Hands

“There was a machine in the kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour, if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler’s thumb.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald | The Great Gatsby


I sat down at my gate, took a deep breath and reached for the oranges in my bag. They weren’t anything special. The opposite actually, I had picked them up from an airport kiosk. These oranges were the compromise of not hungry enough for dinner and wanting something refreshing and light. I saw them near the chocolate laden granola bars feeling like they were a better option. I chose one from the bottom basket and gave it a gentle squeeze. The squishy, dehydrated orange would never have made it home had I been at a grocery store, but options are limited in airports, so I got two.

“These are pathetic, I must be desperate,” I thought. My thumbnail sunk into the thick end of the orange, then curled under slightly, digging closer to the flesh. I didn’t need to think about what I was doing so I closed my eyes and took another big breath. The exhale flowed against the back of my throat and while my shoulders relaxed, I noticed the process of peeling still happening between my fingers. Eyes still closed, I tuned into the movements. Peel, rip, shift. Then to the textures. Dry, leathery and stiff. How long ago had this orange been harvested? Probably weeks ago, or months maybe. Peel, rip, shift.

My eyes filled with tears. This was the first orange I’d had since Italy. I was crying over sad, flavorless oranges. How ridiculous. The expectation was the decadence of grandma’s chocolate chip cookies, but instead receiving a Famous Amos cookie. I was confronted with a dramatic difference. I craved the oranges from Sorrento. Giant fruits with thick, moist peels that ripped off into small pieces to reveal the bursting flavor inside. They were a refreshing treat in between meals. The sugars kept the sweet tooth satiated, the juice promised hydration and the task of unpeeling them entertained a quiet mind. There were fruit stands on any of the paths we took, which was many because of Oliver’s rule, “never take the same road twice.” But in Sorrento, I had a favorite spot to snag the citrus. At one corner stand, the fruits were still attached to branches with leaves. That was the mark of authenticity, of seasonality and locality. They must have been picked, packaged and delivered within that week.

I cried for wanting to be back in Italy. I cried for the people who may only experience an airport orange. I cried because the privilege to travel the world can lead to suffering.