The Garden – Excerpt

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She woke up from her garden dream, late. There was no one around to prompt or chide her, so Cimmy assumed they have all gone out into the fields, but one quick look out the window informed her that everybody was still there. That wasn’t the only thing she saw. The world had shifted again, and she was in a different place now, a garden without walls.

Far out into the distance she could see the waters Rahima was talking about, ending into nothing, as if they were falling off the earth.

She looked around the room to see if Fay was still there, and he was, dozing off on its bed of straw.
She couldn’t put her finger on it, but had this strange sense of futility, as if everything worth doing and knowing had already been experienced. Given her special circumstances that was a weirdly unreasonable feeling to have, because, for all she knew, she could wake up the next day to find herself in a completely different world, and still, the garden felt dull all of a sudden, and very small, now that she could gaze upon the vast expanse of the fields beyond it. They were beautiful, those fields by the waters, just as Rahima had said, with their dense clumps of evergreens whose colors faded to blue and to gray into the background, and with their endless wild meadows dotted by the bright splotches of poppies and chicory.

She wondered what would happen if she stepped beyond the boundary, now invisible, that separated their cultures from the wilderness, an endeavor which looked quite easy to accomplish now, because it didn’t seem like anybody who would even notice she was gone.

“What on earth happened?” Cimmy asked herself, apprehensive of this strange apathy that suffused her surroundings. She tried to talk to Rahima, who was too busy with her chores to notice her, and after she passed by a few other groups of people who also didn’t seem to acknowledge her presence, she had this sudden feeling that she must have become invisible.

Invisibility, Cimmy thought, could be beneficial on occasion, like for instance when Bertha and Josepha managed to find her at any time, and grab her from whatever activity she was involved in to impose their will on her day, but it could be heartbreaking too, when even her best friend didn’t seem to notice her presence anymore. She remembered that Rahima had toiled for many miserable days as a result of her wall obsession and gave her friend the benefit of the doubt, if only to realize a second later that the Rahima she was thinking about never existed in the current setting.

“So much for guilt,” Cimmy thought. “Or friendship, or anything else, for that matter.” For a second she contemplated the fact that maybe God had brought her here, in this ever changing world where she didn’t belong, to punish her for the audacity of wanting a better life by means of random and unpredictable reality shifts. She wallowed in self-pity for a while, until she remembered the bitter roots, and the cracked dirt, and almost dying from hunger, and had to agree that if this reality skipping game was meant as a punishment, it didn’t exactly accomplish the goal. The fields were heavy with harvest, displaying an overabundance of produce: vegetables and grains, fruit trees and weeds, all growing together aggressively, in giant amorphous clumps inside which one couldn’t distinguish their beginnings or ends.

Heartened by her new outlook on life, Cimmy put Fay in her pocket and, still worried that somebody might see her breach the boundary and punish her, she made for the meadows. Despite her unspoken fears, the world didn’t disappear the moment she stepped over the invisible line where the wall used to be; how strange it was, she thought, to remember a wall that never existed, and remember it in all its details, with Rahima straddling the top of it no less.

The meadow grasses were thicker and softer, nothing like the fields of grains Cimmy was used to, and tall, reaching up to her waist. She waddled through them like through murky water, wary of the things that might lurk underneath, wondering what on earth she was doing there and still dumbfounded by the fact that the limits of her world, as she knew them, had ceased to exist; she was immediately terrified of the new boundary, the one she could see in the distance, that place where the waters fell off the earth into only God knew what. The water was very close now, preceded by a stretch of loose dirt which glimmered softly in the sunlight, and its large restless mass overwhelmed Cimmy, who had never seen so much water in one place before.

A weed wrapped itself around her ankle as she fought her way out of the meadow to approach the waters; its green rope dotted with tiny white flowers made her stumble. When she stopped to free herself from it, Cimmy looked across the field and was shocked to discover how tiny her village had become. She counted its miniature houses, which looked like toys now, and was flooded by an overwhelming sense of dread: more than half of the houses were gone. Furthermore, she noticed that it wasn’t just the water which seemed to be falling off the edge of existence, but the earth itself had vanished on the opposite side, and all the familiar surroundings that lay on top of it and which used to be her home had fallen into the abyss, never to be seen again.

