Guess what, folks? It’s Missing Chapter time! For anyone who missing the first Missing Chapter, it’s HERE – but hurry right back, because… um… well, I’ll miss you!
This time we’ve got a story that I cut out of ‘That Bear Ate My Pants!’ simply because it wasn’t good enough. I know – way to encourage you to read it, right? The truth is, when the agents told me my book couldn’t be longer than 100,000 words, I cried inside. Because I’d already written nearly double that – and it had taken me six frigging years to do it!
Still. At that point I still had high hopes of getting ‘properly’ published, so with a heavy heart I dove into my list of chapters and deleted as many as I could.
The first to go were the unfinished bits – fragments of jokes and funny stories that were too short to make chapters. Next I started on the full-length chapters, cutting out any that didn’t move the story along. If I found something hysterically funny – even after reading it fifty-odd times – I generally kept it in. If not, it got the axe.
So, here I present one of those chapters. I liked it because it was a particularly odd memory, and my ideal version of the book would describe everything that happened to me in Ecuador. But even good authors have to cut bits out for reasons like pacing, and I felt that this chapter, whilst amusing (especially to me, who lived through it) – was a bit of a speed-bump.
The axe came down, and it’s never seen the light of day since.
A Fruit Too Far…
I was quite excited when Johnny asked me to get into the ‘good’ truck on Saturday morning. After a frustrating few days of digging yet more post holes, I was thrilled to be spending my Saturday doing anything else. Getting in the good truck meant we were going somewhere outside the refuge, and a quick check in the back confirmed we weren’t taking any shovels with us. Toby was off in Quito again on one of his recruitment drives, which meant poor old Ashley was staying behind on her own.
“Never mind,” I tried to console her, “I don’t think we’ll be having much fun. Probably doing something very boring.”
“Yeah right. Whatever. This is so unfair.”
“What can I say? I guess they just want men.”
“And yet they’re still taking you…” Ashley stuck her tongue out at me.
“Ooh! You cheeky little… I hope you dig ‘till you hit China!”
Johnny tried to explain the day’s mission to me, but gave up after a few minutes of talking to my vacant expression. He shrugged his shoulders and climbed into the front with Jimmy. The engine roared and the truck rocketed off up the driveway.
The weather was looking less and less clement as we descended the mountain, and I began to wish I’d brought a jacket. But who knows where we’re going, I thought to myself. Perhaps they’re taking me shopping!
“We go see my friends,” Johnny called back from the front. Apparently he’d been thinking and had come up with a Spanish phrase simple enough for me to understand. “We go help my friends.”
Interesting. A few light rain drops patterned the windscreen.
It was starting to come down heavier when we pulled up in town. Which town, I couldn’t say – we’d been driving for what seemed like an age, down an endless network of tiny back streets somewhere north of Quito. The area we’d stopped in featured an unhealthy looking mix of decrepit alleyways and deserted courtyards. It didn’t look like a sensible place to take a massive four wheel drive truck, for fear it’d never be able to get out again, but I left that worry to Johnny and counted my fortunes that I was sitting in the warm, comfy back seat and staring out at the steadily worsening weather.
Johnny’s friends turned out to be a tiny, wrinkled old man and his equally tiny, equally wrinkled wife.
But this was Ecuador; what was I expecting? Eight-foot-tall blonde skiing instructors?
Coaxing me out of the car, Johnny and his friends led me to a tall steel door in a tumbledown wall. The door seemed to have survived the ravages of time much better than the wall. This is probably why they decided not to open it – there was a good chance that doing so would precipitate a major collapse.
Instead, they enthusiastically scaled the wall at a slightly more broken-down section, and I scurried over in their wake. Within was a somewhat unexpected sight; this walled suburban enclosure was filled with brightly coloured trees! And on the trees hung a strange, luminous green fruit in vast quantities.
I gazed in wonder at this alien landscape – but not for too long. By now it was pissing it down, and I was already getting soaked.
Johnny waved a black plastic bag in my face and gestured around at the trees. It wasn’t hard to grasp his plan, as Jimmy was already shredding the foliage of the first tree to divest it of… what, exactly? Some kind of small, misshapen fruit that bore no resemblance to anything I’d ever seen.
Jimmy was filling his bag with them, so I grabbed the bag from Johnny and followed suit. It was fairly quick work to strip the fruit from the trees, the more so because I was taller than most of them. Jimmy was having a tougher time of it – he had to jump to reach the uppermost branches. These were clearly Ecuadorian-scaled trees.
The wrinkly old couple lent a hand too, though they were considerably less effective. There must have been fifty trees in that courtyard; I think they might have managed one apiece. Of course, all this happened under the careful ‘supervision’ of Johnny and his friends. Yet again I had the thought that I’d like to be the supervisor one day. It really was a tough gig.
