Scents of Home, Mango Season in Phantom Memory (2 pieces)
Scents of Home
Home is where
It smells like cake pulled straight from the oven
Every December my amma’s fruitcake from scratch
She is the only one of the house who likes it yet
Our curiosity wanders over to the cooling rack
She says it reminds her of her home when she was a child
Kerala has a warm Christmas too, just like North Texas
She tells me how she made this recipe during Christmas
When shefirst came to the United States
How she truly made the house her own home
Home is where
It smells like chicken curry when I come home from college
I normally don’t crave Indian food but being away from home
Changes someone beyond their own predictions
Amma knows I like it with two ghee roast dosas
She asks me everyday when I am coming home
So she knows when to make the fermented batter
To cure my homesick cravings
Home is where
I manage to master my own milk chai
In the middle of the night during midterms
For calming my racing nerves while I listen to Malayalam soundtracks
My roommate smells the scent of rich spices
She asks what I am making and I tell her it is better
Than the infamous lattes she buys from the cafe in town
I pour her a cup and I recognize the delight in her widen eyes
That she will never go back to the tea that came from a cardboard box
As she holds her warm mug close to her and thanks me
Home is where
It smells like freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies on Sunday afternoon
Part of the destressing ritual I do
Bringing in sweetness to dilute the upcoming stress for the week
My roommates poke their heads of out their rooms
They ask if it is my special recipe
With extra mini chocolate chips and Oreo chunks
My little trick at making a duplex in Sherman my own home
Mango Season in Phantom Memory
The month of May means mango season.
noun: a fleshy, oval-shaped, yellowish-red tropical stone fruit
My father and mother grew up in the state of South India called Kerala until they moved to the United States, so they had their fair share of peeling and cutting mangoes. Maybe that’s another reason they came to Texas, at least they would have good mangoes. They taught me how to say mango in Malayalam.
I have to fold my tongue back to reach the last syllable. I still miss the emphasis sometimes, but at least I am trying. That’s better than not knowing it all, right? Learning two languages at the same time made me grow a phantom mother tongue. The difficulties of learning Malayalam often made me feel like an
imposter when I stumbled on basic words. After going to college, I hugged onto the language upon the realization that speaking it felt like home to me, especially when I lived on my own for the first time in my life.
I never lived in India, but anytime I eat mangos, I have the same scenario played in my imagination. I feel as though I am sitting on the steps outside of my father’s childhood home about a yard away from the blooming banana blossom. The mango cubes are sweet and cool, and the air surrounding me
smells floral and feels warm. My family used to go to India every year, and I only wished I cherished those summers in Kerala more at the time. I never knew that there would be a point in my life where I was too busy to visit, but growing up tends to make childhood feel more blissful in the technicolor retrospective lens I see it through. I never lived in India, but moments like this make it feel like a home for me.
Before I moved into the duplex, the current residents invited me over to pass along some items they didn’t want. One of the girls gave me three mangoes in a plastic bag. She warned me to eat them quickly before they turned rotten. She grabbed one herself and bit straight into it, spitting out bits of
the orangish-green skin into the sink. Mango juice dripped from the corners of her mouth as she ate the fruit like it was corn on the cob. At the sight of my widened eyes, she told me she didn’t feel like peeling it, that it was easier to bite and go from there.
My father taught me how to cut mangos with the caution that it was a skill I would always need and come back to. As much as my disbelief of such a claim persisted, I still learned how to cut mangos. How to hold them in my hand and shave away at the thick skin against the soft fruit flesh. Stripes of greenish-red skin released the sweet aroma, but focus remained important to me to not lose a finger. The peeling was easy given the balancing act of holding a slippery mango while trying to cut it into chunks. A pro can do it while making these still look appetizing, which I envy my father and mother for doing seamlessly every time. The reward for cutting the mango was having the pit for themselves, which was covered in the fleshy fruit that refused to budge from the seed and by far the best part.
I could hear my father’s glee over the phone when I told I had to cut mangos in a college dorm. His moment to tell me how he told me so that he was waiting for. I have to give it to him. He was right. While my tongue misses the emphasis on the Malayalam word for it, at least I know how to cut mangos.
My tongue hit the emphasis that time.
I took my mango cubes in a disposable paper bowl to the door of my dorm building. I sat on the steps in the summer weather with the Texas sun glazed over the daisies in the field in front of me. I watched the sunset turn the sky ombre as the moon started to peek into view. The breeze felt warm and smelled floral as I bit into my mango cubes. They were cool and sweet, and again, I could see the blooming banana blossom about a yard away from me.
S. Kavi (she/her) is a South Indian American writer and artist. Her work involves exploration of South Indian culture, the beauty of nature, nostalgia, and healing. Her work appears most recently in antonym, Suspension Literary Magazine, The Firefly Review, Cordelia Magazine, and elsewhere.