Mangoes in April
I was eight.
The earth was melting and it seeped through my toes.
I held my glittered hands to the sky, catching the raindrops before they reached the ground.
The sky too was melting and dripping through my palms.
Mommy stood in the doorway waving frantically at me.
The wind opened his large mouth and in one big gulp, her words were gone before they could reach me.
But I knew what she was saying- What all mothers say to their children dancing in the rain or sticking their tongues out to catch snowflakes.
Stop being silly, come in before you catch a –
Mommy looked so pretty behind that screen of rain.
Her hair was plaited in thick beautiful braids that fell to her shoulders.
I turned from her to face the mango tree that was on the verge of collapsing from the weight of the sweet yellow fruit.
It was a simple day.
I don’t remember now if I was particularly happy.
Or what I wore.
I don’t even remember if I got a scolding for my silliness.
I don’t know why it is that this is the first memory that swishes by when I think of my childhood.
I don’t ever wish to be a child again.
I do wish though that I still saw life as being that simple: When the sky gets tired, it just gives in and falls to the ground.
The earth gives in to sky’s charms and simply melts for the love of her.
The mangoes get the best of it all: the sun’s song that entices them to sweetness, the sky’s love that nourishes them from the inside out and the earth that keeps them firmly planted and yet every now and then pays them no mind as he makes love to the sky.
We still lived in, Kabwe, Zambia.
Kabwe means little stone in Bemba, which is my Dad’s mother tongue.
What I remember most about our town were the monstrous mounds of slag from the copper mines.
What I remember most about the house we lived in were the two large mulberry trees in our front yard.
There were more mulberry trees that had grown as a fence between our home and our neighbours on the right.
I remember the many beautiful plants that adorned our front veranda- some were exotic and looked like something out of the Congo Jungle- others were timid and delicate as though every minute they breathed was too much effort for their little souls.
I remember the creeping plants that curled themselves around the vines my mom had provided for them to tangle around.
Our veranda was a tropical forest and it flourished under my mom’s green fingers.
I don’t remember the colour of our house- but I remember every room in it as though the plans of our home then were engraved on my mind’s heart.
I remember the kitchen and its floor which I’d mopped on my hands and knees so many times.
I remember the large cabinet that reigned from the wall between our dining and living rooms- In it were the beautiful, white and perfectly decorated crockery and silverware my mother had brought back from our stay in Pakistan.
I remember the big, red, Asian styled carpet that lay on our living room floor.
I can close my eyes and recall precisely the dark passage that led to our bedrooms and bathroom.
And, I remember the mango tree in our backyard.
School was fun today.
I was really early, cos Daddy dropped me off before he went to work. Which was just fine with me because I feel all nice and important when Daddy drops me off.
And then I got to ring the bell because I was so early.
I felt extra proud, because it is Aarav Patel’s older brother who gets to ring it because he’s the grade seven prefect. And that makes him boss of us all.
But what is really special about today is it’s my birthday. And that’s why Daddy dropped me off, so he could leave the cake with the secretary and all that.
I’m now eight years old.
I don’t feel any different today than I did yesterday.
We had to make posters for our play – it’s going to be my class’ turn soon.
I got glitter all over my hands.
At break we played chicken in the den and my team won.
Everybody was extra nice to me today because I had cake. I don’t mind that. I just know who my real friends are and I made extra sure they got the biggest pieces.
I remember when it was Emelda’s birthday; everybody was her friend that day. I mean no one really talks to Emelda, but that’s because Emelda doesn’t really like talking to any of us.
She’s very pretty. I like how pretty she is.
Aarav tried to kiss her once. Boy did he get into trouble for that!
Emelda cries if she gets a question wrong for spelling.
I get really upset when I get a word wrong too.
I was very bad once. I wanted to get all correct for a test.
Mommy and I went over the words over and over and over.
All the way to school that day Daddy asked me each word and I got them all right.
But in the test I got 19/20.
I forgot a letter of a word I knew really well. Applause.
Instead I wrote A-p-l-a-u-s-e.
It really was a mistake because I knew Applause has two P’s.
I so badly wanted a 20/20.
And so I squeezed a p in it and then told Mrs Naidoo, my teacher that she marked a correct word wrong.
