She runs her fingers across his skin. ‘Did I tell you about the orange seller of Tangier?’ she whispers.
‘I was there,’ he replies, more asleep than awake.
Her hand hovers above his skin. ‘You weren’t there. We met a year later in Tarifa. We could see Tangier across the water. You only think you remember.’
He rolls over to face her. ’The oranges were on a cart in the souk,’ he says. ‘The sellers would split and squeeze dripping juice into your hands so you had no choice but to stop and watch the orange bleed from your fingertips; not wanting to raise the hand to your tongue, knowing all the things your hands had brushed in the course of the day: the hands shaken, the notes counted and recounted, the taxi handles opened and closed. Instead you held your hands to your face and breathed it in.
‘The seller met your gaze. These oranges come from trees that grow along a fold between the mountains, he said. Where the rains disappear into cracks in the soil and grass springs forth. Women guard the trees, shooting strangers on sight, guarding the only thing worth riding across the desert for.
‘The women?’ you replied.
Yes the women. And without the oranges the women are vulnerable. The oranges bring wealth and power.
‘What happened to all the men?’ you asked.
Dead and buried beneath the oranges, he said, that’s why the oranges grow so well. And that is why you shouldn’t buy this orange. This orange was pulled from a tree whose roots were burrowed deep in flesh wound through with anger and violence. This orange is for men who crave the taste of revenge.
You picked up another orange and asked, ‘What about this one? Should I buy this one?’
The seller took that orange from your hand and placed it back on the top of the mound. No, this orange is grown in the next valley over. In this valley, the orange groves are watered with the tears of women who wish they lived in a world without men. This orange is for women who can taste only sadness.
You pulled a handkerchief from your bag and wiped your hands. ‘So which orange should I buy then?’ you asked.
The fruit seller lifted a single orange from a box on the shelf near by the window. This is your orange. This orange comes not from an orchard but from a single tree that grows in a garden on the other side of the city. It is watered not by sweat nor by tears but by the illicit whiskey spilled from the glasses of poets who lean against its bark in the moonlight, convinced that the shadows will wrap their faces in such cloaks of darkness that their listeners will be confused and believe they are hearing the voices of the greats; that in fact it is the master poet Rumi whispering through the leaves. This orange will leave scraps of forgotten languages on your tongue. You will wake with unutterable words stuck between your teeth and you will lose the trust of lovers who will lick traces of passion from your lips that they know they did not leave behind.
He pauses, rolls her over on the sheet and presses his lips against the hollow at the base of her throat. ‘And then you pulled three notes from your wallet - one for the women who grow oranges from the bodies of their murdered husbands, one for the women who wept for their husbands still alive, and one to buy whiskey for the poets who whispered their souls into the shadows of the leaves. The seller folded the money into his pocket and then brought out a bottle of fresh water and a clean towel. You washed your hands and then the two of you ate the orange, slice by slice until you were at one with the poets and their forbidden whiskey and the stars.
‘As you finished, you noticed a man laughing. In Derija the man said to his friend, “This foreign woman is a fool. She has paid for one orange what I will pay for twenty!” And you replied in perfect Derija, “But your oranges will be gone in a week. Mine will still linger in my mouth twenty years from now. And one day a lover, lying naked with his mouth against my skin, will taste it there and he will tell this story in words that will circle the curve of my breast. I have paid not for a single orange. I have paid for a story to be retold by a man who will breathe the scent of a whiskey- soaked orange across my skin.” ‘
‘Perhaps you were there after all,’ she says.
He kisses her mouth of oranges, as he slides his hand beneath her, his thumb coming to rest against the ridge of her spine. His arm tightens around her. ‘Tell me now,’ he says, ‘about the strawberry seller of Marrakech.’
She laughs into his hair. ‘To find the strawberry seller of Marrakech, you must first make the acquaintance of the carpet seller with the seventeen cobras...’
Fiona Leonard is a writer, author and playwright. Her plays have been performed in five countries and in two languages. Her most recent play was a commissioned work for the Reading Fringe Festival, supported by Arts Council of England. Her novel, The Chicken Thief, was published by Penguin Random House in 2014. She has lived in seven countries on four continents and is currently based in Düsseldorf, Germany where she runs a theatre company - Blue Goat Theatre - which she established in 2018. She is currently working on a novel about vampires, an online novella about assassins and a series of projects involving bathtubs.