The fruit vendor smiled at me through his sun-blinded eyes, enjoying the warm breeze and salty air. During casual banter with his customers, he seemed to know the smallest details, even ones they couldn't remember sharing. Each time he walked past me stretched out on the sand reading Incan history or mythology, I bought some delicious fruit. In late August, as I was about to turn in for the day, I patted him on the shoulder and said, “I'll see you tomorrow morning, friend.”
Still smiling, he replied, “No, you won't.”
“What do you mean?” But he was already walking off towards the horizon calling “Mango. Mango con Chile.”
As I walked back to my aunt's beach house, I wondered what the fruit vendor meant. Throughout my stay in Venice, California, I didn't want to miss a single day outside. The beach beyond the boardwalk, with its self-proclaimed wino singing for drinking money and tattoo parlors outnumber only by its smoke shops, was a curious place to spend my summer. I thought that there was no where I'd rather be.
When I got inside, I threw my beach shorts and towel into the hamper, put on some comfortable sweats and checked my messages. I booted up my laptop and checked my email. Among the numerous spam messages and newsletters was one market URGENT in its subject from the archeological fellowship I had applied to after graduation. Although I was told that I held a position on the waiting list, my pragmatic half told me that if I hadn't heard by late July, my chances were near nil. However, due to a last minute cancellation as of today, an opening for me became available. I called their office immediately.
“Excellent,” the fellowship administrator said, “we're excited that you're on board. Since the cancellation was so abrupt and your orientation begins in Peru on Monday, we need to organize your flight from the Los Angeles International Airport tomorrow morning. Once you land in Lima, a shuttle will be there to pick you up.”
“I can't believe this! How awesome,” despite my efforts to maintain utmost professionalism, I couldn't hold my childish excitement back.
“I will email you all the details after we end this call. Just print them out and get packed. I can tell you're eager to work with your peer team on this Incan excavation.” My world buzzed after I hung up the phone.
By November, I held no doubt that I'd been paired up with the love of my life. I stood behind her as she knelt in the dirt peering at a recently exposed object. She reached her hand back, and I knew, without her saying, that she needed the dusting brush. A recent graduate from Harvard, Ladhi was born on the coast of Western India south of Mumbai. Her two parents, both lawyers, had relocated to London when she was young. I actually first met her while switching planes in Panama. She wore tan khaki shorts and hiking boots, and looked like she belonged at a dig site.
“Are you going to Lima for the archeological fellowship?” I asked compelled beyond normal understanding.
“You've very perceptive. Yes I am.” She said and extended her slender hand in greeting. I later learned that she was always this direct. We exchanged names and sat in adjacent seats on the plane. Spurred on by our complementary airline drinks, we talked nonstop to Lima.
During the second half of the fellowship that spring, we were inseparable. The other fellows had been calling us L2 since the holiday break. Although a world traveler, Ladhi had yet to see Los Angeles, and my aunt urged us both to visit Venice after our program's conclusion. In June before us twenty fellows readied ourselves to return back to our distinct corners of the globe, we all exchanged emails and hugs. At the airport, Ladhi and I sat together in reverent silence while we waited for our plane to board.
The next day, the Los Angeles sun awoke me from a dreamy reverie, and I rolled atop the beach towel onto my side. My arm rubbed against Ladhi's warm skin and stirred her from shallow sleep. I pulled close for a kiss. My aunt had picked us up at LAX the previous night and had an avocado accented dinner ready for us at her home. Today our plan was to lounge on the beach sand all day and tour Hollywood that night.
“Mango. Mango con Chile,” I heard from the horizon. Remembering, I jolted up and saw the silhoutte of the fruit vendor. I waved him over.
“My friend,” he said once he was close, “I see you made it back again. Did you see the Incas' work from those books?”
“Yeah,” I answered with disbelief, “that and more. Who told you I was in Peru?”
“News travels,” he said, “like you.”
“Back in August, how did you know that I wouldn't see you?” I asked. He handed Ladhi and I each a bag of mango con chile.
“Can't tell you,” he laughed and still smiling, turned as if to go.
But before he could leave, I asked “Will I see you tomorrow, friend?”
“Yes, see you tomorrow, my friend.”