“You must think I’m blind Chibale!” she barked. “Do you think I’m blind?”
I couldn’t speak. My plan had failed and I was going to be in trouble forever.
First with Mrs Naidoo, then with our headmistress Mrs Kent, and then my parents would finish off what was left of me.
“Okay class,” Mrs Naidoo said, “answer this for Chibale, am I blind class?”
“Noooo!”Came twenty five replies.
“Well Chibale, it looks like that’s twenty five, plus me, makes twenty six, to one, saying I am not blind!”
I would have loved to sit in the corner all day with my back turned to the wall or even got a big scolding from Mrs Kent or even got a hiding from Mommy or Daddy, or all of these things – if only she didn’t tell the class what I did.
“Chibale here,” Mrs Naidoo continued, “she thinks I’m blind.”
“I may wear glasses my dear, but Mrs Naidoo is not blind.”
Her head swayed from side to side as she said this.
And then the worst part came– “Chibale here tried to cheat!”
“I don’t like cheaters Chibale.
“Do I like cheaters, class?”
“Noooo!Came the twenty five replies.” I shook my head with them.
“If you want 20 out of 20, you have to get all 20 words correct!”
“Spell Applause for me,” she commanded.
I started to spell:
“I can’t hear you Chibale, louder!”
“What was that? Start again! Was that a double p?”
I nodded and started again.
“Stop! I don’t want to hear anymore! You will write Applause 1000 times! And I want it first thing on Monday morning!”
The class gasped.
Nobody had ever had to write anything 1000 times!
Lucky for me it was Friday and I had all weekend to do it.
Anyway I hate getting a word wrong too, so I get why Emelda cries when she doesn’t get 20/20.
I even suspect she scrubs between her toes.
The worst thing about her is she doesn’t really like to play. Once I asked if she wanted to hopscotch with me –
“No Chibale,” Emelda said. “Do you know all the things that could happen to you if you fall jumping around like that? And anyway my mom says I shouldn’t do anything that could scar me. I’m going to be a model you know.”
As Emelda turned to walk away from me, I heard her say, “Kids!”
I never asked her again.
Then she brought this huge cake shaped a perfect ten and the girl that nobody seems to notice outside the classroom, became Miss Super-Special herself.
I am polite so I said thank you when she handed me a slice oozing chocolate. But I didn’t hang around her at break like the others did.
I think that’s being d-i-s-h-o-n-e-s-t. You can’t like a person because they brought cake to school!
So when it was my turn to share my cake, I just gave everyone a piece and played with the same people I always play with at break.
I kept an extra huge piece for Agnes. She cleans the school and stuff. But she is so nice and not mean like that Francheska who is always chasing someone with a broom.
The other day Agnes even played hopscotch with me when I was the last kid to be picked up after school.
Mrs Kent was not amused.
She is such a crone – smokes like choo choo train. And it doesn’t help that her teeth are brown and her face looks like a crumpled piece of paper. Sometimes I look at her and think if she pricked her finger, the needle would break. She looks like she’s covered by hide instead of skin.
But she’s not mean or anything Mrs Kent, she is just trying to be the best headmistress. Well at least that’s what Daddy says. So I don’t not like her. I gave her some of my cake too.
“Growing fast hey,” she croaked from her smoke i-n-f-e-s-t-e-d lungs when I handed her the slice.
I nodded and left quickly before she could grin her brown toothed smile at me.
Mommy picked me up from school.
When we got home she gave me yummy fruity chews she’d bought from Botswana.
And then it rained.
And for some really bizarre reason, Mommy’s mango tree still has fruit.
Sometimes at night I lie next to him, my face almost touching his.
I can feel him breathing on me.
I want to lick the moon’s reflection on his bare arms.
We used to be so good him and me. Once upon a time.
That time when it was hard to explain what I had become in him.
It wasn’t just how he made me feel; It was who he’d turned me into.
In his eyes I saw of me a beauty I hadn’t noticed before.
I’d catch him looking at me- and feel nothing could hurt me- because what I saw in his eyes said so.
I’d thought our love making would be a bore; with a love so fierce, it couldn’t be possible that the deep unspoken passions of our bodies could be ferocious too?
Oh! I could write books about that!
