UNDERNEATH THE MANGO TREE


“It’s not a wedding, let’s call it vow renewals,” said my sister.

Ana and Rodrigo had been living together for seventeen years, so the idea of making the relationship official came from Flora, their vivacious eight-year-old daughter.

To minimise my agitation during the long journey from Singapore to Brazil, I was engrossed by full seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm, a three-hundred-page Isabel Allende novel, and a few glasses of Chilean Malbec (not mentioning what felt like a few hundred hours mediating my kids’ arguments). I’d missed numerous family events during my absence to my home country in the past five years, but what I’d missed the most were the noisy and happy lunches only my family knew how to throw. After living overseas for so many years, one thing I was certain of - South Americans’ incomparable passion and warmth to turn a quiet afternoon into an exciting all-night affair, was second to none.

The informal festivities were set to begin a week before the special day, on the place where my grandparents had once spent most of their lives. Their rustic, two-bedroom cottage belonged to what looked like a private forest, surrounded by mulberry, coconut and jackfruit trees, and it was sheltered by a gigantic, century-old mango tree.

It’d been under these lush woods where my siblings, cousins and I had taken our first baby steps. It was there, too, where we had fallen in love, got sunburnt, and even drunk for the first times in our lives. As far back as time goes, the events that happened during our youth on the island are the ones that hold the fondest spaces in our memories.

My mind wondered back to the time when as young children, we used to spend hours on top of Moby Dick - how we affectionately called the huge whale-shaped rock that sat next to cottage, and the adjacent water creek where we used to fish and hold tiny blue crabs, treating them like immortal creatures. Our holidays were filled with ice pops, long ocean swims, and endless amounts of time collecting ripe mangoes from the property grounds. After picking them, together with our late grandfather Ury, we’d make all types of tasty treats - mango juice, jam, salads, ice creams, you name it!

As a passionate botanist, grandmother Stella used to tell us that mangoes were the most widely cultivated fruits in the tropics, but its origin did not come from our native Brazil. According to granny’s knowledge, the national fruit of India, Pakistan, Philippines and Bangladesh had been cultivated in South East Asia for thousands of years, and it only arrived in Brazilian territory during the spice trade period between the Portuguese and South India, in the 15th and 16th centuries.

The unexpected turbulence pulled me back to the present, and sadly to grandmother’s health, which had progressively deteriorated in the past year. Granny Stella’s once extremely creative mind had succumbed to a foggy stare, and I knew this would most likely be the last time she’d be celebrating a family event with us.

The week on the island flew by, and it was all the time I needed to reconnect to my heritage again before my sister’s intimate affair. The close guests helped arranging rows of mix-matching wooden chairs, stools, and yellow bougainvilleas in the rustic outdoor setting, and under the tree that had held so many past family events. As I stood by my other two sisters, Gabriela and Marina, watching our eldest sibling “walk down the aisle”, I beamed with satisfaction and pride to be part of that meaningful celebration. The party continued throughout the night with plenty of laughing and sharing of memorable childhood stories.

I returned to Singapore ten days later, certain that the family ties I left in Brazil when I moved overseas, fifteen years ago, continued to be as strong as important in my present life.

Granny Stella passed away three months after the wedding, at age 96, and her ashes are due to be scattered underneath the mango tree upon my next visit to the island.

Mango cover photo credit: shuttlestock images

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