World Refugee Day, 20th June 2020

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Written with World Refugee Day in mind:

Tangerine dreams

I lean on the edge of my bunk and look at the tangerine sitting in a chipped bowl. It sits next to a dying pot plant, on a stained Formica table. The sad old plant, left by a previous resident, has crispy brown spikes instead of leaves. Should have given it water. The dear little orange fruit, weary and wrinkled, doesn’t look happy. There’s a dusting of green near the scab, where a stalk once connected it to tree and family.

I’ve given my tangerine a name; Roni is the last from a net of orange fruit donated by well-wishers. Can I bear to eat him now he has the name of my friend and I can talk to him?

I remind Roni about the perfect plump oranges on the fruit farms back home and the sweet and sour cherries for which our region was famous. I try to persuade him I am happy to be here in the Interim Hostel. They say I’m safe in this western city, far from home but despite the relief of survival I’ve forgotten happiness.

I salivate with the bitter-sweet thought of the fruit we once grew and packed in nets for the market-place. I taste salt in my mouth at the clinging memory of the oily fishing nets on the floor of the treacherous boat I travelled in. That fruitless journey started with a desperation and hope. Cold, scared and starving in the stinking vessel I longed to feel the juicy tang of any fruit, sweet or sour, in my grating throat.

Hope has faded to numbness since being in this bleak and temporary home; desperation grows. I’ve lost my connections; I am dusty and worn. Once Roni has gone there will be nothing.

Trembling to reach out, I peel away his mouldering jacket before pulling his inner segments apart and gagging on the first dehydrated, tasteless mouthful. The second bite is softer with a little more juice. In the third my tongue finds two small seeds. Biting the first releases a harsh taste. I spit the other kernel from my mouth and bury it in the soil of the dead pot plant, swallowing what fruit remains.

About to pour water on the plant pot I hear voices outside and go to the door where I find next week’s food box waiting on the landing. Wonder if it contains any seeds of hope?

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