Posted on March 18th, 2013
Listen to the lady at the produce stand.
It’s 8am on a Saturday morning. You arrived in Maui the night before on a flight too late to be believed, drove the length of the island from north to south under a starry sky brighter than you could have imagined. Your boyfriend put the radio on reggae and rolled the windows down, because that’s what you do when you’re driving a long, straight road in the dark through fields of sugar cane that cast long, moon-lit shadows on the road and you want to be absolutely sure that this place with the palm trees is Hawaii and not some Inception-substrate dream that you’ll soon wake from to find you’re actually still in Alaska, shivering under the covers as the snow falls on the roof.
That’s also probably the reason you awoke so early this morning. Long before your boyfriend stirred beside you, you were sitting up in bed, watching a sunrise bleed itself out over the ocean and smelling the salt on the breeze. By the time he arose, you were hungry and giddy to join the small flood of people easing down the street below your lanai to the early-morning produce stand. Now the waves are crashing, the sun is already hot, your white arms are bare for the first time since July, and you have an ill-considered bikini on underneath those sensible shorts. You have cash in your wallet, flip-flops slapping your soles, and a cloth bag to hold your purchases. And you are ready to taste Hawaii, to finally be convinced that all this delicious sensation is yours for at least ten days of borrowed time.
Behold, the cherimoya. The two of you nearly floated through the produce stalls, agog over the apple bananas, the lychees still in their skins, the spiky pink rambutans like futuristic children’s toys. So much color, so many smells, so different from the winter world of gray and white that you each came from. In all this bright abundance, the box of large, green fruits the size and texture of ostrich eggs should not have given you pause. Yet, you stop, tentatively poke at one, and pick it up. It has the heft of a small bag of books, and you cannot even imagine its flavor.
When you bring the cherimoya up to the lady at the produce stand, she smiles wide. Later, you realize this is because it costs eleven dollars a pound, and she is calculating just how soon she can close down the market for the day after ringing up your purchase. But you don’t know this yet, because you are entranced by what she is telling you: that the cherimoya is the most delicious fruit you’ll ever eat, like nothing you’ve ever tasted, and that if you just take it home and leave it on your counter for the next two days, on the third day you’ll be eating something close to heaven. You are sold.
So, for two days, while you watch humpbacks breach in the waters off of perfect crescent beaches and slowly burn places of your body that should never turn that red, the cherimoya sits on your kitchen counter. You prod it occasionally, testing the green skin that looks like dragon’s scales, searching for softness. You think it might be ready on Day Two, but you abstain, because you were told to wait and you are cultivating a new patience that has slipped into your bones with 35mph highway signs and many bottles of coconut rum.
On the third morning, the cherimoya has a new tenderness under your touch, and you know then that the produce lady was right. It is time. You take a big, sharp knife and slice it in half, your boyfriend standing by to watch what happens. And what happens is that the cherimoya opens up into two pure, white halves, flecked by long black seeds the size of skipping rocks. This is unexpected. But the produce lady has prepared you, explaining that the best way to eat the flesh is with spoons, to dig it out and suck the sweetness off of the seeds.
Twelve days later, when your memories of Maui have diminished to the strange, diamond-shaped tan line on your chest and you are once again watching the moose nose around the snow outside of your cabin in Alaska, it might be difficult to recall the flavor of the cherimoya. Your boyfriend remembers that it was like eating ice cream, thick and milky like custard. You, on the other hand, remember it as having the sharp tang of passion fruit. Or the familiarity of an apple? With the texture of a papaya? And maybe a shot of pineapple, running right through the center of it all. Maybe.
But it wasn’t any of those things, not really. You search for touch-points to ground the cherimoya in your own language of taste, but it is something completely new and unexpected. Like travel, the cherimoya is so utterly not of your world that you don’t have the words to describe it. Eating it is like waking from a long nap when you didn’t even know you were tired. You feel oddly refreshed and so relieved to find that there are still foods like this out there whose tastes you couldn’t have even imagined beforehand. Maybe there are more? You think about returning to the produce stand, then wonder about flights to Thailand or Bali or Costa Rica, anywhere where other strange and wonderful things must grow on trees. The cherimoya tells you that you can be, finally, somewhere other than home.
That morning, you stood in the kitchen in your bare feet, spooning the flesh out of the cherimoya and into your mouth with absolute glee. The cherimoya made you happy. It tasted like possibility. It tasted like a new beginning. It tasted, really, exactly like a cool morning in Hawaii, far away from Alaska, where the sun was just barely over the horizon, the person you wanted to be with was right by your side, and the day’s adventures ahead lay open and vast like the ocean outside the window.