January, four o’clock — darkness was already creeping over the bloodshot sky. I was broke, depressed and anxious about impending adulthood and final-year exams. After Christmas an uneasy fog of quiet had set in, interrupted only by the clank and hiss of the unreliable boiler. I went into the kitchen — the cupboards were bare. Reluctantly, I pulled on my coat and headed out to the supermarket.
Cheerless commuters trudging home filled the streets. I was pacing, waiting for the Tube, peering into the dark tunnel looking for the lights, when I caught sight of her — a girl walking perilously close to the edge of the platform. Before I could react, a woman carrying a toddler had bolted over to her. The girl’s face was anguished. Are you OK?” the woman with the child asked. “Do you need help?”
“I’m fine,” the distraught girl said, then began to weep, her face a crumpled photo of grief. The train pulled in and the mother ushered the girl on to a carriage. She comforted her, speaking to her in a God-infused tone of compassion.
I wanted to help but what could I have offered her when I knew nothing of life or love? The mother reached into her shopper and pulled out an orange — a Sicilian blood orange wrapped in purple tissue paper. She unwrapped it and handed it to the girl — the perfume of its rind filled the stale air. The girl held it in her slender palm — a joyful orb that promised a brighter world in its segmented interior. “It’s going to be all right, I promise,” I heard the woman coo.
I walked out of the Underground into immense beauty. This feeling wouldn’t last, my anxiety would return; but right in that moment I loved the downpour gurgling in the drains, the macabre branches of the trees, even the whiff of a spliff in the wind. The world is full of sorrow and disappointments but there are always citrus fruits in the winter — radiant planets in the fruit bowl that offer hope, that illuminate and bring consolation to the human spirit with their transformative scent and taste.
For the salad
Ravinder Bhogal is chef-patron of Jikoni in London; jikonilondon.com. Follow her on Instagram
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