“Have you ever had brain fruit?” Katrina asks me.“I can’t say that I have,” I reply.
She picks up a couple granadillas at Metro where we’re getting groceries for a vegetarian meal we plan to make later that day. When we get back to the apartment she brings one over and shows me how to crack the skull and open the top.“See it looks like brains,” she says. “Now you take it and suck them out.”
I’m thinking zombies at this point.“What did you call it?” Oswaldo asks.
“Brain fruit,” Katrina replies. “Because it looks like brains from shrunken heads.”Now I’m thinking cannibals.
I use my fingers to pull the gelatinous seeds out and drop them into my mouth. It’s not bad. It reminds me slightly of the taste of the guanabana that I’d had the first week or so that I was in Peru. It’s sweet, but not overly so. It’s gooey, but not disgustingly. I chew through the transparent pulp and crunch up the black seeds inside.
“I can eat the seeds, right?” I ask Katrina right before I swallow them all.
The granadilla has an almost coconut flavor, an almost passion fruit flavor; not quite either one, yet it’s somewhere in between. I eat all the brains and discard the skull when I’m done. Katrina gives me one for the road. Even though she’s younger than me, her mothering instincts kick in occasionally and she likes to make sure I’m warm and safe and fed. I appreciate this. I’m always down for food. Especially fruit foods. I pack my to-go granadilla in a plastic bag along with the little bag of aguaymanto I’d purchased at the Feria Artesanal after one of the vendors had given me a free sample.
I kiss Katrina and Oswaldo goodbye and walk the half mile to the bus stop and wait for the Molinero 49 to come by.
At most of the main bus stops there are workers who stand with a clipboard and a watch to tell the bus drivers and cobradors just how far apart they are from the same route buses. If they’re close, the driver will sometime take his time on the route. If they’re too far, he’ll drive like the devil is at his wheels. This helps them get as many passengers as possible. The cobradors pay the Timers some centimos and everyone is happy.
The Timer that works this corner has adopted me and Katrina as his own pet gringas, I think.The first time I’d made the trip to and from Katrina’s house she’d walked me to the bus stop and waited with me until the M49 came by. I think it was then that the Timer had asked us where we were going and I’d told him that I lived in Cieneguilla and I was going back. He’d helped us flag the bus down and practically carried me aboard. Between him, and Katrina sending me off like a mother sending her child off on her first day of school, I felt cared for.
The Sunday Katrina and Oswaldo came to Cieneguilla to visit me the Timer had seen them and, beaming, asked if they were going to visit Cieneguilla. You know those crazy gringas (and Oswaldo) always travelling out to the provinces, I’m sure he thought.This day I stand on the edge of the curb and gaze into the distance to see if I can catch the first glimpse of my bus. It’s got blue and black stripes and says Cieneguilla Callao on the front. I’m getting so good I can peg it from at least a block away. I watch all the other buses pass by. Ate, Pachacamac, Chorrillyos, La Molina, La Punta. None of these are my bus, none of these places are my stop.
“Are you going back to Cieneguilla?” the Timer asks me, coming to stand at my elbow with his clipboard in hand.“Yes,” I say.
“How is it there?”“It’s nice. There’s been some good sun in Cieneguilla the past couple of days and it’s been a little warmer than here in Lima.”
“Have you been to ___ (and he inserts the name of same place that sounds like all vowels)?”“No,” I reply, “I haven’t. Is it nice there too? A lot of sun?”
“It’s just like Cieneguilla,” he says. “Only not as touristy.”“That sounds nice, I’ll have to go there one day.”
“It’s very nice, better than Cieneguilla.”"It sounds great. Catch you later,” I say as I flag my bus down and get on board.
There’s an empty seat on the single chair side of the bus and I take it. I’m tired, I’ve had a busy weekend and my head is hurting. I settle in, lean back and close my eyes. I doze a little between stops. At one point I open my eyes just in time to see an older man peeing into some bushes just at the edge of the sidewalk. What are you going to do? When you gotta go, you gotta go.I close my eyes again. When I open them, I find the pee man standing right next to me. I look up at his face. It’s careworn, lined, but friendly. He’s missing a couple teeth and he has graying stubble on his cheeks and chin.
“Do you have a spare sol?” he asks.“No, I’m sorry,” I tell him and I turn my head away. We go a couple blocks and I look down at the bag in my lap. I pull out my spare granadilla. I hold it up. “Would you like this?” I ask.
He looks at the fruit for a moment; he looks at me for another. I think he’s not sure what to think. He looks like he’s trying to decide if he actually likes granadillas or not. I almost expect him to ask me, “You got anything else?” But then he takes it. “Thank you,” he says. “That’s really kind of you.”He looks at me again. “Are you Peruvian?”
“No, I’m from the United States.”
|Guy in the checkered shirt is my new friend|
“Really?” He actually sounds surprised. He tells me I look like someone from some part of Peru (though I don’t quite catch where exactly). This is very nice of him to say. Maybe if I carry a brain fruit around with me then I look like a local. I blend in, totally.“I have a sister in the States,” he says. “I’ve been thinking about going to visit her, but it always comes down to the money,” And then for the next twenty minutes he talks to me about some nuns or a nun or his sister or being married to God or about saints. Actually he talks about all of the above and I follow along the best I can. The bus is loud and he’s not the clearest speaker. But I smile and nod and interject a questioning tone at just the rights spots.
He gets to the end of a sentence and looks out the window. Then he looks at me. “Do you know where this is?”
I look out. I shrug at him. I mean, I recognize where we are because I know it’s on the way home, but I can’t give him street names.“I missed my stop,” he said. “I’d better get off.”
He all but kisses my cheek goodbye. “Cuidate,” he tells me. “Chau.”“Chau,” I tell him. Take care.
When I get home Walter asks me how my weekend in Lima was. I tell him it was good and that I had tried a new fruit and had gotten some aguaymanto from the feria.“You have to be careful with the fruits from the market,” he says in his superior father voice. “Be sure you wash them. You don’t know what they might have on them or where they’ve been.”
It’s always refreshing to get my daily dose of paranoia from Walter.Now, don’t worry, I’m careful with washing things well, borderline paranoid myself. I’m not keen on getting any parasites or cholera or bacteria or stomach viruses. I even use boiled water to brush my teeth. But with these aguaymantos I just peel off their inedible Chinese lantern material-like husks and eat them down.
They’re semi-tart. Like a cross between a kiwi and a passion fruit but with an almost cherry like consistency, only softer. Yeah, hard to explain. But I like them.There’s nothing new under the sun, they say, and I guess, though these fruits are new to me, this applies even to brain fruit and aguaymantos.