Re-cycling, a short story by Mark Patterson at
Olia Danilevich



written by: Mark Patterson


She swung her legs as she sat on the chair at the dining table. Her Essay book was open in front of her, her chin cupped in her right hand and her pen twiddled between the fingers of her left.

‘Staring into space won’t get the essay written Jennifer, and what is the topic this week?’ said mother looking at her daughter from the kitchen where the ragout for the spaghetti was taking shape.

‘I know, and it is a one-word title “re-cycling.” We are doing a lot on the environment this week in all the lessons. The maths examples today were about temperature calculations and percentages,’ came the reply as Jenny lifted her head and her nose twitched as the smell of the oregano enhanced dinner smacked her face.

‘Mom, what exactly are the bin pickers doing when they rummage through the wheelie bin?’ She wriggled more upright on the chair.

‘A good question. I assume you mean apart from making a mess digging around in the bin and putting rubbish next to the bin.’

‘Exactly,’ said Jennifer twirling the pen in her blonde hair, ‘Are they looking for food?’

‘No, they are looking for items that they can sell to the recycling companies such as paper, plastic, bottles and tins.’

‘Oh!’ The pen came out of the hair and a few words appeared on the blank page of the book.

‘That means they are starting a very important part of the recycling process. You have to sort out all the items before they can be recycled. Miss Johnson talked about that in class today. She said that big companies do it with fancy machinery. I didn’t realise that we have people doing it outside the complex.’

‘Not everyone sees what they are doing as useful though. You have seen that they don’t always pick up what they know can’t be re-cycled.’

‘True, we have seen a lot of mess sometimes.’ Jennifer wrote some more for a few minutes and then stopped again.

‘What happens when they have taken what they think can be re-used?’ Mother put the spoon on the rest and placed the lid on the pot licking her lips as she did so.

‘MMMMH that’s good. Let me see what you have written so far.’ Mother wiped her hands on the cloth in the apron strings, pulled out a chair and sat next to Jennifer to read what she had written.

‘Well that’s a good start to your essay on saving the environment but you need some more facts, and also you need to write properly, please. I’s and J’s need to have a dot over them.’

Jennifer sighed. ‘I know that Mom and I’ll do the titleing later when I read through.’

‘Titleing? Is that a word?’

‘It is now. The dot over the I or J is called a title. I learnt that in English today, so putting the dot on as you call it I have decided to call titleing.’

‘I don’t think you should put that into an English answer without checking first. You wouldn’t want to lose marks for spelling wrongly. Now back to your question and what do they do next.’ Jennifer looked at mother.

‘You’ve seen those large trolleys they have with the big sacks on them.’

Jennifer nodded. ‘They sometimes block the road making it difficult to drive past and we always seem to see them pulling them up the steepest part of the uphills on the way home.’

‘Not to mention dangerous to the pickers. Each of those sacks has a separate recyclable product in them. They will put paper and cardboard in one, plastic in another, tins and glass etc.’

Jennifer wrote some more.

‘And then?’

‘Then comes the difficult bit. They have to drag those trolleys to the recycling companies and yes we do seem to come across them where it is difficult to pass. I know that I wouldn’t like to have to pull some of the loads we see up those hills in Randburg. Strijdom Park has a re-cycling place which takes in the material that can be recycled. There they weigh each sack and give the pickers money for what they have brought. That can be many kilometres that they drag it to. But there is more than that. You know down by the wasteland we see a lot of rubbish.’

‘Yes, and it’s not pretty to look at. Not to mention not great for the environment and we don’t want polluted wetlands.’

‘The local people take the items from the bins and put them into the smaller sacks on their trolleys. They then take it to the wetland and empty it out before sorting it into plastic, paper etc. They even sort out the different types of plastic as each plastic type is recycled differently. Put that into your own words while I check on dinner.’

Mother got up and returned to the stove. The ragout simmered the flavour deep into the contents. Mother added a little salt and a good grind of pepper before stirring it. A quick taste and she smiled, it’s a good one and then put the lid back on. She filled a large pan with water and salted it ready to cook the pasta. Dinner preparation is finished. The topic of Jennifer’s essay was an intriguing one and worthy of her input. The topics they got at this age when mother was at school were never this thought-provoking or interesting. Her essays had themes like, “What did I do on Holiday” or “Imagine you are a coin what happened to you.” Topics like the environment are so much more useful and thought-provoking. She returned to the table and looked over Jennifer’s shoulder.

‘That sounds good. Well done.’

‘Thanks, mom but I have a question.’

‘Go on?’

Well, we don’t put everything into the bin so what we throw out is not recyclable. I know we separate our waste into those bags in the garage and you take them to that Northgate re-cycling place when you go to give blood. Would it not help those who go through the bins if we were to put the recycling goods into separate bags in the bin? We could label it paper, tin, etc. It would give them a source of income wouldn’t it?’

Mother smiled and tucked Jennifer’s blonde hair behind her ear.

‘It certainly would give them a few cents to put in their pockets. The main reason that we don’t do that is we can see the mess they make near where the bins are placed and we don’t litter do we?’

‘No, we don’t!’ Jennifer replied with the authoritative voice mother had heard before when her friends made a mess in the house while playing.

‘I think I am finished so I’m going to go through it and check everything, and I will do the titleing at the same time. Could we try putting the recycling in the bin though? I can then use that as my suggestion for what we could do for re-cycling in my speech at the end of the week?’

‘Of course, we can. Now get started on the checking and as you put it titleing.’

Jennifer picked up her pen and went back to the beginning of the essay.

Mother sat and pondered over what Jennifer had suggested. The more time she spent with Jennifer, the more surprised she was with the philanthropic nature that she was starting to exhibit. She was always putting other people’s welfare front and center of what she does. Her suggestion on recycling was a good one, and maybe she should suggest it at the next trustees meeting that all the other residents are encouraged to do the same. It would mean less mess to be cleared up once the bin pickers have been through the bins. It’s the little things that can make a big difference, she reflected and turned to look at Jennifer’s essay.

‘Does your teacher like you drawing little circles over the I rather than the usual dot?’

‘I don’t know, but we will find out when she marks the essay.’ Came the reply with a mischievous smile on her face. The smile faded fast, though.

‘What’s wrong, Jennifer? Your smile is hiding.’

‘I’m just a bit sad, I think mum, and I want to put that in my closing paragraph but I want to use another word, something that conveys something that is deeper than just a feeling of sadness. Do you have a suggestion?’

‘Well, the word of the day on my dictionary site today was saudaude. You could use that, but your teacher will want to know where you got it from and you need to know the meaning of it.’

‘OK, what’s it mean?’

‘Well, saudaude is a deep emotional state of melancholy longing for a person or thing that is absent, yearning.’

‘That’s a bit hard to remember. Maybe I’ll use melancholy, it’s more me.’

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