My name is Better Boy, Tom Better Boy. You might not want to know this, but I’m a tomato. After this admission you could very well decide not to carry on reading. There’s a lot of prejudice and xenophobia among species; hell, there’s even a lot of that among different tomato varieties within the tomato kind. For a while, I thought of lying to you, pretending that I’m one of those gigantic creatures that water us, feed us and, generally speaking, take care of us, as well as decide our entire life for us from the moment we are born; even before.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you are, in fact, one of them. As it happens, I did ask one of you to write my story down. I had to, since I can’t read or write, not because I didn’t go to school – my parents gave me a good education – but because tomatoes simply don’t do those things. In fact, nobody else does but giants. However, as has probably become clear to you by now -if you’re still reading- we tomatoes do think, in our own way, and can communicate, in our own way. Hopefully, it will become clear, if you keep reading, why a tomato would go to the trouble of telling a story. This is not only my story, mind; it’s the story of all my fellow tomatoes, Better Boys or not, and it’s an important one, because it affects the present and the future, not only of the tomato kind, but of all living creatures on this planet. Giants included.
The tomato civilisation, if you can call it that, originates in America. My family, the Better Boys, is a very large one. We have relatives all over the world. We come from another ancestral tribe called Big Boy, founded by the prophet Teddy Jones. That powerful ancestry confers us a lot of something called Hybrid Vigour and that fact inevitably makes us feel very important. Many members of my family call themselves the chosen ones, because we’ve heard the giants -the animal species that takes care of us- say time and time again that we are the ‘choice tomato’. It takes one easy step from that to believing you are superior to everybody else. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many in my tribe climbing that step down, as if hypnotised, into the realms of mystical idiocy.
The truth is, on the whole, my family is snobbish at best; at worse, outright racist. Something I don’t identify with myself. My parents imprinted a different trait on me and educated me to understand that just because you turn out redder or rounder, or your name is Better, it doesn’t mean that you’re actually better; we’re all tomatoes with different qualities. Mind you, we are nowhere near as stiff-necked as those nouveau riche, the Kumatos. Listening to them anybody would think the sun shines out of their stigma. Just because they end up being a few shades darker than us and have thicker skin. Don’t they know? We’re all hybrids!
It has to be said that this fetishisation of difference emanates from the giants. I didn’t understand it until very recently, because until very recently I, like most, couldn’t see their overall master plan, but it’s an essential part of that plan. By concentrating on our differences, we separate and mistrust each other, and if we separate and mistrust each other, we don’t help each other, we don’t work together, and, if needs be, we won’t fight together. And, let me tell you, needs will be. Unless we want to be dead tomatoes, or worse, robot tomatoes.
Don’t get me wrong, I do think differences should be respected, even cherished, as lovingly as only cherry tomatoes know how. But I think it’s terribly important, a matter of life and death really, that we don’t forget we are more similar than we are different. I don’t want to go on about this, but sectarianism amongst tomatoes is a serious subject that we need to address, especially in light of what’s looming.
I’ll conclude my introduction by letting you know about my best friend. Under the same plastic roof as my family, lives another less extended one called Raf. A couple of months back I made friends with a tomato from that family, a guy named Fabio. I say ‘guy’, even though, as you probably know, we tomatoes are both boy and girl in one, because this Fabio, for some reason, has always been a little bit on the male side, like me. Anyway, we were very young and small when we met, but despite looking like cherry tomatoes, everybody around us kept saying we were both going to be tasty when we grew up. In case you don’t know, the Rafs are considered high class. And yet Fabio Raf is not a pretender. He’s a real guy who, like me, understands that unless we see past our respectable yet little differences and work together we are doomed.
One day in June, after evening watering, I heard two giants talking with a representative of Angelito Chem, also known as ‘the comical company.’ The giants had been agitated all day, because the drip irrigation wasn’t working properly. By the evening they were forced to give us what we call a shower. We love showers, but unless the drop-by-drop watering system doesn’t work, we don’t get proper showers, because they waste water and nutrients. Getting water little by little through our family plant roots is much more ecological, better for the planet. It’s a good idea, but frankly I don’t mind that occasionally it doesn’t work because I can have a wonderfully cooling shower in this awfully hot hothouse I live in. So, you see, I’m not a saint; I can be individualistic; selfish, too.
