by Ali Berlow
I’m sitting in the sand looking across the ocean on a cloudless summer day. My elbows are on my knees and I’ve got a ripe mango in one hand and a pocketknife in the other. Starting at the top of the fruit I make meridian-like cuts—north, south, east and west—and peel away the green-red skin between the flat edge of the blade and my thumb. Then with my teeth, I scrape the undersides of the skins for my first taste and let them fall where they may, left for the sand fleas and the fiddler crabs.
I first saw this technique that one night a blue-tinged baby came into this world. Its first, strong cry for its mother’s breast filled my hotel room at the Iqbal in Nairobi with relief and we helped the new mother pull herself into sitting so she could hold her child for the first time. Salty tears of relief, elation and love replaced the soaking sweat of her labor. And once the baby found the desired nipple and suckled for its life, the mother asked for a mango and a good knife.
This fruit is known by many different names in India, the country of its origin; The Messenger of Spring and The Messenger of Fragrance, The Embodiment of Cupid, The Abode of Cuckoos and simply—The Amorous. There’s a tradition there—offerings of the shiny mango leaves are presented to newlywed couples for the hope of life and the gift of fertility. And after a child is born the doorways are decorated with the leafy branches of the mango tree to announce the new arrival. Legend also has it that Buddha was given a grove of mangos so he’d always have a shady tree under which to rest and think, meditate.
Though it leaves stringy, threads between my teeth and they get kind of annoying, the fruit is something to savor. Close to the seed, the last of the pulp is tight, tied up and tangled. This part, what’s left—fits in the palm of my hand like a used bar of soap. I suck and scrape off what I can while juice runs down my chin and arms, dripping orange raindrops on the sand.
At last, satiated with all that this mango has given me I throw the pit into the sea and dive in to rinse off and scrub myself clean. I think the seed settles on the bottom with the kelp, the seashells and the fish. It can’t grow here in this northern clime, or anywhere close—but who knows— maybe it’ll take root some place, some day. Back on the beach, drying salty under the sun, I reach for my knife and another mango.