My household, too, suffered a loss due to the rainstorm of April 7, although nothing like the situation experienced by those who lost family members. There were, in fact, two baffling losses, giving me something to ponder over.
After the early evening storm that Sunday, we discovered with disbelief and dismay that the flourishing mango tree in the front yard had fallen down!
But that wasn’t all. When early the next morning I went to have a better look, there was a second, shocking, revelation: The storm had also downed the orange tree next to the mango! Definitely not an uplifting sight for a Monday morning!
The wonder was that although the two were quite big trees, which had started fruiting, nobody in the house had heard any noise to alert us about the calamity.
However, miraculously, thankfully, although their intertwined fallen branches were just inches away from the electrical wires hanging across the roof edges of the house, none had touched the wires, therefore no loss of power, no attendant repair bills.
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And because of a previous similar experience with a mango tree decades ago, I marvelled at the puzzling coincidence of the incidents. The first was recounted in a ‘Native Daughter’ article published in 1978, under the headline, ‘Death of a friend’.
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THE 1978 ARTICLE:
I returned home from work one day to find that I had lost a friend. Without any warning or symptom, despite the absence of a storm wind or even the hint of one, my trusted companion, the mango tree in my backyard, had uprooted.
According to an eye and ear witness, at about 5 o’clock, with an ominous, despairing cry from the roots, the tree gave up the ghost. I couldn’t believe my eyes at the spectacle of my friend propped on the hedge, some of its fruit scattered about. It was a sad welcome home.
Our friendship began over three years ago when I first moved into the house and did not know a soul. It was already a full grown tree, its branches well spread out, providing a nice shade, and its presence added a homely, cheering touch, and helped make me feel at home.
When I tasted its fruit, I had more cause to like it for they were the best-tasting I had ever come across – as my friend Sule Raji and his family can testify in any court of law.
What had led to its fall? Was it natural? Had there been warning signs I had ignored? Was it the work of sorcery or witches? (It does no harm to check all the possibilities, you know). And then a look at the roots revealed dryness. Could it be just a lack of water?
So my friend had been dying just for a drop of water when every day, morning and evening, we watered every plant on the compound? It never occurred to us that an adult tree would need watering.
The only thing I disliked about the tree was the periodical appearance of black ants on it, but then I suppose I wasn’t being fair to it for it couldn’t help it. Apart from that it was as true a friend as I could wish for. Its usefulness was manifold.
There was nobody I directed to my house who didn’t hear, “there’s a big mango tree in the yard; you can’t miss it!” (As if it was the only such tree on the street!)
It served as a drying line prop for our washing. It provided shade for lazing and gossiping, as well as an outside kitchen when we didn’t feel like cooking indoors.
My child learned to walk and practised running under its kindly supervision. The mushrooms which sprang up at its roots gave the city-bred child a taste of country life.
And when we wanted to share the joy of the child turning another milestone it was under the mango that a regiment of kids descended on us and left us three hours later exhausted and hoarse but full of laughter.
When we couldn’t sleep for the many calculations and counter-calculations our brains insisted on working, we didn’t have to buy sleeping pills because the rustle of its leaves lulled us to sleep.
In season, it helped us cut down on our breakfast and snack expenses, especially by the making of mango jam. As a friend put it: “Lucky you, when the price of mangoes goes up you won’t be affected.”
In sadness, in sickness, in joy and in good health, even at the time of the month when a mere ‘good morning’ could annoy some people, it did not give me cause to complain.
And even in its last moments, it did not forget me. It could have fallen the other way and damaged part of the house. Mercifully, thankfully, it chose a time when there were no children about, although it had been their practice to swarm around it. A friend to the last.
And now it lies in my yard, a sad sight, its dry, firewood roots revealing the cause of its sudden demise: rot.
I never thought of it falling on its own. It simply never occurred to me. When my brother wanted to plant more of its seeds in the garden, I objected and I nearly made him pull out the ones that were sprouting because there were too many. Now they’re almost ready to bear fruit.
So in the future there will be a replacement. That’s why the proverb advises that when you take care of the plantains, don’t forget the bananas, for you never know which one’s help you’ll need.
Yet it’s painful, this loss, more so when I think that if I had appreciated its usefulness to me more, I would perhaps have seen the approaching calamity and done something about it.
You never know what a good thing you have until you lose it. Yes, I’ll miss my pal, the mango tree.
(Published on Friday, April 4, 1978.)
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POSTSCRIPT: Following the April 7 adversity, the front of the house looks oddly denuded – although my citrus tree as well as a palm tree are still standing.
How strange! Two healthy mango trees toppling over more than four decades apart, not to mention the orange! Maybe a soil issue. Anyway, it’s something to reflect on during the Easter holidays.