Of all places, my crisis of conscience had to happen in a fruit aisle. It had been an uneventful evening of grocery shopping when I wheeled up to the Indian mango bin at Lulu's in Al Wahda Mall in Abu Dhabi. Tucked in among the others, as if ashamed of itself, was an overripe mango. I picked it up and its skin sank around my fingers. Its insides turned to jelly, the contents sloshing underneath the skin, the flesh loosed from its mooring.
I stood holding the mango and considered the time it took for it to grow into a pleasing yellow form - all that effort, those cells working tirelessly, a genetic knitting group click-clacking away at the cellular level. This thing - a work of nature, of time, of farmers, irrigation systems, packing crates and distribution channels - at risk of being thrown away because it was too good too fast. It was going to end up at the bottom of a dump, a messy pulp of its former self.
A strange wave of sadness washed over me as I suddenly felt as though I were the determiner of its existence. I wanted to weep for its effort, at its pointlessness of racing to the finish line, before the hand of commerce intervened and chucked it into the pile with all the other slackers. The slackers who, try as they might, could not ripen fast enough and whom the world was rewarding for their sloth.
Of course I felt utterly ridiculous for bonding with the mango and for suddenly feeling sad over its vulnerable future. There were thousands more objects I had disregarded in the past - a squashed tomato, a scarred potato - but this mango was piteous. Humbled, I carefully placed it in a plastic bag and plucked its overripe neighbour as well. I found myself suddenly wanting to save all the mangoes, trying vainly to save the life of a thing that didn't realise its own existence. Guiltily, I chucked a few green mangoes into the bag, rationalising the operation. I came home, convinced I had done myself the ultimate disfavour.
Getting soft at the wrong moment had earned me an expired fruit and a mess to clean up in the morning. I could imagine the ants gorging themselves and laughing at my stupidity as they patted their stomachs, immensely satisfied at the feast made available to them through my lack of judgment. I awoke in the morning, flipped on the light switch, and there it was. Still waiting, still slightly unsure of its fate. I washed it, peeled it and ate it. It was sweeter than any mango I had ever tasted.
I mentally thanked it as I picked up its neighbour, going for seconds. The stress, the anguish, the ants, all negated by a simple truth: sometimes, rescuing mangoes from the bottom of the barrel is far more rewarding than picking the winners on top.