Nanowritmo Chapter 3: Bananas

Monday, January 01, 2007

Everything is very rough right now and I don't have time to proofread. I am currently at 12,000 words and I should be at around 15000 to be on track. I find that I like writing with my eyes clothes and that makes my typing even worse. Oh well, here's an excerpt of something I've written and I'm kinda happy with.

Dan

Chapter 3: Bananas

The yellow smile of a banana was something I savored in my mind. When I was five years old, the banana was the most exotic fruit in the world. They were just coming into Korea and for a poor boy they were simply unattainable. A bunch of bananas would cost about 5 dollars- the equivalent of 10 days savings and my money would never last that long. You would think the vendor might give samples of the fruit, but it wasn’t the flavor people sought. The banana was exotic; it’s color and shape defied logic. The banana came from parts of the world that most Koreans had never even dreamt about. And the name: THE NAME! It’s catchy and cool and sweet and it totally imbeds itself in the brain. Banana, banana, banana. It’s fun to say banana I think the gorilla babies first words are probably banana. It’s easier to pronounce than momma or daddy. Banana, banana, banana. Now what was I talking about? Oh, yeah, bananas.

Buying bananas was something that made your family special- it separated them from the pack. It meant that your mother was open-minded and didn’t expect you to study 20 hours a day in order to become a doctor. (It meant she might accept you becoming a lawyer or possibly even a teacher.) It also marked a special occasion. Bananas were not eaten with cereal. They were not an everyday fruit. Bananas marked a birthday, father making a big sale, daughter getting a good grade, the son’s acceptance to a good high school. Bananas were special.


The fruit vendors would troll the streets with their big wheel barrow selling pearly purple grapes, yellow and white striped chamwei melons, the dark/sticky sweet watermelon, and the smiling banana. While there would be a plethora of the other fruits, there would only be a few bunches of bananas on his cart and they had the best position on his cart. The bananas added cheer and it legitimized the fruit vendor and not some fly by night seller that sold unreliable, over ripe, fruit. Bananas meant that the seller had connections.

And bananas never went brown on the cart. The vendors had some magic trick that kept them in their opulent yellow glow. I saw the brown casings of the bananas on the street- like some worn out sock, but they never went brown on the cart or even in people’s hands.

The bananas on the cart were like bars of gold and they were always in short supply. When the fruit man parked his cart, he would call out.

“Chamwei, Subak, Podo, Ba-na-na. Chamwei, Subak, Podo, Ba-na-na. Chamwei, Subak Podo, Ba-na-na.”

Everyone would perk their ears up at the sound of banana and mothers would get their wallets ready. They knew that they had to keep up appearances. They could not have one family getting bananas without a fight. Mothers would save up special money to buy bananas in order to keep up with the other families. If one family consistently bought bananas, they would shame the other neighbors. Mothers had to buy bananas occasionally just so they wouldn’t lose face.

I was outside in my short shorts and white Y-shirt that had collected the dust of many months. The dust had imbedded itself into the fabric and it didn’t matter how often my stepmother washed it; it stayed a dusty khaki color. I kicked the ground and watched the dust rise up like a cumulous cloud. The dust would hang in the day and catch the rays of sun and then the dust would slowly be pulled back down by the hands of gravity.

A grey haired man with skin walnut brown from the sun pushes his cart towards an intersection. In a droning tone he says, “Chamwei, Subak, Podo, Ba-na-na.”

He pushes the cart past me and says, “Chamwei, Subak, Podo, Ba-na-na. Chamwei, Subak Podo, Ba-na-na.”

I stop kicking at the ground and I look at the bananas that sit on a throne of dark purple grapes.

“Chamwei, Subak, Podo, Ba-na-na, Ba-na-na.” He says as he parks the cart and wipes the sweat from his forehead.

“Chamwei, Subak, Podo, Ba-na-na, Ba-na-na.” He looks around the neighborhood. It is almost like he is gun fighter at high noon. He shakes the dust from his vest and licks his thumb and forefinger. His eyes look at the many gates around him: the gates of silver aluminum and cast iron. He is surrounded by 6 different gates and a little store that has a round Coca-Cola sign and a white refrigerator that has a silver pull down lever.

“Chamwei, Subak, Podo, Ba-na-na, Ba-na-na.” He says this a little softer now. Maybe he picked the wrong spot. Maybe nobody wants fruit today, he thinks to himself. But he knows his customers. He knows his people. He pauses from his recitation.

Instead the droning sound of his call there is only silence. Crickets let out a chirp and locusts let out their WHEEeeee eee ee eee sound. The air is thick with anticipation. The sound of this man’s call was comforting. It gave the day rhythm and purpose. And now it the day feels empty. The sun which had a lazy sense of ennui is not petulant. Out of sheer boredom it starts to strip the color from red tin cans of coca cola, it pulls the green off of a plastic bottle on the street, and starts to pull the black out of people’s hair to turn it a coppery brown.

