‘All set??’ Srini(name changed), my cousin asked from one of the branches. He was always shirtless and wore shorts that was below knee usually, most of the days in his blue school uniform shorts. Srini was a daredevil nigger guy. He wouldn’t give a damn to if the sun baked or if the thorns pierced through his skin. Once he was bitten by a non poisonous snake while baiting for fishes in a small stream. We all were so fucking scared that he’d die but he was normal. And days after it happened he was acting so proud, he lied to everyone it was a poisonous snake and he still lived despite being bitten. Another time when his fore finger was bleeding after a crab bit it, he ran to his house, not for rescue but to show off. My mom would often tell my brother ‘Don’t you hang out with him’ and so did every mother in the town told her child. Nonetheless, we constantly enjoyed his company amid all the silly quarrels and laughter. Unlike his sisters, he was darkish, one of the many not-so-alluring features inherited from his father. He had spiky hairs and round lips. There was no tree that he couldn’t climb upto. From dwarfish cashew to jamun to the tallest garnecia.
So now, he was on top of the jamun tree, one on the road side of the mound. There were totally three in the mound, that we always went to, that bore the highest number of mouth watering jamuns. And back in our yard, we had two bearing equally the same number.
‘I’m dropping it down!’ we again heard his voice from the top.
Sunil, my brother was sitting on the edge of the mound, just above the road. Just looking around. He was the smallest among us.
The red georgette shawl was held right below the branch Srini was perched on. Two corners of the shawl was held by me while the other two, by my cousin, Srini’s sister Chavi(name changed). And we were squinting up. The jamuns had outperformed the leaves in the tree. There were just too many.
‘Look here! I’m about to leave them free’ he said.
‘Oh fella! Make it fast. Don’t worry, we’ll land it safe’ we replied to him.
My brother was now playing with some fallen twigs, drawing trails on the soil.
Srini had loosened his grip and the big bunch of jamuns fell down. Chavi and I moved back and forth, outstretching our hands in order for the fruits to fall right into the shawl. And once it did, we removed it from there, seperated the fruits from it’s cluster and poured it into the plastic cover we had bought to fill. And then we looked up for the next round of jamun picking.
We stood in the middle of the road balancing the shawl and occasionally when we heard the vehicles approaching, we’d move to the roadside, stand and return once they were gone. The jamuns would be so irresistible that we’d try to grab one or two inspite of Srini’s conditions on not to start eating unless and until he got down.
‘Sheethal! I’m climbing down if I catch you eating it one more time’ he’d say. But we were allowed to eat the wounded ones, ones that didn’t make to the soft shawl but hit right into the stone filled road. The elders who’d see us while passing by ‘You kids got a lot there. Enjoy’
Sometimes Muslim kids would stop by while on their way to the mosque in the noon. They’d ask us to lend them some. We’d turn our heads up at Srini in the tree for approval. And after we got his nod, we’d agree on supplying them. They’d remove their white caps, upturn it for us to fill in. And they’d leave saying thank you. The fruits there after would taste even more delicious because we had shared them with the boys, and disappointed because they were less now by sharing.
By the time we’d reach home, our tongues would have turned purple. Inside, mom, uncle’s and aunties of Palthaje, our nearest next house, would be chit chatting. They’d pick from the cover for taste. Later Shrini and I’d take chairs, place the cover brimming with the purple fruit before us and go ahead to divide equally. He’d take half of them to Palthaje, his house and leave the rest for us. This was one of the routines in summer vacation.
Now, decades later all the tress, including jamun and cashew have been cut off by the rubber plantation after the two adjacent mounds were sold to them by Palthaje grandpa. The tree I mentioned in my narration still exists, but doesn’t produce fruits as much as it used to. Maybe because it knows, that even if it did, there wouldn’t be anyone to have it. The children who’d spend their vacation with it have now grown up and moved on, it knows.