On the Blog: Sweet Fruit, Sour Land
Happy publication day to Rebecca Ley and her stunning debut novel, Sweet Fruit, Sour Land!
In the last circle of luxury in a barren London, government ministers hold glamorous parties. Mathilde and Jaminder, evading hunger and the restrictions on women’s bodies, form an unbreakable bond. But there’s a high price for pleasure and escape is far from easy.
I found a lemon yesterday. It was wrinkled and old and down the back of the food cupboard at work, but it had some bounce left in it yet. I wanted to show it to you, even now. I stood in the kitchen in our fifteen-minute break and broke the skin. I laid it out, unwinding it, squeezing what was left of its flesh, and tore it out of itself. I splayed it and scraped its insides out and smelt them – citrus gone bad. I washed the skin, and pricked it with my fingernails, trying to see – or smell, or taste – if there was anything left in the zest. I rinsed it under the tap, and kept the base intact, where the skin meets at its core (do you remember how they work?) and left it to dry out.
I got a needle and thread from my work station. The thread was black but it worked all the same. I sewed it back up together from each bit that I peeled and tore, and it looked quite good like that; it looked like a whole piece of fruit again. But Mathilde came in and laughed at me. She did that to keep the shock of seeing a lemon off her face, I could tell.
‘Fruit art?’ she said. I didn’t think it was art. I thought what would have been art would be the way that you’d have looked at it, if you could see how I’d preserved it. That would be the art, the look on your face, if only you could see it.
On the bad days I think about calling you. Our landlady has a phone, if you can believe it. It stays on all day, as it needs so little electricity. Did you ever know that? Sometimes when the evenings are quiet I go to her house. I tell her I might make a call, but I only pick it up and listen to the dial tone. I like the tinny electric noise. I hold it fast against my ear and hear the sound even after I’ve replaced the receiver. I think of dialling in your number. I’m trying to forget the numbers, you see, one by one. I think I’ve forgotten half of them, but I’m not sure which ones.
Sometimes I look at all this rain coming down and wonder if you ever have a day where you look at the rain, too. I think about the Thames Barrier, and London’s little peaks and troughs, and I feel very far away. There’s little sun here, so the solar power is mostly useless. Not like in London, where it powered what it could.
If the sun has a kind of sentience, I’d like to apologise to it. If it can remember the beginning of the Earth, maybe it can remember the beginning of man and all that’s come with us. I’d like to apologise for what we’ve done. Or maybe our apology is our suffering for it now.
I think about the beginning because it’s better than now. I think about the avocados we used to have. Plenty of them. The vanilla ice cream we added to them; the sugar; the milk. My grandmother blending the mixture and handing it to us in ceramic bowls. The way she held the avocado in her hand and peeled its skin, the way it squished into the blender as we waited expectantly by the counter. I dream of Mama Boga and her basket of avocados. I dream of the Nairobi sun and the dry, kind heat. I imagine taking that avocado from Mama and holding it in my hand. A thing I couldn’t dream of touching now: its scaly flesh; its weight, like a small breast of agriculture, a plump divinity.
How strange the things you end up worshipping, that you would never guess.
If you enjoyed this extract you can buy the book here.