God only knows how long we went on talking that night. In any other case I would have tried to shake him off before we left the supermarket. Vladivostok is where I go to escape the world; conversations with wild-eyed Belgian scientists are not something I’ve ever sought, or had any trouble wriggling out of, for that matter. But something about Yile put the brakes on my customary wriggling. I felt, for once, that he was someone worth listening to; someone worth risking the wrath of my wife when I invited him back to our cottage for a dribble or two of Japanese whisky and a crawls-on-till-morning chat. One can never be sure, of course, but he seemed like someone in whom it was worth investing time. I didn’t even choose the cheapest whisky.
It would impossible to relate all that we talked about. A range of topics were covered, albeit sparsely, by the rich blanket of our words. I recall a short debate on the merits of fifteenth century German poetry, followed by some witty banter on French art of the medieval ages. Art was not, of course, all: we also delved into Austrian politics, crane construction and the farming of cabbages. In fact, I rather think that we also sorted out all the problems in the Middle East between ourselves that night, though I struggle to remember exactly what our particular plan of action entailed.
At one point or another, however, conversation finally turned to the subject on which our acquaintance depended. It was in fact my wife who brought it up, popping her beautiful little head around the door and enquiring if I had managed to come back from the supermarket with a little more than a mad heavy-shouldered scientist. ‘Ah yes,’ said I, ‘I almost forgot – the pineapple juice’. And at this I saw Yile’s face light up. He too had remembered something. ‘The pineapple juice! Yes!,’ he cried, ‘the pineapple juice!’
What was it about pineapple juice that excited Emmanuel Yile so much? That, in one sense, is the subject of this article. Suffice it to say, for now, that this was something he truly cared about. Enthusiastic about all aspects of life, he was almost delirious with exhilaration when one broached the topic of pineapple juice. His shoulders shook with pleasure every time he, or anyone, so much as whispered those two words. When I poured some of the precious liquid into a glass for him, I thought his eyes would pop out. What would happen when he drank it, I wondered? Would he be able to get the glass to his lips before fainting?
As it happens, he didn’t seem too interested in drinking in. He preferred to examine it instead, as if were a fine wine, rather than cut-price fruit juice. ‘Look at the colour,’ he said. I looked at the colour. ‘Smell it,’ he said. I smelled away. ‘Think about it,’ he said. I thought about why I should be thinking about it – and then I thought about it. ‘Now drink it,’ he said. I drank it. A glass of pineapple juice. ‘Now,’ he said, as I pulled the glass away from my mouth, ‘read this’. And he passed me a scrap of paper, on which was written a four line poem. I read it. ‘It’s good, huh?’ he said. I nodded, uncertainly. It wasn’t special, but I didn’t want to offend him. ‘Ah,’ he said, noting my reluctance, ‘but imagine what it would be like after drinking sixteen glasses of pineapple juice!’ I tried, and failed, to imagine this. It was, in all honesty, beyond my comprehension. Why would anyone want to drink sixteen glasses of pineapple juice?
This, my friends, is the question.