> The Mangohead Chronicles: Mangohead and the Zaboca Thief S01E01

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mangohead and the Zaboca Thief S01E01

"Mangohead!" Ma Ramsawak called from outside the house. "Come downstairs, people here to see you!"
Mangohead groaned and rolled over onto his side. What time was it? Casting an eye on the large, green digits of the digital clock that sat atop his wardrobe, he noted that the time was around a quarter past seven; far too early to be stirring on a Saturday morning. Still, if he decided not to respond to his mother, there would be hell to pay later. If there was one thing every single village child knew, it was not to cross Ma Ramsawak, and Mangohead being her son, knew that far better than any other.

He heaved himself out of bed with a concerted effort and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes as his feet unconsciously shuffled for his flip-flops. Having more or less got the elusive rubber-and-plastic accoutrements on, he half walked, half stumbled out the front door and down the stairs.

Ma Procop was standing outside the front gate with a garish lime-green suitcase and a wide smile on her wrinkled face. Mangohead's face lit up as she raised her hand in greeting. He had always liked Ma Procop; she was always one of those people that had never treated him like a child when he was younger.

"I going to do some sweeping, I going to leave all you to talk," Ma Ramsawak said as she went back into the house.

"Stephen," Ma Procop said, casting him a conspiratorial smile. Ma Procop never used his nickname, although the rest of the village did without second thoughts. "I is going on vacation!" she finished with a flourish.

"I know you waiting for this long time!" Mangohead responded, laughing aloud. "Yuh children finally call yuh over to the States?"

Ma Procop grinned. "Yes chile! They going to have me for a couple months! But I call yuh to ask yuh a favor."

"Anything," Mangohead said without hesitation. Whatever he could do to help this wonderful lady was worth doing. She had been like a great aunt to him and had helped him while he was growing up. When she became infirm, it was his mother who would go to take care of her and Mangohead would follow along. Sometimes he would spend hours listening to Ma Procop relive the old days, her stories making him feel as though he too had lived them.

"I going to need somebody to look after mih house while I gone," Ma Procop said as he looked up the road to where her abode stood. "Is zaboca season just now and I want to make sure my zaboca tree bear real plenty. You know how good the zaboca from that tree does be."

Mangohead nodded. 'Zaboca' was what the villagers called avocadoes. All over Trinidad, the name zaboca had been used in place of avocado since time immemorial. Mangohead had known that Ma Procop had augmented her pension with sales of zaboca from her tree, and that tree had been the source of legend for decades in the village.

Ma Procop's residence was built on the remains of an old plantation house that had existed on the San Marcos estate, from which the village derived its name. Legend had it that the zaboca tree had been planted by the daughter of the owner of the estate and that she had been killed during the slave riots later that same year. She had bled to death on the root of the zaboca tree. Now, every zaboca season, no matter the weather or the circumstances of the harvest, the tree was bound to bear.

Its fruit was also legendary; people from the village of Biche, the nearest one to San Marcos, would make the half-hour-long drive across the mountains just to partake of the fruit of Ma Procop's tree. Rumors of its harvest had reached the ears of some people from the city of San Fernando that had made the trek deep into the rural countryside for the privilege of consuming one of Ma Procop's zabocas.

"I want you to make sure and pick the zaboca as they bear eh Stephen," Ma Procop warned him. "They does drop off the tree fast and ah don't want any to waste."

"Yes, Ma Procop," Mangohead said obediently.

"And ah want yuh to run mih stall and sell out the set you pick," Ma Procop continued. "And give yuh mooma the money to hold for mih."

"Yes, Ma Procop," Mangohead nodded his head once again.

"And one more thing," Ma Procop said, delving deep into her back and bringing out a small brass key. "This is the key for the chest ah have mih medicines for the plant in," she whispered conspiratorially to Mangohead as she entrusted him with it. "Make sure nobody eh go into the chest and thing. It very dangerous if you eh know how to use them."

"But Ma Procop," Mangohead questioned, "I eh know how to use them..."

"You feel me ent know that chile?" Ma Procop smiled at him and held out a small, dirty scrap of paper. "I know you is a smart boy, you go figure out how to measure and thing and work out the right amount. Now I has to go before the plane leff mih. Tell yuh mooma I gone and watch mih tree for mih, yuh hear?"

