King: Anansi and the strange fruit
Keiran King, Guest Columnist
Once, no rain fell for a very long time, and Anansi couldn’t find anything for himself or his children to eat. There was a place not too far away with a thousand banana trees, but Anansi was afraid to go. Bredda Rat went there two weeks ago to get food and never came back. Bredda Mongoose went there last week to get food and never came back. But now his children were too hungry, and Anansi decided to take a chance and go.
When Anansi got there, he couldn’t believe his luck. Banana trees spread in neat rows as far as he could see. There was enough food to feed his children for a year. But Anansi remembered Bredda Rat and Bredda Mongoose, and thought it might be a trap. So he decided to look around and make sure it was safe.
He came to a clearing with a huge guango tree, and hanging from the tree was a strange fruit. So he went to take a closer look and realized it was a man, swaying in the breeze. Anansi said, “Bredda Man, why you hanging from the tree?” But the man did not answer.
A few hours after that Anansi came to another clearing, this time with a big mahogany tree, and hanging from the tree was another strange fruit. He crawled closer and realized it was a woman. Anansi said, “Sista Woman, why you hanging from the tree?” And the woman looked like she was trying to answer, but only whispers came out. So Anansi climbed the tree and then he heard what the woman was saying: “Mas Fletcher… Mas Fletcher… Mas Fletcher…” And then the woman stopped whispering, her feet swaying gently in the breeze.
Just as it was getting dark, Anansi came to a little shack, and thought maybe he could find a bag to gather up all the bananas he would take home the next day. When he went inside, all he saw was straw on the ground and a man lying on the straw. He was naked and there were iron shackles around his hands and feet. Anansi said, “Bredda Man, is who tie you up?” And the man said, “Mas Fletcher.” Anansi asked, “Why?” The man answered, “Because we ran away, three of us, and when Mas Fletcher find us, he said if we fight, they would kill our families. But if we surrender and let them hang us, they will make sure our children always have food to eat.”
Anansi couldn’t believe his luck once again. Now he wouldn’t even have to carry the bananas back home. All he had to do was hang off the ground and play dead, and Mas Fletcher would feed his children forever. What a trick! Then Anansi looked beside the naked man and saw the bones of Bredda Rat and Bredda Mongoose. But the man didn’t look dangerous or even angry, so Anansi wasn’t afraid. He said to the man, “Where is Mas Fletcher?” Before he could answer, the door to the shack flew open, and a fat man stood there with a lantern in his hand. Anansi knew right away it was Mas Fletcher.
The fat man said, “Cudjoe, you should never have run away.” Anansi looked around for a piece of string or rope, but there was nothing in the room except straw. Then Anansi saw a loose thread dangling from Mas Fletcher’s silk shirt, and knew what to do. He crawled up Mas Fletcher’s pant leg, up his sleeve, and tied the loose thread to his own bottom. Just as he was about to jump, the naked man shouted, “Mas Fletcher! Mas Fletcher! There’s a spider on you shirt, and if it bite you, it will kill you!” And Mas Fletcher tried to hit Anansi, but Anansi scrambled to the middle of the fat man’s back, where Mas Fletcher couldn’t reach him.
Then the naked man said, “Give me the lantern, Mas Fletcher. I will kill the spider for you.” And because Mas Fletcher did not want to be bitten, he handed over the lantern. Then Cudjoe hit Mas Fletcher hard on the back of his head with the lantern, and the fat man fell to the ground, and the lantern smashed and ignited the straw. And Cudjoe grabbed the keys from the fat man’s belt and unshackled himself. Anansi could feel the heat of the flames and was afraid, but there was nowhere to go. Cudjoe looked at Anansi and held out his dark-skinned hand. “Come, Kwaku Anansi,” he said, “let us two tricksters escape into the night.” And Anansi climbed onto Cudjoe’s hand and they left the shack burning bright orange.
That is why to this day, Cudjoe’s descendants are free. And that is also why, if you look in a tree, you will see Anansi hanging from a silk thread, playing dead to get food for his children.
Keiran is a writer and producer. His column appears every Wednesday. Find him on Twitter @keiranwking. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.