An Homage to Fruit

Valentina Raghib

     If you had asked my toddler self whether I would have chosen between millions of dollars or a lifetime supply of clementines, I can assure you there would be no doubt in my mind that I would go for those little fruits I believed hailed straight from heaven, placed into my miniature hands by cute little cherubs that loved the sweet nectar as much as I.

     Okay, maybe I really, really like clementines.

     But with no solid concept of the importance of money, a piece of paper seemed as worthless as the peel of the clementine itself. 

     I even remember the first time I had one--how could I not remember such a monumental experience? I was around five, and my daily activities consisted of climbing the seventy-three stairs carved into a solitary hill near my concrete apartment. These were rugged stone stairs that would leave anyone winded after the seventh step, and my only motivation on the arduous journey up was the honeysuckle bush on the left side of the forty-fourth step. I would curse the obese bees eagerly buzzing over the sweet flowers, jealousy burning in their beady eyes when I stuffed my face in the flowers to catch all the nectar I could. I’m not sure why my babysitter decided to stick with me after she got yet another bee sting trying to protect me from the swarm that came after me when I radiated the perfume of the honeysuckle. Trust me, it was more than worth it to get to play in the playground that laid at the top of the hill like a sacred temple covered by translucent fog. But instead of being welcomed by golden glittering statues, the playground nodded its greeting to my familiar face by the gentle wave of the swing set generated by the cold breeze.

     Considering it was far from any set of prying eyes, there were never too many kids in the playground at a given time. That being said, there would always be a fight over the last swing after none other than yours truly broke the other. I attempted to swing too high and the poor bolts came crashing under the weight of my dreams to fly like the scarlet cardinal that perched itself in front of our apartment window just before the sunrise tickled through. 

     From then on, a kid with bright blue square glasses donning curly chestnut hair messier than the tall grass during a thunderstorm would always beat me to the swing. He would always refuse to let me on it for as long as my babysitter had the patience to stay with me while I tried to argue my way into the small plastic chair--but to no avail. The only solution in my mind was to run up the steps and sprint to the swing whenever we went. 

     But one day when I was swinging my worries away, a light rain pecking my eyes when I swung up and temporarily blinding me, my eyes looked through the water to finally notice the little boy holding a clementine in his dirt-covered hand. Not very clean, but it’s not like I cared. When he laid out his hand in offering I curiously got off my self-proclaimed throne and took it in my own. I ripped away the peel and proceeded to throw it on the bright green glass glowing with water mist. Then, I meticulously took off every little strand off the fruit until it was completely bare, and then stuffed it in my mouth while the boy watched me in inconspicuous disgust, but at least delighted that the swing was now free.

     Ever since then, clementines have gotten me through the toughest of situations! In the humid air in the mountainous village of my father’s hometown, my past self would slave over books while mosquitoes considered me a tasty midnight snack, biting and sucking on every bare skin they could find. You see, I had just gotten told we would be moving to the United States in no more than five months. Because the only word I semi-knew how to pronounce in English was “tiger”, my generous mother had sat me down with approximately fifteen English tutoring books until the watchful eyes of bats with a color darker than midnight were replaced by those of birds chirpier than my army of cousins. The only thing that kept me going was a stack of clementines neatly lined up at the edge of the wooden desk, savoring each one once I finished a couple of exercises.

     Or a couple years later when I came last in a championship swim race and went on an eating spree of clementines while the chlorinated pool water mixed with my salty tears swam down my face, my teammates watching in pity while still having the audacity to ask me for one.

     Or just a sunny picnic with my friends in front of the Washington monument, and in front of us plates adorned with all kinds of fruit while we tried to catch clementine slices in our mouths. Our magnanimous levels of concentration furrowing our brows to make sure our skirts didn’t get ruined.

     They’ve always been there for me, even though they might not be a physical person cheering me on. 

     For my dad, it’s not clementines that he adores. He would sell my college tuition if it meant he could eat all of the jalapenos he desired. Popcorn as a movie snack? That’s for the weak, he says. You’ll find him on the couch with a fork engulfed in a jalapeno bottle as if they were salty chips he couldn't get enough of. I laugh at him whenever I see it, hoping he doesn’t ask me to have some. The first time I tried those monsters I got mercilessly mocked by my cousins when my eyes watered up and I started pacing back and forth like walking would somehow make the dragon in my throat disappear.

