The glaring hot Caribbean sun is losing its lustrous heat, at least from where I am sitting on the mound of yellow dirt, tracking the movement of my shadow. Once my shadow is directly beneath me, I will know there is enough shade, but even now I feel the cool breeze drying my sweat. It is Friday afternoon, the happiest day of the week for us schoolchildren, because we will not be required to study this evening: the adults give us a break since we have been in school the whole week.
I have been waiting for this Friday with particular excitement. Often my uncle Franck or aunt Beth sends me and two of my cousins to the countryside farms to pick up the food that is waiting for us. But that is not the part I was most looking forward to all week, nor was it the pleasant walk here, when we rolled our hoops along the little seaside roads next to the beach all the way to La riviere des Barres.
Around this time in April, when mango season begins, the trees become so loaded with mangoes that the branches almost touch the ground, except the mangoes are usually green and unripe. Every few weeks my cousins Zack and Franck and I like to pick ourselves a basket full of unripe green mangoes and look for a shaded spot, perhaps under an avocado or lemon tree. Then we dig a hole about twelve inches deep and line it with dry banana leaves like a bird’s nest. Inside we carefully place the unripe mangoes and cover them with more banana leaves and enough yellow dirt that no one would notice the earth was disturbed—and to stop the smell of the mangoes from permeating the air as they ripen, drawing mongoose or wild pigs to them.
My cousins and I make three or four mango nests at a time by the farms adjacent to the river, knowing that when we come back a week or so later, we will find at least one of the mango nests totally ripe, or if we are lucky, all three of them—a bonanza. And that is what I am thinking about today.
By now it has been seven days since we buried three whole nests of mangoes. My cousin Zack has gone to notify John at the farm that we have come to pick up the plantains, yams, and avocados we have come for, so I sit on this mound of dirt, feeling the cool breeze, listening to the clicking of the river current against the boulders and to the buzzing and chattering of a large colony of village weavers, waiting for the sound of my cousin’s footfalls on the dried plantain leaves lying strewn around the farms. I did not bother to eat at home when I returned from school this afternoon, knowing we had a treasure trove of ripe, sweet mangoes waiting for us. We barely remember where we buried them, but the anticipation of searching for the fruit makes my heart beat even faster.
This is the purest of my childhood paradise memories, where the only world that exists is me and the smell of mangoes and the full presence of nature and nothing else.
The moment we find our treasure trove is the one I anticipate most at all: we will dig through the dry yellow dirt and find the now-rotten banana leaves covering our prize. Then as we grab out the leaves, the rich scent of ripe mangoes will pervade the air, and we will forget that we are supposed to bring home our donkey laden with food. We will lose ourselves in the moment, eating mangoes until our bellies are so full that we can barely walk. Only then will we remember our duties, and hurry back to the farms as though we have been waiting all this time.
When we finally do get back home, our families will wonder why we aren’t bothering with dinner, but we will never tell them the bounty we just feasted upon. Our secret is kept safe in our bellies.