Food For Lunch!
It was busy, bustling day in Neopia Central. Everywhere you looked, neopets and their petpets, dressed in their finest clothing, were enjoying themselves, most laden down with shopping bags, most laughing or smiling.
"I wish WE could afford to go shopping," a small Altachuck said dreamily.
The Altachuck's owner, a Vandagyre called SailorLee, smiled fondly down at her beloved petpet. "Oh, Lunch," she replied, "you wouldn't like shopping, you're far too timid for those busy shops. Look at how everyone is pushing past one another, just to get the most expensive things on sale! No, you wouldn't like it one bit."
They were sitting on the grass by the fountain of the Neopian Neolodge. A crowd had formed outside the nearby post office. Someone cried, "I hear they're restocking the Court Dancer stamp!" Another exclaimed, "That stamp is worth nearly two million neopoints!" "Move out of the way! I need that stamp!" a third boomed. The post office doors swung open, and the timid Altachuck's eyes widened in both fear and nervous excitement as the crowd stampeded forward amid squeals and shouts and cheers.
Lunch shuddered. Shopping did look quite scary, he conceded to himself. "Maybe I wouldn't like it," he said. "But it would be nice to try it, just once. I wouldn't shop for stamps though," he decided. "I'd buy the tastiest food in the whole of Neopia! We'd never be hungry again!" As if on cue at the mention of food, both the Vandagyre and the Altachuck's stomachs rumbled loudly, and SailorLee glanced around quickly, hoping no one had heard. Neither of them had eaten anything since the day before.
SailorLee felt extremely guilty. Maybe she had done the wrong thing when she'd found the abandoned Altachuck sitting, cold and shivering, under the Money Tree all those weeks ago and quickly claimed him as her own. Perhaps she'd been selfish taking on a petpet when she could barely afford to even feed herself. Who knows, had she left him there, he might have gone to live with a wealthy owner, one who could treat him and give him the comfortable life SailorLee surely could not. It was hardly a realistic scenario, however. SailorLee knew that the likelihood of ANYONE, rich or nay, wanting an Altachuck as a petpet was slim to negligable. Sadly, the Altadorian creatures just weren't in demand anymore. They were ten a neopoint, common as could be. As one Scorchio had dismissively sneered, "They're not worth the food you'd have to feed them!" No, deep down, SailorLee knew she had done the right thing. She couldn't have left him there to die, and he'd looked so happy and grateful when she'd given him a a big hug and told him he could stay with her. Besides, SailorLee had been lonely too, and her little Altachuck had soon proved to be welcome company.
The irony though, of learning that his name was Lunch, when lunch was - more times than not - OFF the menu, due to the Vandagyre's impoverished way of life.
Ok, so maybe they couldn't afford to eat three meals a day or go shopping for stamps that served no purpose other than to sit in a stamp album for all of eternity, but there were plenty of things they could do that cost them nothing. One of their favourite activities was to while away the hours watching Neopians enter the Neolodge, trying to guess who they were, where they'd be staying, and why. Many happy an afternoon had been spent making up stories for these vacationing Neopets and their fellow petpets, and that was why they were there now, happily (albeit hungrily) Neopet-watching.
Hooves sounded on the stone path leading up to the Neolodge, followed by the flap-flap of wings. A Royal Uni and his Royal Vullard petpet were making a very imposing, impressive entrance. SailorLee heard Lunch gasp, and she too felt quite taken aback with the grandosity of the Royal pair.
"Friends of the King himself!" Lunch whispered. "Staying in a suite at the Royal Neopian, obviously."
"Their Royal attire is fooling no one," said SailorLee mischievously. "They lost their fortune on the their addiction to the Wheel of Extravagance, and it's Cockroach Towers for them!"
Shocked, the Altachuck chuckled too loudly, and with an audible swish of his mane, the Royal Uni swung his head around and glared at them.
"Peasants!" he bellowed resonately. "You have no place here! Be gone before I alert the pound!
The Vullard rose menacingly above them, casting a dark shadow where they sat.
It wasn't often SailorLee felt the need to fly, but being a Vandagyre, her basic survival instinct kicked in. She grabbed a hold of Lunch, who was now quaking with fear, and they soared into the sky and away from the Neolodge, hoping fervently the Vullard wasn't on their tail.
