Apples and Oranges

I never longed for fruit in the Old World. Back then the office had bowlfuls, the pantry pregnant with apples and oranges. After weeks of neglect, these proud things would grow their own armour: thick skins of mould, designed to keep us out. A punishment, which I now know was fitting. Bananas would blacken under our watch, but I didn’t care. Back then, The Boss would just toss them out.

In the New World, strange hands grope around me to win tins of peaches, drunk with syrup. Tomatoes come chopped and packaged, tarted up with supermarket labels. I tell the supervisor that I long to taste freshness once again, to have citrus cut across my tongue, to feel a new apple in my hand.

“Do you have any?” I say, my voice a whisper. “Apples?”. As I speak, I feel my daughter’s small hand tug at mine. I never thought she’d spend enough time in a food bank for it to exhaust her.

“Fruit and veg goes to the people who bother to show up before 10,” he says, handing me a bruised box of Del Monte. “But if you’re really desperate, just look around at these people. There are plenty of bad apples here.”

He laughs at his own joke, and I press tokens into his hands without looking him in the eye. I don’t see the rot he speaks of. I see mothers and fathers feeding hungry children. I see people, jobless and scared. I see wounds left by cuts.

As we walk home, leaving the food bank behind, his vinegared words and salty laugh find their way into my mind. There, they bounce off the sharp corners left by worry. Worry about bills. Worry about jobs. Worry about Her.

In the Old World, I would work the anxiety away. The 9-5 was medicine, was a tonic, with the whirring computers and the bad coffee and the hello-how-are-yous that, somehow, we learned to start the day with.

Then pay day.

Rent.

Council Tax.

Credit Cards.

Phone bill.

(Save some for food).

I had signed that contract, hadn’t I? But then again, there were no other contracts to sign.  

Degree preferred. Experience necessary. Minimum wage.

In that sleek, polished office, I found The Boss alone.

“I’m worried it’s not enough,” I told him. Stale coffee on his breath. Nothing in his eyes. “I’m worried I’ll struggle to live.”

“You shouldn’t come to the office for money. You should come for the reward of hard work. And I’m offering plenty of that.” He handed me an apple. “Did I tell you I’m rolling out a fruit scheme? There’ll be boxes of the stuff in the kitchen.”

Rent.

Council Tax.

Credit Cards.

Phone bill.

(Save some for food).

Year one and I work late nights, filled with extra miles and goalposts ever shifting. The debt piled up.

I stored apples in my desk.

Rent.

Council Tax.

Credit Cards.

Phone bill.

(Save some for food).

Year two and my skin turned bad: yellow and marked. My chest grew tight. I struggled to sleep.

The apples festered.

Rent.

Council Tax.

Credit Cards.

Phone bill.

(Save some for food).

“It’s not enough,” I told The Boss. Stale meat on his breath. Money in his eyes. “I’m struggling to live.”

“I know I don’t pay well,” he told me in between sips of Italian coffee. “But think about this: some places don’t pay their creative staff anything.”

Rent.

Council Tax.

Credit Cards.

Phone bill.

(Save some for food).

Year three and I break. I buckle. I leave. There were balloons and cake and tear-filled goodbyes. I told myself I was taking some time.

Then, she happened. My stomach swelled and grew as the months passed. I felt her kick. I felt him leave. There was no more pay day. I fear there never will be again.

Suddenly, I longed for an apple.

Rent.

Council Tax.

Credit Cards.

Phone bill.

?

The New World started when she came. The New World is full of tears and milk, and the rest I buy with tokens.

I cry when she does, and when I sleep, I dream of fruit.

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