The ripe sunset-orange mangoes sat bunched in Tala's ceramic fruit bowl, the one that her cousin had gifted to her the day before her wedding. She read the inscription on the inside of the rim, tracing her fingers along the textured glazed paint: "To endless days, nights, and meals filled with love - Congratulations!". Tala smiled at the bold lettering, pressed her index finger to her plump lips, and touched her cousin's name. This very bowl brought her comfort every time she stepped in the kitchen; every time it was in her eyesight. The word "love" seemed to stand out more then the other words, making Tala's heart wince with pain at the thought of 7amad's recent abandon and neglect. 'Dawam,' he would sigh with exasperation every time she asked to go out with him, or tried to have a romantic evening alone. As a newlywed, asking her mother for advice was only necessary in the most crucial situations - Tala knew that her mother would very well brush off her childish complaints with a stream of retaliations - "Hatha rayal, ya 7abeebti; yeshte'3el 3ashan yi3ayshich ibra7a! La ta'6qe6een 3alaih!" her mother would say sternly.
Tala picked up a small mango - almost the size of her dainty hands - and examined its glowing leathery skin. Not a blemish in sight; not a single spot to soil it's organic beauty. A shade of red blushed itself against the crown of the orange hued mango, reminding Tala of the regality of mangoes. She pictured warm summer evenings in India, with a maharaja and his doting wife seated on plush cashmere pillows in the open air, and a silver bowl of red mangoes in between them. They would enjoy the mangoes as well as each other, lovingly and carefully, while they waited for a fresh breeze to pick up and cool them down. The sweet fumes made their way into Tala's nose, and she inhaled them far into the depths of her lungs, trying to capture the sweet scent and it’s imagery for as long as it would last.
Just then, 7amad burst through the main door and hollered "Salam" to whoever was listening, stripping Tala of her thoughts. His raspy voice echoed against the stark walls of their barely furnished villa, startling her. The firm mango escaped the grasp of her smooth hands, landing on the wooden table in an audible thud. 7amad turned his head to the sound in the kitchen, leaving Tala in awe at the sight of him. He had a tendency of doing that; the way his head would whip at the slightest sound, the way his large chestnut eyes would widen at the simplest things, and the way his pouty lips would curl into a devilishly sexy smile made Tala fall in love with him over and over again.
"Manga? Mino yayib manga?" 7amad smiled excitedly at the sight of the flushed fruits, bunched together in the bowl like a pan of gold nuggets. He hurriedly strode towards Tala, planting a hasty kiss on the side of her face.
"Ana," she replied half-heartedly. "Shloonik?" She watched him with eagerness as he plucked the biggest mango from the bunch and compared it to the size of his hand.
"Tamam; ma'3sooleen?" 7amad asked, satisfactorily rubbing the mango’s silky skin.
“La,” Tala replied as 7amad picked another mango up from the bowl. The word “love” was now in full view, bolder than ever, unveiled by the two mangoes that sat in 7amad’s palms. “Tawni yaybat’hum.”
“Mashkoora, Toota,” 7amad called over the rush of the faucet water. He ran his sun-kissed hands over the mangoes, quickly enough to wash them thoroughly as well as to enjoy them sooner. The mangoes, tightly tucked into the crevices of his palms, glistened with beads of cool water, like full breasts rising from a swimming pool. Without drying them, he adoringly brought them to his face and inhaled their scent, now magnified by the water’s touch.
Tala watched with envy as she set the table; two round plates, a large steel knife, and a two small spoons. ‘Why is it that he is so enticed with mangoes; so eager to touch them and to smell them while I – his wife – am standing here waiting for some sort of appraisal?’ she thought angrily. The stainless steel knife gleamed in the corner of Tala’s eye, luring her to pick it up and stab each and every one of the Alphonso mangoes so that 7amad could never enjoy them again. But, like a cruel joke or a painful reminder, the word “love” screamed at Tala again. ‘Love, honor, and obey,’ she would remind herself at her weakest moments. ‘Love, honor, and obey.’
He turned around from the sink, holding the orangey treasures with such care. The placed each mango onto a plate and drew back Tala’s chair as well as his, motioning for her to sit. “Taw innaas; al7een mo mawsem ilmanga!”
