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.