Vigilante is a Spanish word meaning watchman or guard. In English it means a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily. In movies made by men for men, a vigilante is a self-appointed doer of justice; he gets vengeance by a gun and the splashing of guts. In America, it means Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood.
But killing a man or an occasional woman, blowing of a head with a red splat hitting the wall, is a man’s revenge. Quick. Leaving a tell-tale mess like a public announcement of victory, a graffiti of grossness. Yet surely a just punishment would bring the guilty suffering–not torturous physical trauma , but the deep psychological pangs of unending anxiety that makes one long for death.
The dead Montezuma and his warriors didn’t suffer as their living enslaved people did. In the aftermath of war, the dead heroes and traitors don’t feel the lash of the whip or the unpleasant bulk and ruthless penetration of the victorious soldiers claiming a woman’s screaming flesh as his reward. Falling from the grace of aristocracy to the groveling, begging and silence of non-personhood. The memories of luxury in the mind of a female slave is the mental torture that brings both grief and strength and patience.
The conquistadores brought more than gold back from the ruins of the New World. They brought the tomato, the love apple. From there came marinara sauce, pizza and ketchup. At one time, tomatoes were thought to be poisonous. But time showed that their link to death was only in the minds of men.
Sending a tomato through the mail isn’t an easy task. The tomato is soft and squishy when ripe, only slightly harder when green. But green tomatoes, not to be mistaken for the tomatillos, aren’t tasty, and never ripen to have that full satisfying flavor. They remain pallid, anemic cousins to the homegrown, vine-ripened red tomato.
For my purposes, I am sending 58 tomatoes. One a day, beginning on June
18. It’s hot, and depending on how I send the tomato, it might be rotten by the time it reaches its destination in rotterdam although lately the addresses have changed.
You are not supposed to send fruit through the mail, but if you fit a tomato tightly in a jar of some makeup or inside some loose tea or even inside the cut compartment in a book seal-wrapped in plastic, you can get it through most of the time. The post office is busy, looking for bombs and such–not for tomatoes and the people who receive them aren’t likely to complain to the authorities.
I don’t always send all 58 tomatoes from the same city. Sometimes from Paris or London. I can sometimes get an acquaintance in Fujian to send a small package, an insignificant parcel. No return address. Sometimes it’s not a package, but an envelope with seeds or a photo. Perhaps a postcard. Perhaps several postcards, 58 pieces in a puzzle that form the large image of a tomato. But always a tomato and always 58. Sometimes, there is a snake or at least the head of one.
One one particularly creative day, I found a snake in alcohol and added a t
omato for him to swim around. Then there was a plastic snake in a bamboo tube. I found tomato stickers to adorn the bamboo.
There are times when I wonder if I should try weekly for a change. The unexpected, the unknown has a certain mental impact. The anxiety of waiting becomes crueler than a bullet to the head. Then my enemies aren’t inanimate objects, heartless as they might have been or might still be. They move, quickly and furtively like cockroaches. I sometimes mail test letters: innocent-looking offers for discounts. If these return, then I know I must begin to search out my enemies. See where they might have slithered off. But the Chinese have traveled all over the world and they remember filial piety. We find them slowly and the Internet has made things easier. Bored students sometimes help with their hacking and tracking. The Chinese never forget to honor their ancestors.
I want to remind my dearest enemies that the lives of 58 human beings were lost because of greed. Their lives were values at less than the tomato crates they hid behind on the hottest day of that year. Behind those red, squishy orbs, 58 people who paid a fortune to get to England, hoping for a better life found death. The driver turned off the fans in his refrigerated truck. In the heat, a refrigerator became an oven. The two survivors shudder at the sight and smell of tomatoes.
I remind my dear enemies that some of the lost souls had relatives waiting. There will be no joyous reunions. No grand banquets made on modest means. No refunds. I waited. And now with every tomato I see, I think of my beloved. I share my grief with those who are also still waiting until the next life to see the faces of their beloved ones. For us, tomatoes have become a type of love apple.
I want those profiteers, these peddlers of human flesh to recoil at the sight of a tomato, in their salad, in their pasta or in their grocery store. I only regret that I cannot package and send the smell of the newly dead, suffocated in a metal box on a ferry heading for Dover–the white, white cliffs of Dover that 58 people would never in their lifetimes see.
*”Driver jailed for 14 years over deaths of 58 Chinese” 6 April 2001