“Here, try one.”
“Looks like a red bean?”
“Eww, I don’t eat beans.’ She popped the tiny red fruit in her mouth. “Mmm…” Her tongue flicked across lips, bending towards the knee-high bush. “Gotta pick some for Dad, he loves ’em with his dinner.”
“What is it?” He stepped closer, loosening the top button of his dampening shirt. Sniffed at the humid air as thunder rolled, threatening another tropical deluge.
“Dad calls ‘em bush strawberries.” She picked a dozen slipping them into the pocket of her cotton dress.
“Strawberries grow on the ground, not bushes. And some of these are green as capsicum,” he said rolling up his long-sleeved shirt to his elbows.
“Duh, I just said they were Bush Strawberries.” Eyes rolled, popping another red morsel into her mouth, the green twig rolled across her lips. “In a coupla weeks these bushes will be littered in ripe fruit and Dad ‘n I’ll pick ‘em to make a sauce.”
“Sauce–for ice cream sundaes?”
“Mum adds it to her chocolate cake mixes. Shh, that’s her secret ingredient. Mostly they’re used for dad’s favourite sauce he uses on everythin’. You can eat anything, right? You’re tough, right?”
“Yeah,” he said, hiking up the sweaty band of his jeans, jutting out his chin. “I’m no girl.”
“So try it. Then you can brag back in the city sayin’ you tried bush tucker.”She held out a plump, perfect shell in her palm. “Besides, somethin’ that small aint gonna hurt ya.”
His fingers picked up the fruit that was tinier than his smallest chewed fingernail. “Does it have seeds?”
“Yep, just like regular strawberry seeds, gettin’ stuck between your teeth. Don’t eat the stem.” Popping the fruit into her mouth, she used her teeth to hold it in place and reefed the green stem as if a bottled cork. Chewed, swallowed, with eyes shining and lips twisting sideways.
He copied teething the red pod and plucked the stem free. Crunched down as juice escaped, chewing thoughtfully and swallowed. “Not that sweet,” he mumbled, licking his lips.
“Wait for it, the flavours comin’.” She giggled behind palms.
“What’s so funny?”
When his eyes widened and his jaw froze.
“Hooooooottt. Hot. Hot. Hot. Water. Water. Water.” Fire. A pure peppered fire burned his tongue. Sweating profusely, he searched for water. Spotting the bird bath, he ran and shoved his entire burning mouth under water.
“Where’s me chillies?” Dad called from upstairs.
“Chillies.” He lifted his flushed face and swollen shiny lips from the birdbath’s bowl. “You said they were bush strawberries.” Teeth scraped his swelling tongue of fire, fanning himself with water, saturating his shirt.
“It’s what Dad calls ‘em. But they’re also known as ‘Bird’s Eye’ chillies. Don’t worry, ya get used to ‘em. Mum used to make me eat them for swearing, now she has to use soap.” Eyes widened, flashing her teeth in a wide smile, she asked, “wanna try the dragon fruit next? It’ll help with the burn. Trust me.”