It’s hard to describe in human words- all I can say is that the intensity of that part of Us surprised me.
One time, we were making love- climbing into each other like each breath was meant for us both, to be breathed through one nose, one mouth- like the world was ours… the world and all the moons in it, every sun, every star, every granule of soil, every stone, every blade of grass, each droplet of water, every breath of wind…
It seemed like seasons had come and gone and we just remained in that one place clutching, clinging, wet bodies gliding in and out of each other- In that moment it felt as though we would stop when the world stopped.
Few people make love and have each other at the same time.
Love making is passionate, human.
Having– now that is wild.
It brings out the wildness of who we truly are. And what we mean to each other.
It is to empty yourself completely into another being.
It is devouring without an ounce of reserve so that years later your skin excitedly ululates remembering the sensation of what it once experienced.
I want to tell him I love him until all the words in me are depleted.
I want to tell him that him on me, inside me, all over, twisting, turning, savouring the feeling of my body like I were his deepest desire come true- turning me over like I were a precious treasure found on an abandoned beach– human tongues have not yet created a word so lovely and so insane, as what we do.
In those moments I want to speak, but the words are gone.
I want to scream… scream the pleasure, the bliss.
In those moments I am immortal- Us is immortal and I dare to believe that Us will live forever.
Always I will remember this man I love, hungrily over me, pushing, shoving, holding, loving- all at once-
I am famished and every chance I get I greedily consume all there is to him…
Sometimes when I’m alone I think back on these actions that are tomorrow’s memories and I think to myself, This I will remember always…
I’ll remember the tears twirling down my temples, and the feeling.
The feeling that he was my veins and the blood in them- the feeling that he was everything that made it possible to breathe in that beautiful way every woman was meant to.
Wherever I go I carry him inside me.
I want us to be this entangled in each other until the mountains are dust again and the oceans one with the sky…
These moments are the book I want to write. The story worth telling.
The enchantment of what we once had is gone.
What few say is that when you marry someone, you’re no longer You but part of an Us.
That who you once were before them, in essence dies, and a new thing is born.
Someone had once described it as akin to conjoined twins who shared a heart.
I believe it to be more extreme than that.
It is all of you being completely woven into another person.
While two bodies and minds and even hearts remain separate- while people still see your eyes and hands- your lips and skin- the you that lived in all these things doesn’t wholly dwell in you alone- it lives in the being of someone else and their being lives inside you.
No one told us that.
Had they done, maybe we would have thought a little harder about what we were getting ourselves into.
And maybe, even as crazy as we were about each other, we would have realised we weren’t able, just yet, to bear the magnitude of what we were promising. Each other.
We thought the end might happen.
But we didn’t know it would be this hard.
At least I didn’t.
It was like a flash flood came and swept our home away- but all we heard was a thunderous storm- we saw water but thought we’d be fine- it didn’t look that bad. Until all we’d owned and gathered together over the years was carried away by a sudden river that ran where we once walked.
We hear of such floods- and we hear of those who survived.
Those who saw that the water was rising far too fast and ran.
We hear too of those who didn’t see the floods coming- those who were swept away before they could escape.
Then there are those who watch it all unfold.
We wonder whether the unexpected crashing speed of the approaching mighty waters mesmerised them so that they felt they had to look for just one more moment?
It is these who later tell us how it all happened.
How on earth did you break up over the toilet seat! People ask later.
But it wasn’t the toilet seat.
Or how the toothpaste was squeezed.
It was the things that happened before.
So long ago some things we don’t even remember. But they happened. And they rage at silly things that eventually sacrifice Us.
Things like a father who had an insatiable eye for the ladies, a narcissistic mother, an alcoholic grandparent, a divorce, a schizophrenic sibling who bullied ruthlessly when no one was looking, a molestation…
One day all those trickles gather together, break all the rules, crash through every boundary that was meant to hold them back and, a flood happens.
The one that washes everything away.
I look at my beloved now.
He’s turned from me and rumbles a gentle snore.
The moon is rippling on his back now.
I pull the covers over him- to keep out the cold.
What we had once- that was the story I wanted to write.
Not this one about separating a shared heart, unexpected floods and the loss of something that should have lasted, at the very least, forever.