Mizu stood under the cool shade of the coco-de-mer trees whose palms stretched over her to block the whole sky. A little sea breeze notoriously rattled its giant fruits and a loud “dud dud dud” crossed the seas and entered the nook of Victoria city. Mizu was on the Praslin, one of Seychelles’ islands far from the city, which had an endangered breed of palm trees growing in its hinterland.
Zolo had brought Mizu here only to show her the massive fruits that clung to the tree trunk. “You are looking at some very expensive produce, even a deformed one like that sells for 50 US dollars each.”, said Zolo, pointing at the one that was huge, dry and flaky.
“On the boat, I heard the Americans saying that this part of Praslin, Vallee de Mai, was once the Garden of Eden.”, said Mizu whispering so that Zolo had to lean towards her.
“General Gordon once said so, that Vallee de Mai was the original Garden of Eden as in the Bible, its true”, said Zolo.
“So the coco de mer is the forbidden fruit? Imagine Eve offering it to Adam, all 20 kgs of the knowledge of good and evil”, said Mizu humoring her.
“But, don’t you see the shape of the fruit… the fruit granted the knowledge of carnal pleasures… that’s why Adam and Eve were banished… And I have also heard that the male trees uproot themselves and mingle with the female trees at night. Anyone who watches them mating will go blind”, said Zolo.
Mizu looked at the other plants on the ground and realised that the palms of the coco de mer blocked out Seychelles sun so that every other sapling on the ground was left to starve. She wondered if it was simply the endangered palm’s strategy to sustain itself.
At noon, Zolo and Mizu left Praslin island and got back on the boat to Victoria City, where Mizu had first met Zolo. They had instantly become friends over a bowl of Bouillon Brede – a Seychellois soup made with bok choy, chum choy, moringa and Chinese lettuce. After their little acquaintance, Zolo offered to take Mizu first to Praslin island and then to Victoria City. She said that many foreigners toured the city first, but they missed the whole point of coming to Seychelles – the Forbidden Fruit.
“Sometimes the exteriors make the city”, said Mizu agreeing with Zolo, recalling the train ride to Adelaide.
As the boat took a steep turn, Mizu watched Zolo’s skin slowly begin to glow as it caught the morning sunlight. Zolo was a native East African woman with magnificent features and a deep warm voice that was heavy with wisdom. She lived in Victoria City and worked as a local tour guide for a Seychelles travel agency.
Zolo had received quite a few glares from the Americans on the boat that were baffled by her camaraderie with a Japanese woman.
When Mizu and Zolo reached the city, they walked along the pavement of Revolution Avenue whose roads seemed to be so smooth as though they were freshly laid out. They took a right at Serret Road Junction and walked together for another 10 minutes until they reached Marie Antoinette for their afternoon lunch.
Zolo walked into the restaurant with the flair of a regular customer, but Mizu stopped at the entrance to take a look at its massive edifice. It was a huge colonial mansion turned into a restaurant with its exterior walls painted in the colour of the coco de mers. Its white shutters and red roof reminded Mizu of the quaint European hotels she had seen in Tokyo’s Brutus magazines.
When Mizu entered the restaurant she saw tiny trinkets around the place and a wall marked with business cards and notes left behind by foreigners from all over the globe. Zolo was seated at a table covered in white lace and had already placed an order.
“I’ve ordered the whole food menu.”, said Zolo, smirking at Mizu.
“Have I made an impression of being a big shot?”, asked Mizu, suddenly worried that they would be thrown out any minute.
“Just wait for it”, reassured Zolo.
In around 20 minutes, a waitress arrived with a platter of grilled red snapper, aubergine fritters, parrot fish, chicken curry, tuna steak, fish stew with vegetable, rice and mango salad.
“This is their set menu and it has been like that since 1972. This is authentic creole cuisine respected by the locals here”, said Zolo indicating that they should start eating.
Mizu was quite hungry after the sunny morning on Praslin island and began serving herself a little of every dish. When she took a bite of the parrot fish, she thought it was the most heavenly fish she had ever eaten, succulent and soft, along with the red snapper that was infused with a delicious red gravy.
They took two hours to finish their big meal, relishing every last bit of it while talking about Africa and Japan. When they were done, they split the bill of 2400 Seychellois rupees which was the most Mizu had spent on a restaurant so far, but it was worth it, the warm homely ambience, the large tortoises in the backyard, the creole food, the sounds of the coco de mers rustling far away while she dined in a colonial mansion. It was sublime…surreal…
After thanking the waitress for her hospitality, Mizu and Zolo left the restaurant and entered the lane towards Sir Selwyn Clarke Market. The market was in the heart of Victoria city and bustled with locals shopping for fresh produce, while the aromas of vanilla bean and cinnamon notoriously mingled in the air.
While walking among the carts selling locally grown fruits, Mizu delighted in hearing the local Seselwa language which had a ring of French to it. She noticed that people here spoke calmly and with warmth, and she also understood where Zolo got her deep voice from.
Mizu saw the old banners on the market walls advertising the island’s coco de mers and realised that this fruit must have dominated the entire economy of Seychelles in the past, but now water tourism made up most of the country’s GDP. Mizu could feel the slowly drifting presence of an endangered fruit, of a withering history, of a future where the memory of the coco de mer itself would be deformed – dry and flaky, sold for cheap.
Mizu and Zolo walked out of the bustling market street and into Bel Air Road to visit the oldest historic site in Victoria City. Mizu thought that the Bel Air Cemetery was quite unusual, it was a wide lime green pasture with huge stone blocks for coffins that rose hesitantly from the ground. Many leafy trees grew around the cemetery, somehow paying homage to the dead.
As Mizu threaded along the tender grass of the cemetery, she found the longest stone tomb resting in solitude at a distance from the others. It was the tomb of Charles Dorothée Savy who was 9 feet tall and was poisoned when he was a little boy of 14 years because of his height. He could lift up a sack of rice with his little finger and the islanders began to fear that if he did grow up, he would wreck the island. Mizu thought that the coco de mer was a giant fruit too, but it didn’t pose any threat, did it?
Soon it was 6 pm and the city dwellers had begun to thread home. Zolo took Mizu back to Sir Selwyn Clarke Market and stopped by a souvenir cart which had an array of tote bags and black pearls on sale. There she bought a coco de mer souvenir for Mizu and told her to remember Victoria City for what it truly was.
From Mahe harbour, Mizu got into a cab and headed towards the Seychelles airport. As it drove down the smooth roads of the city, she waved back to Zolo as she moved further away and out of sight.
She then looked down at the coco de mer keychain that lay lifeless in her palm. Was it necessary that every memory be reduced to a souvenir, only to mock one of what had passed? Mizu didn’t understand souvenirs, she left it to her mind to recall all that was dear.
The cab pulled into Seychelles airport which looked like a quaint railway station. She got out of the cab, leaving the coco de mer keychain on the car seat, hoping another foreigner would find some meaning in it…
Where will Mizu go next? Find a clue at the end of homepage!