“Here, try one.”
“Looks like a red bean?”
“Eww, I don’t eat beans,” popping 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 long sleeved shirt. Sniffed at the humid blanketing air as thunder rolled threatening another tropical deluge.
“Dad calls ‘em bush strawberries.” She picked a dozen slipping them into the pocket of her sleeveless cotton dress.
“Strawberries grow on the ground, not bushes. And some of these are green as capsicum,” 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 ‘ll be littered in ripe fruit and Dad ‘n’ I’ll pick ‘em to make sauce.”
“Sauces – for ice cream sundaes?”
“Mum dries them and 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’. Mum makes a wicked jam too. You can eat anything, right? You’re tough, right?”
“Yeah,” 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.” And held out a sun spotlit, plump, perfect shell in her palm. “Besides, somethin’ that small aint gonna hurt ya.”
His fingers picked up what was tinier than his smallest chewed fingernail. “Does it have seeds?”
“Yep, just like regular strawberry seeds get stuck between your teeth. Don’t eat the stem.” Popping the fruit into her mouth using her teeth to hold it in place and reefed the green stem as if a bottled cork. Chewed, swallowed, and waited, with eyes shining and lips twisting sideways.
He copied her act, teethed the red pod and plucked the stem free. Crunched down as juice escaped, chewing thoughtfully and swallowed. “Not that sweet,” licking his lips.
“Wait, flavours comin’,” giggling behind palms.
“What’s so funny?”
Eyes widened and his jaw froze.
“Hooooooottt. Hot. Hot. Hot. Water. Water. Water.” Fire. Pure pepper fire burned his tongue, sweating profusely, searching for the closest fire hydrant. Instead, the bird bath, and ran to shove his entire burning mouth under water.
“Where’s me chillies,” called Dad from upstairs?
“Chillies.” Lifting his flushed sodden face and swollen shining lips from the birdbath’s bowl. “You said they were bush strawberries.” Teeth scraping 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, “wanna try the dragon fruit next? It’ll help with the burn. Trust me.”