28: Eating the Evidence

28: Eating the Evidence

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

Eating the Evidence

There can never be enough said of the virtues, dangers, the power of a shared laugh.

~Françoise Sagan

The jig was up, I thought, as the U.S. Federal Inspection Service Agent tore open my knapsack and flung my neatly packed contents helter-skelter. All too soon she would discover my secret stash of goji berries. I suspected there might be a problem. My brother said they could be confiscated. I didn’t anticipate that my mother’s banana would be the culprit or that I’d be held for questioning and nearly arrested for its possession.

We had spent two weeks visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Hong Kong. I had sampled so many delectable examples of Chinese cuisine. The goji berries particularly enchanted me. These diamond-shaped beads stud Cantonese puddings, stews, and soups like bright red jewels. I love their sweet fruity taste. When I saw them on the grocery shelf, just hours before our flight left for San Francisco, I bought them as a reminder of our delightful adventure.

Our trip had been the first time my mother and I had traveled together for longer than three days. I had some trepidation. A conversation with her is not complete without her saying, “What would people think if you do such and such?” She also worries about the outcome of things, assuming they’ll end badly. Usually I groan and roll my eyes, but I’ve also become adept at planning for worst-case scenarios. I worry too much about what people think of me. I even worried what she would say if I did something outrageous. I wanted to just be myself and not have her comments interrupting my flow on our vacation.

The trip had actually gone without a hitch. Because I was enjoying her company, I wasn’t concerned with what she or anyone else thought of me.

When I purchased the goji berries, my mother and I also bought bananas to eat on the plane. My brother, who has flown the Asia-U.S. route many times, warned me about the berries, so I took precautions, hiding the sealed packet deep within a black bag. He didn’t comment on the bananas.

My mother and I both stored the bananas in our carry-on items—mine in my handbag under the seat in front of me, and hers in her roll-along knapsack in an overhead bin several rows behind us.

As we settled into our comfy padded seats, the soft airline blankets covering our legs, she said, “We must remember to eat our bananas.”

“No problem,” I said. “I’ll eat mine for breakfast.”

The engine roared, the lights dimmed, and our plane took off into the clouds, on time after midnight for the twelve-hour flight back to San Francisco. At 2:30 a.m., the flight attendant brought our dinners and customs forms. My mother pointed to one item on the moss-green rectangle. It read: I am bringing fruit/vegetables back to U.S. soil. “I checked ‘no,’ ” she said.

I was surprised, but then I rationalized: by the time we arrived we would’ve eaten our bananas. I trusted my mother’s decision. “I will, too.” I knew I wouldn’t have a problem.

A few hours later, my mother said, “I would like to get my banana.”

“How will you do that?” I didn’t know if she had the upper body strength to reach into the far left corner of the bin, drag out the knapsack, and maneuver it to the floor, especially since she had complained about its weight as we trekked through Hong Kong. Had it been stored over our row, I would have offered to retrieve it. Since I had the aisle seat, I knew I wouldn’t hit anyone on the head with it, if it fell.

But it rested above someone else’s row. The thought of getting it down made me worry about dropping it on the man in the seat below the bin. “I know what you could do—wait for the plane to land, get someone to help you with your bag, then eat your banana.”

“Oh no, Eva, that wouldn’t be legal.”

She changed her mind as I ate my bananas. “Could you eat my banana, too? I’ll give it to you after we land.”

Maybe her lack of sleep kept her from thinking clearly. It was unlike her to suggest such a thing.

“Of course,” I said, planning to eat it right after we deplaned.

Just then, we hit turbulence. I gripped my armrest and gritted my teeth as the plane jumped and bounced and bumped, jerking and shaking through the air.

By the time we taxied to our gate, I was clutching the seatbelt, eager to be the first to unclasp it and race off to find the bathroom. Neither of us mentioned the banana.

When I caught up to my mother, we made a beeline for baggage claim and then to Federal Inspection. Right after we went through the doorway, we dropped our bags to the floor and rested. She said, “I still have my banana. You’ll have to eat it now.”

Since I was used to her extreme moral self, it didn’t occur to me that she could be anything but. Still, I glanced around, remembering my flight back from Ecuador the year before when a dog had sniffed my carry-on for drugs. I wondered whether German shepherds had been trained to sniff out bananas. I didn’t see any dogs drooling, waiting to pounce. We were safe.

“Here,” my mother said, “turn around so no one will see you.”

I did as I was told. Even though I am forty-seven and she is seventy-five, I have moments where I am as obedient as when I was growing up. Unpeeling the banana, I stuffed giant-sized bites between my lips. I didn’t feel good about what I was doing. What if I got a stomachache?

Halfway through eating it, an officer strode over, looking official in his black shirt, black pants, and gold U.S. Customs insignia. “May I please see your passports?”

“Is this about the banana?” I asked.

He nodded.

“I can explain. It was in my mother’s knapsack. She planned to eat it on the plane, but didn’t have a chance, so she gave it to me. We both knew it was wrong, but…”

He held up his hand to stop me. Oops. My mouth went dry. At any moment he might whisk us off to federal prison. A newspaper headline flashed through my mind: “Woman Held for Possession of a Banana.”

He said, “You can hand in your banana to the agent and you won’t be in trouble or you can keep eating it. Your choice.”

For a mini-second, I was tempted to keep eating it. I needed the potassium to give me strength. But I also valued our freedom, so I discussed the matter with my partner in crime. My mother decided she’d hand it in. It was, after all, her banana. I felt sad giving it up. What a waste of a good banana.

We filed behind the other passengers in line for inspection. Recalling my brother’s cautionary words, I leaned over, whispering to my mother, “I wonder if I should mention my goji berries.”

“The less said, the better,” my mother muttered.

Hard to believe, I missed her usual lecture about what people would think and the doom that would follow my misstep. I wondered what had happened to the mother I knew, who obeyed every rule, every time, the one who raised me to be honest and ethical.

My stomach tightened. I had narrowly escaped being arrested over a banana, but what if someone found out about my berries? Why wasn’t she concerned with what the federal inspection agents would think if they discovered her daughter’s stash of goji berries?

Seizing my knapsack, an agent said, “Did you bring any fruits or vegetables?”

I scrunched up my face, feeling awkward. “Goji berries,” I sighed.

“Show me.” The zipper squealed open as she pawed at assorted packages.

I dug and dug, overturning containers and rustling plastic bags. The berries were invisible, even to me. Later in my apartment, I found them, squished beneath parcels, but at the time neither of us could detect them.

“What had you seen?” she consulted the man inspecting ghostly images on a digital screen.

“A carrot,” he said.

“Oh, a carrot.” That explained everything. I felt the sharp corners of a box and opened it, revealing a wooden acupressure horn, curved like the letter J. “Did you mean this?”

He nodded, and the agent said I could gather my things.

As the doors swung open for our grand entrance, my mother and I doubled over laughing. She had shown a different side of herself, and even though we nearly got arrested, love swelled inside me, linking us. I wouldn’t trade that for anything, not even a banana.

~Eva Schlesinger

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