Papaya Tree

The papaya tree in the alleyway outside my window, where my host family hangs their wet laundry to dry, is now nearly as tall as the neighbor's house. It appears to be still growing too—at the tip of its not-quite-wrist-thick trunk stands a confused cluster of miniature, celery-green branches and leaves, all of which are still tender and pointing straight up and in each other's way. It is especially this last quality—this density at the apex of new plant-growth—that creates the feeling of urgency, expansion, and potential. The base of the trunk, on the other hand, is at least two wrists thick and already brown and scaly. The thing really is a tree now and not just a shrub.

When I arrived in Kupang, it had not yet appeared above ground. It was in the middle of December and the onset of rainy season over the next few months is what jumpstarted the germination process, I guess. One day around late February or early March, it suddenly showed up—first as a shoot that I could have crushed with a single misstep and then, within a week or two, as a spindly weed that I could have easily yanked out by hand. I gave some thought to doing so (it was more or less directly beneath the clothesline and seemingly in the way after all), but it was growing fast and my host family didn't seem to mind, so I let it be.

Now, in early July, it is a tree. And we would have to take a machete to it if we still wanted to fell it, which none of us do. The clothesline, which it missed by about an inch, is still only a foot and a half away from the wall of the neighbor's house. So the tree is still seriously hemmed in. Some of its early branches grew straight into and were stunted by the wall, their leaves yellowing and riddled with holes from bugs who had an easy time crawling directly off the plaster and onto the living green (branches just as old but growing away from the wall are not so severely damaged). The branches further up have a little more space. It really is an awkward place for a tree to be growing and I often wonder how the seed ended up in our alley in the first place—how long it had lain there dormant in the sandy, gravelly dirt before I showed up to watch it become what it is.

I love this alleyway. I love this tree and the thought of it bearing fruit. I love how my host sisters, out hanging the Sunday wash, have to duck beneath its branches, in and out of its patchwork shade, as they pass to and fro. I love its tenacity and gall and the way it jostles for breathing room with the trappings of man—the way it presses itself up (patiently, unyieldingly) against bras and tank tops on one side and brick and concrete and yellow paint on the other, promising in the meantime to exceed them all.


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