I ride my bike through the silent residential districts of Lelystad in the early morning. I can hear the call of a peacock when cycling through the city park. I keep an eye on the road from under my cap. The cap also keeps away the tiny gnats which swarm around at this hour. I pull my cap down even further over my face when I roll down the hill from Jagersbos to Jagersveld.
Jagersveld is one of the city’s most outlying and expensive districts. Many of the houses hide behind huge fences, protected from the views of cyclists keen to ogle the neat lawns from under their caps; lawns maintained it seems by robot mowers. Sometimes I see a few grey heads pottering in the large gardens, but usually the inhabitants are safely tucked away indoors. Indulging in their luxurious interiors.
From Jagersveld I cycle onto the long Beginweg road, which leads to a group of small farms and nurseries.
I pass a sign saying ‘Lelystad’, so I’ve now officially left the city’s outer limits. I see something on the road in the distance. What is it... A cat? A dog? When I get closer I see it’s a peacock with beautiful dark blue feathers and a long green blue tail. It disappears into the shrubs as I pass. To my right I see a ploughed field with a clear sky above it. Behind me is the high woodland rim that embraces Jagersveld like a great green fortress wall. The trees are relatively old in this part of Lelystad.
After I left the point where I met the peacock I arrive at a T-junction. I turn right here. Next to the road is the De Stek nursery, where I have a summer job. De Stek is located quite close to the Hanzelijn railway line. Trains run past here every day towards the north of the country or in the direction of Lelystad central station, the only station in Lelystad – not counting the ‘Lelystad-Zuid’ ghost station, where trains never stop.
As soon as I arrive at the De Stek I see John, a man with a Flemish accent who sports a blue bandana. He’s stacking crates to be placed in the cold store. I give him a wave and park my bike near the static caravan where my bosses Piet and Renee are having their breakfast. I take off my cap and go inside.
Also at the table are two Spanish work placement students, David and Sergio, and Amandine, a French trainee. All three work here temporarily. As soon as Renee sees me she confers with Piet regarding the day’s activities. Some of the crates need labelling and I can start by writing these out, after which I’ll move on to picking broad beans. Slowly the caravan empties and I stay behind with Yvi, the dog, and write the labels. Lettuce, class 1, Holland. Did I forget something? Oh yeah, the number of contents. Next label...
Yvi eats her breakfast with loud smacking slurps, a sound I have come to associate with the early hours in my working day.
Once I’ve finished the labels, I walk over to the shed next to the cold store where I don some wellies, a thick pair of rain trousers and a purple raincoat. Although it’s not very cold, it’s always more pleasant to be well protected against soiling and to guard my knees from the clay earth.
I get a few crates from the stack and walk to the broad beans field behind the caravan. The sun is really breaking through now. In my protective clothing I feel as though I’m swimming through the field of beans. I put down my crate and disappear between the high shrubs. I’ll be picking beans until the coffee break at 10 o’clock.
Sometimes I look up and gaze over the field to see what’s going on around me. I see a train idling on the track, waiting at a red light. Sometimes the farmer from the next farm passes on his tractor over the adjacent field. I’m not quite sure what he grows. In fact, I’m not quite sure what else they grow here at De Stek, apart from broad beans. Not that that matters much since I currently only need to know about the broad beans.
After about two hours of picking, Piet drops by on his tractor to pick up the full crates of shiny broad beans. Piet has a wild mop of grey hair and a thoughtful, slightly refined way of speaking. He enjoys the real gardening stuff much more than the paperwork part of his work. Although De Stek is Piet’s business, it often feels more like Renee’s nursery. Renee at some point in the past came to volunteer in Piet’s nursery; she stayed on because Piet grew such delicious strawberries.
Time for coffee and caramel waffles. Everyone gives a hand at setting out the chairs, cups, cookies and the thermoses full of coffee and tea. Yvi the dog rummages around under the table looking for something to chew. After about half an hour we all hoist on our overalls and make our way back to the field, where the sun is now shining at full volume.
I’ll be cycling home again in a couple of hours, tired but completely satisfied. Until that time my world is small, green and focused, I’ll be well protected under the high heads of the plants and all I know is broad beans.