These two giants were talking in loud voices, which is not their normal way of expressing themselves. They hardly talk to each other, but when they do, they normally mumble in a bored tone, or whisper as if they don’t want us to know whatever it is they’re talking about. The giants today were too excited to keep their voices down. They completely forgot we were there.
They were talking about Angelito Chem and some new technology the company had come up with. At the word ‘technology’, pearls of water started coming out of my lustrous green skin, spoiling the heavenly coolness the shower had graced me with. That word brought back the early stages in my life, about a month ago, when the giants, dressed up like spacemen, had brought a ‘new technological product’ from Angelito Chem. This product, a liquid with the name of Squaredown, was sprayed all around me and my family, as well as around the Rafs and all the other tomatoes I hear about but cannot see in this seemingly interminable plastic house. That Squaredown thing turned out to be a serial weed killer that didn’t just go after weeds but everything that lives and breathes, and made a lot of my fellow tomatoes ill, despite the giants having turned off all the fans to avoid the stuff drifting everywhere. Luckily, I’m a strong guy and I resisted, but others weren’t so lucky and they ended up pushing up daisies with the daisies. The poor souls weren’t even fit for tomato puree.
That is what technology can do to you. I’m not saying it’s all bad, but it can be, because, shockingly – and frighteningly – the masters are not always masterful. Bearing that in mind, when that morning I heard them blab breathlessly about some even more ‘new technology’, I got more than a little bit frightened. New means it hasn’t been tested for long and I know from the knowledge my parents – bless their souls – have passed onto me that we tomatoes are often the guinea pigs of the edible vegetable kingdom. More than that, what the giants were saying was frightening, even if it had been well tested all over the world, especially if it had been well tested all over the world. Because this new technology involves sterilising us. I’m sure you know what sterilisation means: interfering with your reproductive system so that you can’t have babies.
Life is short. The life of a tomato is very short. But it all makes sense if you can leave your seed behind in the knowledge that it’s going to grow one day into beautiful flowers that will turn out glorious tomatoes. Tomatoes that will carry the genetic traits, the knowledge, the soul of thousands of years.
The Angelito Chem rep was explaining to the giants that the new technology will cause our seeds to commit suicide. But I know that can’t be true. Giants might commit suicide, but tomatoes don’t. We love our brief lives too much to kill ourselves. Sure enough, the giant went on to reveal that my fellow tomatoes are going to be genetically modified in a lab so that they will be coded for immolation whether they want it or not. So what the masters, be those giants or Angelito Chem’s reps, call suicide, I call murder.
I got so agitated and angry about what I was hearing that, had I been older and more mature, I would have ripped my skin open from the internal pressure. Unfortunately, my emotions prevented me from hearing the rest of the conversation, which wound up shortly afterwards. The last phrase I heard from the rep was: ‘We’ll explain this in detail over dinner and drinks on Friday at the Golden Egg. Our treat, of course, as usual.’
This was terrible news. I was well aware of how powerful the comical company was. They were the small bunch of giants who told the rest of the big bunch of giants what to do. I know: it should be the other way around, shouldn’t it? But, no, Angelito Chem are the real masters with the master plan.
When I calmed down and the giants and the rep were gone for the night, I talked to Fabio next to me. It turned out he had heard everything and was on the verge of crying.
‘What are we going to do?’ I asked, more to myself than to him. The rest of the tomatoes around us were already asleep. They seem to doze most of the day; I can’t blame them, there’s not that much to do or see here. But now we should all be waking up and thinking of something to do.
‘What can we do?’ Fabio asked me. The poor soul looked terrified out of his mind. ‘I wanted to have lots of kids. It’s always been my dream. I’ve heard they’re going to take us Rafs to a supermarket in the West where bumblebees still exist that pollinize us in the open. You see, Angelito Chem doesn’t have a market there yet and their chemicals haven’t driven the bumblebees away. I was looking forward to that. I hate the fact that I come from an onanistic flower in an incestuous hotbed. It’s so artificial, so oppressive. If it weren’t for my friendship with you, this plastic house would be a lonely cage. I thought I could give my children a better life!
