“No!” screamed the marketman, shaking his fist far too close to Trom’s face. “No! No! No! No!” His forehead was the colour of beetroot and split down the middle with a throbbing vein.
“But…” started Trom.
The marketman snarled to shut him up, then seized Trom’s elbow with a meaty claw and dragged him over to the other crates piled high behind the market stall.
Trom tried to place one foot in front of the other as elegantly as possible, hard when being hauled along by such a giant lobster of a man. The marketman was snorting with every stride, froth bubbling at the side of his lips and seeping into the thick forest of hair that covered his chin.
Their arhythmic dance ended by a long table covered in large piles of vegetables and fruit. Here beans, there cabbage, over there capsicums. All arranged carefully, all pointing in the same direction and ordered by size, by a young girl who ran and hid behind a crate stack at the sight of the enraged wildebeest and his captive farmboy.
The marketman snatched an apple and thrust it into Trom’s palm.
“What colour is it?” came a throaty snarl.
“Green,” said Trom, with an air as pliant as he could muster, for the need to make a sale remained foremost despite the rough treatment.
“Yes,” agreed the marketman, eyes prodding outward like a snail’s tentacles. “Green. A green apple. People buy apples, and people know that apples are green. Now what’s this?” A pale seed pod entered the lesson.
“People buy yellow dantums. They know that’s what colour a dantum is. I make enough money to feed my four screaming hellrats every week because I sell food that is the colour and shape that customers expect. So why in the seven sores on the devil’s puss-ridden backside does this little runt…” here he prodded a sausage of a finger at Trom’s throat, “…try to sell me the ugly, misshapen, miscoloured rejects of his disease-ridden crop every endless week after week?”
“It’s food,” protested Trom. “It’s to be eaten, not admired.”
The marketman reared up, and shoved Trom backwards. “When you grow produce that looks recognisable…” he said, “…I’ll be very surprised. I see you here again, I’ll feed your vomit to my pigs, and that will be doing them down, too.”
As he headed back to his cart, Trom considered that he had burned his luck to the end of the wick. As he reached his goods, he saw the poppel sitting on a the pile of orange and purple fruit in the top-most crate. Her wings fluttered slightly, and her dress billowed, showing stains of little drops of juice.
“Keep faith,” she said, in a faint, satisfied voice. “They really are delicious. You’ll be famous for it, just like I said. See you back at home.” Her wings buzzed and she took off, heading sunwards.
Trom watched her go, then picked up the fruit that had been her perch. Tiny bitemarks adorned it in the shape of a heart. He chuckled, then sliced off a piece of the flesh between his teeth, obliterating the poppel’s love-note and sending juice spraying onto his collar. The syrup flowed around his tongue and sent tingles flickering along the roof of his mouth.
“Yes,” concluded Trom to nobody in particular. “Not the right shape, not the right colour. But it remains very tasty indeed.”