after the mango season

7 Aug

As he smelled his fingers again, beyond the many shades of her unwillingness, indecision, acquiescence and regret, he could smell mangoes and summer.

The thought of mangoes brought to him the pain of loss. As summers approached after the season of dandelion, the air smelled of mangoes, first that of the watery ones and then that of the fleshy ones.  The more watery ones, muttikkudiyan, are the ones you tap on the ground, punch a small hole on to it with your teeth, and suck it in, as the juice drips through the corner of your lips, to your checkered oversized shirts, to remain as a stain there, one among the many similar ones of blood and snot and the orange ice candy at Abu’s shop.

The more fleshy ones were always a more communal than individual experience. In the evenings when the sky turned violet, the young ones from the house stood guard, hiding behind the plantain leaves. The children from across the main road came under those violet skies to steal the fleshy mangoes, muvandan, tathamma chundan… He always enjoyed when the fired the first stones on those hapless kids, still in their white shirts and green trousers or skirts waiting all this time after school for the shimmering violet sky to arrive that they could find alibis in the ghosts of children drowned in the nearby pond. Ghosts never fled that neighborhood, but those children, Dineshan, Seinaba, Muthu, Kunjon, Malu, they all did, under the raining stones and calls of animals they detested.

In the afternoons when he and the others gathered around their grandmother as she sliced the mangoes, their fathers and uncles and occasional guests from distant relatives sipped milk tea and discussed politics and intra religious rivalry and the true meaning of Oneness of God and whether or not women can enter mosques and the doctor in the neighboring village who can cure cancer. When only the seeds were left one of them would give an alarm cry. A concerned uncle or aunt or a neighbor who had just come to fetch water from the only non-dried up well responded, “What happened?”

“Please stand guard for this mango seed” the children burst out in laughter, as grandmother chided them for their irreverent behavior.

The mango season was gone for long now. The floods from the sky turned the mango flowers deep brown and then black and dead. The years brought most of all, empathy with those fleeing children, rationality against the drowned ghosts and partition between uncles and aunts and mango plots. Worst, it brought him the stubbles on his chin and the cigarette in his hands.

He tried smelling those fingers again. Beyond the maze of her smiles at the corner of her lips, fear in her eyes and the deep redness on her nose, he could smell the smoke in his own eyes.

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