Summer for me has not always been about the beach. As a child, it was all about mangoes. During my early years, I spent a lot of my summer holidays at my maternal grandparents’ place. Like most grandparents, they indulged me – their first grandchild. Whenever I was over, they would ensure their pantry was stocked with my favourite Bourbon biscuits and banana chips, the fridge had cheese slices for my ‘cheese and tomato triangle bread’ which I now know as a jaffle, and of course, in the months of April and May, ripe Alphonso mangoes.
Some evenings, I would sit patiently on the kitchen counter watching my grandfather’s wrinkled brown hands peeling the mangoes and then dicing them perfectly without the use of a chopping board. He would divide servings into small stainless steel bowls and set them aside for after dinner. There was never any mess apart from the mango peels. He would then give me, and later, my younger sister, the mango seeds on a plate. I would suck the yellow nectar from the seeds, catching the juice as it slipped between my fingers and sometimes ran down my arm. It seemed almost sinful to waste any bit of the mango. I ate the mango pieces in a more sophisticated manner – a small fork piercing the perfect cubes before being delicately placed into my mouth. There was always a craving for more and usually, my grandfather would indulge me with an extra piece or two.
During my teenage years, I rarely stayed over at my grandparents. I still visited them often, still got the chips and biscuits but the mangoes became few and far between. This was partly because they used to be a treat after dinner. But even as a teenager, I enjoyed eating my mango out of a bowl. At home, we never managed to cut it the way my grandfather did, settling instead for big pieces that were still savoured.
A year before my grandfather died, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I wasn’t around to see him at his worst, having moved to Australia for my studies, for making a life for myself. I remember the first thing I realised on hearing his diagnosis was that as the disease got worse, he would no longer be able to cut mangoes like he used to. How would he eat those mangoes? Who would cut them for him?
It’s been thirteen years since my grandfather died. Even longer since he cut mangoes into perfect little cubes and gave them to me in a stainless steel bowl. Each time I chop my first mango of the summer around November or December, I think of him. Each time I savour the seed and lick the juice between my fingers, I think of him. Each time I bite into my first mango of the season, I think of him. It never tastes the same.
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