stories

Hunger

left: original artwork, right: the tea towel itself (creased, stained and used)
No items found.
No items found.

It’s not only my stomach that I’m aware of as I weave through Upper Street on this busy Saturday morning. At this time of year, the streets get an extra sweet tang to their smell – last night’s rubbish mixing in the heat with foolish liaisons up against buildings you don’t look twice at in the day.

I’m thinking about how this street will catch the sunlight at about 4am tomorrow, reminding everyone to make their choices about whether they’ll go home hungry or full. But for now, it’s bathed in light and the shadows from the market stalls weave up my bare legs like snakes and ladders.

I walk around the market and ripe flesh catches my eyes everywhere. I clutch the straps of my bag tighter on my shoulder, needing to connect with something that steadies me. I want to find things to wrap my hands around, to clutch and to press until they bruise. I want to feel the weight of things between my fingers that used to be alive and full of their own desire.

He could be here in this market, pushing his legs through the crowd and readjusting his sunglasses to shield from the early morning light. He could still be in bed, curling his toes around someone else’s bony heels.

placing it on my tongue and holding it there, using the roof of my mouth to crush it down

At first the sheer scale of the street shocks me, but then I start to allow little details to penetrate me. There are pears that slink in the middle, before becoming full and rounded at their bases. Small satsumas packed tightly together, skin waiting to be violently pierced.  Raspberries in punnets to protect their fragility, already wilting into one another. Coy lettuces unfurling their leaves. Next to me sweet corn husks slowly slide out of their clothes - one or two kernels dropping carelessly to the floor - like my lemon sundress you slid down to the mossy ground last summer.

Firm blueberries are offered at the next stall by a woman who looks like she has always been old. I roll one of them between my forefingers and thumb, applying slight pressure so the skin cracks, before placing it on my tongue and holding it there, using the roof of my mouth to crush it down.

A hard swallow.

I catch the man’s eye as I begin to pick through his vegetables, having taken time to visit every stall, eyeing up their wares. I have nowhere else to be today. He seems suspicious that I’m touching the tomatoes and curving my thumb in concentric circles around their most pertinent point. I think briefly of holding his stare, but I don’t have the guts to do it, and instead decide to take the one in my hand, and the three closest to it that have rubbed against it all day, causing a slight slackening of its skin.

something that can’t be bent or dented under my weight and will hold firm against the heat of my body

The air feels heavier as I move further down the street, and my mouth starts to crave something metallic and cold. I weave through cool metal poles holding each tiny island together and rest for a few minutes in the shade of the blue awning protruding from the butchers. Even the rump cuts of steak seem to labour their breathing as my thigh grazes the cool window and offers relief from the burning sun on my neck.

The smell of the early afternoon and the shiny purple tinges appearing on the frayed edges of the meat reminding me of hours spent in a similar August heat, hidden under blunt cut sheets starched with sweat. I need something strong to add to my budding collection, something that can’t be bent or dented under my weight and will hold firm against the heat of my body. I find seven watermelons, stacked precariously at the back of a small stall filled with only blood red items, which seems to make their deep green skin all the more ominous. I consider buying one and carrying it under my arm ungainly, my left elbow jutting out at uneven angles. It would feel cool on the underside of my arm, like when my parched skin would occupy the shadows you cast from on top of me.

 I take my time to consider what I might want to bite into later

Round the corner, I’m hit by a new sickly-sweet smell that I notice later has attached itself to the faint hairs on my arms. Little beads of candied crystals winking at me in the sun. There are buns and cakes, bulging with jam and engorged by cream. I take my time to consider what I might want to bite into later, reaching for my phone to capture a picture of the beige offset by bright shards of colour from fillings oozing out.

I think about that word and about how it’s more pleasant to think about it than to feel it. The promise of ‘oozing’ better than the reality of having ‘oozed.’

I opt instead for something with a slightly spiced taste, a puzzle of a pastry that reminds me of a day two years ago floating in the dead sea and smelling the orange blossom and cardamom flirt in the breeze. I let the water lap over me in my mind, rib by rib, both sides of the waves gently stretching to meet in the middle of my stomach, merging to hold me afloat as I narrow my eyes on him on the shore, pilfering through a paper bag of jet black dates.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with all this food. I shift the weight of my battered cotton tote as it bites into my shoulder, the paper bags beginning to bulge into one another. I might keep the fruit in the withering bowl in the shared kitchen, so I can steal glances at its perfectly formed peaks and watch as it decays slowly over the hot days ahead.

A moisture hangs in the flat as I arrive home, settling itself on my thighs, which are lightly marked from pressing too hard into the bar on the bus ride home. It would have only been a short walk, but my early morning exploits have made me feel languid and impatient.

For some reason, I don’t walk to the kitchen to empty my bag, but turn right from the doorway and up the two small steps to my room which is just starting to feel the benefit of the trees blowing outside. Sitting on my bed I turn to the mirror mounted on my wardrobe door. This is how I got to know the back of him when our fronts were bleeding into each other like the raspberries in my bag.

I take the bags out one by one, looking at myself and observing the delicate way I place the items next to each other in order of their purchase, of my desires.

So assembled is my empty feast. One for lips, fingers and teeth. For juices dripping and bursting and smearing.

I reach first for the plums that tear open, ripping at the seams and spoiling my milky fingertips with a crimson ink. I touch my face to feel something more permanent. I touch other places too.