Excerpt from Raising the Mango from Issue 68
Mangos have always been familiar to my lips, as if their nectar ran in my blood. I know the slippery texture of their pulp, the tickle of their citrus fragrance. I recognize that mix of sweet and tang heating the corners of my mouth, the tip of my tongue, the insides of my cheeks. I don’t recall eating my first mango, seeing one for the first time. For as long as I can remember, there have always been mangos, as bright as sunflowers, as round as shoulders, in a wooden bowl on our kitchen table.
My family’s fascination with mangos may be slightly excessive. My parents have pride in the fruite much the way the Swiss boat about their chocolates or the way the Columbians take about their coffee. They insist that the best mangos come from the Philippines, that their sweetness is something no one can refuse. When they find someone who has never tried a mango, they push the fruit like a drug.
The first boy I ever invite to a dunner is clearly entranced by my mother. She is pushing the back of her fork into a slice of ripe mango. With little force, she grinds the fruit into the rice left over on her plate from a dinner of chicken and onions. She uses the manho to wipe her entire plate clean. I’ce warned her about not cooking anything too weird tonight, not stinking up the house with anything to fishy. I’ve asked her to make spaghetti. She laughed in my face. Sitting at the table, I wait for her to embarrass me by saying something wrong, something too foreign.
Her mouth is full as she looks over at the young man. In school, he is nice to me. He talks to me when the other boys look at my flat-chested body and my dark brown skin. “You have the blackest hair I’ve ever seen.” His hair in blind and his skin is pale but her had an Italian last name. His voice is still changing and his legs have not yet caught up to the rest of his body. It doesn’t bother my mother than he is not Filipino, but it does help that he is Catholic.
“You never see mango before, huh?” she asks him.
The young man, caught a little off guard by booming sound of her voice, is on his best behavior. He shyly shakes his head.
“Back home, we call that mangga. Mun-GA!” When she tried to teach people Tagalog, her native language, the intensity in her voice increases dramatically, as if the volume would make them understand the words better. From my end of the table, I try to signal her to stop, shaking my head and widening my eyes. No, I think to myself, leave him alone. I hold my breath and wish that her accent would disappear, but it keeps coming, louder and stronger. She slams her hand down on the table twice for emphasis. “Mun-GA!”
The boy, jumping a little when the table shakes, is perhaps bullied into repeating her words. Softly, he says, “Man-ga.”
She offers him a slice, without the rice, putting a bright orange piece on a clean white plate. I tell him not to eat it because the fibers will get caught in his braces. He takes it anyway, eats itm seems to enjoy it, He smiles as he chews, and I can see the piece of fruit inside the skin of his neck slide down his throat. Later when we kiss on the front porch, I can taste the mix of metal and mango on my tongue. Kissing me is all I’ll let him do. Besides the mango, the feel of his mouth on my neck and on my lips still feels wrong, like we’re moving too fast. I feel the words sex and penis looming just around the next corner. I tell him we should keep it to hand holding and hanging out for now. When he eventually dumps me for a girl who looks just like him, I think that her mother probably offers him casseroles for dinner and vanilla ice cream for dessert, and he probably kisses her neck and touches her boobs in the basement all night until curfew.