It is a mesh bag, a reddish woven net with five mandarins inside. They’ve been carried here — from Europe — by a reader who discovered where I live thanks to the tracks left in the blog. After I brought him a glass of water, he took the citrus fruits out of his backpack — a little embarrassed — as if he’d come to give me something too common on this island, even more common than the invasive marabou weed, or intolerance. It’s inexplicable, then, why I grabbed the bag and buried my nose in every fruit. Within a few seconds I was shouting for my family to let them know about the orange globes I was already beginning to peel. Sinking my nails into their skin and smelling my fingers, I have a celebration of orange zest on each hand.
A trail of peels covers the table and even the dog is enthusiastic about the scent that is wafting through the whole house. The mandarins have arrived! The almost forgotten scent, the extravagant texture, have returned. My niece celebrates their appearance and I have to explain that once these fruits did not arrive by boat or plane. I avoid confusing her — she’s only eight — with the history of the National Citrus Plan, and the large expanses on the Isle of Youth where oranges and grapefruits were harvested by students from other countries. Nor do I mention the triumphalist statistics thrown out from the dais, or Tropical Island brand juices, initially made from pulp extracted from our own crops, but now made from imported syrup. But I do tell her that when November and December rolled around, all the children in my elementary school smelled like oranges.
What days those were! When no one had to bring us, from a far off continent, what our own land could produce.