Wednesday, February 16, 2011
The Case of the Nectarine
Summer Vacation. Two words that have no significance in present day life. Summer vacation doesn't even exist in adult life. It's like the tooth fairy -- she stopped coming after you realized that she didn't exist, or you lost all your baby teeth -- whichever came first. In this case, adulthood started, and two month vacations ceased to exist.
But as a child, those two words were the sweetest music to your ears.
Every summer, I spent the months with my cousins. Either we would go and spend the majority of the two month holiday at my Uncle's place, or my cousins would come and stay with us. Some summers it would just be two cousins that came over. The best were, of course, when all six cousins came over – but those times were far and few, and not for nearly as long as two months.
This particular summer was the summer of ’88. Four of my cousins had come to stay with my family – Shilpa didi, Shashank, Sapna didi, and Samir. The didi’s (or elder sisters) were 5 years and 3 years older than me. At the age of 9, that made them a different generation altogether. My cousin Shashank was one year older than me, and Samir was two years younger than me, and we were inseparable. My younger sister was only three years old at the time, and mostly hung out with the didi’s who doted on her like a doll.
One morning, we woke up as usual – I don’t have any recollection if it was a weekday or a weekend, but it hardly mattered, since it was summer vacation. After folding our sheets and sleeping bags, and putting away our pillows, we brushed our teeth and headed towards the kitchen.
My mother stood behind the dining table, waiting for us to arrive. The dining table was empty, except for a single nectarine, placed in the middle of the table.
“Do you see the nectarine?” she asked us. We all moved closer to the table. It was a normal nectarine. The only distinguishing factor of this fruit was that a small piece of its flesh had been removed. I couldn’t tell if it was a bite mark, or someone was trying to tear off the sticker on the fruit and took off a little too much.
All of us peered on silently, not sure where my mother was going with this.
“Someone took a bite out of it, and then put it back on the table.”
We stiffened, knowing what was coming – someone was going to get in trouble.
As if reading our minds, my mother softened her tone and said, “I’m not mad,” she smiled. “I’m just wondering who would do such a thing?”
We all stood in silence.
“I didn’t eat it,” I broke the silence.
My mother looked at me questioningly. “Are you sure? I know you don’t like fruit. Maybe you took one bite and then decided you didn’t want it anymore?” I shook my head no. I hated fruit, why would I even take one bite?
Shashank chimed in, “Bua ji, I didn’t eat it either.” Mummy nodded. The two didi’s had already been asked about the fruit before we had come in, so they were off the hook. All eyes turned to the youngest of the lot.
At seven years old, Samir had to have been one of the cutest kids out there, though at the time, we only thought of him as a spoilt brat. Slightly chubby, bowl cut hair, big almond shaped eyes that could put a puppy-dog to shame, he looked up to his aunt and said “No Mausi, I didn’t eat it.”
Mummy nodded. She realized that none of us would be willing to confess to our ‘crime’ in front of the others, so she changed her tactic. “Well, if whoever did it wants to come and tell me later on, they can, and I won’t be mad. I just wanted to know who ate it – if they wanted the fruit, they should have just taken the whole thing.”
She continued with her daily business, serving us breakfast. But us three never forgot about the nectarine. It was the ‘Case of the Bitten Nectarine,’ whodunit?
The rest of the day, we all suspiciously eyed one another – thinking we could stare someone into a confession. The most likely candidate was undoubtedly Samir. Samir loved food the most, plus, he was the youngest and he was used to getting whatever he wanted, and never getting in trouble for anything. Often he would tattle on the rest of us, and we would get reprimanded for making him cry – we were older, and should be more mature and sensitive to the youngest one.
Shashank and I secretly conspired to each other, “It must be Samir… Did you see how guilty he looked when Bua ji asked him if he ate it?” I nodded. Shashank was older and more knowledgeable in these matters. Besides, I knew it wasn’t me, and it wasn’t Shashank, so it had to be Samir. Though we didn’t discuss the matter with the didi’s, we knew that they, too, silently agreed that Samir was the culprit, and as usual, he was getting away with it for being the youngest.
In the evening we went on our usual walk through Evergreen Park. Most days were too hot to play outside in the afternoon hours, so evening was the time that we’d finally be able to expend all our bottled up energy on the various obstacle courses and strength training exercises along the path of the park. I lagged behind the others as I stopped to tie my shoe, and felt Shashank’s hand on my shoulder. “Look,” he nodded towards the scene ahead of us.
Samir was talking to my mother, all by himself. That was it – he had confessed to eating the nectarine. We knew it all along, and now we had our proof. But we wouldn’t say anything to him – we were older, and more mature than that. And so the evening continued, and passed like any other evening in the summer of 1988.
Throughout high school, us cousins continued to meet regularly. In 1998, all 8 of us got together for a housewarming get together at my aunt’s house in eastern Washington. It was late at night, we were reminiscing on the ‘good ole days,’ not realizing that the time we were currently spending would soon be the good ole days themselves. Somehow or the other, the topic of the nectarine came up again.
“Samir,” I say, “It’s been like 10 years already – can’t you just admit that you ate it?”
“Dude, I swear to you, I didn’t eat it!”
“Come on Samir, we know you even confessed to my mom later that day,” I remind him.
“We were at Evergreen Park,” Shashank joined in. “You were talking to Bua ji separately, she put her arm around you and patted your back.”
Samir shook his head. “Look, I don’t remember that, but I do remember that I didn’t eat the nectarine!”
I roll my eyes, irritated at his lack of maturity. All the cousins start ganging up on Samir – even my sister, who was only three years old when the incident took place, tried to convince Samir to tell the truth. She had grown up hearing about the Case of the Nectarine, and like the rest of us, just wanted to hear the truth, straight from the horse’s mouth.
“Actually guys, I ate it.”
We barely even heard the sentence amidst the pandemonium. But sure enough, it had been said. Seven pairs of eyes darted towards Shashank.
“YOU ate it?!?!” I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. Shashank nodded.
“See?!?!” Samir jumped up. “I told you guys it wasn’t me!!”
Everyone looked incredulously at Shashank.
“Why didn’t you just say so? All these years?” someone asked.
“I was scared at first, that I’d get in trouble. And then when everyone started suspecting Samir, I just went with it.”
This was just like the game of Mafia. Shashank had just maneuvered the master play – to convince all the Townspeople that he was the Guardian Angel and Samir was the Mafia – and we all bought it.
Suddenly everyone was angry at Shashank, and felt total guilt for holding the poor, innocent Samir as the culprit in our eyes for all these years. How could we rectify this?
“Mummy!!!!” I called out and ran downstairs where all the parents were. The cousins followed closely behind.
“Remember the nectarine that someone ate, long time ago? In the old house?” My mom took a few minutes to place the incident – it had been, after all, ten years.
“It was Shashank who ate it!” Samir proudly proclaimed. Shashank nodded regretfully.
“Oh…” she thought about how she should respond. She shrugged, “Ok.”
And that was that.
What an anti-climactic response to an unsolved mystery, revealed by a fluke confession ten years later. At least now we knew.