A cavalcade of shopping trolleys guided by maids and matrons stalwart and buxom wove its way between the bins and shelves of the fruit and vegetable market. Taped to the window a large poster screamed: “SALE! Fresh fruit and vegetables at unrepeatable prices!”
The greengrocer, a small, greying man, watched a woman park her trolley alongside the trays of stone fruit. His lip curled while she prodded and pinched peaches and nectarines, lifting a fruit now and then, weighing it in her hand, destroying the bloom on her sleeve and sniffing at the bared skin. Many she flung aside, heedless of bruising, careless of those that rolled to the floor.
Christo ground his teeth. ‘And for that, Madam, you will pay! You will pay!’
He moved forward from the end of the aisle. Surprised and delighted by his discerning customer he welcomed her effusively.
“Good morning, Mrs. Shelton. How are you this fine day? I am so glad you felt well enough to come to our sale today. I see you have been attracted by our lovely peaches – local, you know. Couldn’t be fresher, could they? And the price – definitely unrepeatable. All fruit and vegetable prices are rising so fast we can’t keep up ourselves. Have you tried these apricots?” He selected a ripely glowing fruit from the tray, holding it out to her. “You must try this, Mrs. Shelton. There now, isn’t that delicious? You really must have some of these. And the peaches? No, my dear, you will need more than two or three – they disappear so fast, and you won’t get them at this price again, you know.”
Each time she opened her mouth he overrode her protests, meanwhile busily packing a bag of apricots and adding to her bag of peaches a few of the fruit she had so carelessly bruised in her selection process. Escorting her through the aisles with recommendations of purchases and enquiries about family members, but leaving her little time to answer, he delivered her at last to the checkout counter, continuing his conversation while she paid for her purchases, and sending an assistant to help her load them into her car.
Christo turned away, rubbing his hands contentedly. ‘Next time, my lady, shop at the supermarket where they prepack everything and buy what you want from them.’
Mrs. Shelton drove unhappily and in some confusion, aware that she had made unintended purchases; aware too that she had offended Christo but unable to understand how or why. She carried the bags of fruit and vegetables into the kitchen, wincing at the sound of the television in the living room.
Daughter Stephanie was flopped in a chair, magazine held before her face, ignoring little Ingrid who sat with the TV remote in her hand, eyes drinking in a torrid and explicit love scene on the screen. Mrs. Shelton snatched the remote from the child’s hand, turning off the machine while demanding Stephanie’s attention. Ingrid wailed; Stephanie tossed the magazine aside.
“Now what’s your problem, Mum?”
“How can you let a five year old watch that rubbish?”
“That’s life, Mum.” Stephanie echoed her mother’s favourite aphorism. She picked up the crying child and walked from the room. Mrs. Shelton stared after them, wondering about the life her daughter cast aside.
Stephanie at fifteen years was a bright and beautiful girl on the threshold of life. Stephanie at sixteen years was a single mother undergoing drug counselling, innocence destroyed along with her trust and her plans.
Mrs. Shelton returned to the kitchen. Her fingers sorted and packed the fruit into containers. Half aware of the bruised fruit and blaming Christo for the down destroyed by careless handling, her thoughts concentrated on her daughter and granddaughter. In the girl the innocence and trust of youth so easily destroyed; in the babe the bloom stillborn. In the back of her mind the words echoed: ‘Where have all the flowers gone? ... young girls gone? ... young men gone? Gone to graveyards every one ... When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?’
Mrs. Shelton was not a praying woman. She had long ago rejected the fables of the church. But now she groaned, “Oh God, what is happening to our world?”
“When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?”
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