‘We’ll think of something,’ I said to trembling Fabio, who, like me a moment earlier, looked as if he were going to have a stem attack and turn to sauce on the spot. I was trying to calm him down for his sake, but also for mine. I didn’t want to get infused with his tension now that I had managed to relax a notch. However, the truth was I didn’t have a single idea about what to do next. I felt so powerless attached to my family plant, like a dependant child, so impotent. Yes, impotent is what my next generation is going to be if we don’t remove this imminent danger, I thought. But how can we, puny tomatoes, change anything when we don’t even have hands or feet?
It was that question that gave me the answer.
About three weeks later, one early morning, the giants did the harvesting in our plastic world. That is, they came in good numbers to pluck us off the tall plants that had been our homes since we were born from their big yellow flowers. I was surprised to be picked so early; in the last few days I had started feeling myself turning pink in certain areas, but I was mostly still green! I started asking around in a panic. One of my relatives explained what was going on: we were destined for grocery stores and supermarkets, not processing plants to be turned into puree. This meant we had to last longer, hence being harvested so young. Lasting longer sounded good to me. I cooled off and let myself be amorously embraced by the gigantic hand; not that I could have done anything to stop any of it. The plucking didn’t hurt, probably because I relaxed.
I was excited to finally move and go out in the open. It turned out the Better Boys were going to exactly the same place as the Rafs. I was disappointed that I wasn’t going for exportation abroad – I’d always wanted to travel abroad – but I was happy to be journeying along with Fabio. It would be a real advantage if we ended up next to each other in the shop too, because we could unite our strength in our idea, instead of having to carry it out separately. We were going to need all the help we could get.
The giant labourers carefully loaded us into black plastic boxes with lots of holes in them. Each box held 20kg of tomatoes. Naturally, Fabio and I were placed in different boxes, since we came from different families, but luck would have it they placed our boxes next to each other and we could talk. Our respective relatives didn’t say anything about this interracial exchange. They had long given up trying to destroy our friendship.
We waited for a while outside under the shade of a large porch. I was lucky enough to be in one of the boxes at the top along with my immediate family. The air outside was deliciously cool and fragrant, something I had never experienced before. My skin rippled with pleasure and hopeful trepidation. A golden light was softly glowing from behind the distant hills in the horizon. I had never had such a magnificent view. In fact, I had never had a view at all before. The Earth was beautiful and the light of the sun that had given me life and sustenance felt in my skin like the most loving of caresses, warm and fresh at the same time, perfumed and odourless at the same time. Before, I had only experienced the substitute that filtered through the tight plastic containing our claustrophobic world. The warmth had been sticky, the scents noxious.
The world was big now and the possibilities of existence infinite, even though I knew that, for me, it would only last two more days, if that. The refrigerator truck came a couple of hours later and the labourers swiftly and carefully loaded us into its large thickly-walled box. Back into a cage, this one with no light, and no windows, not even plastic ones. At least it was cool, pleasantly humid and airy. Twelve degrees celsius, 85% humidity, we heard the truck driver say to the farmer. Where the air was coming from nobody found out, another mystery of life. But it was good to know that we weren’t going to dry up and suffocate on the way to the shops. We wouldn’t have been any good to anybody, shrunken and dead, not even for cheap ketchup, we would just be thrown in the waste.
Even though the long truck journey meant going back to a confined life, we knew it wouldn’t last long. Nothing lasts long for a tomato. The humming and reverberating of the truck were reassuring too: it meant it was moving. And it was moving fast. Even if we were in the dark, the fact that we were going somewhere was encouraging and kept our spirits up. That is how trusting tomatoes are. Stupid? No doubt.
The orderly habits of the skilful labourers in the farm ensured that Fabio’s box and mine were again next to each other in the truck. We didn’t talk much during our moving, though. The polyphony of the huge wheels on the smooth road together with that of the powerful engine, even though quite loud, acted on us like a lullaby and we dozed off for most of the time. Only with the sporadic bump on the road, we jumped a bit in our boxes and were wakened for a while. Falling asleep for the umpteenth time, I had a dream; the roof of the truck was carefully lifted, as if by a powerful but genial wind. I was awash in the light and warmth of the sun, the roof was now the great blue sky, which I had only seen in dreams and now I was seeing in this dream.
I felt myself being lifted by the same friendly wind that had got rid of the heavy metal roof. I saw my fellow tomatoes around me being lifted into the air too. We gently soared into the sky, left the truck far below, which kept running along the road, unaware of having lost its cargo. It looked like a tiny toy truck the child of one of the giants had played with a couple of times in the plastic house. The black boxes were nowhere to be seen; perhaps they had gone with the roof to the place where boxes and roofs go when they don’t have work to do.