The man knows what he is doing. And he walks slowly to his cart. He looks forlornly at his fruit and gives a sigh of defeat. He gives a sigh of regret. He bends over to pick up the bar of his aged cart with the spokes of the bike wheels rusted over from use. He gives a look of self-pity for he knows that he will not be able to buy his meal tonight.

From where I stand, the man seems to do this with a smirk on his face. I don’t know how he does it, but he looks sincere, but his sigh his actions, his entire stature conveys a coyness that could only be seen under a microscope. I am observing the world’s greatest actor and the world is truly his stage.

He lets out a defeated cry, “Chamwei, Subak, Podo, Banana.” He let’s banana trail off and then he grabs the bar of his cart.

A gate opens and a woman runs out. “AJOSSI,” she calls out.

And then as if they were all waiting for the queue, another gate opens, and another, and another. There are four women coming through their gates and elbowing each other to get to the cart.

One screams, “Ajossi, how much are the grapes?”

He says nonchalantly, “2000 won for 4 bunches.”
The woman shakes her head, “It’s too expensive.” She says. “Give me a discount.”

Another woman palms the skin of a watermelon and gives it a tap. The man says to her, “3000 won for a watermelon. They were picked today and they are very delicious.”

One woman grabs a chamwei melon and puts it to her nose. She smells. The fruit vendor says, “They are honey melon. They are the best this time of year. 2000 won for 6.”

What I am watching is a poker scene. All three women want the bananas, but there are only two bunches on the cart. They want to know who is doing well. Who has something to actually celebrate? Who’s turn is it to put on airs that everything is fine and the screaming fight from the other night was just a momentary lapse- a misunderstanding.

All three women start asking about the watermelon, the grapes, and the chamwei and not one of them even asks about the bananas. They are bartering down the price of all the other fruit, but not the bananas. Bartering on them would be bad form. Everyone knew what the price of bananas were and that would never change. If one bartered on bananas, this would have to be done in secret. These bananas would be treasured gifts that were bought as a decoy for the children on birthdays when families couldn’t actually afford bananas. These bananas were sold by the merchant as a favor – often at a loss. These bananas were often held until the skin mottled over and the fruit became a pus filled bruise. Bananas are fragile like happiness. All happiness sours, but we still hold on to it as much as we can.

The gates of two more women open and there are two more women coming from opposite sides of the street. The question is: did the vendor pick these women? Did he hear something in the night that they needed bananas? Did he keep records of birthdays and special occasions? Why did he part his cart here?

The three women at the cart see the approaching. One of the women yells out, Ajossi! Do you have bananas!” Right now it is a echo but her thick turnip legs are rolling up the alley. The skinniest and prettiest woman at the cart that is wearing a scarf around her hair and neck says, “Ajossi, I’ll take bananas.”

He looks at her. “Anything else?”

She shakes her head no. She hands him a 5000 won bill.

One of the other women at the cart buys grapes, but only a half order and the other buys a couple of chamwei melons. They all move away from the cart as the screaming of the rotund lady gets louder, “Ajossi! Save me bananas! Ajossi! Remember me? I will buy a lot!” Ajossi.” She is almost at the cart and the three women who were first there look at each other with downcast eyes say thank you to the merchant and good bye to each other and return to their respective homes.

The fat woman comes to the cart and she grabs the bananas. The other approaching women let out a groan. I watch them slow down their pace- one just turns around. The fat woman there asks about the price of all the other fruit on the cart and she gets a huge haul of different fruits and then negotiates delivery to her home by handing the merchant a green 10,000 won note.

The bananas are now gone and the merchant pushes his cart as he talks to the fat woman about the weather. She talks about her children and how well they are doing in school. She says her son this and her son that. The merchant just nods his head and pushes the cart. They are all gone and I am left all alone in the alleyway. Thoughts race through my head and I promise myself to be a perfect student in school so my stepmother will buy me bananas. But then I think to myself. My stepmother would never buy bananas because she is not that kind of person. She would simply balk at the idea. To be honest there were rarely anything sweet in our house other than apples or pears. The apples were for my sisters because it was rumored the apples would make them beautiful. The pears were used in cooking marinades and teas. I actually thought it was a vegetable for the longest time because I had never had it by itself.

I went back to my game of kicking at the ground. The fruit seller was headed back my way. His cart was missing the smile of the banana. I saw him pass by. He didn’t seem to take any notice of me. He just pushed his cart contently.

He went about 20 feet past me. He stopped his cart again. I figured he was going to try and sell more fruit, but he simply looked around a bit. He looked my way, but again it was if I didn’t exist. Then I saw him reshuffling the grapes on his cart. Under the grapes was a box!

He reached into the box and pulled out 2 more bunches of bananas and set them back on his cart. He then turned down another alley and he was gone.

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