Icon of 2 hands wanting to touch


April 28, 2020

By Chantal Eyong

Her father retrieved the Valencia orange with one hand while holding a knife in the other. If there was any time where she could move close to her father, it would be now. Facing him, she measured they were roughly an arm’s length apart. When she moved closer, her legs rubbing together made a louder sound than she had hoped. She watched his hands because his eyes were off limits. Her shoulders reached his forearm when he sat hunched over, but she made sure not to lean and risk touching him. When her father examined the orange with a close eye, smelled it, and proceeded to cut the rind, the child’s jaw relaxed.

Her eyes moved to the knife separating the rind from the orange. Rind spirals formed and dangled from the fruit. Will he cut all the way around the orange and make a perfect rind spiral without it breaking? Could he?

Then, it happened. Halfway around the orange, the spiral broke. As she watched the rind hit the floor, she stifled a noise, waiting to be sure her response was appropriate. Laughing felt right, but she stuffed the sensation in her chest, like an orange seed she hadn’t meant to swallow.

“Aww!” Her father bellowed. Then—laughter.
“Aww!” Her voice exploded from her throat, like soda from a shaken can.


Oranges dans un orangerI can only conclude
that my family
did not believe in the Navel orange.
I never knew them as a child.
So I did not speak Navel.
I spoke Valencia.

My father bought Valencia oranges in boxes.
For many years.

One could not dig into a Valencia with fingernails. So they had to be cut and there were two ways to do it.

1. along the orange sphere
to reveal a pale white layer
with lined remnants
of orange rind.

My father wowed us with
Perfect orange spirals
That dangled like telephone cords
Before hitting the floor.
I longed to cut with such perfection
But my knife left cracks and rind patches.

The second way to cut
Was down the middle,
Se-purr-eight in sections,
And evenly divide them
Among my sisters.
We held slices between our teeth and
Transformed into game show contestants
Red jaguars and silver monkeys,
with a Cameroonian flag in our hands
over our heads.

My first Navel orange
was from a paper bag
Served on a school trip.
I stripped the thick rind
with my fingers..
Stringy. bitter.
I could not accept it.

But now I do.

I eat navel oranges, unfazed.
I rub the powdery stickiness
of residue from my fingers,
speaking navel, like I’ve always known how

I have not spoken Valencia in decades.

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  • Chantal Eyong

    Chantal Eyong


    Chantal is an author, artist and media producer based in Los Angeles, California. Her work focuses on Afro-diasporic narratives in relation to the self, place-making, archives and memory. Chantal holds an MFA in Screenwriting from the University of California Riverside and is currently a doctoral student in the Media Arts + Practice program at the University of Southern California.

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