Art by Victor Ehikhamenor
She tasted unlike any fruit he had ever eaten. When he first encountered her, she trembled green and raw upon a slender shoot. He had been walking in the woods as sun-dappled leaves cast upon him a net of shadows. In a patch of brightness, he had seen her glowing softly, sending her scent to him. So he plucked her. The vines that held her, the roots to which she was attached, the leaves that nestled her, held on tightly, reluctant to let her go. But she disconnected herself willingly, and after only one glance back at her forest home, she lay quivering up at him in the palm of his hand. He, being a lover of fruit, could see she was too green yet to nibble, and so he slipped her into his pocket. She stayed there quietly, her skin still tingling from his touch, as the trees whispered and worried, as the birds called out to her with squawks and titters, songs and whistles, as the butterflies and insects crackled their wings in protest, and as flowers nodded their heads with the weight of their wisdom. She felt herself bouncing to the rhythm of his tread, smelling his young-sweat odor, and hearing the lilt of his voice as he hummed. His hum dulled the chorus of forest good-byes.
During the drive home she managed to hold her skin together despite the cramped nature of her position in his pocket. His heat spread through her. He seemed to have forgotten her, though, that strange fruit jammed in a pocket just above the curve of his hip. She waited. He pulled her out once he reached his home and rested her in a spot of sun. Then he left, leaving her still warm from him but unable to warm herself. She surveyed his lifeless apartment, bare save a bed, a table, and concrete blocks for chairs. Except for the slanting rays penetrating the window glass, much of the place lurked in dusk. For days, as she angled herself to catch the slender rays, she watched dust-motes swirl around her, making her dizzy with their frantic dance. When they settled upon her, no friendly breeze blew them off. Lizards did not flick their tongues at her in play. No flashes of blue iridescence under a bird's wing dazzled her. No insects buzzed their evening lullabies. At night she lay in gloom with no beams of moonlight to chase each other across her form. No leaves provided a cushion for her as she perched, neglected, upon a wooden table. In the morning the dew no longer dotted and refreshed her. She thought the silence would destroy her, would leave her insides black and inedible. And yet, despite herself, she ripened.
As she transformed, she began to change his place as well. The stale air grew more humid, pungent with expectancy. The films of darkness receded behind doors, hid under the bed. She drew to her the warmth of sunshine, which the clouded window-glass could no longer keep out. The dust-motes exploded, whirling in tilts of light. A warp in the glass made a prism, refracting rainbow beams. She became wrapped in quilts of color. Her perfume lingered, encircling her. Slowly her aroma spread throughout the atmosphere. Soon, enchanted by the smell, specks of life began to bud from cracks in walls and floors: a stalk, a stem, the feather-light rustle of petals. Green entwined with bits of blooms, white and pink and new. Vines climbed along stark, barren walls, fertile and alive. Outside on the sill sat doves, flapping like flurries of snow.
Once, a bee, aroused, stumbled toward her from under the door. It buzzed and whirred, it zigzagged in a frenzied blur. How she enjoyed its drone, the syncopation of its wings! She felt the down of its belly against her cheek, she sensed its wisps of wind. She basked in its bee-glow. But the bee did not last, for when the man came home, he grew enraged at its intrusiveness, at its arrogance in attempting to possess the fruit. He pursued it around the apartment, relentless in his rage. He jumped at it from the bed, reached for it from atop the blocks, cornered it near the door. She could not bear to look. With one decisive swat the bee lay crushed in a heap of yellow. The vines, the blooms, the doves, all appalled, retreated from this home. Once again, she was alone.
When her flesh lost its raw toughness and became tight, smooth, and fragrant, he came near her once again. He ran his fingers over the surface of her skin, testing for imperfections. He picked her up and spun her in his hand as he examined every inch of her. She felt the fuzz of hair upon her rise to meet his touch. He pushed upon her, testing for juice. He sniffed her, holding her near his face and breathing deeply. Once, briefly, she felt the bumpy roughness of his tongue. He hummed to her with a melody designed to make her ripen more quickly, spurred by his impatience. She tried. Eventually, she succeeded.
When she neared her peak, he picked her up and dropped her once again into his pocket. Together they escaped his musty place, now heavy with her scent. She shivered, delighted with the gusts, ecstatic in unpolluted air. He took her everywhere. She could be seen peeking from within his clothes or lolling drunk upon his palms. Together they trekked through city streets and on jungle paths, over mountain passes and upon valley floors. Her strength and firmness, the elasticity of her flesh, enticed him. He supped from her and, delirious, dove in for even more. Drugged with her, he was lifted with the smallest sip to heights beyond those he could hope to climb. His hunger grew insatiable. Continents, deserts, and oceans stretched and swelled before them. The world spread open, exposed.
Sometimes, in fits of bliss, he tossed her high above his head. In those moments she floated in space, irrelevant, freed from the weight of things. And then with a giddy spin, the world sucked her back in.
But then, after moist, sunlit days, moonless nights, and shared whispers to the stars, her color turned to sunset. Her beauty hurt his eyes, reminded him of how plain he looked, a mere man confronting a fruit. He felt small, insignificant. His limbs seemed too brittle, too thin. Humiliated and dry, he shrank. Globular and spacious, she expanded, her liquids primed to burst. Nectar-heavy, her movements slowed. Insects and birds swarmed her. Worms slid over her curves, crickets sang to her in verse. She shone. He shooed them away, angry, accusing, blaming her radiance. Sensuous, she rolled herself, sleepy in the breeze. He grew wary, preferring to be still. Her attention swerved from him. He eyed her plumpness, her unfamiliar succulence. He sensed something nestled inside her, too deep for him to reach, too mighty for him to restrain. He did not want to know the depths of her. Her powers left him unmoved.
Soon her potent juice no longer quenched his thirst. Her sweetness left him sickly with distaste. Her odor flattened him. He told her she was too much. He told her she was not enough. She made him queasy, he said. She was just too old, she was just too big. Why wasn't she still the one he had plucked—young, and tender, and raw? She had betrayed him, he explained, because she had so changed. He wandered alone in the hills.
Too round to follow him now, she silently matured. She stared at herself in ponds, worrying the dimples in her skin. She began to resent other, fresher fruits. She became perverse. She turned away from butterflies, she found flowers hurt her sight. He meandered farther. Gradually, she blackened, her juice now too bitter to drink. Spots marred her face. Sags deformed her. She had nightmares and was afraid to face the day. In dreams, she saw herself sink into pulp.
One night, as he prepared to leave, she rolled over to him and split herself, exposing her core. Ignoring her, he left. Wide open now and wide-awake, she let her fluids dribble out. She shook herself from side to side. She thought of forests, dark and deep. Of woods where she remembered sleep. She recalled how she had blossomed—the pride of plants, the prize of leaves.
And then she remembered she was a fruit. Delectable, edible, luscious, divine. Coveted, fully ripe. One who bore seeds, which in turn sprouted roots. From that deep source—the seed—would bloom lands and nations. Rains would nourish her, rivers would bear witness with their flow. The breath of the earth resided in her. She contained skies. She was the womb that held a universe.