“The leaf green-green, and it small,” one boy starts, before describing leaf textures and how it tastes on the tip of his tongue. The lights are out for the fourth straight night. The lights, even though Lagoon has their power back on, are still out in this community, and the kids of the house are guessing things like “coke-nut” and “supa” and a fruit that sounds like “matches,” instead of watching tv, and I’m sitting in the adjacent bedroom thinking about the colors of the leaves of various fruits whose names I half-remember and could possibly spell at gunpoint. It’s not that I haven’t plucked and tasted things, it’s not that I’ve never stained a light-colored shirt with unfamiliar juice, it’s just that I haven’t plucked or savored or stained enough things to compete. This isn’t the first time. If I were to leave this room, with its thin mattress and its rusty, corrugated zinc roofing overhead that channels everything from the next room, if I were to perhaps suggest that guessing “coke-nut” six times in a row is strategically flawed, if I were to walk out the front door past the darkened assembly crying “mango” and “plum” and other fruits that, in truth, only vaguely resemble their stateside namesakes, less than ten meters away I’d be able to see small lights from that city across the water. “The leaf long, and when it green it green and when it ripe it yellow.” Not a banana. But green-green, then yellow.

      Towards the northernmost end of the community, there’s a thin path winding through a dense section of bush that’s being cleared, exposing wild fruit trees that don’t require begging permission to pick. I took some of the kids up there a week ago to pick cashew fruits (another misnomer, I thought, until they roasted the stems), and told myself that I was doing it for their benefit, that I’m the philanthropic sort. When I put on slim boots like the men headed to their fincas, the rubber toes pinch, and when I wear the casual t-shirts and chinelas of the Caribbean Coast, I look awkward in the mirror. I look like I stole someone’s clothes. I was wearing boots that day to keep the tiny ants off, which seem to thrive during the dry season and which I’m guessing to be about 95% teeth, and after picking cashews we found a different tree, with fruits that taste like flowers. So I was the gringo searching for ripe ones again, handing them behind me to waiting hands and imagining myself as something other than what I was (more efficient than slingshots and sticks), and I was told not to pick the green ones, the smaller ones with the sprouting stems. I was told that I should only pick the yellow ones, the ones that were ripe.

      Someone guesses “black mango” in the next room, and everyone giggles. They guess “plantain,” then “guava,” then “coke-nut” again, for good measure, and despite the fact that they know perfectly well that it isn’t “coke-nut”, which they cook in everything, and which is neither green nor yellow much of the time. No one’s going to pick “coke-nut” as a secret fruit. So they start over, cycling through their standard lists of likely suspects, guessing louder this time, the mother chiming in from the next room. After forty guesses, the noises die down to a mix of frustrated exhalations and the scrape of chair legs in the kitchen, and I wonder whether the game has ended, whether I’ve missed my chance. But it’s early still; the lights might reach from Lagoon tonight. Everyone’s simply waiting patiently to hear the answer I’ll never say.

K. M. Weaver received his MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland and his MS in physics from Cornell University. Ken and
his wife currently live and work on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua.


Copyright 2009