I was not afraid: not a single one of all of my fully oxygenated cells felt fear, and that realisation filled me with juice almost to the point of bursting. I thought, in fact, that being out in the sun, exposed to the elements, which even though natural, are chemical too, would cause me to wrinkle and lose my youthful looks. The truth was my plant had sucked up all the sun for me that I had needed to grow all I could grow. My plant with its green leaves had been the one with the chloroplasts and, hence, the power to carry out the photosynthesis thing. I was now as big as I would ever be and from, that point on, it was all downhill. For a free tomato, the sun is a recreational drug: gratifying but harmful.
Still, because this was a dream, I did OK. I lost my greenness, turned bright red and plump and stayed there; I didn’t ooze, shrivel and die. I lived, as I never lived before, because I was more alive than I had ever been before. The joyful wind made us dance as we kept soaring into the stratosphere. I didn’t know where it was taking us, but any design was better than landing on a supermarket shelf awaiting eternal darkness, knowing that when I was eaten, my seeds would be discarded with the inorganic rubbish, because they would yield nothing after me.
Gently we came to a halt. The electrical smell was overpowering but not unpleasant. I knew what that was: the ozone layer the giants often talked about in the plastic house, the layer that was breaking down and letting too much sunlight through, endangering all life forms on Earth. Was this the design? Dance across an ozone hole and turn instantaneously into a sun-dried tomato?
I still wasn’t scared. We had stopped dancing and we simply lulled, suspended in the pellucid blue space, like round red stars. Suddenly we turned pitch black and I knew: we were the ozone holes in the ozone layer. I felt the sun searing through me; it wasn’t friendly fire. The atmosphere cracked open all together. Without the restrain of the atmosphere, the sun turned into an omnivorous predator. I witnessed with horror how it devoured all living beings in all the kingdoms: animals, plants, fungi and protists. Only the inert rocky crust remained. I remember hoping there were a couple of protozoa and a few non-GMO seeds, as well as some nice mould, somewhere, hidden under some stone, waiting for the atmosphere to heal, and start the cycle of love, life and death again. I woke up shivering, 12ºC was too cold for me after all. But the truck doors were open now (the atmosphere cracking in my dream) and the warmer open air rushed in.
‘Don’t bust my pectins!’ a tomato with a girl’s voice was saying to another.
The boxes had been taken out of the truck via a conveyer belt into a high roofed metal house, which one of the giant workers had called a ‘where house.’ Well, it didn’t sound very reassuring if they didn’t know where we were.
I heard Fabio Raf giggling in the next box.
‘Are you OK Fabio?’ I asked. I felt disoriented and still unhinged by my dream, which had turned into a nightmare. However, I was reassured by the fact that I was still green. The moment I turned deep red, my life on this Earth would be nearly over and I had something to do before I went into somebody’s salad.
‘Hey, Tom!’ he said cheerfully. ‘Not bad, and you? Quite a journey, eh? Do you hear that girl over there? She’s got a funny accent. I wonder where she comes from’.
‘I don’t believe a word of it,’ this tomato, slightly smaller than me, was saying in a very loud voice. She did talk in a different way, different to what I was used to hearing. It was quite attractive. ‘Why would they want to kill our seeds? It doesn’t make any sense? Who would benefit from that?’
‘The comical company?’ I shouted, my seeds pounding inside me.
‘Angelito Chem,’ I clarified. ‘The comical company.’
‘Chemical,’ I heard Fabio whisper next to me.
‘Chemical,’ he repeated, still in a whisper. ‘Chemical not comical.’
The tomatoes around us started laughing out loud. ‘Oh, yeah,’ said the girl with the foreign accent. ‘You are comical.’
‘Shame Angelito Chem isn’t,’ Fabio stated.
I was grateful to Fabio for his support, but in my mind I had shrunk to the size of a tiny cherry tomato, one of those the giants pop into their huge mouths and gulp without chewing.
‘What is it that you can’t believe?’
‘The idea that Angelito Chem wants to terminate us. What’s in it for them? They sell all these… comical chemicals to the farmers who plant the seeds they saved from the previous crop. If they don’t have crops to fumigate, they won’t need the chemicals.’
