Fifteen years ago, in the middle of Avenue B in New York City’s Alphabet City, I learned how to eat a mango. It wasn’t on purpose. Learning how to eat a mango was all happenstance and luck.
I didn’t even know what a mango was way back then and when I saw a friend of mine eating something from his hands in the middle of the street, I approached him.
“Are you eating a sweet potato?”
“Nope,” my friend slurped between bites, “Mango.” Mango juice was dribbling down his chin, his arms and from between his fingers. A pool of escaping mango juice pooled in drips on the street between his sneakers.
I watched in awe as my friend devoured each juicy bit of the fruit. As a child of the Midwest, I’d never seen a mango in person before — or really even heard of one — and, in an en passant glance, a mango does have the size, shape and color of a large yam.
My friend tore of a chunk of his mango and offered it to me.
I chewed the fruit. It was fibrous and sweet.
“You can eat the rind, too,” my friend licked his lips, “but I don’t.”
He finished gnawing the meat of the mango and tossed the teeth-scraped rind into the trash.
“Lots of vitamins,” he said, flicking the juice from the end of his nose. “And a real workout to eat right.”
“Why is it so hard to eat?”
“Welp,” my friend drawled, “It has a tough rind and a big pit in the middle that says ‘don’t eat me’ — but you gotta because they’re so good. So, you take a knife, like see?” He made his index finger into a knife and his other hand became the mango. “Cut around like so like an avocado. Pull it apart. Lots of fibers. Chuck the pit — the pit cures cancer, I think. Either that or a peach, I forget. Crosshatch cut into chunks. Bend in the skin and dig in! Dig?”
He started miming eating the mango.
He tore me off a piece of his imaginary mango. I swallowed the chunk whole without a single chew.
“Not as ripe as the first one,” I smiled.
My friend stopped miming and looked at me dead-eye. “Mangoes aren’t for joking.”
He wasn’t kidding, so I followed his finger-knife, hand-mango example and did some slicing, pit removal and crosscutting of my own and offered him a piece.
He took the bit from me and carefully chewed it without breaking eye contact. “Pretty good mango for a first timer.”
“Thanks,” I said, “I’m even better with the real thing.”
“We’ll see,” he replied without blinking. “The mango decides.”
With that, he turned his body from me and began to walk away. He didn’t break eye contact until his twisting neck forced him to look forward and away to dodge a passing car on 13th Street.
I licked the leftover mango fibers from my chin and saw my own pool of mango juice invisibly forming on the asphalt beneath me.