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By Mehreen Ahmed
*Editor's Note: This piece was first published in The Cabinet of Heed and Portland Metrozine.
Two helicopters flew over our heads, like a duo dragonfly in the autumn sky. This afternoon, my sister and I sat under an old oak tree in our garden by the River Bhairab. Those were the days when we chatted silly and talked about every nonsense that entered our heads, giggling over nothing.
“You always live in your head,” my sister declared.
“Let me guess, you don’t like that. This life of the mind kind o’ thing,” I laughed
“You know how it is, thinking, dreaming.” I laughed first, then she laughed with me.
I hadn’t actually realized it until now that she mentioned it. Yes, I was the more reflective one, she, the extroverted. But that was all the difference we had; we both stood on a common ground of compassion. Well-bonded in togetherness.
When we were growing up, much of the political discussions in our house centered around the partition of India. Discussions which shaped our world views, so much so that it made us opinionated. We always heard about these eternal qualms between the Hindus and the Muslims. The Hindus, who suffered in the hands of Muslims at partition, and now it was the Muslims turn to suffer in the hands of the Hindus. The power shifts, after the British had left. The crooked history, never left us at peace, not today, not ever; if any, it made us even more crooked, hating everyone, in our loveless lives. These clockwise and anti-clock motions of emotions ran hot and cold, politics played and churned out generations of despicable events.
Dramas that we saw around our kitchen table bore that testament. Our parents endlessly bickered over what should have been the right course. Disagreements led to high levels of anger, at times, shouts grew louder, arguments deepened. We listened and left the table when we couldn’t endure anymore. We started living in a distorted reality of ideas.
I looked up at the sky, such a serene afternoon, today. At the far end of the garden, our Gardener, weeding nettled locks from a thorny rose tree. He looked at us and nodded a greeting with a smile. We smiled back. The garden looked deliciously luxuriant or decadent, this time of the year. It burst into all sorts of nature’s vibrancy, as the colors of spring changed to warm scarlet, deep magenta, sea turtle emerald and saffron pouring onto our lawn. Impeccable was the word that summed it up. However, the Gardener’s intrepid work at cleaning the fallen, decrepit leaves, could not be ignored. It was his job to bring the garden to a full bloom every spring, of roses, and white jasmine, and pink daisies, and his job as well to clean it all up throughout autumn. Yes, pink daisies, the most prolific of all, the Nordic goddess, Freya’s sacred color, symbolizing, love, beauty and fertility.
The Gardener couldn’t do much to change the seasons’ natural laws. In autumn and in winter, the colors faded anyway. However, it all became replenished and resplendent, the next monsoon, when all the colors returned. He cared for the garden. It showed, how tirelessly, he kept at it, sprucing it up from fertilizing every priceless tree to watering them diligently. He never slept or ate. He lived over by the river, in this hut, with a leaky roof, through which rainwater dropped. But, he seemed to enjoy this drip and didn’t bother to fix it.
“It is beautiful, wouldn’t you agree?” I asked my sister.
She looked at the garden, then at the Gardener, and then his broken hut by the river and nodded in agreement.
“Do you think he is in love?” she asked.
“Maybe, we never really speak to him, do we?” I said.
“Hmm. I wonder sometimes.”
“We do speculate a lot,” I laughed.
She laughed with me. The Gardener overheard. The tinkle and the words, carried over by the autumnal air.
“Should we ask him?” asked my feisty sister.
“About what? If he is in love?” I asked in disbelief.
“Yes, if he can create this lush place of such breathing, blooming flowers, he must have a heart, too; sensitive enough to love and to kiss.” The Gardener, in my thoughts, swam in the deep river, and then suddenly, he kissed a girl there, in the river’s depth, a secret he harbored. He somersaulted in the water and swam away.
I looked at her puzzled, “You do realize our parents would kill us if they heard us speak of Gardner’s love life.”
“Yes, I do realize. Do you think, life would be any less miserable with the Gardner than it is right now? To the contrary, life may actually flourish.”
We both looked at his hut. And thought how the rainwater never affected him. Then there was a cry. It came from the Gardner. We rushed towards him. He had cut off his index finger and then tried to re-attach it. Red blood oozed out on the manicured lawn. A snake had bitten him, a brown, poisonous viper. It slithered away right before us.
“Oh, no!” we screamed. “You must go to the surgery at once!"
“It’s okay. I’ll go to my hut and rest. I’ll be fine tomorrow.”
“But you’ve lost so much blood.”
We couldn’t tell if he heard us. He dropped the finger and walked away. My sister began to run, but towards the kitchen to ask the chef if he could make some broth for the Gardener. In a bit, she returned with a bowl of broth, while I hung around the garden, and saw how the soil soaked up all his blood; the blue finger lay inert; we went into the hut together. The hut was bare as bones. We heard the sonorous river convey,
Roof’s torn portal led to spacetime above;
Earthlings, seen copious, but tiny pebbles on the top;
Gardener’s elusive, ubiquitous apparition, to summon;
Hollered life’s tales of bittersweet paradox.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.