‘Yes, that’s true,’ I granted. This round little tomato had a lot of juice, even if she hadn’t grasped the masters’ master plan. ‘But Angelito Chem will provide the farmers with the seeds, because they will be in charge of creating the seeds that will grow.’
‘Don’t bust my pectins!’ the girl protested again. Perhaps it was an expression autochthonous to the place she was coming from, or a product of an individualistic tomato. ‘That’s got to be a conspiracy theory!’
‘Another conspiracy theory that will be put into practice,’ said Fabio calmly but audibly. ‘The plan is real…’
‘Yes,’ another Raf agreed. ‘A lot of us don’t see the reality, as if we were inside Plato’s cave!’
‘Who’s Plato?’ another one wanted to know.
‘A Greek giant,’ somebody explained.
‘What’s a Greek?’
‘Oh, it’s too complicated: A giant that loves tomatoes.’
A kerfuffle of tomato voices ensued. Some thought like the girl: it was all pulp. Some were with Fabio and me. The same old story; tomatoes divided over a decisive issue at a crucial moment. Unless we were together on this, we would never achieve anything. Our side had to convince the other of the truth before it was too late. But that’s easier said than done.
‘So you think Angelito Chem is going to just collect all the seeds in the world and turn them into their seeds, which the farmers will have to buy off them,’ said the girl, whom I’d heard somebody call Rocy. She had already turned fully red. She looked hot and tasty.
‘Come on, they don’t have the power to do that! Who’s in charge, the farmers or the chemical company?
‘The chemical company!’ a few of us shouted in unison.
‘They are the real masters,’ I added quickly. ‘With a master plan.’
Before Rocy could reply to that, another small tomato of her kind said something in a little voice, which I could still hear over the murmur of the hundred conversations going on among the thousands of tomatoes in the where house:
‘They’ve already changed us into hybrids and…’
A big noise stopped her and everybody else from talking. The noise was coming from a long line of extractor fans along the top of the walls in this artificially lit metal house. I knew about extractor fans; we had them in the plastic house to bring air in from outside and extract the excess of CO2.
‘The ethylene,’ said a tomato, one of my kind. ‘Prepare to blush.’
I had missed that lesson in school.
‘They are gassing us so that we turn red,’ the same tomato explained.
‘Yeah,’ snorted another tomato, a Raf this time. ‘Prepare to go to sleep first.’
I thought of Rocy and the other little red tomato.
‘What happens if you’re already red?’ I asked.
I could tell the Better Boy didn’t want to answer, but in the end he said:
‘You go redder.’
‘Yeah,’ the Raf snorted again. ‘You go too far down the red road, and we all know what that means.’
Yes, I thought, we all know: you go bad and die. I worried for the little red ones.
I woke up in a supermarket. I knew it was a supermarket because the giants had talked about them in the hothouse. It had high ceilings with tube-lights running along them. There were stacks of shelves along the corridor where I was. My shelf was at some distance from the floor, but not too high. I looked for Fabio and the girls, as well as other familiar faces, even though I knew it was unlikely they would be in the same supermarket as me, let alone nearby, but, miracle of miracles, Fabio was there once again, for the last time, in the box next to me, to the right.
I was still woozy from the ethylene and the accelerated changes that had taken place in my body, which felt like somebody else’s. Yet Fabio’s presence filled me with indescribable euphoria, as if, like in my dream-nightmare, I was floating in the air and not trapped in this box to be sold by a giant, and bought and consumed by another. Being consumed by an animal was the way of nature, the way of the Gods. And it was fine if that’s what it was, but not if it was going to be the way of Angelito Chem, the Chemical Company. They were not the Gods, even if they liked playing their role. I had to stop thinking though, haranguing myself. That was as fruitless as the ‘suicide’ seeds. I had to start haranguing others.
Fabio and I looked at each other across the boxes and the other tomatoes around us. We had talked about it a few times. We knew what we wanted to do. We were redder than we would ever be. Bursting with juice, we wouldn’t go without a fight, even if by impositions of our phenotype it had to be a kickless and screamless fight.
The first customer I saw came from the left. It was a he-giant, quite old judging by the wrinkles on his skin. He picked up a huge beef tomato from a few boxes away from me, then put it back in the box. I heard the tomato sigh a deep sigh; I couldn’t tell whether it was relief or regret.
