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The Seasonal Thief
by Sarbani Das (Prose - Short Story) | Published On: 24-May-2017

 I tiptoe down the stairs and hold my breath on the last step.  Silence.  Everyone is sleeping this early May morning and it’s just the right time to steal a little something.  You should know that I’m not a regular thief, just a seasonal one. 

            My tenants are very greedy: they’re greedy for flowers, for vegetables, for paying their rents late, for consuming (and wasting) more water than necessary and for mangos-my mangos. 

            I unlock the wooden front door without a sound and close it behind me.  Hidden in the long grass is a thick branch.  I wave it frantically above me, hoping that the clump of mangos fall to the ground.  Instead a shower of green leaves land on my head and around my feet.  This won’t do.  I look up and realize I need to smack the stem of each mango that is connected to the branches.    

One, two, three-SMACK!  One, two, three-SMACK! 

Two sore arms and thirty minutes later I have many empty branches.

I race to fill all four of my grocery bags and tiptoe back up the stairs.  Emptying the bags on the kitchen counter, I sit down to think.  In an instant, certain images float up in my head: Raw salted mango cubes immersed in pungent mustard oil and sitting in glass jars in the afternoon sun.  Shredded raw mango tossed with olive oil, black pepper, red chili flakes, minced spearmint leaves and salt marinate in a white porcelain bowl.  Ripe mangoes slosh in the blender with ice cubes, yogurt, honey and ground cinnamon.  Mango pulp simmers in a heavy pot with bay leaves, sugar, cardamom and cloves.

Visions of mango pickles, mango salads, mango smoothies and mango chutneys float out of my head when I remember that I had forgotten to lock the wooden front door! 

‘They’ll know that you stole from your own garden so that your tenants won’t get any!’  A voice whispered inside my head. 

I run downstairs again, this time letting my sandals thud loudly on the steps.  I rush to the garden, pick up the heavy branch that I used to smack the mangos and begin to yell, “Thieves!  Thieves! They’re taking my mangos!  Thieves!” 

From a distance I hear the padding of feet, doors creaking open and groggy voices.

“What’s the matter Mrs. Dey?”  Says the dainty housewife who steals the hibiscus buds everyday before sunset.  (She places them in a bowl of water so that they bloom the next day in her worship room, making it look like she never set foot in my garden.)

“Where are the thieves?”  Says the plump chemistry teacher who takes two morning showers and one evening bath everyday from May to August (he blames the dainty woman’s three small children for letting the bathroom faucet run, which they do, and depleting the water supply). 

“What did they steal?”  Says the slim college professor who leaves her cooking so that she can race to the garden to uproot my chili and tomato plants (occasionally pulling a raw mango from a low branch that happens to be ‘in her way’). 

Audience?  Check.

Drama?  Here we go….

“My mangos!  My beautiful mangos!  They’re all gone!  Those wretched teens!  They took them ALL!”  I say waving the branch at the garden fence.

I leave them to stare at my mango trees while I sob and slowly climb up the stairs.

What do you think of this seasonal thief? 

Come visit me any time and I will treat you to my delicious mango preparations (as long as you’re not my tenant).  And I’ll tell you how lovely it is to be a seasonal thief.  Tell me, how else could I’ve harvested my mangos?

           

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