“What if we do it on snow?”
“Mitts, tell us everything you know about snow.”
I glanced over at Mitts, who raised her head and widened her eyes at the same time. She looked between K.D. and me.
“I don’t know much. It didn’t really snow where we were.”
Mitts and her family had moved almost a year ago and ended up in our classes and our neighborhood—lucky for us. The three of us were gathered around my kitchen table, tossing around ideas for our big final group project in Ms. Wallenwein’s life sciences class.
“Any snow is better than none,” K.D. said, tapping her pen on the open page of her oversized notebook.
We had two goals: ace the group project and learn about something cool in the life sciences that Ms. Wallenwein wouldn’t be teaching us.
K.D. stopped tapping her pen. “Maybe we could bring in dry ice to simulate fog.”
I leaned back from my laptop and crossed my arms. “But that’s fog, not snow.”
“Maybe we could fill the whole room with foam popcorn for the snow.”
“I don’t think Ms. Wallenwein would allow it,” Mitts said.
We went silent for a few minutes while the three of us thought of ideas. The only sound was the clicking of my laptop’s keys (I was conducting various online searches for inspiration) and the soft popping of Mitts’s bubblegum. Every now and then we also heard a sound that K.D. thought was her stomach growling at first, but was actually Octavius’s snoring. He was lying in his favorite spot, the middle of doorway that led from the kitchen to the main hall, with the front half his body on the kitchen tile and the back half on the carpet.
“What about dinosaurs?” I said after a few minutes. “We could do our project on how and why they went extinct. That’s exciting.”
K.D. shook her head. “It might seem too basic. Like something we would have done in the fifth grade.” She loved dinosaurs. She probably didn’t want someone making fun of our project if it was about the thing she loved most. “But maybe you’re on the right track. Animals, but rare ones. What about cryptids?”
Her eyes went all shiny. “We can make clay models and paint them. That could be our visual aid.”
Mitts smiled and sat up straighter. “Yeah, definitely.”
“Who’s ‘we’?” I said. “I don’t really want to make a bunch of little sculptures. Oh also, I don’t know how.”
“Sounds like fun to me,” Mitts said. “I’ll do them all.”
K.D. shook her head again. “No…that’s not fair. We each need to work on every part of the project. That’s what we agreed to, right?”
Mitts and I nodded. She said, “Right,” and I said, “Yes.”
We didn’t want to split up the work the way some of the other groups were planning it, each person working on their part alone, and then bringing it together for some kind of rehearsal before their presentation. We wanted to work on the whole project together as much as possible.
We went silent again, and then someone suggested another idea. That happened a few times. Nothing sounded good, so K.D. asked me to bring up the rules of the project again, hoping we could get some help there.
According to the rules, we would get extra credit if we had a visual aid that was more than the assigned poster board presentation. Extra credit sounded good to us, especially since we had months and months to work on the project. A model would get us a little bit of extra credit. But an actual invention or device that worked would get us full credit and a guaranteed “A” on the project.
So, we started brainstorming possible inventions.
“What if we invent a sock finder?” K.D. suggested. “To find missing socks that get lost in dryers?”
I sighed and rubbed my stomach, which actually was starting to growl a little now. “I mean…the only way to invent something like that is if we learn magic.”
“Maybe we can make something simple,” Mitts said.
K.D. peered at her. “What are you thinking?”
“My dad is always complaining about how when he puts his coffee mug down, somehow the handle is always on the opposite side, so if he’s not looking at it and he tries to grab it, he has to touch the rim to spin it around, or touch the sides, and they might be hot. What if we make a mug with—I don’t know—five handles all the way around?”
K.D. continued peering. “That’s…you’re talking ‘magenta banana,’ my friend.”
A laugh burst out of me. “So true.” I shook my head and slapped Mitts’s shoulder so she wouldn’t feel so bad about her idea.
But Mitts was frowning and glancing between K.D. and me. “Banana? What did you just say?”
“Magenta banana, you know, something that someone works real hard to make, but the result is like not really worth it.” K.D. shrugged.
