Warmth gathers here and sticks to other warmth, then to my legs, like dust-fairies around a hallstand in an unswept corridor. I lie back in the folding chair and watch weeds climb up through the concrete and turn their colourful flowers to the sun. A tomato plant stretches a large leaf over to pat me on the thigh. Beyond the walls, the sky flitters around, tangled up in the over-sized songs of tiny birds that call from inside thickets and hedges, invisible.
The tomatoes came as seedlings from my manager, before I left my job. They're a mixed bunch and I’m no tomato professional, so even now with the fruit growing fatter and blushing ever-warmer shades of orange I can only say this is a big one, this is a Roma or something like that, this is some kind of cherry tomato. I am sure, though, that they will bring singular flavours to my salads and pasta sauces.
In the meantime, I imagine becoming an expert in tomato identification, starting with these six plants. I create a recipe for success. First, send photos of these tomatoes to my ex-manager and get the names, then look the varieties up online, then start an album with tasting notes and photos. Grow more tomatoes next summer – ones with names like Moonglow, Mortgage Lifter, Juliet and KC 146 – and more again the summer after. Start a blog. Maybe get an allotment or move to a house with a bigger garden, then a farmyard with polytunnels. By this stage, I’m growing a wide range of heirloom tomatoes and entering them into local shows. I’m winning ribbons for my obscure varieties and luscious flavours and making a name for myself in the world of tomato cultivation. I have perfected organic cures for many mysterious tomato ailments. I start selling seed packets to fans of my blog and eventually turn my tomato concern into a moderately lucrative business, producing chutneys for local restaurants and showing tourists around my farm on the weekends. I use the profits to return to university, where I research the historical influence of tomatoes on international relations. The research becomes a PhD and the PhD becomes a book, published in hardcover with gorgeous botanical drawings throughout. The book is an unexpected bestseller in the UK and Sweden and I’m whisked away for a season of book signings. The Observer gives me a guest column and I make a cameo appearance in a long-running cozy English crime programme, opening a village flower show.
The tomato plant strokes my leg. The birds keep singing, louder and louder, saying this is mine, this bramble, this piece of space that curves around the hedge, this gust of wind has entered my territory so it is also mine. They sing to fill the whole sky from soil to stratosphere with their tiny lives and I dream for hours in the sun, collecting dust.
I have time for all this, now I am unemployed.