It all started with the dried mangoes. It almost ended there as well.
Deana fought the urge to crash her shopping buggy into the khaki covered backside of the gentleman unloading the bottom shelf of its contents. She had purposefully braved the choking paved arteries to get here at store opening for this exact item. And now, some Neanderthal was scooping up the last bags.
One bag slipped from his grasp as he rose to fill his own cart. The elusive prey escaped his flapping elbow, slid off his hip and landed on a tan hush puppy.
Like a hawk spotting a field mouse being pursued by a fox, Deana began her determined dive for the prize. The Neanderthal was quicker than he looked. By the time Deana’s clenched fingers began to tug the dried mangoes off the floor another hand had reclaimed the stray.
Both of them rose without releasing the mangoes. Although Deanna’s aggressive foe was four inches taller she was not going to retreat. She stood toe to toe with him, clenched her jaw, and glared into his piercing blue eyes. She saw the surprise impact from her shock and awe attack.
“Thanks for sharing,” she growled as she scanned the breadth of the emerald rugby jersey in front of her. The name Dean stood out in white cursive. Her glance took in the first flecks of grey in the military haircut and the strong square jaw. His questioning eyes were focused on her.
Deana sashayed back a step and tugged the mangoes in her direction. Her last year at Curves had done wonders for her self-confidence. There was little resistance as the dried fruit came free.
When the victor saw that her victim was still transfixed she suddenly became self-conscious. She noticed that he wasn’t angry. More mesmerized.
Just last evening she had chopped her shoulder length blond hair up to the bottom of her ears. She had streaked and layered and razored and flicked on the ends for texture. Now she wondered if she had created a disaster. Maybe forty was too mature for something this edgy.
Somewhat subdued, Deana hugged the mangoes against her silk-blend peasant tunic and moved back another step. “I came all the way across town. I just need one.”
Dean smiled and reached back into his cart. “Take two,” he said. “I’m only eating these ‘cause they haven’t got the good ones here.” He held out his offering.
Deana continued to hug her one bag without reaching out for the second one. “What do you mean these aren’t the good ones? I used to eat these Philippine mangoes every day. They don’t come sweeter.”
“Ah, have you ever eaten a Kenyan Mango fresh from your own drying oven?”
“Of course not.” Deanna’s hands began to sweat and she wished she could wipe them on her black jeans.
“I grew up in Kenya and I can tell you that the best mangoes are grown in Mombassa and dried in the Rift Valley highlands. They melt in your mouth.”
“I spent ten years outside Manila in the Philippines and I’m rather partial myself.” Deana watched Dean lower his bag as her hesitancy created awkwardness between them.
Dean continued to focus on her face. “Why did you leave?”
Just last night Deanna had decided in her prayer time that the pain of the past six years had been nurtured long enough. Her hair cut had been her first step back toward life. Still she felt the tears at the corner of her eyes. This was her moment for truth. “My son died of malaria and my husband was killed by a bus. Both in the same week. I couldn’t make it on my own. I had to come home. That was six years ago.”
Dean’s face softened and compassion filled his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Eight years ago my fiancé came out to Africa to see where I grew up. She got sleeping sickness in a game park. She loved the mangoes.”
Deana’s hardened heart melted. “I don’t know about you,” she began “but I’ve felt like I couldn’t breathe for the past six years. I couldn’t feel. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t even eat mangoes.”
Dean looked at the twenty bags in his cart. “These are the first ones for me.” As if on impulse he focused back on Deana. “I’m sure they’d taste better if I could share them.”
“Throw in a Starbucks and it’s a deal.”
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