf man. I quickly bagged and served orders at a steady pace until the customers dwindled around eight. Juan and Travis left a few minutes later, while Selena, Harmony, and I stayed for the later crowd. When the clock struck ten, Selena placed down her final order and bid us goodbye. A few hungry people were still trickling in, so I helped serve them until Harmony closed the kitchen at ten-thirty. Once they turned off the lights to the main cafeteria, they leaned against the kitchen counter and stared at me with the same intense gaze as the other day. “Would you give a finger to end world hunger?” they asked. Silence hung tense and thick in the air as I chose my answer carefully. This was no longer a harmless question, and I knew it.
“Would it hurt?” I asked, keeping my voice calm and soft. I’ve known Harmony for almost three years, and although they were odd, they never seemed like the homicidal kind to me. From the way they never reached for a knife or even into their back pocket, I knew their intention wasn’t to harm me. Harmony shrugged.
“In theory, the process is painless. However, I like to have people look at their limbs as they lose them. Their emotional distress is the real kicker of the deal,” Harmony explained. I took a step back, and Harmony didn’t move from their spot. Somehow, that distressed me more, as if they knew that running would be useless.
“What are you?” I spat as I tried to mask my fear with irritation. Harmony gestured to the soup kitchen.
“When I was younger, much younger, humanity was just beginning. Already I could see it: the hunger, the greed, the gaps between the ruthless and the benevolent. The false promises each would bring to their neighbor in hopes of a pointless gain. I opened this soup kitchen three years ago, in hopes of undoing some of the damage mankind inflicted upon itself. However, as more people trickle in day by day, I know there is only one way to stop this. Unfortunately, I need the power before I change such a large and prominent issue,” they explained. When they pushed off the counter to pace the now darkened cafeteria area, I dove for the knives and held up the largest one I could find. A cold sweat tickled the back of my neck as it clung to my nerves, and my hand shook as I precariously held the handle of the Santoku knife. “The only way I can gain such power contradicts my nature, yet there is poetry in such irony. I need to feel the pain of another human being, to absorb it. I could try to find a poor victim somewhere out in the city, but this needs to be selfless pain, from one who agrees to the deal wholeheartedly and gains nothing from its result.”
“Would I gain the prestige of it?” I asked, my hand still tightly gripping the makeshift weapon. Harmony stepped out of the cafeteria’s darkness and cocked their head. Maybe it was a trick of the light, but their eyes seemed to flicker from their usual blue to a much lighter, more brilliant shade. If I didn’t know any better, I would say they were almost turning white.
“Prestige is a selfish reason, yet prestige is not something you can gain through this deal. One, you must not tell anyone about it, or your entire physical form is forfeit. Two, who would believe a man who spoke about how he cut off a finger and gave it to a cosmic being to end world hunger?” Harmony asked. They spoke in a conversational tone as if we weren’t talking about ending a global issue or severing body parts to do so. Their calm demeanor diminished some of my fear, yet I was still wary. How could they possibly do what they said they could? It would require resources, time to distribute, laws. Global hunger didn’t end overnight.
“How long would it take?” I asked.
“One night. You wake up tomorrow and all you will see is fully bellies and smiling faces,” Harmony responded with a grin. “Only a finger, I promise. I’ll even take it off of your left hand. You are right-handed, aren’t you?” I nodded, but when Harmony drew closer, I raised the knife. They stopped and stared at me with eyes older than time.
“How do I know you aren’t lying?” I asked. Harmony offered their hand, and I jumped back a step.
“If you would like to see the truth, you need to trust me,” Harmony explained, then offered their hand again. With a deep breath, I took their hand and set the knife back onto the counter. As soon as my fingers touched theirs, a flash of images ran through my head. Newscasters explaining the new miracle. Food banks doubling, tripling, in size and quantity. Families finally receiving the hot meal they’ve been waiting for. Waste itself diminishing from its infamous 40% to 5. When I snatched my hand back, overwhelmed by the onslaught of visions, the images quickly vanished as soon as they had appeared. I looked back at Harmony.
“What would this cost?” I asked. Harmony shrugged.
“Like I said before, a finger. Off of your left hand, so—”
“I’m not just talking about myself.” Harmony’s face flickered with confusion for a moment, before they began to laugh. The sound was so misplaced in the otherwise somber atmosphere that I almost picked up the knife again.
“Oh, you’re worried that this is a ‘careful-what-you-wish-for’ situation. No, I’m not a genie nor a djinn; I don’t get off on fooling people. World hunger ends through the sharing of resources from the top and the minimization of waste, not killing half of the hungry and feeding them to the other half,” Harmony explained. I flinched at the alternative solution, even though I expected it. “Watching one person make the conscious, direct decision to lose an appendage is enough for me. You’ll see when you accept. If you accept?” Harmony held out their hand, and I stared at it for a long time. One finger for generations of suffering. One of my fingers, granted. With a deep exhale, I switched my focus from Harmony’s hand to their gaze and decided.
All in all, losing one finger wasn’t that bad. The blade was sharp, albeit a little bloodstained, which made me wonder how many others had sacrificed their body parts to end suffering. As Harmony promised, the procedure wasn’t painful. In fact, the complete numbness emanating from my hand while I watched the left pinky sever was almost sickening. However, after trudging home and hoping that what Harmony said was true, I woke up to every news channel talking about the “miracle of prevalent food”. Business at the soup kitchen doubled for a while until eventually trickling off. After all, everyone had enough to eat now.
The ring finger came off to end sexism. I thought it was strange that Harmony could just end a construct, even an institutional one, but by the next day, women everywhere spoke about how their bosses had given them raises, promotions, and how the level of assault had reached an all-time low.
The middle came off to end racism.
The pointer for homophobia.
The thumb for civil conflicts.
The palm for global.
Not many people asked about my missing hands anymore. After I exchanged my right index finger for universal healthcare, it became easier to buy prosthetics. Travis once asked me what happened when I handed him a paper bag with three fewer fingers, but Harmony’s warning glance helped me fabricate an excuse. Accident in the kitchen. No, it didn’t hurt. Yes, it was a knife. Yes, I’m glad that I didn’t bleed out. However, Travis never asked me again, even when he saw the new prosthetics. Perhaps that came with losing a right pinky for the extinction of ableism. Painless, swift, yet just as uncomfortable as the first finger. If I had any left, I knew I would do it again.
I’m not particularly proud of this story. It started out with an interesting concept, an old genie-and-human relationship yet switching the focus towards the willing cost and not the gift, but I don’t think I portrayed it well enough. However, I do hope I made the readers think. Would you endure a lifetime of inconvenience to solve a global issue?