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The Orange Man

I don’t know his real name, but I call him the Orange Man. I met him several years ago when I knocked on a door at the wrong address. I was forced to scream because his hearing was approaching deafness. He turned around and motioned for me to follow him into the flat without waiting to see if I did or not. I closed the door behind me. Three steps took me from the little entrance hall into a room that was supposed to be a kitchen but looked like a storage container. This wasn’t where I was supposed to be.

Newspapers, books, magazines, tools, instruments, machine parts, a microscope, an old radio surrounded by its inner components, at least three clocks, pens, notepads, stones, dried flowers, jars with various and some unidentifiable contents, and other things covered every available surface and were piled upon each other. He removed a stack of papers and books from a chair to the floor and offered me a seat. His arm bulldozed a pile of things from the corner of the table to make enough room for two cups.

“I’ll make some tea,” he said, and removed a globe of the earth from the stove to make room for a pot of water.

He couldn’t open the cupboard door more than 30 degrees because it came up against a stool with some books crowned with a dollhouse. Without looking he fished out a couple of teabags.

From under a large, round self-lit magnifying glass he took a book and showed me some pictures of an unborn child in different phases of development.

“Isn’t life fantastic?” he asked rhetorically. “An egg is fertilized and begins to divide. And divides again and again and again while growing into a person. Everything forms and grows into the right shape at the right place at the right time… eyes, toes, muscles, nerves, everything! Unbelievable! Imagine a building growing like that! Walls, floors, windows, cables, pipes, roof… if everything came into place by itself. Unthinkable! Yet a house is simple compared to a person. Life is fantastic. Unimaginably fantastic.”

He continued to speak of many things and I had no problem listening. Not only were his stories interesting, he himself was fascinating. He was boney, bent and feeble and his eyes saw as little as his ears heard. I can’t guess his age, but he seemed ancient. Despite his age and condition he was full of life, knowledge and the calm passion of glowing coals. His voice was weak but he spoke clearly and his watery eyes smiled with enthusiasm. Of all the things he spoke of, his story of the orange still shines in my memory. That’s why I call him the Orange Man.

He took an orange and held it in front of me.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” he asked.

I nodded.

“There’s no color like orange,” he explained. “A perfect combination of red and yellow, sun and fire. Other colors can be more or less one or the other, lighter or darker, but not orange. Orange is orange. Period. Otherwise it’s red. Or yellow.”

“And the feeling,” he continued. “What a feeling! The size and texture seems designed to hold in your hand. Pleasing and comfortable. And that is merely the packaging.”

He broke the ‘packaging’ with his thumbs and stuck the broken surface under my nose.

“Smell!” he ordered. “Isn’t it wonderful? A delightful scent.”

“And look how it is arranged,” he said as he peeled the orange.

“Separate segments in suitable portions for yourself or to share with a friend.”

He took a part of the orange for himself and gave me some segments.

“The taste! Oh, the taste! A cool sweetness bursts forward in the mouth. Delicious. Nourishing. Non-fattening. A gift from the sun. You like oranges, don’t you?”

How could I say anything other than yes after that presentation?

“You eat oranges?” he asked.

“Of course,” I answered.

“How do you get hold of them? Oranges don’t grow in this country (Sweden).”

“In a supermarket or kiosk,” I answered. How long has the old buzzard been in the apartment?

“How did they get there?”

How did they get there? The old guy is crazy.

“Where do the oranges come from that you buy in the shops?” he asked.

“Algeria, Florida, Italy – lots of places.”

“No matter where they come from, someone must have picked them from a tree. Someone. And what does that someone do when she has picked some oranges from a tree? I’ll tell you. She puts them in a box. How did the box get there? Who cut down the tree that the box is made of? Who drove the tree to the sawmill? What carpenter banged the box together and where did he get his nails from? When the box is full of oranges, it’s loaded onto a truck. A TRUCK! Steel, glass, rubber, copper, plastic, chemicals, petrol, oil. Who went down into the mine to gather the ore to be melted to steel in the great factory? Who cut scares in the trees to gather sap to make the rubber for the tires? Who blended the acid to go into the battery? Who got the material to make the chemicals? Who formed the electric wires?

“The truck has to go to the harbor. Who drives the truck? Who laid the roads? Who drew the white lines? Who put up the traffic lights? And when we get to the harbor we find boats. BOATS! A truck is to a boat what a garage is to a mansion. A boat is a floating city. How many miners did it take to get all the ore needed to build a boat? How many steel workers? How many engineers? Harbor workers, crane operators, invoice writers, sailors, navigators, cooks and more do we have here?

“All right! The boat sails. Then it docks at another harbor. More crane operators, truck drivers, etc., etc. and etc. Then the oranges are delivered to a warehouse so that they can be distributed to different shops and markets. Who built the warehouse? Who controls who wants what and how many, where and when? Who build the shops that sells the oranges? Who manages it? Who unloads the truck when the oranges are delivered and loads up the bins for the costumers? Where did all those shopping carts come from? Who sits at the cash register?

“How many people does it take for you to get your orange? 1000? 10000? No! That’s not enough. We didn’t mention the people who made the clothes for all the people who were working to get the orange to you. They didn’t work naked and don’t have time to make their own clothes. Where did the cloth come from?

He took a pen lying on a book and held it up to me.

“Where did this pen come from? How many people were needed to get this pen here? The metal tip, the plastic, the ink, the packaging? Didn’t the person who wrote up how many cases of oranges went on the truck need a pen? How about the truck driver who signed a receipt? Who educated the people to do their job and taught them how to read and write. Who wrote the books they used? Who printed them? Do we need more or less people if we use computers instead of pens?

“So! How many people did it take to get this orange here? I’ll tell you. It took almost everyone. And how many people to get this pen here? Almost everyone. Now you multiply almost everyone times almost everyone for almost everything and see if you don’t get everyone. For everything!

“More orange?”

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