At the corner of Nudelmann, once named José Ocampo, I turn onto Dr. Hassler, and feel grateful for the shade from the large branches of the towering mango trees that hang over the wall of the house situated there. I slow down –as if I could go any slower in this heat– and feel the subtle coolness from the perspiration on my arms. Two women look up at me, shrug their shoulders, and smile somewhat apologetically as they fill a plastic grocery bag with some of the mangos that litter the curb. I smile and shrug my shoulders as well. Despite the large tree, which spans the far end of the backyard of our house across the street, that scatters the ground with fruit waiting to be collected each morning, I have also picked up many mangos lying on sidewalks at street curbs; one that was too yellow, too smooth, too perfect, too beautiful to pass up. I may have even kept rolled up supermarket bags in my purse or knapsack for such purposes.
In other Decembers, when I was a visitor, my sister-in-laws would arrange the chairs in a circle under the shade of the trellis covered with the tangle of broad leaves and ripening bunches of tiny purple grapes hanging off the vines, while my nephews filled a plastic washbasin or bucket with water and a dozen or so mangos. My sister-in-law would say that it was better not to sit under the mango tree because it was too dangerous, citing some article she read in El popular about a projectile that landed on the neck of some unsuspecting person who, trying to escape the intense afternoon siesta heat, placed their chair in the shade of a luxuriant mango tree and inadvertently dozed off, or another, bent over and picking up a pitcher of water while drinking tereré, had met their demise from a ripe mango plummeting from thirty feet above.
Sitting on the chairs, leaning over the bucket and talking, we choose mangos from the bucket and clean them in the water, rubbing off any remaining dirt or sticky syrup that has oozed out if the skin had split when it hit the ground. Some have just fallen and others are hot from lying in the sun. Biting off a piece at the top to get started, we peal back the thin yellow skin, exposing the fruit, and suck the thick juice until only a few strings are left clinging to the hard, flat seed in the center, and a few between our teeth. These small, yellow mangos are fibrous. We do not cut them into pieces.
When most of the mangos have been eaten, my nephew walks back towards the tree, picking up some mangos along the way, and returns with another armful of fruit that he tosses into the bucket. I tell everyone how my mother used to buy and cut up one mango into pieces that we would share, while sitting around our kitchen table in our apartment in New York, and they laugh. When we are done, someone grabs a rake and gathers up the piles of peels and seeds that have accumulated around the chairs, and drags them toward the pit my brother-in-law dug by the back wall next to the tree. Along the way the rake collects overripe mangos, with brown spots and streams of gelling syrup, or half-eaten by birds. This tree has too many mangos for us to eat.
If only it were possible to collect all the mangos, from all the trees around the city each season and store them so that they would last the whole year, beyond the short season they appear, fall, and cover the ground.