“Madri, 7amadi,” Tala replied with a shrug, and reached over for the giant knife, ready to butcher the fruit that had captured the ardent affection of her husband.
Before the sharp blade could graze the surface of the matured mango, 7amad pried the knife out of Tala’s hands and placed it back onto the wooden table. “Ib eedich,” he instructed, picking up the dense fruit with his two hands and tearing a small hole at the puckered tip with his teeth.
The pale orange mango pulp peeked out from under the scarlet flesh, coaxing 7amad’s lips closer to the cavity. In rhythmic movements, his thumbs tenderly massaged the side of the mango, pushing the pulpy nuggets towards the tear in the flesh. Tala watched as 7amad’s lips sucked the meaty sweetness into his mouth, chunk after chunk, careful not to let any bit of the mango escape. The bright juice trickled down his scruffy chin and dribbled down the sides of the mango’s flesh, twirling streams around his thick fingers and down his palms. Tala watched with great intent, her mango sitting patiently on her plate, as 7amad continued to bite and suck and tear at the mango’s skin with such ardor and want – she couldn’t help but feel a little jealous. He scraped every last bit of the mango pulp off the skin with his teeth, gently tugging the soft tissue against his dentures.
After 7amad had satisfied his craving, he licked the syrupy lattice of juice from his hands and fingers before reaching for a wad of tissues. “Ma kalaitay,” he said breathlessly, nodding his head at the untouched mango on Tala’s plate.
“Al7een,” Tala replied quietly, her cheeks turning a faint crimson. The nervousness-induced warmth of her hands clashed significantly with the icy cold water droplets that decorated the mango like crystals. Just as she was about to bring the mango to her lips as 7amad had done earlier, 7amad encased her hands with his and guided the mango safely to Tala’s hungry lips. Her big brown eyes pierced through 7amad’s eyes warily, trying to decode whatever mischief he was up to. With her eyes still locked onto his, she tore a bit of the mango skin away from the top with her teeth. She felt a bit of the juicy fruit make it’s way up into her mouth, thanks to 7amad’s gentle pushes. As soon as it entered her mouth, 7amad pulled the mango into his own hands and dove in for a long, passionate kiss. His tongue stroked hers, probing her mouth in search of the luscious lump of mango he knew was nesting in there. The sweetness of his lips, tainted with the traces of an early afternoon cigarette, mixed with the tropical taste of the fruit, and once found, they shared it between their warm mouths.
He brought the limp mango near Tala’s lips once again. The intensity of their kiss caused 7amad to squeeze on the mango’s body a little too hard, first causing a gush of viscous juice to spill along the feminine curves of Tala’s lips. The fragrant syrup ran down the groove of her chin and the length of her neck, pooling at the small hollow that formed at the top of her ribcage. A tiny cry of shock and delight escaped her throat, but 7amad quickly muffled the sound with the crashing of his lips against hers. His tongue traced the faint orange line that swept down her neck, and softly lapped up the sweet pulpous juice before it dried into a sticky mess. Tala reclined against the back of the wooden chair, craning her neck every which way in order to allow 7amad access to the most inconspicuous places. Another reckless squeeze of the fruit tore the opening into a wide gash, causing the bright orange shaggy pit to sail out of the mango skin pouch and onto Tala’s chest, where 7amad tried to catch it.
“7amad!” Tala squealed like a child, suppressing the uproarious laughter that she knew was to come. The pit slipped out of his fingers like a wet bar of soap, but he tried again, this time succeeding in keeping it in his grasp.
“Shhhh,” 7amad soothed Tala’s giddy fit, shushing softly in her ear. With the wet pit in his hand, he rubbed Tala’s neck and exposed chest, staining her fair skin with mango residue. The pit glided over her skin until she was swathed with fiery-colored mango pulp, and they both breathed in the heady mango scent that wafted off of Tala’s skin. Like a golden sun goddess aching to be worshipped, Tala melted at the feel of 7amad’s touch, succumbing to his every desire. Normally, she would never allow 7amad to mix passion and food, as she was taught that it was a sin to use food in an erotic manner. But today, she gave way, letting his lips gather the shards of mango mash that tickled her skin. Tala opened her eyes for a moment during her escapade, eyeing the ceramic bowl that sat on the kitchen table, laden with more mangoes for the days to come.