The giant resumed his stroll along the aisle and, when he was near enough, I started talking to him. I’d never done this before; I’d never talked directly to a giant. We all took for granted they wouldn’t understand us or even hear us, as we… well, we don’t really ‘speak’ in the strict sense of the term. Yet, the strict truth was, I had never tried it before. In the hothouse we’d been careful not to address the giants, but also not to talk among ourselves when they were near. We resented them for keeping us imprisoned under plastic and for constantly spraying us with foul-smelling, suffocating liquids. They called them ‘pesky sides’ and they often talked about how good they were, but the fact was the labourers always looked like astronauts when they came to ‘apply’ them all over our plastic habitat. Don’t ask me how a tomato knows what an astronaut looks like, because I don’t know how I know; it must be one of those collective subconscious memories.
Anyway, just like that, I started talking to this giant, telling him about our plight. The tomatoes around me, which up until that moment had been completely still, as if they were dead, started vibrating, as if somebody were about to pick them up or tread on them. The giant guy looked at the round red things in my box. For a moment, I could have sworn he looked straight at me, but then he carried on, walking a bit faster than before, along the aisle past the tomato area.
Two younger giants appeared from the left, a he and a she. They were funny those two, from the go: their hair was long and straggly, they wore baggy clothes; perhaps they were farmers. They seemed to be in a hurry to get somewhere and yet they were standing still in front of the tomato shelves. With a sudden infusion of energy I started speaking again, explaining one more time:
‘I don’t know whether you know this, but Angelito Chem, the co… chemical company is planning on changing our seeds so that…’
‘I don’t know whether you know this!’ the she-giant interrupted, her voice boomed over mine. ‘But something terrible is happening.’ She very obviously wasn’t talking to me, but to other giants who, at first, I couldn’t see because they must have been somewhere else in the shop. How funny, I thought, that she’d just repeated what I’d said. Could it be that she had heard me and she was ‘translating’ to the other giants? But how could she know that what I was about to say had any interest or relevance to her? I stopped myself from blabbing to myself and carried on talking to her:
‘The company is going to create seeds that grow only one crop and then die…’
‘Angelito Chem, the chemical company!’ the she-giant’s voice thundered again to her audience. ‘is creating seeds that don’t prolong life after their first yield!’
I couldn’t believe it, she could hear me and understand me! What’s more: she believed me!
‘I can’t believe it!’ I heard Fabio saying.
He hadn’t said anything so far because our plan was for me to give an introduction and then, when I was tired – it is exhausting to try to communicate with beings who are not equipped to listen to you – he would carry on.
‘I can’t believe it!’ other tomatoes echoed him. We were all shocked out of our skins. And just when I thought I couldn’t be more shocked, she went and picked me up. Out of all the tomatoes in all the boxes she picked me!
She embraced me firmly but gently in her warm colossal hand. I felt her powerful vibration running through me like a pleasurable current. I was sure she was feeling mine. My seeds trembling with emotion, I continued explaining:
‘Our lives will be extinct beyond our lives, we won’t have offspring that will carry on with our history.’
‘This tomato is a hybrid,’ she said in her passionate but steady voice. ‘It’s already some way towards this terminator technology.’
‘Terminator’, I thought. Had I heard that expression before?
‘We have been improved in the last decades,’ I said out loud. ‘Isn’t that enough?’
‘When are these people going to stop!’ she carried on. ‘Doesn’t introducing artificial traits to make tomatoes last longer bring enough profits to the chemical company? Isn’t transgenic bad enough? When we don’t even know what effect it is having on our health, and, particularly, that of our children?’
I realised she was adding her own bits to my speech, and that was fine by me. It was good that she knew already about the consequences this technology would have over her fellow giants. But then I realised she knew a lot more about me than I did, too. I didn’t know that being a transgenic hybrid was a bad thing. I wanted to ask her something.
‘So, even now my seeds are already bad and will create defective children?’
The he-giant next to her answered, again, addressing the other giants in the shop, who, by now, were beginning to gather around the two of them.
‘If you plant the seeds from that tomato in your garden,’ he pointed at me. ‘You wouldn’t get the same tomato but a defective one.’
