The Mango Tree

Mangos almost readyNear where I am planting roots, there is a bar with a mango tree across from it. Under the mango tree sits a bench, next to the bench sits a wooden wire spool.

This is the information superhighway of the village. This is where men who drink talk – no women come here, possibly because of the reputations of those that take the shade of the tree.

This is an intersection. Strange conversations happen here. Wisdom and foolishness are imparted with the fervor of alcohol. It is not a safe place, tempers can flare just as in any other place. It is not a place where the ‘successful’ lounge. But it is a place where the mangoes do not have far to fall – barely bruised sometimes, with the same value as the words that flow under the tree. Sometimes sweet, sometimes too ripe, sometimes not yet ready to be absorbed.

I stood under the tree recently, drinking water after having baked in the sun, and a younger head in the village and I discussed the problems with people who were developing land. It was not an accidental conversation, it was a conversation began because of who I am, so I listened. Behind the mango tree, maybe 300 meters away, the faint sound of a bulldozer was in play, but I was attuned to what the young rastafarian was saying.

He was saying things I agreed with. About how easy it is for people with machines at their command to set the time bombs under houses by grading below them. About how people liked to cast concrete around their homes, bag their leaves and cuttings, paying to have the bags taken – and all the while buying manure. It’s stupid, really, what people do. I’ve seen it a lot in developing nations, where concrete is poured like the alcohol in an alcoholics drink. Unsparingly.

It’s ugly. You can fool yourself into thinking otherwise, but it’s ugly.

I have seen pieces of my own land so developed by tenants, but I turn a blind eye to it, favoring instead where I am doing my planning. As I pass through, though, I see the large concrete houses and the span of concrete yards. Who am I to judge how others wish to live? No one. But I can certainly mock their choices, maybe bring some fertilizer down their way and sell it to them so that the plants they pay lip service to do not starve in their containers.

The younger man is surprised at how much I agree with, and when I chime in with thoughts of my own. We are not friends, we may never be friends, but we have learned something about each other and how we see the world. It is more alike than he had thought.

We talked about planting seeds in our land to grow trees – and how people would buy the very mangoes we were sitting under, spending $20TT on 4 or maybe 5 of them while we sat under it’s shade and ate on a whim.

I didn’t tell him about a conversation I’d had with another software engineer in the late 90s, where he had found out that I had land in Trinidad.

He had told me, “You’re crazy.”
“What?”
“Everyone here dreams of buying a piece of land in the Caribbean and you already have yours. What are you doing here?”

A fair question back then, a pivotal question that ate at me over the years. And here I was.

I picked up a freshly fallen mango, bit it’s meat off of it and sucked the seed clean, some of the strings sticking between my teeth. It was sweet.

I put the seed in the pickup, and my new acquaintance laughed.
“You’re going to plant that!”

A smile.

Too often we don’t plant the seeds of trees when we don’t expect to stand under their shade.

The Tree.

We’d gone up to see the house, the three of us – two younger cousins and myself, to look at it. It stood there, something that so many people fought for over the years, showing it’s age through coats of relatively fresh paint. Some changes had been made since last I was there by the last who had stayed there. The yard was a mess – freshly sprayed to kill the unkempt grass, brown and dry. And as I rounded the corner, I saw the tree that I had planted.

Religiosa FiscosaWhen I had last seen it, it was a sapling. Many years had passed since then and it had surpassed my expectations – now standing close to 70 feet tall, it’s leaves littered the unused concrete path, intermingled with the leaves of the mango tree.

It had become magnificent, as unkept as it was. It’s massive roots slithered into the limestone rich earth, branches reaching for the sky- yet invisible from the front of the house unless you knew to look.

My cousins were talking as I continued looking around, finding a few other things I had planted that had stood the test of time despite all that had happened around the old house.

And then I looked at the house, in the house, around it – age showing here and there, cracks, spot repairs… the roof had a leak, and it had made it’s way through the ceiling at one point.

In my mind, this had always been an ugly house. It had been red once. It was white now. The flooring was still solid inside, but in the gallery I knew what lay beneath the linoleum. I knew where to look for the cracks, and I saw them – knew them intimately.

My cousins were still talking about this and that, and how the trees needed to be trimmed, that I was thinking about it all. “It’s a project”, is all I really added, as in the back of my mind, knowing that the leaves were bad for the galvanized steel roof.

And in the back of my mind, with decades of knowing the house and all that used it as a pawn in their petty fighting, the idea of blades touching that tree was grotesque while the idea of that house being damaged did not bother me at all.

I planted that tree for reasons. I watered that sapling for years. That tree and I had spent more time together over the years than I had with any living family member. To stand under the shade of that tree, which I did not expect to do, was a reprieve.

Yes, I’d rather water that tree than fix that house. I’d rather it grow unmanaged, strong, with deep roots and strong branches, and I cannot take a blade to it or tell someone else to do that. And yet I cannot stop what will happen to it, either, for it is not in my yard. If it were, the house would have been torn down long ago and a smaller dwelling put in it’s place.

This is why you should not plant a tree in someone else’s yard.