Poor Lunch was still shaking as SailorLee landed them safely at the Money Tree.
"Let's see if anyone has donated any food," SailorLee suggested, hoping to settle Lunch down and take his mind off their near miss.
Although usually a greyish colour, the Altachuck looked quite green! "I think I've lost my appetite," he stammered.
"Just as well," SailorLee remarked with a sigh, rummaging through the pile of donations under the tree. "There's nothing here but old rotten shoes and sandals. No food whatsoever! Wait, what's this?" She grabbed a bag from the rubbish. "Lunch, it's a bag of neopoints!" She couldn't help but grin as she thrust the bag towards her petpet. She'd heard rumours of generous Neopians donating money bags at the tree, but had never seen it for herself before. Until now! "Lunch," she exclaimed, "you open it. Maybe there'll be enough in there for a night in the Neolodge! Then we can show those snooty so and so's that we do belong there!" It was the Month of Awakening and still bitterly cold at night, and thought of being able to spend one night, just one night, in the Neolodge being fed and watered and kept warm, even in the Cockroach Towers, was almost too much for SailorLee to dream about. Please, she thought to herself, please allow us this tiny treat!
Lunch nervously pulled at the strings of the bag, but before he could open it, a hugh flash of colour filled the sky, followed by a loud cheer. Both he and his owner looked across Neopia Central to the Rainbow Pool, where a spectrum of colours sparkled and glistened out of the water and into the clouds above. It was one of the most wonderous, magnificent sights in the whole of Neopia, and though seen many times before, each time was just as magically captivating as the time before. The pair watched the colourful spectacle in an awed silence.
When the colours finally faded away and the Neopian sky was blue once more, Lunch let out a slow whistle. "Wow. That was awesome. Someone is having a great day! I wonder what colour they got painted? I wonder what it even feels like?" He clutched at money bag in his paws. "Maybe there's enough in here, SailorLee? Maybe today's the day we not only eat something other than soup but get painted too! Oh imagine!"
The wistful tone of her beloved petpet made SailorLee's heart sink and for the second time that afternoon, she was wracked with guilt. Her lovely, loyal petpet deserved so much more than this! Not only were they poor, they were both unpainted too, and being unpainted in Neopia made you nothing more than a second class citizen. No one wanted to know you. Why, most of the time they went unnoticed, and one the rare occasion they did get noticed, it was only so they could be sneered at and looked down upon for still being their original, uninteresting colours.
Not too long ago, SailorLee had known what it was like to be noticed. The sight of a Vandagyre, yes even a red Vandagyre, had filled Neopians with curiosity and delight. It was only last year that the reclusive species had turned their back on their remote existence in the mountainous reaches of the land and decided to join Neopian society. What a great reception they had been welcomed with! Initially everyone had wanted a Vandagyre friend and, although SailorLee had felt slightly overwhelmed at all the attention, she had soon adjusted to being a popular member of Neopia. But alas, popularity can be a fickle, transient state, and soon interest in the Vandagyre species had waned. Before SailorLee knew what was happening, she was already yesterday's news and, unable to afford to dive into the deliciously captivating waters of the Rainbow Pool and emerge vibrant and exciting, SailorLee found herself cast aside and living on the outskirts of the very society that had once loved her so.
Lunch was looking at her expectantly, snapping her out of her reverie.
"Come on then, sweet friend," she encouraged with as much gusto as she could muster. "Let's take a peek at our lucky fortune!"
Lunch obediently emptied the contents of the money bag onto the grass. "Oh!" he exclaimed.
"Oh, indeed," echoed SailorLee.
Five shiny neopoints twinkled at them.
Disappointment flooded through SailorLee. Five neopoints wouldn't even buy them food for their supper!
As though reading her mind, Lunch said, "Can you even buy food for five neopoints?"
SailorLee gathered up the coins. "No, but I hear the soup faerie has a super tasty soup on offer today!"
Lunch laughed. "Then what are we waiting for?"
The coins safely back in their money bag, the pair turned to leave the money tree, just as a Blumaroo bounced by.
"Did you know you can win food items playing Dice-A-Roo?" he sang out to them.
"We can't afford to play that," SailorLee told him. "Thank you anyway."
"Only five neopoints a go!" the Blumaroo called out. "Roll the dice!"
