The Guava Tree

2012, Nov 10
Short story first published in Jenny Magazine

Mrs. Uprety watched her guava tree with great pleasure. In just its third year, it had fruited copiously, much more than she had previously expected. Having bragged to everyone about it and left with no more interested listener in the neighborhood, she actually called her son abroad. She described how nice the guavas were and offered to send some if he wanted. However, when she was informed that the cost of shipping few guavas overseas would be prohibitively expensive, she relented. “I’m sure the tree will still be here when you return”, she said. She frequently had tree related disputes with her husband too – “You doubted if it was a good idea to plant the guava close to the fence. Well, how about now?” Mr. Uprety would have loved to silence the woman with a conclusive rejoinder or a resounding slap, but decided against both – the tree had indeed fruited very well, and therefore, he felt all his arguments were inherently weak, and in this day and age, slapping a woman was no good idea!

Popularity of the Upretys had dramatically increased in the community because of the tree. “Go down the road and turn left when you see a small guava tree with many guavas and …” they’d say when giving directions and the inquirers would have no difficulty finding their destination. All in all, the guava tree was an object of happiness and pride for Mrs. Uprety. She didn’t allow anyone to touch the tree, let alone pick a guava and taste it.

One late afternoon, Mrs. Uprety was lying in her bedroom when she heard rustles and murmurs outside. She might have cared less about the noise if only it hadn’t come from so close to the bedroom window. She lifted the curtain and looked outside and was absolutely flabbergasted at what she saw. A kid had climbed onto the compound wall and was swinging desperately in an endeavor to reach one of the fruitful branches of the guava tree. Another kid was standing anxiously by the wall and keeping watch. Someone trying to steal her guavas was a sacrilegious act and at once she became very furious. Instinctively she scolded the boys, “You thieves! You’ll pay for stealing my guavas.” The unsuspecting boys were startled by the noise and the one standing by the wall ran away like a mouse at once. The one on the wall, however, in his attempt to escape in a hurry got his shirt caught in one of the rail posts, swung into the wall inconveniently, broke his arm, and began crying helplessly.

By the time Mrs. Uprety was outside, the boy was still hanging from his restraints. He was crying bitterly and holding his left forearm which he had hurt in the mishap. After having expressed her contempt for some time, she realized the boy was truly in a trouble and released him. “I’ll take you to the police and they’ll put you in for the whole night”, she said. This really scared the boy and he ran away, still crying all the while. Some of the close neighbors were watching the whole incident from the comfort of their balconies and found everything to be pretty amusing. It took some time and quite an effort for Mrs. Uprety to come back to senses. Then she counted all the guavas left in the tree to estimate how many the boys had stolen and although she had never really counted the guavas before, she determined ‘the boys must have taken at least 27’. “That’s unforgivable”, she said.

For the rest of the evening after that, even slightest noises outside made Mrs. Uprety open curtains and look. When Mr. Uprety learned about the incident after coming home, he smiled subtly. “That’s what you get for planting the tree so close to the fence”, he must have been thinking. But he decided against opening his mouth because of his wife’s fury. She was muttering about the incident the whole evening. Mr. Uprety did not speak unnecessarily. “We must get a dog”, were the final words of Mrs. Uprety before she turned off the light and went to bed.

Immediately she was woken up by a sudden loud bang on her gate. There was screaming and shouting outside, and also the occasional bang of the gate. The noise became relatively calmer in the successive minutes, but for quite a while Upretys did not dare to investigate what was going on outside, and cringed under their bed. Mr. Uprety offered to go outside rather tentatively and was glad that his wife didn’t allow it. By that time, most of the close neighbors, however, had already gathered before their gate and one of them invited the couple outside. “It’s the mother of the kid who stole your guava. She says the kid’s broken his arm”. Mrs. Uprety was the first to go outside followed by her husband, who took some time to find his flashlight, jacket, socks, and shoes. The kid had a bandage in his left hand and was sobbing occasionally. A small thin woman, dressed in rather tattered clothes, presumably in her late twenties, was holding him by his right arm.

“Was it her”, the woman asked to the kid. Too scared to speak, the boy simply nodded.

