If you had been a little more talkative, I might have a little more to tell you. But there it is. We never spoke quite as much as we should have. Do you remember much of the watermelon stall?
I’ll take that as no.
The watermelon stands stood a few miles off from the beach.
Something twitches a little in your eye at the word watermelon.
I thought that word might stir something in you. You look a little lost, but I’ll keep going.
This was a few years before people bothered building anything more than a bamboo hut as a stall and you had been working for this rabble of a local seller. Every morning their wreck of a van would sit beeping till you’d roll out of bed and jump on the back. You’d leave at the break of day and not come home till midnight.
You grip the arm of your chair and sigh. You used to have a better hold of the old memories, they were cut a little deeper.
You had told me several versions of the truth before you actually fessed up and admitted what happened. But by that time it didn’t matter anyway.
The most convincing way you gave was this.
As the shrewdest member of the group, you were in charge of stock. The heavier lads were just that, there to move as many watermelons as could plausibly be moved onto the back of the truck. Your job had been not only to count but mark out any bruised or misshapen melons from the lot and quickly offload into the mangled pile of watermelon guts that was a favourite of the local crows and dogs.
Once the van was fully loaded, you and the team would head out for the beach road and set up little stalls selling the melon to the traffic.
Most of the older lads worked in pairs, or they’d fix up their tables close enough to spend the day chatting or playing cards between customers. But you didn’t mind the solitude and besides which, they gave you a commission, so the way you saw it was if you moved a little further away, you wouldn’t have to share any of the trade.
This well-oiled monotony continued half the summer. Every day the same dull waiting, slicing and serving of melon.
It was the animals that gave it away. You had been a little embarrassed to have missed it. Such a mangy melon as that. For a while all you could do was worry that more hadn’t slipped onto the truck undetected. The heavier boys had been known to drive by and hurl the dud melons at you as comeuppance for letting them on the van.
Usually, as you told it anyway, dogs and crows work in a kind of odd tandem. If a melon split, fine, anyone’s game, but for the most part this defunct fruit would hit the floor unbroken and would be near impossible for the dogs to get at. The crows would break open the shell and both groups of animals would feast together. And as you saw it, with the understanding that if members of the particularly rampant local cat population would pass by, the dogs would do their part and ward off the predators.
But they couldn’t get it open. After several hours of that crow endlessly rapping on the shell, you took your knife to it.
You were never sure how long that dog and crow had been coming to eat before you realised, they’d been eating from the same watermelon every day. Gorging themselves on it from morning till night.
When you waved them off and dusted it down the fruit was untouched. Its shell now the deepest possible green and its flesh a bold crimson. You looked around a touch to check no one was there to witness you wave off wild animals to steal their food, and you gave the cleft melon a little lick.
You turn to the window and sigh. Who is this person and why are they going on about watermelons?
You never gave any formal permission for the circus that built up, but you most definitely took your cut. Within a matter of days, word had got around of your fruit. How there was some upstart who spent 11 hours a day endlessly spooning out fresh pulp from the same watermelon.
You had me and some friends from school loan a red and white striped tent and pitch it up around you and work the gate. 1 ticket got them a seat to watch and 2 got them a cup full of the stuff. You had them queuing half the way back to the beach.
The sweetest juice You’ll ever try.
Of course, you had no real control over the kinds of people who jumped on for the ride. The hundreds hanging around needed something to do, so more entertainment sprang up all about you. You had a good few weeks at first, with all the new stalls selling snacks and trinkets. You even had us go around and collect a kind of association tax, but by the time the bars and card tables had settled in, there was no real hope for a group of kids like us to collect fees.
You’d had thought it would have been one of the drunkards who tried it first, but I don’t know if you were thinking much of anything. If you could move to touch that scar on your side, you’d think and remember. It was one of your rabble of fruits sellers, so you told me he was, as you bent double in the car, coughing up the smoke.
You had almost a month of good trade. The tent was full to bursting all day and spirits were high. You kept on about taking her on the road, all of us even, you were convinced we could make it work. A different town each day, new customers, lose the lout crowd that was any day now about to cause trouble. But you didn’t move fast enough.
The fruit sellers had, of course, got wise to your fortune. You stopped going to work, and moreover, you were at the centre of a maelstrom of local beach business that all but killed their trade. You would brush them off when they came shouting to the tent. Giving them the line that you’d found the watermelon or that they’d have had you bin it anyway.
You told us we could head off early that night and leave the tent up. The bars were still raging, but our numbers had begun to slump. You said you’d be fine taking it back to the house alone and that I should catch a ride with the others, lucky for you we passed the truck heading back towards the stall.
You had got the knife off the boy by the time I arrived. You were cut pretty bad and screaming for the watermelon back. The sawdust and hay, usually crusted with dry sugar, was wet with blood. Too much for just you. Then he dropped.
You left that boy to die still clutching your jewel. You couldn’t get it off him, you kept screaming how you’d burn it all down if he didn’t let go, but by then his fingers’ grip was hard and dead. Something clicked in you then. You saw there was no way out. There would be no tour, no further glory, your seat at the eternal well was gone, so you torched the tent and ran.
You turn to the window. Rain. You had been promised something brighter.