"Oh please, let's try," Lunch implored. "What have we got to loose?"
"Five neopoints," answered SailorLee dryly, but she handed over the money bag to the Blumaroo in exchange for the dice.
Five neopoints and five minutes later, SailorLee and Lunch found themselves standing in line at the soup kitchen. The delicious aroma of Golden Juppie soup wafted through the air. Maybe it was just because she was so hungry, but the queue seemed particularly long today, and SailorLee thought it unlikely that they would get their bowl of steaming soup before sundown. Looking around her at all the poor Neopets eagerly awaiting their free broth, the red Vandagyre felt sad and disheartened that so many lived in such poverty, yet at the same time, the generosity of the soup faerie filled her with hope. No one would ever go hungry and unfed as long as the donations that allowed the soup faerie to run her kitchen kept pouring in. It was good to know that not all wealthy Neopians were as mean spirited as the the Royal Uni and his Vullard petpet she and Lunch had encountered earlier on today.
Thinking aloud, she said, "Perhaps we should have donated the five neopoints we found to the soup faerie. It certainly would have served a better purpose than playing that ridiculous game! Maybe you can win food items, but today clearly wasn't our lucky day."
Lunch looked surprised. "Everyday is a lucky day for me, SailorLee, ever since you found me under the Money tree. And Dice-A-Roo was fun!" The Altachuck grinned broadly, remembering his excitement as they watched the dice turn from red to blue to green to yellow, before the Blumaroo had announced "Game Over!" And I know we didn't win any food but we did win that piece of paper!"
"It was a lottery ticket, and you can't eat those!" SailorLee's stomach rumbled alarmingly. "But you're right, it WAS fun! It's been a good day, Lunch. Thank you for spending it with me."
"You're the best owner ever!"
SailorLee highly doubted it, but Lunch's words filled her with warmth anyway.
Hours seemed to pass before they neared the front of the queue. The sun was slowly sinking into the Neopian hills, and the smell of the soup emanating from the large pot grew stronger the closer they got to the kitchen. Sailorlee craned her neck to see how far away they were. "Not long now," she reassured her tired and hungry petpet.
A blue Shoyru ahead of them overheard and grumbled, "Not long now? Hours I've stood in this queue! Oh the indignity! Oh if only I were as lucky as the Neopian who won the lottery today! One winner! The entire jackpot to themselves!"
"Oh yes!" joined in the nearby Wocky, "but the winner hasn't yet come forward. Fancy winning the lottery and not claiming it!"
"And the circumstances in which it was won!" the blue Shoyru remarked incredulously. "A poor Neopet down to her last five neopoints and she took a chance and won the winning ticket playing Dice-A-Roo! Would you ever believe it?"
"You couldn't make it up!" The Wocky shook his head. "But the winner can't be found. There's been such a commotion with the Blumaroos searching everywhere. Apparently they're looking for a red Vandagyre with an Altachuck petpet ..." The Wocky's voice trailed off and both he and the Shoyru gawped at SailorLee and Lunch.
SailorLee felt quite weak, and not just from hunger. "A red Vandagyre?" she said.
"An Altachuck?" Lunch asked.
"Dice-A-Roo?" said SailorLee.
"A lottery ticket?" asked Lunch.
"Finally!" It was the Blumaroo. He bounced over to the shocked Vandagyre and Altachuck. "Your ticket won! You're rich!"
SailorLee could hardly believe it.
There were cheers from the Wocky and the Shoyru. The entire queue joined in! It was really quite deafening.
The soup faerie stood before them, wooden ladle in hand. "I'm sorry," she told SailorLee. "You can't have any of my soup. You're too rich."
SailorLee laughed. She scooped up a shaky Lunch, though whether he was shaking from excitement or fear from the noisy crowd, SailorLee did not know. "We're rich, Lunch. Do you know what this means?"
"Yes!" SailorLee cried out happily. "But first there's something we must do. The Money Tree. We must return the favour and the kindness and donate."
"Then can we go eat?"
"Of course! And as many courses as you want!"
Together SailorLee and her beloved petpet set off for the Money Tree. Never again would they ever feel hungry, but they would always remember how it felt to feel hungry. So next time you're lucky enough to grab a bag of neopoints from the Money Tree, chances are it came from the red Vandagyre and her little Altachuck.