|Oranges”Roll up, roll up. Home grown oranges, sweet and delicious, top quality.”
He was laughing a toothless hearty laugh. A wandering orange vendor in his early forties. It was a genuine type of laugh, as he smiled into the face of every customer, indeed into the face of every passer-by. In his smile there was an invitation, “Home-grown oranges, sweet ‘n’ delicious”. He divided the orange into quarters and offered a piece to a customer, without stopping his cry, “Home-grown oranges, sweet like our country. Try one. Savour it, enjoy it. Have some sweetness for nothing. One Dollar a kilo.”
Suddenly the voice grew quiet and died. A policeman was approaching the orange cart with the determination of a stern man of the law. The vendor’s voice died away and his hand crept to his patched purse. The policeman opened his mouth to pronounce his sentence upon the cart and its owner, but then fell silent too. The sentence remained suspended between his coarse lips, and was then quashed by the coin that passed swiftly from the purse of the vendor to the hand of the policeman. The lawman moved away ponderously. The middle-aged vendor followed him with a lost and wandering gaze which gradually focussed on his large black shoes. The shoe-black, taking advantage of this golden opportunity to satisfy his desire for a “home-grown orange”, sprang lightly towards the cart and returned with two oranges. He hid behind a tree to devour them. A group of his pals surrounded him.
“Give me one … come on … be good … and me … and me … and me.”
The man’s gaze returned to his cart, studying the oranges closely. Then he called our regretfully, “Oranges, one Dollar a kilo.”
Customers passed by condescendingly. One of them might turn to him from time and say, “Half Dollar is a good price.”
Half an hour passed and the cart did not seem to have emptied. The vendor’s enthusiasm returned and his despondent voice regained its strength. “Sweetness for nothing, Home-grown oranges as sweet as sugar.” The laughter had returned fully to the wrinkled face. However, the cry that seemed to be hidden between his wrinkled said, “Come on, my brothers in misfortune. Hurry up, my companions in misery, and rid me of these wretched oranges before they become the property of the government. By God, I beg you. Do not prolong my agony.” The cry rose up from the depths of his wrinkles, accompanied by a fractured smile bearing the imprint of disillusion.
Then the situation became critical. The scene froze and the atmosphere grew tense. Another policeman was heading towards the cart with the determination of the incorruptible judge. The scene repeated itself except that it was clear that the coin that the vendor took out this time was smaller than that which the previous policeman received. They followed each other one after the other and the man went on paying. They were not satisfied with what he gave them, and some of them used to take an orange or two as well. The vendor was still proclaiming his oranges and the cry of disillusion that was latent in his deep wrinkles burnt more intensely.
Then the despair came into the open. He was approaching resolutely. His approach had the bloated leisureliness of the conceited. He was not scowling like the earlier ones, but was confident of his victory, and that was the reason he was smiling. He didn’t feign anger like the others, but instead feigned mockery. The vendor saw him and quickly put his hand into the depths of his old wallet. He couldn’t find a centime. He probed the many corners of the wallet. His hand touched something soft, apparently old, a banknote of fifty or perhaps hundred Dollars; it must be a banknote.
His hands was still holding the note as he rushed to the shop next to his cart to change it to feed the hungry pig – hopefully the last. He stood in the door of the shop, asked the shopkeeper for change, and took out the banknote. He put it on the counter and found it was not negotiable. He quickly snatched it up again before the man saw it. He turned on his heel and said, “Never mind, never mind the change.” He returned to his cart, gave the policeman a frozen doltish smile which conveyed nothing except disillusion and failure. The policeman moved his jaws in the air. He had also perfected his role, making the same comical action as usual, taking longer than necessary. The vendor stared at the lawman with imploring eyes, and the lawman moved his jaws, which had stopped half way, and pronounced his verdict, passing judgment on the cart and the oranges and the vendor, and the children of vendor, a hungry flock of children waiting for the evening and the return of this man with their exotic food and choice drink – a morsel of bread. The children’s cries would grow loud, and their weeping would go on for a long time, for their magical morsel of bread had been lost with the policeman’s words, “Push the cart and proceed in front of me.”
The outcome was familiar. They would dispose of the oranges at the local charity, and the cart would be impounded until he could redeem it. Would the man return in the evening to his hungry children with exotic foods, with delicious apples, Pastilla and roast meat, and other mouth-watering things. No, he would return to them with nothing.
The poor man tried to set matters right. He chose a handful of delicious oranges and offered them to the officer. The policeman’s muscles tensed. “Walk in front of me. I don’t take bribes. You have broken the law. Your punishment is well known.”
The man tried to apologize and to win him over, but …
He pushed his cart slowly and heavily, proceeding before the representative of the law.
A group of youths were walking towards them spread out across the street. They were wearing caps indicating that they were still at school. They were laughing with loud voices, but suddenly their voices died away as they approached the confiscated cart. One of them approached, thin, tall and of resolute countenance, and began to speak. The vendor looked at him, and then abandoned the cart. The pupil had said, “He takes your children’s livelihood and you push the cart for him. Let him push it himself.”
The vendor had scarcely taken a step when the policeman slapped him violently. He turned to him imploringly with tears in his eyes.
“Don’t be afraid. Return the greeting. Hit him.”
The thin student uttered these words with enthusiasm.
The powerful violent blows of the bullying policeman continued to rain down upon the poor man. The thin student resumed his enthusiastic cries. The wronged vendor exchanged his defensive plan for an offensive one. The pandemonium increased. The pigs poured in from all directions. Blows continued to rain down upon the resisting vendor, the upon the pupil who had joined him in defending his violated rights. The hungry pigs continued to pour into the arena of fraud and oppression where the victims were being sacrificed in broad daylight. The thin pupil was lying on the ground exhausted, and the wretched vendor was stretched out also, exhausted. Round them, a barrier of pigs had been thrown up representing the arbitrariness of the judicial process.
The bald policeman with the large paunch approached and kicked the vendor, saying, “I will teach you not to answer back. I’ll discipline you before the court instructs you.” then he placed his large heel on the neck of the pupil, “As for you, you dog! We taught you how to write your name, and pay us back like this. You have become like vomit to us. I’ll teach you to be quiet and not to interfere in what does not concern you.”
The student looked at the group that had gathered round the scene. He saw no trace of his friends. They had fled when the battle had grown fierce, when the worms had eaten the oranges, when the oranges had boiled with rage. The enthusiastic look in the eyes of the zealous student went out. He closed his eyes, then opened them and cried out in a strangled voice, “I feel like a stranger in my own country; I feel like an alien. I call the justice of heaven to witness that I have been wronged.”
Pastilla : A dish made with chicken and almonds wrapped in sweet pastry.
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