The Orange Grove

By Alice Shambayati

 

We were young, and we loved ourselves so much that
we screamed and ran through the orange grove to disturb
the chickens, giggling the whole time through.
We did not care; we were free for hours as our mothers tended to the horses
and that sweltering July sun would beat down on us, so
we always stopped in the shade to pull a ripe, juicy orange off one of the trees.

And every time we pulled an orange from a tree, at least three more
from the same branch would fall to the ground and bruise. I think we were too naïve
to realize that this was how life would progress, with three failures for every one success,
and sometimes we found, to our chagrin, that the orange we had snatched was sour in the
middle.

The first time I ever wrote in a journal
my grandmother had just passed away, and I used to write letters to her pretending
that I was still in her orange grove, describing the trees and chickens to her
because I thought she might be missing home.
Every Sunday morning she made freshly-squeezed orange juice
and I gulped it down in one swallow. It tasted like concentrated joy
and the sting of that juicy pulp lingered on my taste buds for hours.

When we scared the chickens out of the orange grove they would bawk frantically and bolt,
and we were scolded because the hens might be carrying eggs inside of them,
protecting the little chicks that we looked forward to meeting every spring.
But it was summer and the future was blurred by our adoration for every present moment,
and so we never listened,
we only got better at hiding things we did.

It turns out that scaring the chickens away saved them from the lurking coyote that would
sneak into our orange grove some nights,
so I think, despite our childlike mischief, we were beautiful to do such a thing.
To do so while we sucked in the air of home through our nostrils,
the lingering scent of horse pastures and hay and the oranges,
I realize now, was the very best of my life.

The moments were as delicate as the eggs the hens carried, and our mothers told us they
would not last forever,
but every evening I still recited prayers in hope that they might.
I can remember the taste and feel of my sticky fingers from that pulpy citrus
and the pang it triggers in one chamber of my heart -
in that fragile space where home resides.