Monday, January 17, 2011

The Fruit Seller and His Son

Once upon a time not very long ago, there lived a fruit seller in Cairo.

There lived many fruit seller in Cairo, of course, just like there still live many fruit sellers in this immensely large city; but only one who sold fruit on the street corner opposite my sister’s and my apartment.

Every day, he sat on the curb outside of the grocery store on Al-Hegaz Street, in his gray or light brown traditional galabeyya robe with baskets of fruit beside him.

His son sometimes took his place during the long days; and sometimes his brother. Somebody would always be there from early morning until after eleven or sometimes twelve at night.

His son was about twelve years old, perhaps a little tall for his age, thin, had beautiful brown skin. He also wore a galabeyya, and he was cross-eyed, shy and very sweet.

For only half a dollar per kilo, the fruit seller and his son sold huge, firm pomegranates that, when you cut them open, would drip with dark, dark crimson juice and stain your fingers and color your tongue red. They had pale green guavas that would make your whole apartment smell sweet; and large, aromatic navel oranges for less than half a dollar per kilo.

And they sold expensive golden apples from Syria; the most expensive fruit in Egypt that cost a whooping three dollars a kilo.

One day my sister and I stopped to buy oranges and pomegranates on our way home from Arabic school. The fruit seller was on a break, and his son was there instead, squatting on the sidewalk. When he saw us approaching, he immediately stood up, ready to weigh the fruit we wanted on his hand-held scales.

We knew the fruit names in Arabic, my sister and I, even if we didn’t speak the language very well yet. But the fruit seller’s son understood our broken sentences and picked out oranges for us, some guava, a few pomegranates.

Then, while I was trying to put together an acceptable sentence in my head to ask for some of his beautifully red strawberries, he must have been plucking up courage, too. For the moment I opened my mouth, and as he handed over the bags of fruit, he took a deep breath and started,
Ana bahebi…” I love y…

Momkin nos kilo farawla, low samaht?” I never meant to cut him short, but I had the strawberry sentence all ready on my tongue already and I couldn’t stop it.

The fruit seller and his son had no bananas, because bananas were sold off the cart by another galabeyya clad man, cut directly from the stem. Small, yellow bananas, sweet and soft.

The fruit seller and his son also had no lemons. Lemons – the local kind that are the size of a large strawberry, sweeter and more lemony than the “Italian” ones that you could sometimes find imported in some grocery stores – were also sold off the sidewalk, but because they fetched such a negligible price, it was a little bit below the rank of our apple-selling fruit seller.

He had started, maybe 15 years ago, with a small basket of lemons on the same street, saving as much as he could from the small profit he made, slowly working himself up to guavas, oranges, and now even apples. He was doing well now, and a woman a little bit further down the street had filled the lemon-selling void in our neighborhood. Lemon, fresh mint, parsley and spring onions.

If I return in ten years, I wonder if I will find her there still, selling oranges, maybe mangos and apples instead. Who will sell lemons then?

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Hani said...

I need to find this guy and buy me some good pomegranates. My fruit seller has good bananas and apples but his pomegranates are pale and dry. I want the pomegranates with the crimson juice!

Is that Al-Hegaz street in Heliopolis?

Ruby said...

Hani! Yes, pale and dry pomegranates are definitely a disappointment. He is not in Masr el Gedeeda, he is in Mohandeseen... it's a small horseshoe shaped street right between Suria Street and Lebnan Street... outside Super Market el Sa3oudi. But I guess it depends on the season too? The pomegranates, I mean. But YUM if they're good.

Bo said...

I love your writing, sugar! What a fab story.

Ruby said...

Thanks Bo! You're fab.

Hani said...

Then, in my quest for the coveted crimson-juiced pomegranates, I shall embark on a journey to the (traffic) badlands of Mohandeseen, battling a thousand and one bad drivers en route to fresh fruit glory!

That, or I'll just keep buying from my fruit guy. He does home delivery! Ah, the trade-offs of life.

Ruby said...

Haha. Yes, all these decisions! And there are no guarantees that my fruit man is still there, nor that the pomegranates are still as crimson-juiced as I remember them. My memories from the Land of Egypt, I suspect, are sometimes slightly veiled in a romantic hue of nostalgia. But they WERE crimson-juiced and very delicious.

What if you head out to the pomegranate gardens that I suppose must sprawl out under the Egyptian sun, not very far from Cairo? Surely nothing can beat freshly picked pomegranates. Is it still the season? Over here in Ramallah, the only ones I see are dried out, brown carcasses on black winter branches...