Today, her mission is simple. She will walk into town, maybe someone will give her a lift, but it is a day she has been looking forward to since the season started.
She stood in the kitchen, eating her oatmeal straight from the pot. There was no-one to watch her, and she didn’t need to dirty more dishes. The oatmeal had no taste, and even though she could have, she decided she would not add condensed milk to it. Her coffee already had some. Rules, rules, rules. Everyone had them, and it seemed that she spent her life following it, and when she finally was alone, new people poked and prodded her and told her how her last few years should be lived.
Outside, there was the faint mooing of cows. Chickens pecked and scratched the dirt and grass looking for insects, and occasionally, a dog would bark. Nearly a hundred acres of land stretched out. Her husband, nearly 80, had gone out as he had done since she knew him, before sunrise. While her old body lay in the bed they shared, he lit the fire hearth, boiling water for his black coffee. He too, had to eat oatmeal, but he always sneaked a piece of bread that she had baked the day before.
After his simple breakfast, he went out to saddle his horse, and feeling every bit of his almost 80 years, he would swing his old body into the saddle and ride off to tend to his land. He loved every inch of his property. When one of the cows or even bulls had to be killed, he would make sure to tan the hide, creating unique scabbards for machetes, belts and once, even a chair. His eyes were getting tired, and he didn’t make many pieces any more. None of his children wanted to learn from him, so his craft would die with him. Oh well. Such is life.
Back at the house, his wife, mother of his children, was in a frenzy of preparation. A small bucket was procured from under the shelves; an old margarine bucket big enough for what she wanted to take. She wrapped her head with a gay cloth, and she pulled a matching dress on. Ruffles ran down the front across her chest, stopping just at the waistline. The skirt flared slightly, the material stiff and starched. Leather sandals that her husband had made for her went on her tiny feet. With a slap, slap sound, she padded out to the back yard. The trees were laden this time of year, and the ground was carpeted with the sweet, sticky fruit. They had many, many trees, and the variety was stunning. She searched for the perfect specimens, freshly fallen, unbruised, ripe and delicious. The long, slipper-shaped golden ones smelled heady. The black-speckled green ones were tiny nuggets of sweet nectar. The fist-sized rosy ones were like perfume. The bucket was soon filled to the brim.
With her treats in hand, she braces herself and starts walking down to the road. Along the way, she sees several pretty flowers. She can smell some, and she smiles. At the end of her walk, when she reaches the road, she looks up at the giant flamboyant trees. They too, are in bloom with red and yellow masses glow above her. There is a carpet of the same red and yellow where she stands, from the blooms that have fallen from the breeze that seems to blow constantly.
She takes a left, and starts walking. The sun is hot and her load is heavy, but she does not stop. Even though she is 76, and stands at only 4 feet 8 inches, she is feisty, and has carried heavier loads in her lifetime. And this, what is in her hand, is not a burden, but a joy. She woke up pain-free today, her fingers may be gnarled, but for today at least, they give her no trouble. She keeps walking. Puffs of breeze make little clouds of dust dance in the street.
…She is halfway there, having walked over a mile, and she passes by her sons’ houses, but she does not stop. On her way back, she will pass by and see if they will give her a cup of tea or some water. But for now, her mission is still not complete, and she is bent on making sure the fruit make their way to her little girl.
Finally, she reaches the school. She says hello to the teacher in the first classroom, and keeps walking. She knows where she is headed, and soon, she stops at the doorway. Inside, the teacher smiles and indicates to the girl sitting at the front to go to her great-grandmother. She does as she is told, her smile wide.
My grandma does this every year. I never know when she will show up, I just know that during mango season, she will walk from her house very far away and bring me a bucket of ripe mangoes to eat at school. I throw my arms around her tiny waist, hugging her happily. She holds on to the bucket and leans over for a kiss. Then I go outside and sit with her. We always eat at least two mangoes each before I have to go back inside the classroom, where my best friends eagerly wait for me to share. Today, Grandma and I decide to eat the slipper mangoes. They are like honey, no string to catch in our teeth, and I don’t care when the juice runs down my arms and stains my uniform.
After telling me to give a couple to my brother in the other classroom, she stands up ready to go. We wash our hands at the pump, and I hug and kiss her goodbye. She heads to my brother’s classroom and waves from the window before she walks out of the schoolyard. I watch her as she leaves; her tiny form walking away until she disappears around the bend. I pick up the heavy margarine bucket with both hands, and go back into class.
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