The tempo of the rain was steadily increasing. The trees weren’t providing a whole of cover, because my head stuck out the top of them. Plus they were getting wet themselves, and I was rooting deep amongst the leaves. Ecuador may be on the equator, but the rain there is as cold as anywhere else, especially for people only wearing a t-shirt.
A few minutes in, I was already soaked. And a couple of hours after that, we’d finally removed most of the weird green things from their branches. I’d lost count of how many giant black bin-bags I’d filled. Dragging our last bulging sacks with us, we gathered in the partial shelter of a roofless barn-like structure.
Johnny and his friends were ecstatic. They’d been loading our haul into the trucks outside, splitting it between Johnny’s beast and a wreck of a truck that had to belong to the old couple. In fairness they’d worked quite hard, dragging the heavy bags over what was left of the wall. It had been a rush job from start to finish, and I could only thank God that we were finally in sight of that finish.
There seemed to be a lot of commotion around me, something to do with the sheer quantity of water that was pouring off me. After much pointing and rapid-fire Spanish, the old woman disappeared for a few minutes – only to reappear with the most hideous jumper I have ever laid eyes on. She thrust it at me with such ferocity that I didn’t dare refuse it – and then, amidst much laughter and gesticulation, I was persuaded to strip off my sopping t-shirt and don the jumper. It was navy blue knitted wool, patterned like the worst Christmas present you ever received from some distant aunt with only a shred of her mind remaining.
And it was sized to fit a ten year old boy.
The sleeves stretched skin-tight, and ended just beyond my elbows. My head ripped the neck hole on its way out, and the bottom third of my torso was left naked to the elements. I looked like a cabbage patch doll that had been fished out of a lake. Everyone present fell about laughing, which really helped to bolster my ego. Being wool, the garment was already starting to itch like crazy. The humiliation was total; I could only be grateful that no-one bar Jimmy and Johnny was there to see me. I was only too pleased when Johnny sniggered his way over the wall and then mocked me as I followed. It was time to go home, where I could hopefully salvage some dignity – and quite possibly burn that bloody thing. I still had absolutely no idea why we’d been called upon to pick the strange fruits in the pissing-it-down rain.
But the trip home seemed to take much longer than expected. I realised why as we pulled up in a thronging Quito market place.
“Get out, have a walk, if you like,” Johnny told me generously. “We’ll be here for a while.”
And we were. Fruit by fruit, for a couple of dollars per shopping bag full, he gradually unloaded the entire truck. I sat grumpily in the car, shivering, scratching, and trying not to make eye contact with the passers-by. Because every time I did, they pointed and laughed. I could almost imagine Johnny setting me up as a sideshow; ‘See the great white ape trying to wear clothes!’. He’d probably have made more money than he was getting for the… “What the hell are those things anyway?” I grumbled. “Hey Jimmy! Que es estos?”
He gave me a wicked grin. “Limon.”
Ah. I could feel pneumonia setting in. And hives…
Perhaps there was a lesson in all of this?
When life gives you lemons… sell the bastard things! At least you might be able to afford a decent jumper.
It had been dark for hours when we pulled up at Santa Martha. “Please God,” I prayed, “next Saturday let me dig post holes.”
“How was your day?” Ashley asked as I stomped inside. The door closed behind me with a screech like tortured metal.
She looked up at the sour tone in my voice and beheld the sight. She managed a good few seconds before the first guffaw burst out of her.
“Holy shit! Did you shrink in the rain? Or just beat up a ten year old and steal his clothes? You look like a scarecrow!”
“Thanks for that Ash. I’m just going to go and take this off.”
“Oh, that’s gonna be tough. You wanna pair of scissors?”
“You want to kiss my ass?”
“I wouldn’t bend over wearing that thing if I were you. It might strangle you.”
“Someone’s going to get strangled,” I fumed.
Both Toby and I owned cameras, but Ashley did not – for which I was extremely grateful.
It was only much later, and with a significantly better command of the Spanish language, that I managed to get some answers out of Jimmy. We were sitting with a beer in the two-room shack Johnny had built for him and his wife, Nancy – and their adorable kids, Myra and JimmyTwo. When I mentioned the incident, Jimmy laughed so hard at the memory of the jumper that I thought he was going to pee himself.
“Si, si!” he chuckled. “We only had one day – the owners of that place had gone away on a trip!”
And the light bulb pinged on above my head. A gate that no-one opened. Scrambling over the wall. One day to get in and out, under cover of a deluge. And a trip to the market on the way home to sell Johnny’s half of the loot…
I’d been duped.
Those cheeky sons of bitches had turned me into a criminal.
And possibly the worst-dressed criminal in the history of crime.
Life hadn’t given me lemons, after all; I’d stolen the damn things.
Hope you enjoyed that, folks! For anyone who hasn’t had chance to check out ‘That Bear Ate My Pants!’ in all its glory, here’s a sneaky link to it on Amazon:
I’ll try and get the next one ready a bit quicker, I promise 😉