Mitts threw out her hands and shook her head. “I’ve never heard this reference.”
K.D. pointed to me, but I was already searching. It was an excuse to take a break, especially since it was almost dinner time. And my mom had given us permission to order a pizza (as long we ordered at least three vegetable toppings). K.D. went to the terminal on our fridge and started punching in the order.
“Here’s the dictionary definition,” I said, scooting my laptop closer to Mitts. “’An unnecessary idea or a solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist.’ That’s the first definition. But then it has something under the history. You know the Magenta Corporation, right?”
“Does anybody mind if I get roasted red bell peppers?” K.D. called to us.
Mitts and I mumbled our “no’s.”
“A long time ago, way, way before any of us were born,” I continued, “some inventor at Magenta invented this banana. I don’t know if I remember the whole story. Hang on, let me bring it up.”
K.D. finished ordering and stood behind us. “Are we wasting time until the food comes?”
“No way,” I said. “This is about banana farming. It’s science.”
We decided that night.
Our project was going to be on the Magenta banana.
We found out all kinds of things on our search—science, lore, scandals—so much that we didn’t have time to read it all before K.D. and Mitts had to head home. So we decided to meet up again at my place, every day that all three of us could meet (Mitts had afterschool art classes sometimes and K.D. was in some leadership club).
We learned that most of the searches referenced an article written by a journalism professor who once taught at some place called Farthest Star Institute (it was some kind of school-slash-research institute, and the more we learned about it, the more K.D. wanted to go there after high school).
The professor wrote a huge article called “Magenta’s Banana: The Fall without a Rise.”
So we decided to read the article in pieces. The first part was the background information.
Dr. Rashmi Khatta invented something important for the Magenta Corporation (some algorithm or something. The article didn’t go into details because it was all “proprietary information,” which we looked up and found out that it meant that people had signed a bunch of forms agreeing not to say anything about anything).
Whatever it was that Dr. Khatta invented, it helped Magenta start to get rich and powerful. So they gave her a laboratory and some money so that she could work on her own invention. It was part of the deal she made with them.
Dr. Khatta decided to invent a banana that could peel itself.
When the banana got ripe, part of the peel would turn a bright red-purple color: magenta. Then it would start peeling.
K.D., Mitts, and I took turns reading the article out loud to each other. It was my turn when we got to the third page.
“For some reason,” I read, “the company continued to support Dr. Khatta and her oddly unnecessary invention, leading to a slew of speculation.”
“A what?” K.D. asked.
“Slew…” I hovered over the word. “A whole bunch.”
There was a whole page where the professor asked a whole bunch—or slew—of questions about why the company didn’t stop Dr. Khatta and why she invented the Magenta banana in the first place.
Did the good doctor have some dirt on the company? Unlikely, for if she did, they could have made her disappear, surely. She wasn’t that well-known, even in her own community of scientists.
Did the company actually ask her to invent the banana? Maybe not directly, but perhaps they asked for something that served a particular function. Perhaps the banana was the result of Dr. Khatta’s out-of-the-box thinking. But what could they have asked for? According to some, a means to communicate. But communicate to whom? All of us? With messages both subliminal and suggestive? Conveyed through the banana peels? And what would they be interested in suggesting to us?
“Believe in Magenta?”
Or something more sinister?
Or maybe the company didn’t quite feel its own importance yet. Maybe they were sincere in holding up their end of the deal they made with Dr. Khatta. Was she trying to improve the common banana in more significant and useful ways, like increasing its nutritional value, making it taste better, or adding flavor hints like chocolate and caramel right into the DNA of the plant? Was the self-peeling banana aimed at helping differently abled folks eat the inventor’s favorite fruit?
Did something backfire and go wrong? Did the company have to go with it and modify the invention, making a desperate plan to recoup their investment? Was that the origin of the overly enthusiastic ads?
K.D. cleared her throat after I was done reading. “Is it me, or would Ms. Wallenwein never let us write an essay where we just went on and on, asking questions without answering them?”
I shook my head. “It’s not you.”
