The Woman

By Maddie Bradford

As the woman outstretched her hand, inches away from the slippery meat, 40,000 people held their breath in awe.

She was not a particularly remarkable woman. Indeed, she was neither tall nor short, and her brown hair, plain attire and nine-to-five job as an accountant did not stand her apart from the thousands of other individuals jostling in the Spanish street below her.

She was the sort of woman who lived in a corporate matchbox, amidst a skyline teetering with domino buildings. The sort of woman who could make a cracker of a curry, who could tell a cow’s age just by looking at it’s teeth. She was the sort of woman who looked friendly enough to sit next to on a crowded bus, but not interesting enough to strike up a conversation with.

And yet, as she balanced at the top of the human pyramid, 5 tiers high and supported by a greasy pole which dangled the large ham, or jamon from it’s tip, the woman was anything other than ordinary.


“I said Mia, we’ll be needing that report by Monday.”

The dry, clipped instructions from her boss had barely been barked into the woman’s cubicle, before he was swallowed once again by the office commotion, a personal assistant tripping in angst after him. A few moments passed. His words began to settle in the woman’s mind.

Monday. What would the date be on Monday? It was of little consequence, she supposed. Rarely were the woman’s weekends completely devoid of work, and more often than not they just played out like a casual version of a day in the office; a mix of tracksuits, peanut butter toast and snippets of daytime television breaking up the monotonous slog towards an elusive head start on next week’s deadline.

The woman turned her attention once more to the computer screen. She tried to continue with the profit and loss statement, but unusually struggled with the myriad of figures. Something clouded her concentration, irking her to the extreme. She had always been able to fly through these reports. What stopped her this time?

The woman scanned her desk for a calendar, shuffling through papers before locating the one that Sally from marketing had given her in last year’s Kris Kringle. It was one of those calendars decorated with merry, glittery cats. Mia hated cats.

A sigh escaped the woman’s lips as she flipped to the relevant date. Monday would be the 8th of June.

Monday would be the anniversary of her mother’s death.

Mia returned back to the report. It wasn’t as if her mother had died recently. Indeed, 5 years had allowed plenty of necessary grieving time, and whilst she would always miss her mother, the initial pain which crippled the family began to dissipate when reminded of the lady’s lack thereof. Cancer is a terrible disease.

Click. Click. Click. Once again the woman tried to refocus her attention on her work, but each tap on the keyboard was registered only by the screen, its hypnotic glow unable to enchant her. Something remained unresolved in the depths of her mind.

The woman spun her chair away from the screen. Neat and busy, her desk was a conglomeration of elegant binders, chipped ball-point pens and piles of reports which cascaded down onto the telephone. The woman spun her chair again, this time facing the back cubicle wall. A pie chart, large and bland, glared back from it; another incessant reminder of Monday’s looming deadline. Around it, a collection of work safety posters were pinned . In the corner hung a small, faded postcard.

The woman closed her eyes, her breathing fast and shallow.

The ringing of telephones. Muffled footsteps on the carpet. Exchange between colleagues. The noises surrounded the woman, engulfed her, blanketing her in a bubble she felt incapable of breaking from. Her eyes were tightly shut, but the image of the postcard burned bright in her mind, stoking at the embers of a half-forgotten memory.

She could see the picture on the front. A Spanish beach, bright and sunny, bathed in the glow of an incredible sunset and flanked by a jewel-bright sea. Her mother’s handwriting dominated the back, describing their incredible travels and wishing she was there. Mia was supposed to join her parents on the trip, but work had intervened. Another important report. Another uncompromising deadline.

It was like someone had lifted a veil, and a wave of clarity lapped over her. The woman opened her eyes and calmly made her way to the postcard. She unpinned it and carefully placed it on her desk. Next she sat down at her computer. The email to her boss was simultaneously polite, brief and focused. Once sent, she lent back in her chair.


Suddenly, as if propelled by the crowd’s sheer, unanimous desire for her to reach it, Mia caught hold of the jamon and pulled it free, triumphantly. All at once, the pyramid collapsed into the sea of people, and the crowd roared. She untangled herself from the shoulders of another and pairs of hands helped her to her feet, congratulating her in an assortment of languages. The sounds of the water canons blasted into the air; La Tomatina had begun.

First came the trucks. Battered and bulky, they lumbered down the narrow streets, wedging through the congestion as Bunol residents sat grinning on the back. Unlike the people in the street, these individuals were not clothed in the traditional white. Mia caught the eye of a young man on board, who smiled as casually as if they had passed each other at a street barbecue. She was hardly fooled; he was clearly a regular.

The trucks rumbled closer and the crowd were sardined together. No one could lift their arm past their sides, yet this was hardly perturbing. In contrast, the physical closeness seemed to unite the participants, and Mia could feel the anticipation rising as everyone prepared for the battle ahead.

Next came the tomatoes. The fruits began to whizz through the air, bright and squishy, hurled first by the locals on the lorries, as they sourced from the piles cascading in the truck beds, and later by the crowd itself. As Mia had suspected, the young man’s mellow behaviour was belied by an aim which would rival that of a toxophilite. His first tomato hit her square in the forehead.

Mayhem ensued, as the streets erupted into an enormous food fight. Tomatoes flew everywhere, staining bright on the white shirts, painting the buildings a mushy, fire-engine red. Mia scooped and ducked and flung and laughed. Someone next to her had lost their shoes. Another struggled to remove a seed from his eye. Residents added to the chaos, throwing down more tomatoes from their balconies. Some people fought for dormant projectiles. Others simply frolicked in the unfettered madness.

The trucks made their way through the street again, and once more the crowd was squashed together. Once more the locals offloaded piles of tomatoes, once more participants screamed with delight. This time however, all arms were in the air as people continued to fling the fruits. Fingers scraped across necks, chunks were picked off shoulders and some brave souls attempted to grab from the ground. Mia even managed to hurl one back at the young man on the truck, albeit he probably couldn’t tell just who had thrown it.

The hour began to draw to a close. Exhaustion began to take it’s toll, but Mia fought past it, scooping and flinging the muck from the streets in gleeful determination. The streets gushed a river of tomatoes; she was unable to see below her ankles. And yet it did not matter, she did not care.

She was no longer the woman who lived in a corporate matchbox. She was no longer the accountant, no longer the woman you’d ignore on a bus.

She was the sort of woman who lived out of a backpack. The sort who could cook a cracker of a curry, but would then follow it up with yam cake or creme brûlée. She was the sort of woman who learnt to play the bongos and could speak fluent Spanish and loved to read after a hard day’s work on the farm. She would never again have very much money, and her life did not play out in the wanderlust nature of pulp-fiction. But as she stood there, soaking in tomato juice, tired and sore, Mia could hardly think of a time when she felt richer.

Fuelled by one last bout of energy, the crowd cheered and danced as the water canons sounded again. Some people hugged, others started to chant, and a few would recognise Mia as the woman who had reached the jamon and started their La Tomatina experience. The festival had ended, and yet a sense of comradeship, and a feeling of achievement burnt bright in the minds of each participant, long after the echoes from the water canons had faded away into the afternoon.