Everything’s drab in the Heights except for little kids running around in neon colors, memorizing hidey holes, learning to count greasy bills—4th generation delivery boys. Across from the tagged junkyard, traffic rolls in, rolls out of the jets. Radio crackles, sirens, lights, blank-eyed stares. Nobody knows nothin. The kid in a red Bulls jacket flashes a grin. “You ever shoot a robber?” he asks.
They walked all day and sometimes into the night, fleeing the Russians. After awhile she quit asking where they were going or how long they had to walk. When she couldn’t take another step, her mother carried her. One afternoon an American soldier offered them a ride in a small open car. They rode into a silent village and stopped at a broken hotel. Her mother and the soldier went up the front steps, shoes crunching glass. She stood by the car where her mother told her to wait. Across the square she saw an empty church, its roof collapsed, a gaping hole near its sagging door. She crossed herself.
The soldier came outside alone. He handed her something long and yellow, brown-spotted–like nothing she’d ever seen. He motioned for her to eat. She took a bite and spit it out. He showed her how to peel off the outside skin and then it was delicious. The soldier smiled, patted her on the head, and she watched him drive away before going inside.
Late the next day, as she and her mother trudged toward the setting sun, she thought about the soldier, wishing he would come back. He made her feel safe and she wanted more of his sweet fruit.
Years afterward, waiting in a Las Vegas apartment for her husband to return from Viet Nam, she remembered that first American soldier, back when she’d tasted her first banana.
Barry Basden lives in the Texas hill country. He edits Camroc Press Review and is coauthor of Crack! and Thump: With a Combat Infantry Officer in World War II. His shorter work has been published widely, both online and in print. His latest flash collection is Wince.