Ten Cherries – Stay Sane

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There was an old building across my school. The wall’s paint was faded and shriveled, with grooves in the bricks.

My friend Cristina moved in that building that spring. When our classes were over, we walked outside the school building together and crossed the street straight across from our school’s gate. There was not so much traffic on the road in that part of the world in the 60s.

We were in fourth grade.

At the end of April my friend told me that the cherry trees in her backyard were full of flowers.

Everyday Cristina and I talked about the cherries and how big they were, and that I was the only friend invited to the feast.

At the end of May, Cristina told me that her cherries were yellow and that that was their color. She also mentioned that she had already tasted them and they were almost ripe. So, we decided that we were going cherry picking the following Saturday after school.

School on Saturdays ended at 11AM.
My mother was working the second shift and she had to leave for work at 1:10 PM.
I lied to my mom to cover my bases. I told her that we had choir rehearsal that day and that I would be late.
And she believed me.

The excitement of eating cherries didn’t let me sleep well the night before. When I left the house at 7:30 AM, I forgot my snack on the kitchen table.

Our teacher, Mr. Grozdan, had some paperwork to finish and he asked me to coordinate my classmates and have a contest. I rapidly put together a list of questions, split my colleagues in two groups and we played. When the bell rang at 10:50 AM, Cristina and I were out of the door. We crossed the street and my friend pushed the blue gate to her apartment building.

There were small residences surrounding the courtyard, with drying lines by the alley and a few trees. Somebody peaked at us behind the kitchen curtain and Cristina looked at me and tapped her lips with her finger. We continued walking slowly by the open doors. A man with an old shirt was finishing smoking. He tossed his cigarette butt on the ground and went inside. Before passing by another open door I saw two hands holding a washbowl coming behind the door’s curtain and discarding some liquid outside. When we walked by that apartment trying to avoid the nasty pool, a woman poked her head out to see who was there.
I didn’t care about the neighbors as long as the cherry trees were waiting for me.

We stopped at Cristina’s door and she opened it.
“Come in! We’ll pretend we stay inside.”
But we sneaked in the common backyard after a few minutes and closed the gate behind us.
There were a few rows of vegetables on a small portion of the ground, an area hardly disputed between the neighbors every year. I looked around but I couldn’t see any cherry trees.
My friend kept walking to the end of the garden where there was a big pile of tainted canisters and bins, and broken bricks.
And then I saw.

A few cherry trees were lined up on the other side of the fence.
That was the most magnificent view I’ve ever seen.
I dropped down my backpack and climbed the pile of old stuff to reach the branches. Some noise was coming from under the trees on the other side and I looked over the fence. Two men with long sticks were already picking the fruit. My whole body froze. I made a sign at Cristina and she climbed the rotten things next to me to watch. We couldn’t get the cherries.

I dared to pick one piece of fruit from the branch I was holding still, when one of the men saw me.
“Hey,” he called.
Frightened, I loosened the branch and ran down the hillock to grab my backpack and leave.
“Hey,” the voice continued,” come back. I have some cherries for you, girls.”
Cristina was still up there creeping between the wood slats. She stood tall then and gazed over the fence.
My heart was racing. I climbed the old stuff again and waited.
“Do you have a bag or something?” one of the men asked. We didn’t. Plastic bags were rare.
I emptied my backpack of my school stuff and handed it on the other side.
They didn’t fill it up, my backpack was big, but one of the men had to climb up the ladder to hand it to us, because it was pretty heavy.

Cristina and I sat down on the pile of trash and ate.
That was my first time when I ate cherries and I was full.

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