Poetry & Stories
There I was on that park bench. The same one you and I used to sit on in the old days -- the good old days. The wood now was grey and cracked, the bolts rusted. Leaves blew in hectic circles by the touch of the cutting autumn gusts -- well, actually, winter already, but not the violent part yet where you'd want to be locked in your apartment, doors bolted, curtains drawn, water on the stove. Just a cold, winter day, not a cloud in sight, and you weren't there. This used to be a garden, once.
It was August, I think about 1904. We sat, you and I, on a bench, a fine, ornate thing with curled iron legs and sun-bleached wood that was warm to the touch. The wet air hung about us with all the lethargy of a summer day in the tropics, desperately interrupted at times with a wind from the shore which shook the palms back and forth as they hung high above us. The orchids, the tiare, oh, the life in this place -- how could I ever have imagined such a life as this back in the cold confines of the wild north? I couldn't, and hadn't. But here I was, surrounded by the moistness, the greenery, and you. Some time passed in silence as we sat enjoying the lull of the hot afternoon, and finally you spoke.
"Did you know," you began, "did you know that some time ago, this garden lived in Egypt?"
This seemed quite a bent thing to say. "This must seem quite bent," you continued. "This garden has a history!"
I looked at you with all the seriousness I could muster. Unfortunately, as you will undoubtedly recall, I was unable to keep a firm chin and the laughter (the kind which one displays when in hysteria or disbelief) escaped my lips, and you laughed with me.
"Ah, well, some things are better left to silence," you said, and we fell into one, your hand over mine. It was lusciously comfortable.
The evening was quite dry. The wind was cutting, 'tho not as sharp as the sands it carried on its forlorn blasts through the clay town. There on the veranda I could hear the throaty, melancholy sound of a flute and a feverish drum, muffled from time to time by the blasts of searing wind and the racket of swaying donkeys making their way through the narrow streets to market.
The garden was wonderful, overgrown in roses and sweet jasmine and other fragrant things. The fine odor wafted about in the wind and seemed truly to caress my very being with its delicious taste. Some children peeked mischievously over the fencing. Beautiful children with wide, dark eyes and hair the tone of midnight. Their giggles floated over the fence into the garden. They ran off on dusty, bare feet, leaving me to my musings and the gentle sound of your breath as you slept softly with your head in my lap. I could smell the cardamom from my tea but didn't dare reach for the glass lest I shake you awake. You are so beautiful when you sleep.
I awoke with a start as the first touch of rain hit my face. The air was chilled, the fresh kind of bite that always left me feeling quite alive. Even more exciting were the black clouds walking over the sky. I've always loved this time of year. Haven't you?
And what a gorgeous place to spend it -- a clearing ringed by lofty redwoods, tall and fantastic, needles dripping rain onto the carpet of green ferns covering the springy dirt. Everything was damp, and it occurred to me that things would get pretty darned wet if we didn't quickly repair to our little round hut, the one you'd made for me out of old bark and branches.
"Good morning!" you sang, dropping some burnables onto the dying fire (and just in time!). "How do you like my garden?"
"Garden?" I asked. You indicated with a solemn nod and, turning around, I was most amused to see the finest collection of sticky pine cones, fern fronds, redwood cuttings and other odds and assorted ends.
"It's lovely!" I exclaimed in my best song. "Shall we dance?" And we skipped like idiots around your garden, laughing stupidly. Of course, the sky at this very moment chose to open very wide and sent us hastily into the little hut to sit out the storm.
I felt exhilarated, the hot air searing my lungs as I ran with full strides from tree to tree, keeping pace and making you chase me. Just over the ridge, the hard-packed dirt gave way to shifting sands. This would be the end of the run, the point of no return lest we chose to go on a walkabout, one of those long, wandering trips. Not today. You caught up and tackled me playfully, and we rolled about in the dirt and grasses, finally stopping to rest, breathless, under the hot sun. A lizard lazily sunned on a red rock, doing push-ups if we dared look his way in too obvious a fashion.
There, as we lay, spread the most breathtaking expanse of untamed territory -- huge, spreading trees with the most fragrant of leaves that popped up from no place at all, strange creatures like 'roos and wombats and wallabies and such. It was wild, we were wild, and I loved it like that.
"What better garden could ever exist?" you said sleepily.
"Ahhhh " I moaned in reply. Who could talk?
"Let's take it with us, what say you?"
"Huh?" I managed to grunt. "Take it with us?"
"You know. Let's always have a garden."
"Sure. We'll always have a garden. Whatever you say." And I dozed off, my head cradled between your arm and your chest, the rises and falls of your breath lulling me into a deep, comfortable sleep.
The tiles were teal and blue and green and edged in gold. They were the walls, the floor, the ceiling. Simple windows broke the mosaics of pattern with their own latticed framework, creating a slight breeze which wafted lightly about the courtyard, bringing with it the sweet scent of the date palms stoically standing above.
There was a large, round opening in the roof in the center of the yard, and a fountain, tiled (of course), and sounding heavenly as the water splashed and licked its way down from top step to next step to middle step and all the way down to the tiled pond, where the children lay with their feet at the edge, getting their toes splashed ever so slightly as they stared at the faint wisps of clouds so high above. Rooms surrounded the courtyard, but the courtyard was so big, you wouldn't notice them but that the tiles stopped where the doorways began.
You sat across the courtyard on your gold and silken pillows, drinking coffee and speaking in your deep voice with your younger brother (not that he was all that young, either). I sat on my side of the tiled wonderland on my gold and silken pillows, sat and relished the afternoon as your mother fussed over me, painting henna on my hands and plaiting my hair with the skill of so many years of practice.
You caught my eye and with a twinkle that spoke only to me across the tiles.
"Thank you, Ummi, thank you," I said to mother. "Thank you, and I think I will go and visit the garden." She smiled that funny little smile of hers (she knew that I knew that she knew that well, you get the point), gathered up the flowing silks of her dresses and seemed to float off into one of the rooms at the far end of the courtyard. At the same time I noticed your brother, looking slightly disgruntled, getting onto his feet and lumbering off to yet another room at another tiled corner of this little world.
I smiled to myself and, throwing you a careless look over my shoulder, swept up my robes in a gesture and hastened to yet another door breaking the endless sea of tiles. This door was our door. The door to our own little world, and on the other side of this world, our own little garden. I carefully arranged myself on the pillows there under the flower-covered trellises and made as if to be asleep (which, of course, didn't fool you and never had, but why break with tradition?). In you came, chuckling and laughing with that deep voice of yours, your dark eyes glittering.
What a beautiful garden it was. How wonderful to have such a garden, especially with you in it.
(Written in 1994)