Somewhere between the first rains and before the rainy season ends, you’ll find the mango at its best. Unripe green mangoes turn reddish yellow, inviting you to buy from the mallam’s wheelbarrow, the hawker’s tray, or the market woman’s basket, or, if you’re still privileged to live in places where tropical trees are still rife, to pluck from the trees.
Speaking of the trees, we, who were privileged to grow up with real trees that had real fruits, were hardly patient with leaving them to complete the duty of ripening the fruits. Not when other kids had their eyes on them. And definitely not when we discovered we could ripen them faster by putting them in polythene bags. We formed plucker-picker partnerships then, especially when plucking with sticks proved to be technical; one person would climb to pluck, the other would pick, and at close of business, the mangoes were counted, the climber making sure figures tallied with what fell from above. Mangoes were real treasures old time kids had to work for.
But not all green mangoes are unripe. Yellow and red are attracting, and psychologically had an impact on us as kids. Our opioro (or German) and kerosene mangoes would not “ripe” even though they got soft. Without deterring us, we would rip off the green skin and bite into the succulent yellow flesh. Sweet in its own way, but different from the much loved sheri type, we enjoyed it, not minding the kerosene aftertaste; we licked the seed till it went white and almost without fiber, and we would later deal with the fibers that stuck between our teeth.
These sheri, opioro, and kerosene mangoes are no match for Benue mangoes! The mangoes in Benue are as big as human heads. Five of it were more than enough to feed a classroom of fifty. When I asked my classmate, who took it upon herself to bring it all the way from Makurdi back to school in Enugu, about this rare species, she said they were so big and the trees were so short that kids would eat the mangoes from the trees and would leave the leftovers hanging down the branches. I have not eaten the Benue mangoes since I left secondary school and I still have plans of going to Makurdi just for this cause.
The rains have begun and the mangoes have arrived. Though I have long lost the plucker-picker partnerships of childhood, I still lick mango seeds till they go white and lose their fiber.