Jackfruit

I admit I was feeling unnecessarily exasperated when my aunt asked me to help in the kitchen when I was in the middle of wasting my time on the internet. Today we sat on the kitchen floor on scattered newspapers cutting open the jackfruit that’s been ripening in the back of the car for the past week. Its rind is a rainforest green with conical spines that make it nice enough to touch but cumbersome to hold. I watched my aunt oil the knife as she tells me to put on plastic gloves. As its pungent aroma, not unlike the notorious durian’s, fills the kitchen my aunt tells me a story I’ve heard before.

“Once my friends and I brought jackfruit into the office to share with the others. We’d worked hard to pick enough of the fruit for everyone to taste because it’s rare that any one person has the time to do so. It smelled so sweet and ripe to us, but… the Americans complained to the boss about the smell. We were never allowed to bring it in again.”

She paused to pop a piece of jackfruit in her mouth. “This is one of the good ones.”

I have always been bewildered at the way fruit hides its bounty behind thorns and bitterness and layers of inedible parts. My aunt hands me a large cross section that looks like an alien planet to start off with. I fumbled for the golden flesh of the fruit between the folds of their white walls. The fruit secretes a white, gluey substance that sticks my gloved fingers together, making the fumbling even harder to do. Each yellow bulb has a chestnut-like seed that easily slides out with a small, gentle pinch. Bracing the rind, I peeled off the bulbs and placed them in the large ceramic bowl in the center of the floor. I work as diligently and as quickly as my hands let me.

Time passes slowly with the tedious work. My aunt asks me about my schoolwork, my siblings, my mother, my boyfriend, how I’m handling all the paperwork of adulthood. My answers are stunted and almost insufficient because I’m not used to anyone else but me caring about these things. I work faster.

We are nearly done excavating the fruit. Many of the folds of my gloves are stuck together as I sift through the ruins and remains of rind, broken yellow flesh, and round seeds to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I finally pop a bulb of jackfruit in my own mouth and taste something close to home.

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