Now Cimmy knew she was being punished. She curled up on the stretch of loose dirt, next to the big waters, and cried there for a long time. She cried the loss of everything she knew, her best friend, her family, even Josepha, strange as that may seem. She started wondering what she was going to do from now on, when an even more terrifying thought surfaced: what if, because she had ventured so close to the edge, the world gave way under her feet and she was hurled into the abyss too? Cimmy instinctively looked for something to hold on to, so she wouldn’t fall, but the soft tall grasses of the meadow didn’t look like they would offer much support.

She remembered Fay, crushed by the guilt of having to watch him share her bitter fate when they both got swallowed by the depths unknown, and knew it was her fault for bringing him here, in this land of dragons, to meet his end before his time. It never occurred to Cimmy, in her distress, that the place of safety from where she’d supposedly taken the rat was now gone, and if anything, she had rescued it from disaster, but such is the nature of guilt and shame, they do not listen to reason.

The rat, on the other hand, didn’t seem flustered, despite the fact that, as Cimmy knew, animals have a keener sense of danger than humans; the girl expected him to be restless and utter anguished shrieks in expectation of the end of the world, but no. The rat yawned, bored, squirmed about a little bit in search of tasty crumbs to eat, and then, disappointed he had found none, ran back into the meadows.

Finding a rat in a wild meadow is about as hard as finding a needle in a haystack, a metaphor Cimmy was more familiar with, but she was determined to find Fay, who was, after all, the only thing she had left now that her world was lost to the abyss. She combed through the meadows, far and wide, in search of her little pet, with total disregard for her safety, ready to risk everything to find him, and she did find him, eventually, in a small clearing in the meadow, gorging on ripe grass seeds. There she looked across the field again, and discovered with awe that her village, now complete and significantly larger than before, was back in its place. Everything seemed to be there, just as she remembered it; she started crying again, now for joy, that divinity in its mercy had deigned to forgive her and put the world back together the way it was.

She picked up Fay and rushed back home, to the village which miraculously grew larger the closer she got to it, so happy and relieved to be able to go back home, where she was safe, that she didn’t stop to contemplate the logic of her circumstances: if the village could be gone in one instant and back the next, there was no guarantee this wasn’t going to happen again, whether she was inside it or not, which placed the certainty of existence itself in doubt going forward.

When she finally got back home she was hungry and tired, and emotionally drained from all the crying, and scared, and a little loopy, a blend that to Josepha looked no different from Cimmy’s usual expression. The former was in a good mood and welcomed the girl with her usual banter.

“Well, if it isn’t Princess Lazybones who decided to grace us with her presence after a long, exhausting day at the beach. Your preciousness must be hungry from all of that laying in the sun doing nothing! Wait, let me fetch somebody to peel some grapes for you!”

It is interesting how life changes one’s perspective on things. In the chill of the evening, as she cozied up next to the fire pit at the center of the village, close to Rahima, Cimmy thought the mere fact that she was still able to hear Josepha’s voice was a gift from above, and she started tearing up again, this time because of gratitude.

“Oh, would you stop your crying, for once? Every time I look at you you’re crying about something! If you don’t stop right now, I’ll give you something to cry about! Useless lunatic!” Josepha retorted. People who cried irritated her, because she found the habit to create unnecessary awkwardness and saw it as a sign of a weak mind and loose personal discipline.

“Why are you crying, Cimmy?” Rahima whispered in her friend’s ear, genuinely puzzled by the latter’s emotional outburst.

Cimmy didn’t answer, she just took in Rahima’s familiar countenance, now overshadowed by worry, and in that instant she found her friend to be the most beautiful creature God saw fit to place upon this earth. Another wave of tears drenched the lap of her garment.

“I…just…,” she barely managed to utter between sighs, “am so happy to see you again!”

Rahima gave her a long, probing look, shook her head and mumbled under her breath.

“You know, sometimes I wonder if Josepha isn’t right about you. You’re so weird you’re even giving me the creeps.”

(The Garden)