The Love Song of the Banana With Dreadlocks

by Jia Tolentino

Henry Gribbohm says he lost his life savings, $2,600, on a carnival game and all he has to show for it is a stuffed banana with dreadlocks. — CBS, EPSOM, NH, April 29, 2013

When I was born I was one of many — eyeless, unsmiling, without my hair, without my Rastafarian hat. Pressed into the rubber of the assembly line, I felt my friends all around me. We were hundreds of plush yellow tubes. We could sense the godlike faces hovering above us, their breath muffled by factory masks. We waited for them to fill our eye-sockets and give us teeth. The chemical air filled us with a collective longing. What else could you wish for at birth other than someone to hold you?

They pulled back my sockets and inserted pillow-like eyes. I caught a glimpse of myself in the cheap glasses of the Chinese worker who smoothed the threads of my dreadlocks. A strand hung unevenly across my forehead.

“Like my Liu Xiang,” the woman whispered, running her fingers through the black nylon ropes. A tear bloomed behind her glasses. I felt the dryness of my own false eyes and I was ashamed to not be able to mirror her pain. Then a supervisor began shouting about this sentimental delay. The woman — my mother? — now owed him eight hours of overtime.

I tried to speak in her defense but my mouth was sewn shut. The conveyor belt shuddered to life and soon I was bagged and boxed, trying to quiet myself. I sensed my fellows all around me, the rumbling of a truck, a long wait in a hot dry space, then the low, eerie sway of the sea. Your time will come, I told myself. Unable to blink, I was beginning to fear the possibility of my own immortality.

They unloaded me in a hangar where bright light burned the dust in the air. Still bagged in clear plastic, I was thrown into the back of a truck by a man holding something fragrant — it was yellow, like me, elongated. But without dreadlocks.

“Will you look at that,” he snorted. “Two bananas.” My name washed over me as he bit into my son. I watched the man chomp as he slid the truck gate down, and inside the welcome darkness, I wondered if what I had just witnessed was love.

From the truck I was carried to an arena that kaleidoscoped in front of me beyond comprehension — salty, bright, littered with people and sweat and screaming. Hung up on a stand next to others of my kind, I watched the blinking machines that tortured people and observed the children emerge from the garish chambers giddy and grateful. I learned my full name: Banana with Dreadlocks. I became friends with Panda and Alien. Beneath us, men tossed white balls into a bucket. We vibrated with the hope of belonging to them, but they always walked away as our caretaker silently jeered.

A man with tattoos and a white shirt walked up to the stand. “I’m not walking away till I get that XBox,” he said.

I wondered: What is an XBox? He lobbed a softball into the bucket and it bounced off the rim.
“Shit,” he said. He tried again, and again, and again.

“Tubs of Fun ain’t for the weak,” said our caretaker.

“Double or nothing,” the man said angrily, and then missed. “One more time,” he said. He missed again. “I’ll be right back,” he growled.

Our caretaker adjusted his purple polo shirt and laughed, counting the new stack of bills. “I shall pocket one of these hundos,” he muttered under his breath. “Thank you very much, Henry.”

A girl in pink shorts walked by our stand and paused. “That banana is racist,” she said, and walked on. I stared out into the afternoon sun, wondering if my life would ever amount to more than this.

Soon the man with tattoos was back, pushing a stroller that contained a tiny child. He brandished a wad of cash. “See this? That’s how much I want to beat your damn game. Your little Tubs of Fun. More like Tubs of FUCKING RIGGED.”

He began smashing softballs in the vicinity of the bucket with such force that we, hanging overhead, trembled. I looked at his child, who giggled happily. As his father handed over more and more money I dreamed that the child and I had the same mind — that wordlessly, we were one. At night we dreamed the same dreams of being created, or sea voyages, of hands to smooth our hair.

“FUCK,” screamed the man with tattoos. His hands were empty. Softballs lay all over the floor. “That’s my LIFE SAVINGS.”

“Twenty-six hundred dollars?” asked the caretaker. “I mean — “

“I’m going to sue you,” hissed the man with tattoos. “And I’m taking that damn banana.”

His hands reached up to me — he was choosing me! — and I came unhooked, fell vertiginously into his hands. The child clapped and giggled. He threw me over the back of the stroller and my head hung, dreadlocks swinging in midair as the child swiped his small hands back and forth within them. “Ba-na-na,” the child chortled. “Ba-na-na-na-na.”

Bliss flooded through me as we rolled along the hot sidewalk and out of the fair. I was mine; I was claimed; I had a home now, forever. I tried to make myself extra plush underneath the hands of the man with tattoos. Thank you, I wanted to tell him. This is the best day of my life.

Jia Tolentino lives in Ann Arbor, has a tumblr. (image via)

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.