“Dunks on the Sidewalk” by Andrea Phillips-Merriman

On the sidewalk, the concrete slabs undulating like a snake mirroring the bends in the road, I stop to avoid stepping on fruit the size of small marbles. In the area where the still laden branches overhang the fence, the fruit congregate. And I bend to pick them up.

Not particularly caring who sees me stooped, picking up something from the ground, I select as many as I can to fit in the palm of my hand – the green ones, the dark brown ones the ones that are overripe and soft, the ones that are traumatized by the force of their eviction, the ones that are pristine and the ones that are wrinkled. Enough!

In the yard, there all kinds of fruit and flowering trees – a frangipani, a young mango tree barely five feet, a Kaffir lime tree, and a towering Palm dominating the sky – all seemingly randomly populating this yard that wraps around the corner.  On occasions when I stand at my bedroom window, I see its full canopy.

But in that moment, I was acknowledging this tree, this tree so laden with dunks as one acknowledges an old friend one encounters in an incongruous space.

I begin to confess, there bending over. “I had forgotten you. Not consciously! Not consciously! Yes”

 I had forgotten myself too – that 10-year-old girl buying dunks from Miss Mary selling fruit by the school gate. I had forgotten that I ate them with salt and pepper on a piece of brown paper; sometimes they were so sour, they edged my teeth, sometimes sweet, sometimes no taste, but the salt and pepper still make them sweet. And me and my friend Anne, I forget about her too, we would eat out of the same handful from Miss Mary.

“But where are you from? How did you find your way here?” This is the conversation I began with this tree.

“My migration story is convoluted. My roots are from India and Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Zimbabwe. Slaves and indentured laborers could not take guns, but they carried our seeds. They carried us to Australia and the Pacific, the Caribbean, hopping from island to island – Puerto Rico, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, St. Lucia, Grenada and to mainland South America – Guyana, Brazil, Venezuela.

Everywhere we became rooted, they gave us new names – They called us: dungs, dunks, wild jubjub and sugarcane juju and dumps. And many others too. They pulled from the whisper of the winds and the fury of the hurricanes, roar of the blue waters, the thundering of mighty waterfalls, the glitter of the white sands and the muddiness of rivers debouching into the oceans; from rainforests sheltering orchids and protecting anacondas and scarlet ibises.

But for now, we Ziziphus Mauritania languish – our relevance forgotten. Our identity erased. Sometimes on Etsy, Amazon, or eBay, you will find our substance in capsules and foil bags and pretty plastic packages.”

When I rose from the sidewalk. Naturally, I took the dunks I had gathered, home.  Some to eat with salt and pepper, some to share and some to plant.

When the Ziziphus Mauritania buds, the blossoms are pretty, tiny five-pointed flowers, chartreuse. I had witnessed this ‘quiet miracle’ in the sometimes-freezing temperature in Florida. And there was the fruit on the sidewalk. The USDA began importing the ziziphus Mauritania around 1908. In the area where I live, it is hardly a tree you will encounter. Yet every part is good for food and healing – the fruit, the roots, the bark, the leaves for animal, man, and the environment.

So, this is my seed of a story. My words are my seed.  Donald Peattie states that “each bud holds its own kind of futurity.”

We must continue to write and tell our stories for the generations that will follow.

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