The Garden – Excerpt

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The bad thing about her new circumstance was that she had to move constantly, so that the villagers who were out in the field harvesting thistles wouldn’t run into her. She could hear them every now and then, and then she knew she had to find another spot.

For this reason she liked to keep her accommodations to a minimum, but she couldn’t resist the temptation of making more of those beautiful objects, which really served no purpose. She made them small enough that she was able to wear them on her person. Every now and then she reached the wall and got infinitely frustrated that it restricted the area she could go to, made her retrace her steps and travel in circles, getting nowhere. She knew the premises by now, there was no joy of discovering something new, no unearthed treasure to be found, just more of the same bland mix.

Since she had time, she circled the compound, looking for an exit, and found there was none, a fact she already knew, and she was blown back by the thought that in her entire life she never once questioned the logic of being kept behind in an enclosure without a gate, where both resources and learning where limited and devoid of choice. The only logical explanation she could come up with was that some of her ancestors, way back when, built this coop to protect themselves from whatever wicked nightmare was lurking outside, and the knowledge of the world beyond was lost to the unintended consequences of having one’s means of survival limited in a way that inevitably led to them gradually diminish to nothing.

“This is horrible!” Cimmy thought. “Maybe Josepha and Bertha wouldn’t have grown this mean if they weren’t so desperate from living in hell. I mean, maybe they would be, but certainly not about food. Nobody should be mean about food, it is beneath the dignity of any human being.” She was very young, and contemplated what another twenty or thirty years of this life would do to her. Maybe in that dark and miserable future, she and Rahima would live to replace Bertha and Josepha, and assume their entitled attitudes and become heartless. “I’ve got to get out of here! I don’t want to become this, I don’t want to live like this, surely there must be a way past this wall, it doesn’t go to the sky.”

She spent many afternoons twisting ropes out of scratchy strands of thistle, while Fay watched her, indifferent; her fingers hurt and bled, but she didn’t care. She wasn’t sure how a rope would be of any use but kept working anyway, perfecting her craftsmanship, until the ropes turned out smooth, even, and flawless. When she reached mastery, she started embellishing them with tiny artifacts and flowers. She tried throwing them over the wall, a task as illogical as it was ineffective, because there was nothing to hold them in place on the other side, and they couldn’t bear witness to what they had seen either. She tried knotting rocks to their ends, and in this way she discovered the fundamental principles of pulleys and weights, and learned that she was heavier than the rocks. She counted her blessings for not having them fall on her head when the rope snapped back, and was about to give up when Fay, before she could grab him, climbed the rope with admirable agility and disappeared to the other side of the wall.

“No, Fay, come back!” Cimmy whimpered behind him, suddenly distressed by the loss of her companion. She didn’t know how much the rat meant to her until he was gone, what was she going to do now, without him. “The selfish ingrate! I must be out of my mind to try and fashion a relationship with a rat. They only act on instinct, he could care less if I live or die!”

She sat on the ground, suddenly defeated, and cried for a long time, until the salty tears started to irritate her cheeks and make them sting. That night she slept in the field all alone, and the field felt much colder and a lot less welcoming, as it was supposed to feel to somebody conditioned from birth to only survive inside a tribe.

To her great joy and surprise, Fay was back in the morning, and had brought with him what looked like a strange fruit, in a color that Cimmy instinctively knew must be yellow. It was strangely shaped, like a squat little vase with a long stem, surrounded by delicate gills. It was soft, moist, and cool to the touch, even in the blazing sunlight. While Cimmy held it in her hands, looking at it from all angles and trying to learn as much as she could about it, Fay climbed down her arm, took a good bite out of the fruit and chewed it slowly, to demonstrate what it was for.

Cimmy’s cloud of helplessness and defeat returned when she faced the fact that the rat was better suited at foraging for food than she was, and he was a lot more willing to take risks for a desirable outcome. “No wonder we’re all starving to death and living like this! Sometimes I wish I was born a rat!”

She contemplated that thought for a second, while munching on her unexpected treat, and because life hadn’t been exactly predictable lately, she started worrying that tomorrow she might wake up to find her wish had come true.

“Well, Fay can’t make rope,” she consoled herself with one of the advantages of having opposable thumbs. Fay looked at her, unimpressed, and finished his last bite of fruit.

(The Garden)