Mitts was on laptop duty that day. She was clicking away. “I want to know about these overly enthusiastic ads.”
She found one, a video of a commercial. The screen shot showed a woman in a bright red-purple blouse looking down at a banana—a regular banana, we guessed.
Mitts started playing the video. An announcer began to speak.
You know that feeling…you want a banana. You can almost smell its intoxicating sweetness. You can almost feel that soothing mushiness in your mouth.
(“Eww,” K.D. whispered.)
You can almost taste that creamy yellow goodness.
There’s only one problem. One hurdle that always foils you from getting to that special place in your mind where you’re enjoying a ripe fresh banana. One very un-delicious obstacle keeping you from your delicious banana paradise.
(The woman in the magenta blouse fumbled with the banana peel, and finally gave up, leaving the banana on the table, and staring at it sadly.)
All our lives we’ve been peeling bananas with our bare hands, the same way our ancestors peeled bananas tens of thousands of years ago.
Other technology has improved, even evolved, in leaps and bounds. But banana-peeling technology? Stuck in the stone ages…until now.
(An arm came out of nowhere and handed the sad woman another banana. She looked skeptical, but she took it.)
Introducing the Magenta Banana! The world’s first self-peeling banana.
And it tastes just as great as a regular banana.
(The woman looked straight ahead and raised her eyebrows. She wasn’t convinced.)
And guess what? It gets better. The banana doesn’t just peel itself. It peels itself when it’s at peak ripeness.
No more trying to figure out if a banana is ripe. Oh, and by the way, you’ll know the banana is about to peel itself when it develops a stylish magenta streak right down the middle.
(The camera got a close-up of the banana in the woman’s hand. A color started appearing along one section of the peel. The color matched the woman’s nail polish. Magenta. The woman watched the banana peel open by itself. She grinned and gave a thumbs up. The commercial ended.)
“What! She didn’t even get the eat it?” K.D. complained.
Mitts was giggling. “I love these old-timey commercials. Stylish streak!”
“Friends,” I said. “I’m pretty sure I saw something in our last search results about a self-peeling banana that exists in nature.”
“Oh, does it work the same way pitcher plants and Venus flytraps work?” Mitts asked. She snapped her fingers. “Maybe we can build a model of that.”
I shrugged. I didn’t know anything about pitcher plants or Venus flytraps. But we had agreed to finish reading that one big article before we decided what we would do for our actual project.
We finished reading the article. We thought that it would end with some kind of reveal. But it didn’t. Mitts read the last paragraph.
“Maybe the Magenta banana was an example of a corporation giving too much leeway to a genius who had helped them develop ground-breaking technologies, so they let her do what she wanted, gave her money, gave her a laboratory. And she invented a self-peeling banana.”
“Great,” K.D. said. “Can we read some of the fun stuff now?”
We let ourselves read some of the more outrageous theories.
There was one site that presented all kinds of proof that the Magenta banana was not really a banana at all. The so-called “peels” were organisms that grew by drinking nourishment from the mother tree. As they drank, they secreted metabolic by-products into the center of themselves, and those by-products is what became the banana fruit. It happened to replicate the look, feel, and taste of bananas.
“Metabolic by-products?” K.D.’s whole face was twisted in an expression of disgust. “What is that, like a fancy way to say ‘waste’?”
We happened to be eating bananas as part of our afternoon snack. K.D. put hers down. “So, a Magenta banana is basically this organism’s poop? If we ate it, we’d be eating poop? Are regular bananas also something’s poop? The tree’s poop? Are we eating the tree’s poop?”
Mitts raised her brow. “Stop saying we’re eating poop. We’re not eating poop.” She took a huge bite of banana and started chomping.
I shrugged and did the same.
K.D. swiped the screen to scroll through the site. “Are they saying these organisms are native to Earth or are they aliens? I thought I saw something about aliens.”
I stared down at my empty peel. “It’s time to decide. We have to submit our project proposal on Friday. We haven’t changed our mind about the topic. But is this going to be a basic poster presentation, or…?”
