The children focus on their task. ‘Draw a pineapple,’ their new teacher had said. No-one has told them it should be golden brown with greenish leaves. These children of the inner city have never seen a pineapple – know nothing of its rough texture, the diamond shaped protrusions that pattern its skin, the fountain of leaves that flourishes from its top.
‘Draw a pineapple,’ the teacher had said – to these children of the inner city, whose acquaintance with fruit was negligible.
Pine-apple. They all know ‘A’ is for apple. There’s a picture on the alphabet chart on the classroom wall – the most common example given for learning the alphabet phonetically. And so they are familiar with pictures of that shiny red fruit, a white crescent glinting to denote the sheen of the skin and a stalk protruding at a jaunty angle from the top.
Pine. Pine has them puzzled. Joseph’s father is a carpenter and he’s heard his dad talk about working with different timbers – the characteristics in the wood, the hardness or softness. And so, pine-apple Joseph thinks, is some combination of timber and a piece of fruit.
Pine. Nancy has had pine-lime cordial at her cousin’s – a vivid green drink from a plastic bottle, which her Aunt Lil diluted with water. She attempts to blend her memory of this green fluid with an apple.
Pineapple. The twins, Alex and Jessica, remember eating pineapple at their Nan’s – wedge-shaped yellow pieces floating in sickly sweet syrup which came from a can.
The children draw a pineapple.
Miss Benson, patrols the classroom observing their efforts. Eight or twelve children work at each table sharing the crayons tumbled in dishes in the centre. She remembers her last school, in the sub-tropical north, where pineapple plants flourished in rows on plantations throughout the district, where ripe mangoes fell from trees and rotted underfoot and the humid air was pungent with their fragrance.