Growing Oranges in Oaxaca
It was the year he planted the orange tree that my father Alejandro told me his story of tipping off the Mexican Navy with secret information about a roving band of criminals and kidnappers.
He had collected the tip-off information himself he found himself in a position to do so when it turned out his own vacation rental property had quite accidentally been leased to these suspects under the guise of being tourists on beach holiday but when they were found to have holed themselves up in the house and put black plastic over all the windows and stocked enough food to last weeks everyone got suspicious and this was all hearsay reported upon by the caretaker Jose who arrived to water the orange tree and sweep the pool and was alarmed by these things.
Orange trees produce fruit slowly and a sapling’s first crop can take years and the previous vacationing tenants Canadians had a young girl who had picked the only orange not yet ripe the one my father had been watching and waiting for and checking on for months and he was clearly disappointed which came out as it does as a deep and existential disappointment in families in little girls and in the human race unspecified.
Why would somebody do that he asked through the phone line and I made a sympathetic sound and in any case there were more pressing problems to deal with in that moment than oranges or Canadians and so the kidnapper-criminal-vacationers were ejected and Alejandro flew to Oaxaca to put the house in order and do a bit of detective work on his own.
And it is in this part of the telling that his eyes develop a glint and his hands begin their animated gesticulations in earnest as he recalls how he during his clean-up visit noticed another house in the village another vacation rental with parked out front what appeared to be the same black Suburban with the same license plate number of the same kidnapper-criminal-vacationers and there would have been no way to be sure without a plate number since the black Suburban in southern Mexico is an apparition ubiquitous as tortillas for breakfast and ants on orange trees and he watched the house and the black Suburban for several days on his bicycle rides through the village and to the ocean and out to the main road and back again and saw lots of suspicious-seeming comings and goings to and from the house of people who did not look on the surface to Alejandro like families or Canadians or vacationers in general.
He began taking photographs with the small camera he bought for the photography class he had taken the previous spring in which he studied composition and light and contrast and texture and had come away from with a collection of photographs that showed the close-up corners of oak leaves and branches in snow and lampposts at dusk and an inability to any longer look at a simple object in a shaft of sunlight without seeing the exquisite slope of its borders and the perfect juxtaposition of its body against a universe that he now understood to be constructed entirely in light cast from a distant star.
To take photographs of the kidnapper-criminal-vacationers without arousing their suspicion he wore his casual canvas ball cap and sunglasses and bicycle shorts and sandals and packed a sports bottle of water along and made sure his pauses near the vacation rental included long moments appearing contemplative over the waterfowl and palm trees and bougainvillea and he was a Mexican pretending to be a gringo because Mexicans cannot be trusted.
When he finally gathered enough photographs of the comings and goings of the suspects and of the license plate number and of the black Suburban and was convinced beyond all doubt that even if these weren’t precisely the same kidnapper-criminal-vacationers who had holed up in his vacation rental they were certainly in cahoots or at least more or less in the same line of business of which he could not and would not approve he placed his photographs in a manila envelope sealed and walked straight down the long dock to the office of the Mexican Navy where he encountered a guard.
The Navy I asked why didn’t you go to the police the police he said everyone knows you can’t trust the police.
Take these he told the guard and pressed the packet of photographs into the man’s hand and with that Alejandro walked back down the dock and returned home to the vacation rental which had by now been restored to tranquility and in the last light of day sat at the edge of his pool where the garden sloped upward into forest and the moon brightened and rose through jasmine vines and admired the orange tree’s tiny new fruit still green but ripening and knew that one day if he could be patient and diligent and honorable and just the orange would be perfect the orange would be the one perfect thing and he would wait for sweetness.