Ki Ki Hobbs
Mangos always remind me of summer. Of sitting on the back porch with mango nectar running down my fingers while Pa chewed sunflower seeds in his rocking chair. This was before Ma died and Pa couldn’t take care of me and I had to move in with Aunt Eloise. It was before I was able to see ghosts during the day.
Back then, the ghosts would come to me late at night while I slept. I would wake up sticky and covered in sweat unable to remember my interactions with them. I used to think they were just strange dreams.
After Ma died, the ghosts started visiting me by the mango tree in Pa’s backyard. They curled in the branches and waited for me to come outside in the mornings. They needed someone to listen to them so they could move on.
So that’s what I did.
I sat and let them tell me their stories, their regrets, and their darkest sins. I let their anger and sadness and fear wash over me until it ran down my body like water. Their stories would always leave me feeling sticky and damp as if I’d just been covered head to toe in mango nectar.
Lennie was the most difficult ghost who came to visit me by the mango tree. When he first appeared, he didn’t talk. Not many do. He just listened to the other ghosts, watching as they unburdened their souls before moving on to their next lives.
The morning he decided to speak, the heat had felt unbearable, and the mosquitos were already starting to attack, causing my arms to itch and swell.
“I killed someone,” he had said. The words caused beads of sweat to form on my back.
It took a month for him to tell me the rest of the story.
“I tried to be a good man,” he began. He fixed his cold, glassy eyes on mine. The South Florida air seemed to grow colder until I was forced to wrap my arms around myself to keep warm.
“I was hard working. I always made sure to bring home enough money to keep the lights on and the kids fed. But I used to get real angry,” he looked down at his translucent hands. “I met this guy once when I was working on a construction crew. He was a real uppity kid who ended up taking one my friend’s spot; the kind of person that thought he was better than me. Can you imagine that? Some negro kid thinkin’ he was better than me.
“It used to bother the other guys on the job site too. This kid just waltzing around always correcting everybody and kissing up to the bosses. He was just some college kid who needed some extra cash and decided that the best way to do that was to steal a job from someone who had a family to feed.”
I was sweating through my cotton t-shirt. The white fabric was clinging to my skin, turning translucent around my armpits and lower back. Every few seconds, I had to wipe sweat out of my eyes.
“Me and the other guys decided to show him what happens to people like him. It wasn’t supposed to be nothing serious. We were just going to rough him up a bit. That’s what it was supposed to be. Just a little horsing around.”
His voice turned angry. This was a battle that he’d been having with himself for years. A battle that he started long before he died. One that was keeping him there, trapped at that damned mango tree in Pa’s backyard. His hands had started to shake, and even though he couldn’t hurt me, I still took a step back.
“I still remember how it felt when the bones in his face cracked under my fists.”
I showered twice a day for weeks, but the clammy feeling never really went away. I guess that was Lennie sticking with me.
He stuck with that mango tree too. After he passed on, the fruit started growing large, black spots. Pa and Aunt Eloise and I tried everything: plant food, plant sprays, rusted nails, cutting off the dead limbs. But the rot seemed to spread from the fruit all the way down to the roots. Aunt Eloise had to pay someone to come cut it down not too long after Pa died and we had to sell the house.
Sometimes I drive by and see the new family that lives there. I have the frequent urge to roll down my window and ask if there’s still a patch of dirt in the backyard that doesn’t get warm no matter how much the sun shines on it.
Ki Ki Hobbs: "I'm a writer from Maryland, who's been published in Hot Metal Bridge and Room Magazine. I write stories that examine relationships and the power dynamics that exist within them."