Mangoes are unapologetically sensual. Juice runs, hands and face get sticky, fragrance rises to fill any empty space.
The plane was delayed from Miami. I don’t remember anymore who was on the flight. It was my dad and me at the airport, so probably some missionary friend of my mother’s she couldn’t get away from work to meet. We’d already been sitting in the sun, taking turns occupying that one available shady spot under the flamboyant tree. The tree had been hacked back so many times that the trunk was gnarled, scarred and pockmarked with places branches once were. The few slender branches that had regrown feathered out sparsely leafed. The others who waited in their polished shoes shared stories. They laughed at ours. The cola we had split turned sticky on my fingers and in my throat.
The deaf red cap, “Bebe” found us in the crowd. He mimed that the plane wouldn’t be here for a couple hours. It hadn’t even left the ground on the other side of the water. Dad finished his last story, the one about the priest and the hurricane and the old lady who grabbed the priest right in the crotch. He straightened his legs to deliver the punchline then grabbed my arm and we made our exit on the waves of laughter.
Near the airport was a plantation or orchard, if that word makes you less queasy. We rattled the three quarters of a mile up the road in the old VW beetle. We shared the avocado that dad had sliced up with onions, salted and peppered, marinating in vinegar. It was meant for the missionary. But, the missionary was still on some runway in Miami.
We entered the orchard. Mango trees stretched back in well mannered rows toward the horizon that was highlighted by a neat line of sugar cane. Rows and lines were a new experience for me. I’d never seen such control exerted over nature before.
Mango trees look rich. The bark is dark, textured like old leather. The leaves are thick, deep green with a polished sheen. The tree is generous, secure in its wealth. It was familiar to me as large buildings are to a city dweller. There were four in my yard. One of them had its branches reaching the porch like a bridge. I would cross it and enter the tree after a day at school where my bullies had been particularly aware of my existence. I would climb up a couple more branches until I found the curved seat that the tree had made for me. Hours were spent reading and healing. It was a botanical angel, hiding me in its leafy wings. It horrified me when my little cousin climbed it when he was visiting from the states. His skin exploded into welts. He wailed in agony. Mango is a cousin to poison ivy. Everything has its shadow.
We bumped along over the hardening mud in the lanes of the orchard. A coolness descended. There were no people. There was just the slivers of sky between the lanes and the trees, expectant. Dad braked and got out of the car. He planted one foot onto the running board, the other foot stepped onto the door where the window had been rolled down. A grunt, a laugh and he was on the luggage rack. “Vini non, Tinu!” Get up, here, Jen! So, up I climbed. He reached into the foliage and pulled a single leaf. He snapped it open, raising it to his nose. He inhaled and passed it over to me. “Sal ye?” What is it? I breathed deep. My mouth watered. I could taste the meaty Francique, the queen of mangoes. She was fleshy and flashy and assertive and authoritative and condescending, this mango. The smell made me ache for the fruiting season to begin.
There are over 20 different types of mangoes in Haiti. Most are eaten by nibbling off a little bit of the skin in the narrow end to suck out all the juice, all the innards. Mangoes are unapologetically sensual. Juice runs, hands and face get sticky, fragrance rises to fill any empty space. The Francique I eat like a peeled fruit steak. While I breathed in the leaf under the sky on the top of the car, dad explained that since mango trees all look so alike, you can tell which one they are by cracking open a leaf and taking a sniff. Mangoes demand intimacy, I suppose. You must know the taste to recognize the smell.
Mangoes are altruistic. They are rich in antioxidants and fiber. The vitamins they have are great for the sex drive (just the act of eating them in the proper Haitian manner will get you going though). Your eyes can benefit from eating mangoes. They are low on the glycemic index. They are also delicious. They are the only fruit that no one has yet been able to duplicate with “mango flavor”. They can be enjoyed dried although nothing compares to them freshly fallen from the tree. It is a luxury that I hope everyone can one day experience. Particularly that missionary whose flight was delayed since I ate her avocado salad.
Photo Credit: Samuel Dameus