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Orlando Sentinel

On A Hot Day, Mango Tree Bears Fruits Of Human Heart

By Fred W. Wright Jr.

August 4, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved.

There is humanity to be found everywhere, often at the most unexpected moments.

I was with a tour group in a modest neighborhood of San Juan, Puerto Rico, on a hot May day. We had just visited the home and workshop of a craftsman who made masks for revelers around the world. The others in my group decided to stroll several blocks to see some art galleries. I straggled along behind, and eventually we became separated.

I decided to return to the bus and wait for my group. The bus was locked, so I sat down on the sidewalk in the shade of a huge mango tree. Its branches, spreading over the yard and sidewalk, offered shelter from the hot sun. I rested my back against the whitewashed wall of a modest home. I sat there perhaps a half-hour, watching the occasional passer-by.

This was a working-class neighborhood, where dogs barked out of sight behind stone walls or wrought-iron gates and cars honked at unmarked intersections before speeding through. I was dressed in my best American don't-look-like-a-tourist ware -- worn jeans, T-shirt, floppy hat and tennis shoes. I had my backpack beside me. I was hot and sweaty. I looked scruffy, at best.

After about 40 minutes, an old man -- lean and worn, perhaps in his 60s -- came down the sidewalk. We made brief eye contact, each of us smiling slightly and nodding. He was thin and wrinkled, and his well-worn clothes were splattered with white paint.

He spoke to me in Spanish and pointed toward the house. I had no clue what he was saying. I smiled again, shook my head, turned my hands palms up -- all to say that I did not understand his words.

He tried again, smiling, then turned and walked through the gate. I wondered briefly if the owners would mind my leaning against their wall.

Would the old man tell them? I thought about moving, but the mango shade was only there. I couldn't see similar shade anywhere else in the block, so I stayed put.

In a few minutes, I saw a few familiar faces. My group began to return in twos and threes. As I stood up, I realized the man, the laborer, was standing next to me and he was handing me a bulging plastic bag. At first, I didn't move. He smiled, nodded to me, gesturing the bag into my hand.

I looked inside. There were dozens of mangoes, big and small, all damp from being freshly washed.

"Thank you," I said. "Gracias," I managed to add.

So many thoughts went through my head and emotions through my heart. Did he think I was homeless, a man weary from a day's work or perhaps a day of no work? Did he think my stumbling attempts to understand him earlier somehow meant I wanted his mangos?

Or did he simply see a fellow human being to share the bounty of his tree with?

Then my group was around me, getting on the bus, blocking my view. "Hurry up. We're late," the driver said.

And then, we pulling away from the curb. I looked out the window. My benefactor was standing just inside his gate, watching me through the windows as I stood in the aisle.

On the hour drive back to our hotel, I shared the mangoes with my fellow tour participants. The mangoes were the most delicious I have ever eaten.

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