Aunty Sharu lives next door to us in one of those old bungalows that always seem to have a veranda, a swing and a perfunctory mango tree. The mango tree has blossomed abundantly this year and the branches are bent with the tart bounty of green mangoes. Her errand boy Ratan stands as a sentinel underneath the tree and glowers at us every time we cycle past greedily eyeing the mangoes.
Yesterday there was a sudden summer thunderstorm that brought the washing lines down and scattered dust and twigs everywhere in a mighty fury. We huddled indoors waiting for the storm to pass but Ratan, he stayed by the tree guarding the mangoes.
Aunty Sharu doesn’t like children – she tells us this whenever she spots us. She lives alone and only has Ratan to talk to. She doesn’t go anywhere or invite people over. She isn’t nice to Ratan either but he doesn’t mind.
She is going to harvest every single mango from her tree this year and sell them to this person in Bombay who will then export them to far-off countries. She is going to make so much money from this, that next year she will have not one but two guards for her tree. She will go on a vacation too, leaving Ratan in charge. She tells us this every time we loiter around the bungalow. At the mention of the words “in charge”, Ratan puffs up with pride and twirls his mustache.
There is another huge storm predicted for today. The raindrops are coming in plump and thick, the sky is sooty black. Aunty Sharu watches the storm from her window and Ratan from the garden. A bolt of lightning makes me jump and I run to shut the window. Ratan is dashing around in their yard with a basket, picking up the mangoes that have fallen to the ground. Aunty Sharu is admonishing him that he is never vigilant enough, surely he was supposed to have planned for the storm. Her voice is screechy now and she is yelling above the rolling thunder.
As I watch from the window with mounting horror, a massive branch snaps and lands on to the ground with a huge thud, engulfing Ratan and his bounty of bruised fruit. A muffled scream fills the air. Aunty Sharu opens the door and races to the spot even as Ratan’s shrieks from underneath the branches get more painful, more urgent.
The rain is coming down in giant sheets now. The neighbors gather around as someone calls for an ambulance. Aunty Sharu stands drenched to the bone, calling out for Ratan with a shrill urgency to her voice.
“He is going to be fine, the ambulance is on its way,” someone tells her.
“The mangoes,” Aunty Sharu screams, “Oh the mangoes. Get this man out of here, I need to save the mangoes before the ambulance people steal them off me.”
Vaiju Joshi’s fiction has appeared/is forthcoming in Bartleby Snopes, Global Short Story competition, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Six Sentences and the Five Stop Story Project amongst others. Her fiction also was short-listed for the Best Australian Short Stories 2010 and 2011 anthologies.She is an engineer by profession and is currently working on her first novel. She lives in Adelaide, Australia.