Oct/Nov 2004  •   Spotlight

Dreaming of Bananas in Bucharest

by Cedric Popa

There are three stages in the afterlife of a dead banana.

Perhaps, while they grow up, hangin' together in the warm sun, bananas weave resurrection myths just as fat tropical spiders weave their webs in the heavy bunches. Perhaps there is a Dante of bananas, spinning his stories of complex immortality. And I wonder whether being eaten is their ultimate heaven or hell, a consummation of an eternal love rejoined with their deity, or torture by slow, acid dissolution.

The obvious way to set these periods apart is by the colors they display: green, yellow, brown. Picasso had a blue period, van Gogh a brown-greenish one and later a yellow one; bananas have green, yellow and brown. That, however, gives me a problem, 'cause when I was a kid, I first dreamed of grey bananas.

I dreamed of grey bananas because, of course, I hadn't seen any real ones yet. We rarely did, in Romania. They made fleeting appearances in our shops and sometimes in open markets, only around Christmas. We had color TV though. The image on our TV set, a proud but poorly made local copy of some Japanese patents, would slowly or suddenly swerve a metaphorical left or right on its color palette, so that you saw green faces and bluish hair adorning the heads of brown-clad people in the street. (Brown was ubiquitous and permanent. Brown never turned into anything, but everything else was in danger of turning into brown, except maybe grey.) Towards its death, the TV's normal red-green-blue pattern of dots, visible at short range, was glowing a faint brown-yellow-green, and we put it to sleep by returning it to a black and white image. So bananas first entered my imagination as grey.

Then, when I was young, we had our own myths about bananas. We imagined them loaded in the back of Santa Claus' sled (though we had to call him Old Frosty, since Santa was too religious), and I still remember the yin-yang image of reindeers flying across frozen land under a hot tropical sun, and the curly-haired black man singing while he was helping Santa load the sled.

Of course bananas came to our country by boats. That is the green, traveling stage of the bananas' afterlife, when, although they are buried deep within a ship, they hear the murmur of the waves and they feel the spider legs crawling across their skin. They were maybe just turning yellow when being set ashore, maturing with the knowledge of a new land. Soon they would be snatched from the hands of store workers annoyed at the unending line of cold people asking for their allotted two pounds of exotic fruit. I don't think those bananas ever had much time to turn brown.

I've read a story in the paper, then, about a boy who was bitten by a spider hidden in a bunch of bananas, and who was in intensive care. I don't know how that story made it into the paper; only good news was normally allowed into print or onto our TV screens. Maybe the paper was trying to blame the accident on some foreigners, on some import company. I don't remember. And I don't know what happened to the boy.

But I think of that young boy, whose father had arrived home with prized gifts, bananas, oranges, perhaps chocolate. I try to think how happily he plunged his hands into the bunch of bananas, how he shouted, then cried, taking them out, watching a quickly spreading red rash. I try to think that the ambulance arrived there on time, in spite of something having gone wrong with the poorly serviced engine, and in spite of there being no sand or salt on the snowy street, one of the rare moments when something white did not turn brown.

Later, an eternity later, there was an explosion of color when everything changed in the country: pink for cheap trinkets brought from Turkey by tireless travelers, blue for the blood of old aristocrats returning to their land, red for the previously banished logo of the drink that signified an entire civilization. Mostly there was yellow for the glow of optimism, braided with strands of green, hopes of growth. Just as a rainbow, it didn't last that long.

I like to think of that boy, now a young adult, finally crossing his country's borders, which had finally become porous. Perhaps he would travel in search of childhood dreams, Lapon lands or equatorial plantations. Perhaps he would just visit a country where bananas are available every day of the year. Where they lay, big and green, on supermarket shelves. Perhaps he would be annoyed at the people who deny bananas their full afterlife—who, not knowing better, eat them before they're ready for communion with their deity, before they have grown up and grown old. Perhaps he would be happy for the abundance of colors in that supermarket. Or bemused that, in a place where colors are so freely allowed and available, so many houses begin and end their lives brown. I like to think of him traveling and wondering. I hope that boy was lucky enough to live his own afterlife, mirror image to that of a banana, leaving brown behind and touching the green and yellow of his dreams.