“You vile woman, you criminal, you broke my son’s arm. I’ll make you and your clans pay for it”, the woman exploded out of nowhere. Everybody standing there, including the Upretys, was shocked at the sudden burst of rage from the woman. They stood still as if they had seen something that shouldn’t have existed. The boy, too, was greatly astonished and there was a long pause before he resumed weeping. Mr. Uprety dissolved among the crowd and kept saying “what is this” every five minutes, scratching the bridge of his nose and then waving his arm in the air every time he said so.

“I di…I didn’t break his ar… arm. When did I bre…ak his arm”, Mrs. Uprety barely managed to stammer through. Her face looked horrible.

“My son says he asked you for a guava and you broke his arm”

Still bewildered and frightened, she asked, “Just… like that?”

“Yes, just like that.”

“That’s out…outrageous. He didn’t ask for a guava. He stole guavas from my tree …27 of them. Ask my neighbors if you like.”

“So what if he stole? You’ll break arms of all the guava thieves. Is that it – evil woman …?”

The brawl continued in similar fashion well into the night and even grew louder and more intense until it was finally interfered by the arrival of a police van. It was on a night patrol and had come there drawn by the crowd and the noises. Four officers stepped out of the vehicle and accessed the whole situation and, as there was no serious crime involved, were relieved it was not as bad as they had feared. The arrival of police, meanwhile, had reinforced confidence of Mrs. Uprety as she believed she was on the right side of the law. After interviewing the boy, the Uprety couple, the woman, and few neighbors, the officers began discussing among themselves. When the conclave was over, one officer brought the two women together and said, “Either you two settle this between yourself or we will take you with us to the station, and things will proceed officially.”

“How do we, then, settle this between us?”

The officer asked to the woman, “What do you want?”

“I want this evil hag behind bars for the rest of her life.”

“What do you want”, the officer enquired with Mrs. Uprety.

“I had actually wanted nothing, but now since it has come to all this, I want compensation for the stolen 27 guavas at 50 per guava.”

Angered by the preposterous demands of the ladies, the officer explained that if they didn’t resolve the scuffle, they would be arrested, and would be forced to follow proper legal process.

“Fine, let’s go”, the woman announced, as if god was on her side.

Mrs. Uprety, who did not want all the legal hassles, had not foreseen the possibility of the woman agreeing to be arrested so readily. So, she proposed that the officers take her husband in her place. At this point Mr. Uprety, who had until now laid low in the crowd, squealed “what is this?” very loudly.

I should tell you that the entire legal process will take at least two months”, the officer stated, “and no ma’am, your husband can’t go instead of you as the case is against you.”

This complicated the situation further for the two ladies, but Mr. Uprety was relieved. If that was the matter, Mrs. Uprety said, she wanted the woman to make compensation at 10 per stolen guava and also keep the boy away from her guava tree. The woman, on the other hand, said she would leave it at that only if Mrs. Uprety covered the total cost, which amounted to 1500, for treating her son’s broken arm.

Everyone except Mrs. Uprety thought this arrangement was good enough and were satisfied. However, as the woman had threatened to follow legal process if she was not given the money and since Mrs. Uprety really did not want that, she grudgingly agreed to pay but insisted that she would deduct the cost of the stolen guavas. She also complained that she had been treated unjustly and she had lost faith in the police. She instructed her husband to pay the woman and went into her house disturbed. All was settled outside.

Mrs. Uprety’s temperament did not calm down for quite some time. She felt really disappointed and bitter and angry. Being unable to go to sleep, she kept kicking and turning in the bed. At about early dawn, when she could no longer restrain herself, she picked up an ax and stormed outside like a raging bull. In matter of minutes, she brought down the guava tree and when she finally felled it, she was at peace. For Mr. Uprety this was the wildest thing he had seen in his whole life. He would have said “what is this”, but since he was alone, he performed only the subsequent gestures.

The object of Mrs. Uprety’s happiness and pride was gone but it didn’t diminish the popularity of Upretys. Now they’d ask, “you know the place with guavas that cost 50?”, and everyone knew what was being talked about.