by Chidelia Edochie
Where I am from, boys throw fruit at you as you pass. I would be walking alone, on my way home from the school run by missionary priests and nuns, my skirt swiping at the backs of my knees. The boys would hide behind the large cottonwood trees, their shirtless bodies blending with the wood so I was unable to see them, unable to plan for their attacks.
These boys had been my classmates when we were younger. For years, they’d sat in the rows behind the girls, dripping red tree sap into our chairs, making us think first that we were dying, and then that our monthlies had arrived. The boys slowly drifted away from schooling over the years. By the time we were all sixteen, they’d begun to spend their days in idleness, crouching in clumps together in their brambly front yards from morning to night.
On the days when the tallest boy, their leader, was absent, the others would only half-heartedly throw the smallest fruits at me—kiwis, akee apples, berries that stained my shirts. But if the tall boy was present, they would ambush me with such a ferocity that I wondered if this boy, so tall his head seemed to reach the tufts of the clouds, was some kind of sorcerer casting a spell on the other boys to make them hate me. I never retaliated, only ran past them when I could. I found it easier to bear if I thought only of the feeling of the wind wisping between my thighs as my skirt flew up, and not on the heavy fruits pounding against the back of my head.
One day I came home late after being kept after school for having pulled down the pants of a classmate, an older girl who had called my mother a whore. As I got nearer to my house, keeping a lookout for my tormentors, I saw the tall one, the leader. He was standing behind our house, near our kitchen window. His pants were down. One of his eyes was closed, the other opened slightly but unfocused. His hand slid up and down at his waist.
When he saw me, standing there watching him, he froze. I froze, too, but only for a moment. Then, I looked down to the ground. It was not out of shyness or confusion; I knew what he was doing. But I was searching for fruits to throw. I picked some up and hurled them at him, anything I could find—melons, mangos, sweetsops, galip nuts—aiming for the hands working so furiously just below his navel.
He did not run away. He only stood there and looked at me, both eyes wide open now, his hands still moving quickly at his waist. I remember feeling disappointed. He did not flee. He did not seem to feel the need to run, to let his penis bounce in the wind the way I would have had I been born a boy.
With nothing else to do, I sat down on my haunches, rocking back and forth on the heels of my feet, watching. I could see the thing, its skin wrinkly and taut in some places, rough but still delicate-looking, like the hide of a baby elephant. As I watched him, I ate the fruits that lay at my feet, the bruised fruits that he and the others had thrown at me that same morning. Some of the fruits I’d thrown at him had fallen into the pants that were down around his ankles. When he finished, he pulled his pants up without looking down, and I hoped that the skin of the fruit would prick his skin, so he might feel something of me.
He came over to where I sat and sat on his own heels. Rocking according to my rhythm, it seemed. He took the small mango I held in my hands and peeled it, then handed it back to me.
So what about in your country? Tell me, please, what I can expect. How do the people find ways of saying, Baby, I love you?
Chidelia Edochie’s fiction and nonfiction appear in Gulf Coast, Michigan Quarterly Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Journal, Camera Obscura, The Los Angeles Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, and the New Rivers Press anthology American Fiction: The Best Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Writers. Her work has also won numerous awards, including a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation, Top 25-List honors in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers, finalist honors in the Third Coast Fiction Contest and Crab Orchard Review Charles Johnson Student Fiction Contest, and a fiction scholarship granted by AWP. The Nigerian-American writer was born in the Midwest, raised in the Deep South, then lived, painted, and wrote in the Chinese city of Guangzhou for years. Chidelia will be the 2012 Writer-in-Residence at the M Residency in Shanghai. She is currently working on a novel, and can be followed at Twitter.com/Chidelia.