“I say we see if anyone is still growing them,” Mitts said. “We could ask for some samples. We would be super lucky if the timing worked out with getting them to open in class. It’s more likely we’ll have to get it on video.”
K.D. nodded. “Yeah, and we could interview the person growing them. Oh, and we could see if they make any other products, like Magenta banana pudding.”
It was a solid plan. It was a good project. So we submitted our one-paragraph proposal. Ms. Wallenwein was impressed. She remembered the Magenta banana ads when she was a kid. She never got to eat one. They were only available at select markets, and her parents told her they were too expensive. The first thing Ms. Wallenwein asked us, of course, is if we had looked up if anyone was growing any Magenta banana variants, and if they were close enough for us to travel there for our samples and our peeling demonstration video.
We’d gotten so excited, and we were so deep into the research, that we assumed someone somewhere—somewhere nearby—was still growing Magenta bananas.
Ms. Wallenwein accepted our proposal, and she gave us full credit for turning it in. But she asked us to submit an update once we had a name and address for a Magenta banana-grower.
I’ve never searched for anything in my life as thoroughly as I searched for any person on planet Earth who was growing Magenta bananas.
We searched online first. Next, we got the help of our school librarian. Then, we got the help of our city librarians. We called the Magenta Corporation help line. My mom drove us to the local Magenta Corporation field office to talk to someone. We sent letters. We made phone calls. We even got my mom to make a couple of calls, thinking that maybe people would take an adult more seriously.
When we couldn’t find someone who was currently growing Magenta bananas, we searched for someone who had ever grown Magenta bananas before. We found a few people, but they all said the same thing, that the bananas were a cute novelty, but they were more trouble than they were worth.
We learned that a regular banana tree gave fruit only once, but it could be cut down and the stems could grow a new tree (I think that’s how the one gentleman explained it). But the Magenta Corporation had made it so that their banana tree just died after giving fruit. There was no way to grow more fruit without going back to the company. They claimed it was a way to keep the Magenta banana from outcompeting other banana variants in nature. But most people figured they had engineered it that way so that the banana would be just what people were saying it was, more trouble than it was worth. And soon, it would be forgotten.
“They were embarrassed by the invention,” Mr. Harney said over the phone one day. He was a retired farmer who had once tried growing a Magenta banana tree just to test it out in a new greenhouse he’d built. He’d bought the plant from the company. “By the time I got it, it was a novelty that only a small community of people knew about. Pretty peel, but that’s about it. I’m not a banana person myself, but my wife said it tasted just fine.”
We thanked Mr. Harney for talking to us.
We were gathered around my kitchen table again, and as usual.
“I finally got an email back from customer service at Magenta,” Mitts said. “They listed a bunch of people who are growing Magenta bananas currently. These look like they’re in all the tropical countries where bananas usually grow.”
“We definitely can’t travel there.”
“Too bad we can’t just buy a plant like Mr. Harney did,” I said.
Mitts threw up her hands. “We should do it. Why not try? We’ve tried everything else.”
“Magenta is not going to sell a rare novelty banana to kids,” K.D. said.
“Why not? It’s not dangerous…or is it?” Mitts shrugged her eyebrows. I giggled.
“Even if they did, whose parent is going to let us buy a plant for however many thousands of dollars it probably is?”
“It’s not even a hundred,” Mitts said. She was gazing at the laptop screen. She flipped it around so K.D. and I could see. “I think I have enough saved up to cover it, if someone else can pay for shipping.”
K.D. frowned. “Wait, are you serious?”
“We would need space in a greenhouse,” I said. “Would that cost money? Does the school have a greenhouse?”
Mitts nodded. “Good idea. We should take to—who’s the horticulture teacher?”
K.D. rose from her seat. She glanced between Mitts and me. “You are serious.”
“If we can’t find someone who’s growing them, why not try to grow them ourselves?” Mitts said.
K.D.’s eyes got all shiny, like they did when she was “visualizing.”
“Even if it doesn’t work,” she said, “if we record our observations and collect data and do it all properly, all organized, that’s a great project.” Her shiny eyes got wide. “Will it work?”
