16 August 2013

Mangoes Before Heaven

Simon gasped, ragged breath a countdown to what he was sure would soon be his last. The sickly vapors wafting from his gangrenous legs combined with the fetid reek of the riverbank in an unholy miasma that near to choked him. He chuckled, tight and grim, wondering if it would be disease or animals that snuffed the candle for him.

The flies had already found their mark. They formed a gauzy haze that shuffled and coagulated repeatedly as he feebly waved them away from his torn body. He lay about halfway up the bank, as far as he had dragged himself before passing out under the onslaught of the Kalimantan sun. The track of his body was already drying up. So far, other than watching his legs swell and blacken, nothing had bothered him. Nothing big, anyway. He wondered again if the python stories the Dayak had told him were true. Big snakes held no particular terror for him, but forty feet long? Possessed of spirit magic? Christ, who thinks up such things?

He slept, for how long he could not tell. The sun appeared to have moved little when his swollen eyes fluttered open. His legs hurt, felt afire, yet his feet were numb. More flies formed a shroud around his head and shoulders. Weak swats at them only served as momentary respite. He rolled onto his side, the effort making his vision dim. There seemed to be a large, twisted log laying down by the waterline. It hadn't been there before, but the rivers here had their own way of confounding memory. Behind the log, he could see the river moving on, slow and syrupy.Water. He was so thirsty.

To his surprise, he was hungry. But what he wanted was a mango, ripe and fragrantly sweet. He had never tasted such voluptuousness before being posted to this green hell. The scent, the shape, even the taste all reminded him of a woman. He had taken to eating mangoes every chance he could get, along with a taste for the carnal delights of the prostitutes frequenting the trading post down at the river mouth.

"Mango..." he whispered hoarsely. His vision began to blur. The log on the riverbank twitched, caught on a sudden surge of current, he thought. But it began to move uphill. Simon croaked a sigh of disbelief, then passed out.

The log uncoiled further, resolving itself into the shape of a huge, mottled python. It lifted its snout, testing the heavy air with a surprisingly delicate tongue. It oozed up the bank.

He dreamed. He was back downriver, somewhere in the warren of hovels and ramshackle wharves that fingered the river where it disgorged itself into the sea. He was in a shack on pilings over the water, lying on his back in a rough, low-slung bed composed of copra and cast-off teak. His body, and the body of his companion, were sheened with sweat. A slight post-coital shudder coursed through his frame as the sloe-eyed beauty next to him breathed softly into his ear. She asked him in the pidgin English that served as their language of trade if he wanted mango.

He smiled. "Yes, yes" Simon answered excitedly. She smiled back, black pearls of her eyes drawing him in. Despite his recent exertions, he felt stirrings in his groin. This place, he thought, is swallowing me up. The woman got up, moving to a low chest that doubled as a table. There was a pair of mangoes on top, along with a small machete. He lay on his side and watched as she deftly carved the peel off the fruit. The sight excited and disturbed him.

The python had made its way up the bank, and was near to Simon's sleeping body. The snake paused. Another feathery whip of the tongue, as if assuring itself of its hunger. It looped its body closer.

She turned back to him. Lamp light gleamed on her skin. She held in her hands the halves of a mango. Juice dripped slowly down her wrists. Smiling, she approached the bed, kneeling down to him. A small, tan hand held the mango half inches from his nose. The scent near to made him swoon. Her dark beauty coiled around his heart and loins. "You want?" she asked. "Of course!" he half spoke, half groaned. He reached out to take the fruit. The woman climbed back in bed, managing to simultaneously eat her mango while spooning him.

The python hesitated when it crept close enough to touch the prostrate man. In his fevered sleep, his hand had clasped the head of the snake, caressing it. The snake paused, confused. It had never encountered such a thing in all its days of catching prey. The hand gently tugged the head of the snake down and to the man's lips. He kissed the reptile. The python responded by slowly wrapping its coils around the dying man.

Simon almost failed to notice how strong she was clutching him, he was so taken with the fruit. Lust, power, satiety, all suddenly condensed to the pale orange flesh he ate. He felt her grasp getting stronger, almost painful. But he could not bring himself to stop eating the mango. His vision begin to dim, she was saying something to him in a sibilant, sing-song voice but he could not understand her. He had a vague notion she was comforting him, saying it would be good for him to go. As her hard embrace transformed itself into a fierce pressure, his vision turned to black, and he felt his heart stop. He knew then that he would not leave Kalimantan alive. He told himself that he would not be afraid to die, though, as long as he could eat mangoes before Heaven.


  1. So vivid, and descriptive--though I probably shouldn't have read this before bed. If I'm lucky maybe I'll dream of mangoes instead of pythons...


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...