The leaves are falling. Like the mango tree doesn’t want them anymore, and they need to leave. They fall unevenly, a bunch a time, comrades in dismissal, sometimes one will fall, alone in its abandonment. They fall slowly, like even in rejection, they insist they’ll still leave dignified. They fall softly, solemnly and nobody except those who are looking will see them hit the earth and immediately start getting trampled on.
It’s 11:31 and you realize you just stared the clock change from 11:09 to now. There’s a soft knock on the door, your cousin sticks their head in and nods his head once, and leaves. The people are waiting, and you need to stop looking at how fascinating the numbers changing on the phone are, and start getting ready. You toss the phone into a heap of dirty clothes, and step into the shower. The stream of cold water would have had you shrieking in horror on an ordinary day, but it’s far from an ordinary day and you’re numb as you’d imagine a creek at the crack of dawn to be. You think about going out to turn on the heater, but the soap is already in your eyes, and you seem to like the feeling of cold, hard-hitting water on your bare skin.
The leaves keep falling, like the mango tree is a dictator with an encyclopedia-full of dissidents to kick out. They fall furiously, and if the tree wasn’t littered with many more seemingly obedient and submissive leaves, it’d be a bare mango tree. Once in a while, a tiny, unripe mango will tumble to the ground, like the tree is impartial, and every and anyone that doesn’t please it has to go. Like it doesn’t care for status, social class, positions in the food chain, none of that.
You fetch a tub of petroleum jelly, dip your fingers inside and scoop a good amount. Your hands spreading the stuff on your face remind you of her, how she’d oil your face before school, and she had to remind you to close your eyes so she wouldn’t get to them until you were eight. How she’d playfully pinch your nose afterwards and call you her adorable little angel, and she’d walk you to the bus stop in her bath robe and pink, fluffy sandals, her hair a mess and you’d stiffen at her embrace, the other kids were watching, and it made you feel weird. You hate that you only mumbled back whenever she said she loved you and that she wished you had a good day. You’d hug her so tight if she was here right now, even if it was in an earth sized arena and all seven billion people were watching. Uncle Ron cried at the viewing, loud, uncontrollable wails, it was strange to see and you could only bite your lower lip and acknowledge the myriad of apologies that people offered on behalf of cancer. Cancer took her away, not them, but you realize it’s too energy sapping to hold back tears and explain to tens of people at the same time.
The leaves keep falling. Blighted, yellow stains on them. Bite marks from warms, moths, birds and everything else attracted by the sweetness of the mango tree. You realize now that this is more of a cull to eliminate the dead and dying, than a rash, unjustified expulsion. The leaves seem to fall systematically, not all at once but one after the other, like a mass memo had been sent out, and everyone knew when their time was. The time that they were no longer needed at the tree.
The coffin should have been purple, it was her favourite colour, but the shade they had at the funeral parlour was dodgy, and now she lies in a white one. It’s magnificent, and the handles seem to be large enough to trouble even the biggest of pall bearers. You told dad that she looked different lying there in her casket, he nodded and rubbed your shoulder, his awkward way of communicating that he didn’t know what to say but that he shared your pain. But really, she looked different, not physically, with her ashen face and tight, pursed lips, but because she didn’t look like she cared. Her smile was set, and her eyes were tightly closed, and if it wasn’t for the bit of cotton wool sticking out from her nostril, she looked like she was sleeping. Like she didn’t care about how tired sustaining that smile would be, or who would move her around, or who would feed the hundreds of mourners that had come to say farewell. She’d have been in the kitchen now, making sure there was enough sugar for the tea, that the food was cooking just fine. She’d have been in the back, rocking Auntie Georgina’s fat baby, telling him not to cry, that her mama would be back soon. She’d have been out in the back with someone’s hand in her palm, listening to them pour out their hurt. She would have, but isn’t. Instead, she lies lifeless in an expensive, wooden box, the tears well up, and dad shuffles uncomfortably in his seat, like you shouldn’t be doing this. Like you should know and do better. Like you shouldn’t be crying at your mother’s funeral.
There are bird’s nests on the mango tree. Some are wrecked, and all that remains are strands of grass held together by twigs. A black robin chirps brightly, looks around, it’s tiny eyes darting around furtively, looking for a worm to turn into a meal. The leaves keep falling, and it seems oblivious to them, perched on its nest, held together by intricately placed twigs and strands of swamp grass. There is anarchy and chaos all around it but the robin is calm, and spotting a worm is more important to it than falling leaves. It flies off swiftly, and returns later, a scared, wriggling worm in its beak. The robin stares into the distance and starts filling it’s stomach.
You are scared. That one day the text will disappear, and you’ll only have pictures to remember her by. Pictures are okay, but it was you taking them, but the text is from her to you, she wanted you to have it, to know how she feels about you. The people are gone, and you are seated under the mango tree, scared like you never have been before. If someone woke you up, told you it was a joke, you’d probably gouge their eye out, blinded by the rage that someone would play such a cruel joke. It scares you that you’ll leave the mango tree, and you’ll not have a vantage point view of her grave, now covered in flowers that will wilt in weeks, but the fear of waking up knowing her number will never be answered, her perfume will never be breathed again, her touch will never be felt again, her words will always be trapped in your head, that you’ll never hear her ask why you spend so much time on your phone. It scares you. So much you don’t see the leaves falling anymore, you only feel them on your skin. You wish you were a leaf, and your biggest fear would be falling to the earth, to get under human shoes, or go into a herbivores stomach. Not a human, wishing they had one more hour to hold, touch, kiss, affirm love. You re-read the text again, it’s dark, and it’s cold but you don’t want to go in. not now, you’re still not ready.
The leaves stop falling.