Albina Borodina (Griffith University, Australia)
When I was little, my grandparents used to take me to ‘dacha’. A small country house with a piece of land attached to it to grow vegetables, the dwelling itself was murky and old. I expected it to collapse any day and free me from the burden of coming to the sullen place.
Being left alone there every summer with my grandparents aroused a feeling of great injustice. While they were weeding grey earth under the scorching sun so that the planted seeds would bring up fruits of the summer heat, I was busy being scared of every crawling, fluttering, jumping creature. It got worse when the afterglow of the last sun rays was engulfed in the inky darkness of the night, filling still air with the croaking of frogs. At such times I would gaze longingly at the dusty road, hoping every minute to see the headlights of Daddy’s car shed the light of civilisation on that abandoned corner.
The whole idea of the ‘dacha’ evoked resentment in me. Although, this feeling reached another level when it came to the tomatoes. I shivered from head to toe when I saw how, to prevent the fruits from touching the ground, Grandpa tied them up with old Grandma’s nylon pantyhose. The vines strung up by the old brick-coloured sheer tights made me think about Grandma’s sweaty feet touching our food. Disgusted, I swore never to come close or, God forbid, eat the red fruit.
One day I got old enough to help with the harvesting and, of course, I was asked to collect nothing but tomatoes. Filled with aversion, I squeamishly began tearing off the fruit with my small fingers, afraid that monstrous insects would attack me, and that the dirt of the grey earth and the smell of feet would stick permanently to my hands.
My reluctant harvesting persisted until dusk, and still I was unable to rid myself of the shivering sensation each time I plunged my hands into the vines. Monotonous vibration of grasshoppers’ buzzing made the time stand so still, I could almost touch it. My anxiety about being trapped in the loop of harvesting forever worsened with every breath.
A pair of limbs strode into my vision and startled me back into my surroundings. The figure began to help me with my designated duties for the day. Strong arms nimbly picked the ripened fruits. Bit by bit, the redness was disappearing from the green sea of the thick, fizzling vines. I observed the process with bated breath, unwilling to approach the next bush myself. And then the unbelievable happened; the man tore off one of the fruits, wiped it clean on his t-shirt, and bit into it. My jaw dropped. His face was full of satisfaction and he noticed the horror in my eyes only after finishing the tomato.
“Dad, but they are dirty!” I whispered cowardly, making my eyes as big as saucers to stress how dirty they were.
“You are dirty!” he laughed. Tearing off another fruit, he rubbed it on his T-shirt and handed it to me.
I did not want to disappoint him. Puzzled, and realizing there was no way out, I closed my eyes and with a prayer, brought the tomato to my mouth. As my lips touched the smooth skin, I was dumbfounded. The soft, velvety smell of the summer heat chained my feet to the ground. Warmth and calm spread across my joints as the entire world held its breath and waited for me to squeeze my milk teeth into the ugly but so delightfully fragrant fruit. As I bit into it, a wave of satisfaction washed my fears away, leaving a smile of oblivion on my face.
“They taste better from the bush!” Dad yelled out cheerfully, interrupting the stream of my peaceful thoughts. Standing barefoot on the grey earth, inhaling the aroma of the tomato and looking at my father briskly collect the fruits, I felt at home.
Albina Borodina is originally from Russia and arrived in Australia after finishing high school five years ago. After completing an undergraduate degree in accounting, she decided to pursue her passion for creative writing and is currently undertaking a Graduate Certificate in Creative and Professional Writing through Griffith University. Albina has written in Russian all her life and is enjoying the challenge of learning to write in English.