There’s a man no one ever sees. You can’t hear him running through the forest. Or walking. In a hurry, or taking his time. At night, he dodges moon beams to stay hidden. And when he’s around, the only thing you can hear are the waves of the ocean, the sound of crickets, and the crackling of late-night fire from the fishermen on the shore.
No one ever sees him, but everyone has an idea of him: A burlap sack tossed on his back, like an island Santa Claus. His skin is a dark, rich brown. And his long dreadlocks, once jet-black, are gray and speckled from the passage of time. If you did see him, though, you’d recognize the little wrinkles around his eyes, and his bright-white, gap-tooth grin that rivals the light of the sun.
It might be in his blood; he’s third in a line of carriers, taking over for his father, and his father’s father before that. And carrying on the tradition of his mother, who, after church services on Sundays, cooked for the whole village as she swayed to the beat of steel drums and trumpets in the courtyard. Kicking up red dirt to the bottom of her pressed, white linen dress with each step. No matter who you were, what you had—or didn’t have—you came, and you stayed, for the feeling of belonging that only that moment could provide.
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No one knows where he actually grows them at first. But when he’s ready, he walks into the forest, sack on his back, and they fall out, leaving a trail behind him. Plop, plop. One by one. Then they’re taken by dogs, or stashed away by turtles or a sneaky mongoose. They’re taken, but not eaten. They need time to prepare. To ripen and mature on the cool earth. And then when they’re fully ready, he comes back, picks them up, and heads out to deliver.
No one ever sees him, but we’ve all received his gifts. No knock on the door, no note. Just a pile outside when you wake up.
And while we don’t see him, he does see you. He notices everything, watches everything. But he’s not a punisher. He’s not here for judgment.
He shows up when you have nothing. When disease wipes away every seed you sowed, he replaces it all, tenfold, so that you have something to peel, chop, boil, or fry. Mash or cube. And share with the ones you love most.
No one ever sees him, and no one knows how he does it: Why they taste twice as good and stay fresh for twice as long. How they help children grow faster, and grown-ups grow wiser. How they ease your worry about living another day.
Some say it’s the soil in that forest. Some say it’s the sunlight where he is, the way it strikes the ground. But his soil’s our soil, and we all live under the same sun. Or maybe it’s those creatures, big and small, and how they fertilize the ground. Or where they stash them, to keep them safe and warm.
And they’re well-hidden, too. Stashed behind a fallen tree, or under a giant, waxy green leaf. In a new place every time. They germinate for a while, marinate in whatever feelings he puts into them: longevity, generosity, kindness, consideration. And when they’re ready, he picks them up and finds you.
He’s imbued with a kind of power that can only remain anonymous. Because it’d be too dangerous for others to know how he knows what he knows: When the brokenhearted need comfort, when the out-of-their-luck need someone to see them, or when the miserable really do need company.
The island has fed and protected us since the very beginning. But never on her own. She moves through us to take care of each other.
No one ever sees him. But he does see you and all you do to help keep harmony on this land. He sees, and he thanks you.
With all my love,
First: Shout-out to my mom! Both of my parents were born and raised in Uganda, and as I was growing up in Maryland, my mom would make fried plantains sometimes. Very delicious. As I got older, I realized that plantains (like a banana, but mostly cooked in some form, as opposed to eaten raw) are a commonality across the African diaspora, eaten across Latin and South America by Afro-Latinx folks, across the Caribbean, across the African continent, and anywhere you find Black people in the world, really! It’s a great, yummy connector.
Over the holidays, my mom was making some and I took out my camera and started taking some photos (I still need to send them to you, mom), including this shot of some peels, which I thought looked pretty cool.
Similar to the other short story I wrote for this website, “Or you’ll miss it,” I started with the visual and did my brainstorming around that image. With this, I thought of the setting first, somewhere tropical and by the water (I like water a lot, can you tell?). And then thought of a character who was warm and very generous, and how he likes to contribute to his community. From there, I created a backstory and a full-fleshed plot, as if I were writing a longer short story with more complete scenes. But, I really wanted to challenge myself; I can be very verbose in my writing, both in creative and journalistic work, so it’s a challenge for me to write something concise. It takes a lot of skill to be able to capture something big in a small format, creatively. So I wanted to push myself.
I like to watch videos of people painting and creating art on Youtube, and one of my favorite people to watch is a young artist and student in Berlin named Valerie Lin. In one video, she talks about the value of a clear mind. At one point, she quotes the philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero who said, while corresponding with someone, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” I think that’s so true! And something I am pushing myself to do more and more as I experiment with creative formats.
But if you’re craving another long one, don’t worry, I’m publishing a big one to sink your teeth into in February 😉
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Thanks for reading!
— Cynthia Betubiza. January, 26, 2022.