     My friends? They love something, too; kimchi, pineapple, pickles, the list goes on. Everyone loves something.

     But when people talk about climate change, whether it's in a dimly lit classroom when nobody has the energy to speak or between Congress walls, the first thing that often comes to mind is an apocalyptic world where the sky is no longer the color of blueberries but the rotten core of an apple. Where our water is no longer the taste of the crisp mountain air I grew up in but poisoned by chemicals that only belong in manmade labs. The polar caps melting, the tropical storms that get worse by the year, the wildfires burning years of hopes and dreams--that’s the obvious stuff. That’s the decay we can witness on the news instantly. After all, it is infinitely easier to visualize the beaches of Miami normally invaded by joyful visitors being engulfed by rising sea levels than the farmer’s family sobbing in the field after the harvest yielded no oranges from the droughts that are written on our future as certain as the maze of lines lining our hands. There’s no psychic needed to tell us what they mean, though. We wrote our own destiny, and with it, our Earth’s coffin.

     But enough about that sad stuff. Why worry about that when we have so much time?

     Fifty years, they said. Then thirty. Then twelve. It doesn’t matter, though, as long as it isn’t tomorrow. We have all the time and money in the world. So no need to waste our present fussing about what will happen to clementines or corals or islands when there is money to be made, right? It’s only two degrees.

     Two degrees. What a simple number.

     Maybe we’re too reluctant to do anything about it because before we could talk we’ve been taught that one, two, three--the beginning of infinity--can not be numbers sealing our imminent decay. The smallest child could comprehend the number two. It isn’t grandiose or special—it’s a foundation of everything else we learn. It could never betray us by apparently being the supposed limit of this planet. So why do we refuse to act upon the thing science has told us is the world’s final plea for help, crushed by the very fruit it nurtured for thousands of years?

     Maybe I’m not making any sense, but I find it hard to get my thoughts straight when we continuously get told that two degrees of temperature rise are all the Earth can sustain so humankind isn’t wiped out. And one day, there won’t be any clementines left. Or jalapenos. Or bananas.

     I’ve never understood our obsession with the physical. Why is it that we think the only things that are alive and responsible to take for have to talk back to us? Our ancestors still had as much humanity as we do now before they learned how to communicate. 

     Our children will grow up in a world suffocated by greenhouse gases and wonder-- just wonder--what it would be like to swim in a vast blue ocean without hazmat suits and explore coral reefs teeming with the hues Mother Nature deemed beautiful enough to create. But they will also grow up without tasting the clementines of my childhood and the spices of the present. Climate change is not only the apocalypse of our world; it is the apocalypse of our humanity. Because when we have lost all of our compassion and love for the beaming cascades hidden in the corner of a lush forest to the tranquil plains of the countryside, we are nothing but parasites sucking all the remaining vivacious nectar of a flower once bright with the promise of flourishing life. We have lost the humanity that comes out of giving, even if it’s to get a snobby five-year-old off of a swing. 

     And in the lack of our humanity arises the childish hope that this “two degrees” myth will suddenly disappear without raising a hand, like the cancerous fumes we put out for worthless pieces of paper will be taken out of our beautiful blue sky.

     But I’m aware that no matter how much I write about how absolutely of a divine miracle our Earth is, as if I could even begin to touch the cosmic magic that is nature, nothing will change--we’ve seen its’ destruction with our very eyes and chosen to ignore it.

     So one day, that playground will disappear, covered by vengeful hail and snow exhausted from not being taken seriously. That wooden desk will rot in the ardent furnace heat of the resentful sun. And my children won’t know about clementines.

     Humanity is worth more than a new swing set.

     So if you asked sixteen-year-old me if I believe clementines are worth more than millions of dollars, I would say yes. And I will always say yes.

Valentina Raghib is a rising junior, transferring to Phillips Academy Andover, MA for junior and senior year.

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