Like anything one might eat in the U.S., even something as “healthful” as fruit could turn out to be damaging to the body. A mirror, if anything, of one’s soul in a country such as this. And, that being the case, Rodrigo’s body had undergone the worst possible kind of transformation since moving from Porto to Los Angeles. A city, he was assured by his new employer, that had many “Portuguese qualities.” Sun, beach, “relaxation” and all that sort of rot. But the only rot Rodrigo could notice was the dark-colored urine he had been emitting for the past few days. This paired with nausea, diarrhea and an inexplicable malaise led him to question if perhaps something was wrong. Something beyond merely being “homesick”—which he definitely was.
From the moment of touching down at LAX, Rodrigo could sense he was making some kind of grave mistake. One that he couldn’t go back on as he had signed a fairly ironclad contract with Raytheon. The only way he could get out of it was if they, for some inexplicable or unforeseen circumstance, “released” him. And so, this was to be his life now. Living in El Segundo and enjoying, as best he could, “free time” on the weekends that were still somehow spent with a mind that was focused on work. That, or the fact that he had heard rumors of El Segundo Beach being contaminated. This was the general “rub” with L.A. It all looked so pretty on the surface until you scratched just vaguely beneath it to reveal something horrific and Lynchian. Honestly, that could be said of the entire United States. There was a lot of talk, to be sure, about things that were contaminated. He had never heard such worries bandied while living in Porto, where it never seemed that anybody had a second thought about entering the water as they did here, in this: the “greatest” country in the world. So “great,” in fact, that the best grocery store option near him was Trader Joe’s, “just” a thirteen-minute drive (or thirty minutes to an hour with traffic) to the Manhattan Beach location on Rosecrans. It was there, in the first few weeks during which he was settling in, that he bought a pack of FreshKampo strawberries. Although they didn’t look especially delicious, particularly as compared with what he was used to seeing in Portugal, he decided to just go ahead and get it. They were “organic,” after all.
As he shuffled through the jam-packed store, he noticed many others had strawberries in their carts as well, which he found odd. It’s not as though it was “the season” for them. Not that seasons really meant anything in this overly manufactured, genetically-engineered world. A person—nay, an American—should be able to get whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. No matter what unnatural methods that might entail. At the checkout counter, Rodrigo could feel a force field of entitlement radiating off every customer as they plopped their ersatz wares down. It might have made him shudder if the cashier hadn’t interrupted his thoughts to feign interest in his life with mindless small talk as he checked out the items and bagged them. The strawberries were placed on top.
Back at his new apartment, a sad, stark and unfurnished place that the company had helped him get, he unloaded the groceries, leaving the strawberries out to wash so he could then top them with some whipped cream. You know, just as a bit of a “Wednesday treat” to get him through the rest of the week. Well, that and the bottle of Prosecco he was about to polish off. He preferred it to wine. And it was a “lighter” way to get just a um pouco tipsy. The strawberries would help temper the inebriation level, or so he told himself as he proceeded to get absolutely soused despite polishing off the entire strawberry basket.
As the next couple of weeks progressed, he didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary, and when news reports started to circulate about a Hepatitis A outbreak stemming from organic strawberries, he didn’t think twice about it. He had forgotten entirely that he had ever even consumed any strawberries (such were the “benefits” of alcohol for one’s lack of memory). So when his urine started to turn practically black, he didn’t instantly make the connection. That is, until he was barreled over the trash can after yakking abruptly inside of it and saw the FreshKampo label peeking out from the debris. Of course, he still didn’t want to believe that such a bizarre thing could happen to him, and so quickly after he had arrived in the United States. But hadn’t everyone warned him? His mother, his sisters, his one brother—they had all told him that no amount of money would be worth what he would be giving up to come to the U.S. And apparently, one of those things was not having to worry about eating virus-ridden strawberries.
Maybe those who were responsible for importing the fruit from Mexico actually wanted to see this effect. To laughingly allow strawberries with human fecal matter on them to be sold. “Serves them right,” Rodrigo could imagine someone at the factory saying as he slapped the boxes with a seal of approval. But they weren’t taking someone like Rodrigo into account when they did such a thing. Someone who had worked hard for the “privilege” of being in America only to be saddled with one of its many unforeseen health risks. Ones that usually started out as physical before manifesting into something mental.
As Rodrigo spent the next three or so months trying his best to recover, the job he had come all this way for was not so understanding of his predicament, “releasing” him from his contract. And although the entire ordeal had left Rodrigo more destitute than when he had initially arrived, he was fortunate enough to pool together some money for a plane ticket back to Porto. As for eating strawberries, well, he would never touch them again, no matter how gleaming and delicious they looked in Portugal.