Tomato hunting

Short stories

Thanks to El Niña, the drought developed a vice-like grip on the island and fresh fruit and veggies were in short supply. Most days there was not even a solitary puff of cloud on the horizon and a gloomy mood descended over the population. One early morning, I convey myself to Farmer Lou’s butchery, next to Foodies, in the hope scoring something, anything, that was fresh and a plant. While I stand at the counter waiting, a number of other women turned up with the same idea. A couple of us get chit-chatting.

Isn’t the drought bad?

Do you have water left in your tank?

But, my lapse in concentration costs me. Dearly. The ruddy-faced butcher enters from his storeroom with a flourish, bearing aloft three tomatoes. No lie. THREE tomatoes.

All yorlye gwen? Come yorlye look orn’ (How are you all? Come and have a look), he sings out to the waiting crowd. Of the five of us squished into the tight space of his shop, three are focused — like big game hunters. But two of us are exchanging pleasantries — myself and another naïve TEPer[i]. I hadn’t yet learned the ropes, vis-à-vis food procurement, island-style.

Two of us leave minus our tomato — a hard lesson. We have tinned again that night.

[i] TEP is a Temporary Entry Permit. Those of us living on the island who were not residents were known as TEPs. We were only one step up from tourists in the social hierarchy of the island.

This piece is an excerpt from a longer article about foraging for food on Norfolk Island