I think I might have made my peace with banana at last. I’m glad of that. Banana and I go way back and I did not really like the idea of my unborn child coming between us.
As I’m sure anyone who grew up in Iran remembers, for many years after the revolution bananas disappeared from Iran. You just couldn’t find them anywhere. Years later they reappeared in the form of small, black, unappetising things that were sold by aggressive, suicidal men who would jump in front of your car and try to shove the overpriced fruit through your window.
Some time later a better brand of bananas called, Dole was imported to Iran. This meant that from then on, the suicidal men who would throw themselves in front of your car, would also order you to, ‘Eat Dole!’ This was not without its hilarious consequences since the word Dole is very similar to the Persian word for a little boy’s tinkle!
But before all this, there were no bananas in Iran at all. When I was little I had bananas twice a year. Once when my Auntie Leili came from Canada and once when my Auntie Maryam came from England.
They would each bring me a bunch of bananas, hugging them like a baby all the way on the plane and in transit so they wouldn’t get bruised. I was a very lucky girl. Most of my contemporaries had never even seen a banana in their lives or if they had, they had been so young then that they couldn’t remember it.
One day at school something very interesting happened. I think I was in third or forth year. At first it was like any other day. The bell rang and we all ran out into the school ground for our first break.
The sportys played volleyball. The older girls sat on the stairs of the pray-house, whispering in each other’s rears and giggling. Younger kids held hands and pointlessly walked round and round in circles. In one corner a girl tried to swap a tangerine for an orange flavoured wafer. In another, a girl split a cheese and cucumber roll with her friend. Next to them a girl desperately tried to finish her homework.
I sat with a few friends under the shade of a tree. We were talking about this and that. Suddenly I noticed that I could no longer hear the usual loud murmur of the school yard. It was as if someone had pressed the mute button on all the girls.
In addition to going mute, all the girls had also stopped dead in their tracks and were staring at something in the middle of the yard. Naturally my friends and I stood up and started looking around for whatever it was that had so mesmerized everyone. And that’s when I saw it: that slender body with its natural curves (well curve really!), that radiant colour, those tiny, brown beauty spots. I knew what it was straightaway. ‘It’s a banana,’ I said as if thinking out-loud. The people standing around me all turned to look at me.
‘What did you say that was?’ one of the girls asked.
‘A banana,’ I said confidently.
Maybe none of them had ever seen a banana before but they should still have been able to identify it from pictures and stuff. I mean most of them had never seen an elephant before either but I’m pretty sure if an elephant had walked into our school, they would have been able say exactly what it was. Also we had banana flavoured chewing gums. Ok so they had the texture of cardboard and tasted more like the idea of banana from the point of view of someone who had never had a banana before in his life but it was still some point of reference.
‘Are you sure?’ another girl asked.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I’m sure that’s a banana.’
From that moment on, the girls that were around me, hung onto my every word as if it was the most important thing they had ever heard in their life. If someone asked an inappropriate question, the others would snap at her saying things like, ‘she said it’s chewy,’ in a pay-attention-girl sort of tone.
Meanwhile the banana went up and down the school yard as it was watched by four hundred pairs of eyes.
The thing was at our school we all wore dark coloured uniforms. We even had to wear dark shoes. The only things at school that had any colour in them were our bags and at break times when we didn’t have our bags with us, the whole place was just a sea of black, grey, navy and brown. So to suddenly have this bright yellow, almost luminous thing in the middle of all that, was really amazing.
The banana belonged to a girl called Maryam who had it clutched to her chest tightly as she walked round and round, seemingly aimless. You could really see the terror in poor Maryam’s eyes. She gave the impression of a sheep trying to make her way through a pack of hungry wolves with her injured little lamb by her side.
Oh but she also had a sheepdog. Not exactly a sheepdog actually, it was just another wolf really but it looked like it might have turned friendly.
This sheepdog/wolf/self-appointed-bodyguard was called Fatemeh. Mrayam and Fatemeh were both in our class. We were all friends in a way because we were all in a one class but these two girls weren’t really special friends or anything like that. I had never seen them hang out at break times together before. But this day was different. This day Fatemeh had her arm around Maryam like they were best friends. As they walked past us I noticed that Fatemeh was holding onto her new best friend so tightly that you could tell her fingers were digging into her shoulders. ‘We’re best friends,’ I heard Fatemeh say, ‘and best friends always share everything.’
Maryam did not answer. She just stared ahead, holding onto her banana. It didn’t look like Maryam had had any say in this newfound friendship.
I guess what Fatemeh was doing wasn’t very nice really but I think in a weird way, Maryam actually appreciated it. I mean her own friends had deserted her and now she was under the watchful eyes of the whole school. I don’t think people were going to attack her or anything like that but it still must have been very scary for her. Fatemeh might have wanted half of her banana but she was also protecting her. Whenever someone tried to get close to Maryam, Fatemeh would push them away.
Suddenly there was an announcement on the loudspeaker. Maryam and her banana were to report to the office immediately. Straightaway Fatemeh let go of Maryam and vanished into the crowed. Maryam and banana made their way to the office. Some minutes later Maryam came back out alone. The banana that had brought the whole school to a standstill had been confiscated.