by Natalie Yap

There is a ciku tree outside my house that’s been there for decades, I’ve been told. The leaves are dense and abundant, attached to limbs that reach out recklessly across the sky. It shields us from the world. On the grass, it’s a mosaic of sun—an open net ready to catch us from falling.
My father has a ladder up against the tree that reaches high above ten feet. I hold a plastic bag lined with newspaper as his hands forage the green tresses for fruit. My mother is inside the house, with my aunties, as they prepare a farewell feast in my honor. In twenty minutes, thirty-something relatives will arrive for dinner. But we won’t talk about that yet. We won’t talk about how this is goodbye. Instead, we’ll talk about how, at the place where I’ll be going, they won’t have ciku. Tropical fruit is a novelty, priced four times the ringgit, and they’ll be my closest token to home. We won’t talk about how, privately, I dislike the taste of the fruit: malty, saccharine juices that desperately cling to your throat on the way down to your stomach.
When I was a child, my father and I would spend blistering Sunday afternoons plucking the fruit from its mother and set it out in the multicolored glass bowl for dessert. To the untrained eye, one could mistake them for kiwis. The skin is like kid glove, sandy against my smooth, young palm. You scratch the brown scruff for any sign of green; if it falls easily from its stem, the fruit is ripe. Otherwise, the branches will ooze chicle, my father warned.
In Cantonese, they call ciku 人心果: human heart fruit. I once asked my parents from where it derived this name, but they did not know the answer. I think the ciku looks more like a tear than a heart; my mother tells me not to overthink etymology. My mother used to help me pry the fruit apart, halving it like a hard-boiled egg, dig out the seed, and scoop out the earthy-brown flesh with a teaspoon. I learned not to complain about the sweetness; after all, this is the only sort of sweetness that can be harvested: you can’t get it anywhere else.
Above, the evening is choking with heavy clouds. Soon, night will be falling to greet us. The grass is untrimmed and errant with weeds. Mosquitoes hover at my calves, and to kill them would be futile; the bites are endless and my feet dance from side to side in irritation. I watch out for red ants, much larger than the ones that infest the house, that might un-cling from branches and sting my face. Here, my father calls, as he drops the cikus onto the grass and I pick them up to put into the bag. The fruits we catch are more than anticipated. The delicate plastic bag sags considerably, bulbous at the bottom, indicating that it won’t hold the weight much longer. Enough for the whole family, my father beams, when I counted how many we had. He plucks the last one from the branch and tosses it down to me. Then, I feel it, milky white, notoriously sticky and thick, trickling down the edges of my hair. I spend most of dinner trying to wash it out. My mother takes a pair of scissors and cuts it away.


Natalie Yap lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She has a B.A. in psychology from Monash University and is currently working on a story collection.

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