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The King of Bananas

Nothing is straight forward in the tropics



Resplendent at his bamboo, yellow banana stall, the King of Bananas prepared for another day's business.

His pitch, on the corner of Colombo's Duplication Road and Malasekera Mawatha had become an institution. Old sepia pictures of the high-rise-less streets show the stall in the same spot, manned by his great grandfather - Victorian Sri Lanka's Banana King. The stall and the title were hereditary and maintained with great pride. Sometimes, in the afternoon,the Banana Prince, and heir to the title, could be seen observing his kingdom to be.

Tropical Colombo begged for me to use it's swimming pools whenever possible. The Holiday Inn's was my pool of choice and by fortune, its path led me by the Banana King's domain. Needing energy between work and swimming, a banana was the perfect solution. I slowed my motorbike to a standstill and removed my helmet.

The stalls columns were dense with the largest bunches like the robust scales of a great yellow dragon. Red bananas rested in their beds in front of the stall, undulating like a Mediterranean roof-scape. A bandit's yellow bullet belt lined the top of the stall.

The bamboo structure was completely disguised and appeared to be constructed of the fruit. And beyond the yellow glare, through the trading hatch, unflinching, stood the King.

Unlike his yellow subjects curved in servitude, the King stood straight and tall. His dark, muscular arms folded proudly in front of his white vest which was translucent with perspiration. The whites of his eyes had taken on a banana shaded hue and stared, unmoving, in guarded observation of my approach.

I took a moment to admire the banana castle and to allow my eyes to adjust to the yellow glare as the late morning sun was deflected from the shiny yellow ramparts.

Two bananas sat on the counter, lonely without their bunch-mates. I could taste their sweet, soft flesh already; feel their slow releasing energy. They'd give me the oomph I need for a good hour's swim. I might even go to the gym.

I'd dismounted and was tugging my wallet from my back pocket as I approached the King. I was unfamiliar with his language and he with mine so I strived to make my communication clear. With two fingers gently curved in deference and pointing at the lonely fruit on the counter, I asked,

"Can I take those two bananas please?"

The King followed the path of my indicating digits slowly, with deliberation. When his eyes had rested on the fruit, he cocked his head in a kind of paternal admiration of them. I suppressed my impatience as he contemplated my request.

What was here to contemplate? He was surrounded by bananas. He sold them all day, everyday. Selling bananas was his raison d' être. Had I not shown due reverence perhaps?

The King seemed to wake from a sort of reverie, ready to respond. Though his arms were still staunchly locked, his smile was royal and gentle and I felt immediately calm.

Then, before he returned to his royal pose, barely perceptibly and hardly audibly, he shook his head,

"No." said the King.

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