My seeds froze. So, it was true, we didn’t have to wait for the next generation, the nightmare had already started. I still couldn’t quite believe it: my parents were hybrids and I was a perfect tomato. Perhaps the problem was in that other word ‘transgenic.’ I was about to start crying my juice out through the pores of my skin. I couldn’t speak, I was so upset. Fabio relieved me.
‘We have to find a way to stop Angelito Chem from carrying out their evil plan,’ he said to the baggy-clothed giants.
The he-giant reached out and picked Fabio from his box.
‘We don’t agree with their plan. We have to get together and stand in the way of the chemical company and their unethical technology,’ the giant declared to his fellow giants. ‘We have to fight for the preservation of life, the lives of farmers and their families, our lives.’
‘Millions of people around the world,’ the she-giant contributed, ‘live off saving the seeds from the previous crop. They’re not able to do that now: they have to buy the expensive seeds off the agrochemical company each year if they want to have food. There’ve already been countless suicides of farmers in poorer countries.’
Another thing I didn’t know. I realised something else: everything, all of us, were more connected than I had thought. In fact, we were all completely connected. Perhaps that’s why these giants were understanding us tomatoes against all odds. Other tomatoes had started talking, among themselves and to the giants. That was good, they were waking up. What a shame, though, that they had needed others to start things up for them. If only we were all more awake, then perhaps the Angelito Chems of the Earth wouldn’t gather so much power.
‘We sacrifice our lives to you,’ I managed to say. ‘Only with the understanding that you are going to lie our seed to rest in the ground so that they can grow and live again.’
‘Tomatoes,’ the she-giant said, ‘potatoes, peppers, pumpkins… they give us life because they have life in them. And it’s a life that doesn’t belong to a company: it belongs to the fruits of the Earth and to us!’
The tomatoes in the boxes were all echoing the same message. Perhaps the potatoes and the rest in the shop were doing the same. I couldn’t tell. My seeds were ringing.
‘Excuse me!’ I heard a different giant say. ‘You can’t make a racket like this in here. If you want to shout your message go to the street or to the town square…!’
‘But they are right,’ another giant said. ‘And what better place to start than in a supermarket where you sell…’
‘I sell! I’m only an employee here…!’
‘Yes, we’re all only employees!’ said the he-giant with the straggly hair and the baggy clothes. ‘And that’s how the company accumulates power and rakes profit, because we are only employees and the company is our boss. It’s time… hey, hey! Don’t grab me!’
‘If you don’t leave the premises I’ll call the police!’
Suddenly they were all, giants and vegetables, communicating at the same time, which, as we know, is not very good for communication. Predictably -although I couldn’t tell you exactly how I was able to predict it – a magnificent fracas ensued. Voices were raised and tomatoes were lifted. The customers waved the tomatoes in the employees’ faces and the employees waved empty hands in the customers’ faces.
The giants are not so giant, I thought. They’re as pathetic as we tomatoes are. And yet I felt hopeful, confident that we were going to get somewhere. I felt my seeds vibrate with merriment. Customers and tomatoes had woken up and were fighting back. Tomatoes started flying. The customers were picking them up and throwing them high up and across the space in the supermarket. Still on my throne that was the she-giant’s hand, I looked down at the boxes, concerned for my fellow tomatoes, and I swear I saw a lot of them lifting into the air without any giant hand picking them up. Perhaps it was a hallucination; I was very hot and turning soft inside this girl’s hand.
The tomatoes in the air shot across the shop and then back, as if they were remote-controlled missiles, and began immolating against people, walls, tube-lights, pumpkins…
The pandemonium reached terrific proportions. I remember wondering how it was all going to end up. Abruptly, the din around me ceased to deafen me and turned into a loud beautiful, if atonal, symphony.
I looked up at the she-giant holding me protectively in her hand and she looked down at me. Her eyes resembled the sky in my dream. I could tell she wasn’t going to throw me across the air, or down on the floor… She wasn’t going to waste me.
‘I swear to God.’ I could hear her perfectly above the clamorous music around me. She said this to me. ‘I’m going to make you right. I’ll try and try, again and again. Until I get it right. Until you come out right again.’ Huge diaphanous tears were coming out of her eyes and rolling down her cheeks like tidal waves.
‘If it’s the last thing I do.’
Oh good, I said to her, my seeds beaming brightly.
As it should be: the end of this story is the beginning of another story.
Vivi, June 6th 2022
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