Mangifera indica. Mango.
A royal offering to the Delhi Sultan as a sweet treat. “The fairest fruit of Hindustan.” Labelled the Medieval India poet Amir Khosrow. The round leafed tree shaded Goddess Amika in a stone-cold effigy frozen in eternity, her voluptuous breasts like two ripe mangoes silky to the marble’s grain. A sensuous fruit, tropic heat, women’s shapes, vague in thin wrapped saree.
“For you, I shall arrange a lady with breasts like mangoes.” Aziz tells Mr. Fielding in A Passage to India. Mangoes inspired E. M. Foster. Indian Alphonso Mangoes are large, with smooth, glossy skin. The overripe plum like flesh, cultivate a soft, pulpy, juicy texture. Gratifying abundance of banal sweetness. Unlike the wild native Taiwan mangoes, firm fibrous texture. Small, yellow. A mix of sweet and tangy. Like puberty firm chests of a girl at twelve.
“Here is the pillowcase, put them in here.” My mother instructed the maid to gather the mangoes fallen under the two trees in the front yard. The maid’s large, scarred hands picked up two or three at one time and dropped them in the large floral pillowcase. Summer heat, flies buzzing around the bend branches burdened with golden fruits. She waved away the flies and wiped the sweat on her face. She was new, the head nun in the temple asked my mother to hire her. She managed to escape into the temple in the mountains after her husband abused her for nearly three years. My mother taught her to read at night when everything was done and quiet.
The maid carried my small suitcase, my lunch pail, and the bag of mangoes to the bus stop. The bus stewardess seated me in front next to the driver, put my suitcase and the pillowcase under my seat. Brought me color pencils and papers for my four-hour trip down to Tainan, a city in the south of Taiwan.
My mother had her teacher’s training in summer. I went down south to my aunt’s house -the seven fairies house, I called it. She had seven daughters; her husband owned a bus company in Taiwan. I joined my cousins for a month in summer. A month of learning. Reading and Math in the morning, sewing, swimming and paper crafts in the afternoon. And the gifts for the girls were the wild mangoes in the large floral pillowcase.
“Oh, Mangoes.” Two of my cousins carried the bag into the kitchen. Soft laughter, gentle, agile limbs, fragrance of fruits.
My auntie sliced the green, firm ones and marinaded them with salt. Guided the maid to sauté them with pork, soy sauce and sugar.
Steam of white rice, soft yellow mangoes, pork in brown sauce.
I pressed the rice down in my bowl and spooned the mixture over it. Slurped hungrily. Tart and honied. Tender mangoes and pork glided down my throat in the summer heat. My lunch of a hard boil egg and seaweed rice was hours ago.
The ripe, juicy ones my auntie put into the mixer with milk and ice. I drank the frosty creamy slush in the blistering heat and longed for my mother.
“Is Mango a fruit or a vegetable?” I was confused. Thought only vegetables were cooked.
“Fruit, you can cook fruit. Remember orange duck?” The oldest girl, good naturedly.
I had blood in my panty one morning. I told my aunt, she had tears in her eyes. She hugged me tight.
“Oh, you are becoming a woman.” She called my mother, and my mother cancelled her training the next day to come stay with me.
All the girls had their menstruations by then. They brought me their panties, soft pads. They murmured congratulations, they smiled, red cheeks, excited. They shared their old training bras, delicate, comfortable, beginning of womanhood.
My auntie made mango smoothies to celebrate the secrets of summer.
Then, for forty years the wild mangoes dimmed on the landscape.
In America, mangoes lined up in small baskets in grocery stores. Scrubbed clean, sanitized, flashy. Packed with wrapping papers in firm boxes, shipped in cold steel containers across the borders. No flies pay any attention to them. Large mangoes, three times bigger than the puny ones in Taiwan. The mesocarp filled with flesh, no fiber, just the fruit’s soft prosaic richness from the cool refrigeration.
I got used to it.
I didn’t look back to the wild mangoes sauté or smoothies. That was a story in an old world, an old country.
Wild mangoes with no names didn’t end with childhood. They appeared again in my trip down to Central America.
We went down there to bury his aunt. While waiting for the appointment with the judge for the inheritance proceedings, we drove to his aunt’s mountain home. Late afternoon, scenic route, dusty narrow roads. Cows passed, we waited. A small town by a coffee plantation in Guanacaste, lush green, a scent of coffee.
In dusk, we entered his aunt’s bungalow. One round table, seat two, in the courtyard, adjacent to this tree, this mango tree. Dinner, black beans and rice, fried fish, and cabbage salad. We ate in the courtyard, flapping the flies away.
“This mango tree looks familiar.” I said.
“In a botanical garden?” He said, while checking his phone.
“No, not in a botanical garden.” I smiled. We went apple and peach picking in the mountains in South Carolina. Never harvested mangoes; nor had I seen Mango trees in the botanical garden in Georgia.
Now, in the moonlight, I woke, and I remembered the place I last saw this mango tree. I saw it when I was twelve in Taiwan.
Here, in the bright moonlight in Central American, the same mango tree unearthed itself in a courtyard in Guanacaste, with sticky dark syrup, with swarming red flies. I wanted to pick up the ones on the ground, clean them, peel them, bite into their fibrous flesh, let the sweet tangy juice run down the corners of my mouth, swallow the nectar, quench the thirst for my mother, for summer, and for womanhood.
Mangifera indica. Mango.
Catherine C. Con writing is published in Emrys Journal, Tint Journal, The Bare Life Review, The Petigru Review, HerStry, Shards, Dunes Review, Emrys Journal Online, National Women’s History Museum, Catfish Stew, and more. Her work was nominated for 2020 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers, selected for “2020 Local Authors” by Greenville County Library, South Carolina, and she was a finalist for the 2021 Anne C. Barnhill Prize for Creative Nonfiction.