Whatever Remains

Tara Isabel Zambrano

Mangoes are everywhere. On the tree, yellow and green, and on the ground, half eaten, face down in brown red soil. They are on the roof, tumbling one after another, as the monkeys arrive in packs and shake the tree, their pink faces speckled with mango pulp and juice. We watch them from our bedroom window and wait for them to leave.

Papa was addicted to mangoes despite his high blood sugar levels. Every summer, he climbed the tree in our backyard and picked the ripe ones. Then he soaked them overnight, in water, before Maa decided if the mangoes were firm enough for fruit chaat, or soft and sweet for aam ras: mango pulp, mixed with milk and saffron, or for mango lemonade. She sliced the leftovers for a spicy pickle. In long, warm afternoons, Papa sat in the courtyard holding a long stick to drive monkeys away. Maa sat next to him, singing his favorite folk songs, fanning a newspaper near his face. There never was a mango rotting on the ground when papa was alive.

It was November when Papa’s kidneys gave up. In his last days, he lay in his bed next to a window, his eyes closed, feeling the winter sun, hoping he’d survive one more summer. “I’ll reincarnate as a mango tree to give it all back what I took in this life,” he said before he died. Maa blamed mangoes for his death and forbade them in our house. Since then, once the monkeys leave the courtyard, we run outside and devour whatever remains.
Some monkeys are efficient. They suck the mangoes dry, lick the seed and toss them around, hitting other monkeys who drop the mangoes from their laps and run in circles. Some pick pants, petticoats and vests from our clothesline and wipe their sticky mouths.

One monkey catches us off guard. Unlike others, he’s sitting on the ground. A few monkeys circle around him, their teeth busy, eyes at him. He’s not eating. He doesn’t even belong. We wonder how he has made it so far.

Humidity circles inside our dirty blue colored home. We wipe the back of our necks, push our hair back and feel tempted to open the windows. Outside, the ruckus is on. Clouds are on the move but as per the newspaper, monsoon is still a few weeks away. A dog whines in the distance. All we do is count the mangoes on the ground.

Later, Maa is awkwardly standing in the doorway that divides our house into two. All the monkeys have left except the odd one, holding a mango. She opens the window and the monkey glances at her, drops the mango and runs away. She straightens, extends her gaze to the horizon and smiles at an assembly of dark clouds. We smile too, distracted from the fact that we need to go outside. For the first time in two years, like a girl wearing high heels for the first time, Maa takes a shaky step towards the courtyard, and unlocks the creaking door. A sweet smelling silence extends between us. She almost trips on the slick seeds and ravaged mangoes while looking at the tree, humming a folk song, her black hair stuck to the side of her face. A fat drop of rain lands on her cheek. And as the world turns silver with rain, she slowly climbs the tree, towards the red, yellow and green ornaments hidden away from the reach of the monkeys, a spirit among them waiting to be released.

Tara Isabel Zambrano lives in Texas. Her work is forthcoming in Slice, Yemassee, the Minnesota Review, Gargoyle and other journals. She reads prose for the Common and is an electrical engineer by profession.