Photo by Ikhlasul Amal.
They come in the summer, when the air begins to heat up. Women with coffee-brown skin stand evenly distributed at the sizzling street corners of Union Square.
The mango ladies lean against their carts with tight, high ponytails. Sweaty faces and heavy lids are the only hints of tiredness. The carts are grimy, with remnants of metal underneath the rust, and creak beneath the weight of mangoes. Old plastic water bottles hold red spices. Green bottles contain lemon juice that will pucker your lips with one drop. Each mango is peeled and cut into slices before being unceremoniously dropped into the plastic bags that are strapped to the side of each cart.
Picking your own bag and toppings is a rite of passage. The selection process is tricky. There are pits in mangoes, big and disappointing. The seller is careful when trying to disguise the pit, keeping a layer of flesh around the white center and never revealing exactly how big it is.
When surveying bags, veteran buyers will go for the smaller-cut pieces, assured that a pit can be no bigger than one of the small pieces. More adventurous, younger buyers go for bags with long, dripping sunburst slices, only to bite into the largest slice and wince at the unyielding texture of the pit.
It’s a street game for the locals, one of the many innocent ones in New York—a rare indulgence for sweltering weekends or long work hours.