Tangerines: A Kaleidoscope Of My Jamaican Childhood

They bore in abundance. Everywhere. On every branch. On every tree.  They looked like bright orange-coloured miniature  flying saucers parked  among the dark green foliage. In my ten-year old world,  of all the fruits that grew in abundance in my backyard, they were my favourite.  They still are. Tangerines.

It was summertime and in my own peculiar way, I was enjoying my holidays; with my book, a mystery story, always a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys,  perched in my favourite branch of my favourite tangerine tree, located in a dense hollow,  opposite the tank  in my grandmother’s extensive yard at Ivy Cottage.

This was where I was able to enjoy the solitude I craved, away from the sometimes noisy, quarrelsome adults who made up my immediate family.  This tangerine tree was my kingdom, my own place, my  refuge; where  my imagination could roam untrammeled, as I enjoyed the pursuits of my heroes and heroines, while I munched on the sweet golden fruit.  Not even the green lizards bothered me. Somehow they sensed I wished to be left alone, so we respected each other’s space. If anyone called, as someone invariably did, I simply refused to answer; after all I could not be seen from below, the foliage was far too thick.

After a while, they simply left me alone, arguing that when I was sufficiently hungry, I would climb down from my perch and come inside.

From time to time the occasional wasp, bee, or hummingbird zipped by. The other birds  preferred to fly to the nearby  star apple tree when I was in residence , and there they  twittered in protest. My presence prevented them from imbibing of the rich golden harvest of my  tree . I reveled in the pungent, slightly rancid smell of overripe fruits fermenting on the thick, damp, leaf-strewn underbrush; where the filtering sunlight  threw shifting patterns of  bright light and  flickering shade intermittently.

I voraciously devoured  the book and the tangerines. Each fruit I popped open with eager fingers was an anticipated delightful adventure.  I ate my fill of the lush, juicy pegs, arranged in perfect circular symmetry, disdaining to strip the membrane, As my fingers grew slicker from the sticky juice I could feel my stomach  stretching. But my pleasures had not ended. For me, the piece-de-resistance of my liquid diet, was to discard the large pegs and  devour the babies that clustered at the bottom centre of the fruit.

But even as I embarked  on this my daily summer adventure, there were moments in my solitude when I felt afraid and vulnerable in my high, cool, isolated haven.   I remembered the duppy stories,  Rolling Calf and Wonder Boy, the ghost of my grandfather who was said to roam the yard; Uncle Bredda, the dirty, grass cutter and the Blackheart Man.  In the unearthly stillness, the sound of  the small grass quit  walking on the  leafy undergrowth was magnified a thousand-fold.  The  small birds became ravens who plucked out your eyes; the black cat who sometimes strutted underneath, had red, malevolent, baleful eyes.  The sound of the barking dog  nearby became a portend of an  impending horror.  The coolness from the  canopy of branches chilled my blood.

And so, even as I was sealed off from the realities of one world, the ‘realities’ of the other world impinged on me and heightened my fear of  both worlds. Suddenly, I was startled out of my reverie.“Gloria, Gloria, whe’ that damn pickney deh again today eh?”  I gingerly climbed down from my now dubious haven, brushed the  tree rust  from my skirt, clutched my  book in  sticky,  musty-smelling hands, and ran up the path, past the tank to the back yard and out of my haven. As I ran, I could both feel and hear the liquid jumping in my stomach.

It was my Uncle Butt calling.  He had come in from selling strawberries in Mandeville, and had brought a plantain tart for me as a bribe for picking  the hair out of the  bumps beside his sideburns and his chin. I was an expert at this task.  The bribe worked, as he knew it would.

As was the case yesterday, I did not eat dinner. Today, with the added treat of  my favourite pastry, I will eat no dinner.  Tomorrow, I will once again  go to my special place and live in my special world, experiencing again the contradictions of pleasure and pain – the core of man’s existence.

About the author

Gloria Royale-Davis