words Xenia Hackett
The ‘Mango Man’ comes to the desert town at the end of each month, where he travels in a dusty ute for twelve and a half hours. The tray carries a jumble of weathered wooden planks, a green swag and an icebox the size of a fridge; all pinioned down by two frayed ropes and one new ratchet strap. He comes in the night, and by morning, the heap of wood and rope assemble a humble market stall. Vibrant and exotic fruits are painted on the stall’s sides; the bright pigments illustrate the cold treasures that lay inside the icebox.
While he stands in his stall, the Mango Man will pull a frosted bottle from his esky. Nobody knows what this drink contains, a potion or a magical brew perhaps? One can only imagine that it’s as marvellous as the fruits beside it.
This is the day they get excited for, the community springs to life. They’re like ants, clustering to a melting icy pole. The promise of sugar and its fresh succulent smell gets them out of their cool dens and into the blazing heat. In fact, they enjoy the scorching sun on their brown backs as they trudge to the Mango Man, it makes their reward so much more gratifying.
He comes from the north, his ice box full of tropical gems—unseen on their arid and barren sandscape—brimming with fruits belonging to faraway lands where the colour green is familiar. Gia once found a broad, bright green leaf still stuck to the stem of her orange… her little sister Natika was jealous of her finding. The two fought for hours over who would keep the green-leafed fruit. At school, the day after a delivery, the class would show and tell their treats. One lucky boy found a star-shaped fig leaf; the children were bewildered.
Each month he brings an array of mangoes with him, ‘the sweetest on the continent’ is written in chalk on the little blackboard placed by his side. He also brings with him a few new fruits, as a treat. This month’s specimen… Plums.
Gia couldn’t help it. That morning, it was hot, the hottest yet. She woke up, not from the rising sun, or the sound of her mother shuffling into the kitchen, but from her own sweating skin. It was too warm to remain in bed any longer. Her bedsheet was glued to her back and wrapped into a knot at her feet. She woke up knowing exactly what she wanted, no doubt about it, her mouth was already watering at the thought, in fact, she’d probably been dreaming about them all night. Frozen plums.
Gia peeled herself from her sheets and put on her favourite singlet, worn to the perfect lightness for the summer days.
She slipped into the kitchen quietly, walking with hope that she was the first awake. She knew Natika shared her weakness for sweets. Alas, the dusty kitchen was empty and in front of her lay their freshly stocked icebox. Her bare feet made no sound as she walked to the treasure chest, she lifted the lid gently. It released with a pop, a cooling mist spilling out wrapped around her face, her legs and toes. There they were, frosty and glistening like jewels. Five frozen plums. Gia reached in and pulled one out. She sat beside the icebox on the floor and let the concrete cool her sweaty legs. It was going to be a particularly sweltering day. She bit into the already melting fruit, the dripping frost warming, as it ran down her forearm until she couldn’t tell it from her own dampness. It was so sweet and so cool, pink stained liquid dripped down the sides of her mouth. Before she knew it, she was reaching for another—one simply hadn’t been enough to quench her. The air was getting hotter as the sun rose, and Gia got greedier. Another and another. She couldn’t tell when she had finished one and started the next.
When she reached her hand in to search for another, there were none left. Gia, filled with panic, hastily jumping up; her eyes guiltily fixed on the door. She knew she was in trouble. There was a whole month—basically a lifetime—before the next delivery.
‘Look at me, as greedy as the flies are for sugar,’ she thought. Gia ran to the table and grabbed a piece of paper; she didn’t know what else to do. Was it too late for her to catch the Mango Man…? She did not want to be there, sticky, purple-handed and guilty when her family awoke. Gia scurried to grab her shoes in a quiet but desperate manner, and headed for the door in a heated rush…