(The seed of this story came from Ira. She wanted me to write a story about a very very very very big mango tree)….
Rashid woke up before the cockerel again today, quickly brushed his teeth, washed his face and ran out into the courtyard. The cockerel was startled and so were the two male goats in their enclosure. He went straight to the large mango tree standing stout at the very corner of the courtyard. This year was looking exceptionally good. The tree was laden heavily with large bunches of juicy looking mangoes. Pity he wasn’t allowed to pluck any yet. Amma and Papa had told him he could start picking them as soon as they were ripe and ready. Rashid noticed a mango up high that looked like it was ripe enough to pluck. He rushed back into the house to fetch amma. She was easier to convince he felt. By now the cockerel was suitably convinced that Rashid had gone mad and would start crowing in the mornings pretty soon. Humans wanting to do a roosters job, what was the world coming to, he stomped around pecking at the worms scurrying back into their holes. Just as Rashid ran back past the cockerel it crowed loudly, as if to admonish the boy for disturbing the peace. Everyone stirred in the house. Amma was just getting out of bed when Rashid rushed in and said “amma amma a ripe mango, a ripe mango, up high”.
Amma quickly attended to her morning ablutions while an impatient Rashid paced outside the bathroom door. “Come, lets go look” she muttered getting out of the door. As they searched the Sun was coming out and Rashid couldn’t locate the mango anymore. Amma saw the disheartened boys face and wrapped an arm around him “come lets get you some breakfast, what do you want today? An egg roll? Or French toast? The mangoes will take just 3-4 days more, be patient”. The goats as if in agreement chimed in with an insistent “baa, baa”.
Bakra-Eid was coming up in a couple of days, these two had been with the family for a little over a year now. Rashid was especially fond of the white one, the brown one used to kick him, so not much of a fan of that one. He asked Amma “so tell me again what is going to happen to Dara and Armad on Eid day?”. Amma understanding the anxiety in his thoughts replied “you don’t stress yourself out so much, these two were made for succulent biryani and that’s where they’re headed day after tomorrow”. The hafiz saheb from the nearby mosque who used to come over every weekend to teach Rashid Arabic had explained how “Qurbani” worked. The goat is symbolic, the idea is to sacrifice your most cherished possession. Since it is not possible to slaughter your own children you can substitute with an animal. In the case of a goat it must be at least one year old and it must have no injuries. Specially no broken horns. That explained why dad never allowed the two goats to sleep in the same enclosure, they were always fighting with each other and head butting was bound to result in damaged horns one of these days.
That evening when papa got back from work, Rashid and the goats were getting ready to go for a walk in the fields. The sun wasn’t down yet and a pleasant breeze was blowing. Some respite from the warmth of the day. The goats were getting restless as dad washed up and put on his walking shoes. Finally they were walking in the field outside. Amma had asked Rashid to pick up a few tomatoes for dinner. Papa looked over at the goats and frowned, they were playfully locking horns and shoving each other again. Later that night when the goats were back in their enclosures and everything was silent Rashid sent up a silent prayer, let the mangoes be ripe tomorrow morning God, he said. The next day went by just like this one, no mangoes got plucked.
It was the day of Eid. Rashid woke up with a little more spring in his step and after washing his face rushed out into the courtyard. Upon reaching the mango tree he fell silent, completely quiet. Even the rooster looked up wondering “is the boy alright? It’s ok he can have my job”. Finally when he understood what it was he just pulled up a chair and sat peacefully watching the golden yellow Mango tree a beatific smile on his face. All the mangoes were ripe, the miracle of Eid he thought. Amma came on her own without having to be woken up wondering where her nutcase son was. She came and sat next to him on the ground, looking up at the laden tree and marveling at the way nature rewarded them every year without fail. This year maybe a little more than previously.
That was when the mother son reverie was shattered by a pained cry from near the enclosure of the goats. Papa was standing there with one hand on his forehead the other on his waist. “Now what do we do?” he groaned. Rashid and Amma rushed to his side to see what the matter was. What they saw made them worried as well, though for a different reason. The goats had somehow managed to jump the fence. They were in the same enclosure and apparently had had a pretty decent fight as well. Both had broken small pieces of their horns. That meant just one thing to amma “no biryani today”. To Rashid that meant “oh good I can play with them till they grow old” also “how painful this must be for the poor sots”. But for papa that meant a quick check of the wallet and a mad rush to the goat supplier before the Eid prayers. Today was Eid and there was no way it would be possible to get a replacement goat leave alone a pair but then it was always worth a try.
As Amma and Rashid sat waiting for papa to return a cool breeze swept into the house and ruffled Rashids hair. He looked up at the now glowing mango tree and wondered aloud “should be dear to you, should be undamaged…. yesss!!!” he had a plan taking shape. “Amma get me three baskets, large ones”. Rashid got to work and within half an hour brought down each and every mango from the tree. Then he washed and wiped them all and stacked them in the baskets neatly dividing them into three equal parts. He was placing the last mango in the basket when a crestfallen dad entered the house. He kicked off his shoes and was about to go sit and brood when he saw the three large baskets of golden yellow sitting in the courtyard. He saw the eager face of his son and then he let out a huge booming guffaw. “Why not” his voice echoed over the bleating of the goats and the clucking of the hen. Even the rooster tried to chime in his approval, a tad reluctantly.
That day a new tradition was started by Rashid, one part of the mangoes from the tree in the courtyard to the orphans in the nearby school, one part for all their friends and one part for Amma, Papa and Rashid. Eid was about sharing your most cherished possessions, something you had cared about and for Rashid mangoes certainly qualified. That year there was no other sacrifice, the goats lived and if legend be believed they lived till the ripe old age of twenty-five by when their broken horns were well and truly healed. As for the biryani that day, well let’s just say the cockerel did not really bother the worms again.