The day my mother died, I was relieved. I sat in her living room, watching the guavas fall from the tree, rotting in the grass, oozing that sweet juice. Flies swarming over the bruised green fruit, the pungent guava scent wafting through the house. I closed the window.
My mother had a garden. Carefully crafted she would say, but to me, it looked like pure chaos. Madness. She always said to me, it is important to remember why you planted a seed. And when you plant that seed, offer it up to the gods.
She had mango trees, cashew trees, sapodilla, starfruit, pommecythere, paw paw, and one big guava tree right by the living room window. The paw paw tree was my favorite, planted furthest from the house. When we fell ill with dengue fever, Mami would go out barefoot to the edge of the fence with her knife, collect some paw paw leaves, and brew it into a tea for us to drink. Mami was a healer. But I thought she was a wicked, wicked woman.
My sweet baby. I understand why you feel the need to run away from this place. The thick heat can be unbearable. The days are short and the work is long. This place is mad. My sweet child, let me tell you a story about mothers. Why I understand your need to run away from this place. And why I need you to come back.
It is a funny thing to say I was relieved when she died, I know. But I was 19 and ready to leave this mad place. This convoluted garden that only she understood. They found Mami's body floating in the river. They said she looked peaceful. I keep thinking about how much guava that tree was producing. I remember Mami called me to tell me that she was selling guava at the market. How she made guava jam, guava cheese, and guava juice. How she was letting some fruit stay on the ground for the animals and spirits to feed on. She told me how she dropped off bags, filled to the top, to the houses that lined the main road. She begged me to come home, to come taste the guava. She said she knows she will see me soon.
In the living room, I waited to meet with the police, who asked me standard questions. Was your mother depressed? Sick? Do you know why she would do this?
Because she was a wicked, wicked woman, I responded.
I was going to sell the house. The garden. Everything. I did not want anything to do with this mad place. Offers came in like crazy. People, developers, everybody was bidding on this house. Ideas for guest homes and hotels, party venues, eco-tourism. I still could not sell the house. Not because I was attached, but every time I received an offer the person backed out. After three years of trying, I got stuck with the house.
I moved to Brooklyn. I met your father. Our relationship went sour, as you know. I moved home. Back to the mad place. This time, with you. The guava tree did not bear fruit in the time we lived there. But we had the mangoes, the cashews, the sapodilla, the pommecythere and the starfruit. We had the pawpaw -- which you loved. We traded with people on the main road. They gave us coconuts to make coconut milk and coconut oil and sugar cane to suck on when the days were hot. It was in this mad place where you learned to swim in the river down the road. You learned to plant seeds and offer it up to the gods. You learned that there was a right way to peel cassava to avoid the poison. You learned that we descended from people brought here forcibly on boats. And from people who were already here. I learned that I could love this mad place, with you.
You don’t remember, but when you were eight you fell incredibly ill. The doctors could not heal you. They could not tell me what was wrong with my sweet baby. From my memory, I brewed up Mami’s paw paw leaf tea. I picked two leaves, washed and dried them. After I chopped them into smaller pieces, I placed them in boiling water. I let it simmer and cool. I strained it and gave you small sips throughout the day. I spent time with you in the yard. Singing, crying, dancing, laughing, praying, begging. I healed you. My Mami healed you. Our lineage healed you, my sweet baby.
You say now, that I am a wicked, wicked woman. I understand that. But my sweet child, I am just like you. I was in love with a woman. I thought leaving the mad place would allow me to be myself. I still ended up with your father. For what I thought was safety. Preservation. And when I finally unearthed the courage to stand in my truth, profess my unabashed love for another woman, he hit me.
I told you my mother is a wicked, wicked woman. The next week your father died. I took you and left. Back to the mad place.
Maybe, we come from a lineage of wicked, wicked women. I see so much of Mami in you. She was unapologetic and headstrong. I know you think this mad place is not for you. That this country will chew you up and spit you out. Bulldoze and excavate. Force you to repress who you are. Brutalize and starve you. It is a struggle, baby, I know. But we have always struggled. Struggled through the thick heat. Struggled through the abuse -- to our bodies and the land.
My sweet child, I want you to know, this land, which we originally called Kaïri, is yours. This mad place is for you. For us. This place is for us to dream and create new possibilities. It will heal you and teach you how to heal. We cannot keep running away from this mad place. We cannot let ourselves die. This place needs wicked, wicked women.
My sweet baby, the guava tree is overproducing again. I need you to come home.