Mangohead smiled at her and nodded. As if on cue, a taxi pulled up just on the main road. Mangohead watched her waddle away to the taxi, dragging her prodigious luggage after her. With a final slam of the door, the taxi revved to life and Ma Procop disappeared in a cloud of road dust, winging her way off to the Land of Milk and Honey.


When Mangohead had managed to finish waking himself up to a proper degree, he decided he should go check out the fabled zaboca tree entrusted to his care. He eyed the dresser mirror as he tried to flatten out his unruly mop of hair. Mangohead wasn’t an untidy boy, rather nature had ordained that he would be cursed with a head of hair that was apt to fluff out like a disgruntled parrot at a moment’s notice. He was relatively tall with a darkish brown complexion typical of Indians living in the islands. His eyes were a dark brown and his brows hung over them like bristling rainclouds, ready to shower his ocular cavities with stray eyebrow-pluckings. His head was the most notable and memorable thing about him, and it was where he derived his nickname. It was indeed shaped weirdly and when he was younger they had compared it to the funny shape of a mango. The name had stuck and now, far and wide in San Marcos, when one mentioned “Mangohead” they could only be referring to one person. Sighing, he tried one last, unsuccessful pat and accepted defeat with a grumble. With a word of goodbye to Ma Ramsawak, he set off along the road to Ma Procop's house.
San Marcos was a small village, even by Trinidadian standards. They had the basic necessities such as water, electricity and telephone lines. They recently had their roads paved by one or more politicians looking for votes. The heart of San Marcos was the semi-urbanized strip of businesses that made up the village nucleus. There was a hardware, an agro shop, a couple small parlors and a variety of convenience services that made it easy for people to eke out a life in this rural background. Services such as health centers and banking could be gotten from either of the towns of Rio Claro to the south or Sangre Grande to the north, but these places were very far away, usually requiring a commute of at least an hour both ways.

The hills around San Marcos were covered in the blazing bloom of immortelle, making them look as though the lush green hills were on fire throughout the year. The downside of living in the crook of the hills of the central range was that there was always rainfall, even in the dry season. San Marcos had a lot of rain, and some scientist from the University of the West Indies in his endless knowledge had once commented that it was probably this rain that made Ma Procop's zaboca tree so special. Zaboca required a lot of rain to bear, the commenter opined, and this large amount of rainfall made it the perfect place for growing tasty zabocas. Despite his observations, Ma Procop still made him pay for his zaboca before leaving.

Mangohead pushed the rickety wooden gate open just wide enough for him to pass and pushed it back closed, twining the wire that held the gate closed around the rusty nail that protruded from the wooden fence for just that purpose. Upon entering the gate, Mangohead took in the splendor that was Ma Procop’s garden. In addition to the fabled zaboca tree were plants and shrubs, each with their own glow and feeling. From a hedge of ixora that ran along the wooden fence to an arch of bougainvillea that welcomed one into the spread of Ma Procop's porch, the garden was a sight to behold. Hibiscuses of many colors, some white, some yellow and some red, littered the garden, but not haphazardly; they looked to have been placed there by a skillful hand. Buttercups cropped up in between as well, their measured yellow blending with the other flowers and their scents fraternizing to make a heady perfume.

At the back of the garden, in a prominent place, stood the zaboca tree. Its leaves looked waxy and full as they reflected the sunlight that poured down on it. Ma Procop had constructed a box of concrete blocks around the base of the tree to protect the roots aboveground. Mangohead could see the tree reach out with its roots which slowly disappeared into the ground, as if being swallowed by the earth itself. The bark was unscarred and perfectly preserved. He could make out old scars that the tree had probably experienced before Ma Procop had owned it. There was a large gash that seemed to be very old. Amber gum had solidified over the wound and Mangohead passed his hand over the irregular bump, squeezing the hard resin.

He was so engrossed in his admiration of the tree that the slinking shadow that crept over the fence at the back of the house and slinked behind a nearby tree went unnoticed. With narrowed eyes the shadowy stranger observed Mangohead intently, and when he was sure the boy was involved otherwise, he slunk away, the forest's shadows eating up his own.

No comments:

Post a Comment