“We won’t know until we try,” I said.
“Should we try?” Mitts asked. “What if that one site turns out to be right and the peels are some kind of weird organism?”
“It didn’t say the organisms were dangerous.”
I leaned forward. “Friends…what if eating the Magenta bananas gives us powers?”
We all burst out laughing.
We had our project.
We got permission from our parents (after a couple of them read our proposal and a few articles and documents from the company). My mom insisted that K.D. and I share the cost of the plant with Mitts. She was surprised when I gave up the money I’d been saving (to buy myself random gifts when it wasn’t my birthday). We checked to make sure there weren’t any laws or rules that would stop us from planting the tree.
We submitted our updated proposal to Ms. Wallenwein and begged her to give us an extension if the banana plant took a little longer to grow than we expected. The Magenta banana tree took a little less time than a typical banana tree. It would be ready to bear fruit by seven months, if we took care of it properly.
We ordered the plant only after we made an agreement with Mr. Pike to use a spot in the school’s greenhouse. He even agreed to help us take care of the plant after we told him all about our project. The rules allowed us to get help from any teachers in our school, so we were happy to get his help. We told him he could have all the bananas except for the few we wanted for our project.
Seven months later, Mitts, K.D, and I were pulled out of social studies class by Mr. Pike. He didn’t come get us himself. He sent a student, who looked excited and told us our banana tree was doing something weird.
“Are the bananas changing color?” K.D. asked as we all speed-walked down the hall. “Have any of them peeled?”
But the student Mr. Pike sent hadn’t seen anything himself. He’d been filling out paperwork when Mr. Pike popped into the empty classroom, and told him to come and get the three of us.
K.D., Mitts, and I had taken turns visiting the greenhouse to take care of the banana plant, to water it, to check it for signs of disease or decay. My dad was great at growing things, but I wasn’t. I think if I were the only one taking care of the banana tree it probably would have died. But we all took care of it, for seven months, and it was healthy.
We took care of it, even when we had that fight one day and the three of us didn’t speak to each other for a week. We met under the tree the day after we made up. So much other stuff happened in the time the tree was growing. K.D. got a cool haircut. Mitts entered and won a regional painting contest. I finally joined a club (the Readers of the Future book club). When the rows of bananas started coming in, we’d gotten excited. We took so many pictures, and made so many entries in the log that K.D. started in an oversized notebook.
But until that moment when we stepped into the greenhouse, we hadn’t felt that there was anything different about the tree, even after we named it (Maggie). It was special, because we were growing it together. But that was it.
“I can smell it,” Mitts whispered.
She was right. The moist air smelled like bananas.
Mr. Pike met us in the aisle that led to the tree. We could see it. He waved his hand toward the tree. He and his student aid stayed behind as we walked toward Maggie.
K.D. gasped when we got close enough to see the magenta streaks on a few bunches of bananas.
I pointed. “I think that one’s starting to open.”
“I really hope we don’t get stabbed by any tentacles or anything,” K.D. said.
“Maybe that’s why Mr. Pike is standing way back there,” Mitts said. “I thought it was to give us a private moment with Maggie.”
We chuckled, but we chuckled quietly. Like, we didn’t want to disturb Maggie.
Our presentation was pretty much done. We actually did have a poster. And we had that funny commercial. We had graphs and charts of Maggie’s growth. We had pictures. We had even rehearsed how we would speak. I’ve never gotten a project done early. It wasn’t due for another two weeks.
All we were waiting for was the bananas.
After some debate, we had decided to end our presentation with a bunch of questions, like the questions that journalism professor had asked in his article. We figured that when the bananas peeled, we might have some answers to those questions. Or we might not.
Mitts had a pretty good “serious voice,” so she would ask those questions.
So…what is the Magenta banana? Is it just a dumb idea from a smart person? Is it an alien organism? Is it a company secret that’s hidden in plain sight?
I held my breath and I held hands with my two friends.
We were about to find out.
Copyright © 2020 Nila L. Patel