When you walk past the stretch of jungle at the beginning of our lane you can smell it. The king of fruits. Loved and hated by many for its distinct flavour. Sweet, pungent, creamy, fragrant. Overpowering. To us, the scent of durian smelt like an expedition. From the street we could not only smell, but also see the fruit, deep in the wood, a tantalising fifty meters high. Looking at our flip-flopped feet, and the snake-infested, bushy undergrowth, we realised our expedition was ill prepared. We searched the ground for fallings of the rambutan tree next to the road instead, but the monkeys had left us only shells.
Then we spotted them, further down the road, in solid boots and gloves: durian pickers. They were loading their catch in the back of their truck, and we rushed over for a look and a chat. The durian pickers told us that the best trees were deep down in the darker jungle. And, that there was an old man sitting there, guarding his favourite tree, waiting for the fruit to fall.
I pointed at our shoddy footwear, and told them I was afraid to go in. It didn’t seem safe. ‘I wouldn’t want one of those heavy, spiky things falling on my kids heads,’ I shrugged.
The pickers laughed. ‘No,’ one of them assured me, ‘that won’t happen. You see, durians have eyes. They see. And they aim.’
I smiled too. ‘So do they aim to hit my kids, or to miss?’
He laughed again. ‘No, they aim to miss.’
‘But the snakes won’t,’ his mate added. ‘Don’t go in. Here.’
He rummaged through their catch, and handed me a pristine specimen.
We thanked the pickers warmly, and on the way home the durian’s spikes pricked painful red holes in the palms of my hands.
One needs to get past all its clever defences before the fleshy delights of the durian can be savoured. First, the smell. The smell of a fresh, uncut durian has no equal. Buildings have said to be evacuated, just because someone smuggled in a durian - a gas leak was suspected.
The durian reeks so persistent that is not allowed to take the fruit in buses, subways or even taxi’s. When our own car stank for days, Roel forbade me to transport the fruit there as well.
Durian flesh is, to put it mildly, an acquired taste. Me? I love it. There is a film of me, maybe six years old, savouring the fruit eagerly, and ever since I have been hooked. My family is not yet convinced. The next day, when we eat the velvety, fragrant flesh of the fresh forest fruit, Roel admits: it is not too bad. Actually, it is almost pleasant. And yes, I can quote him on that.