The Garden – Excerpt

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“You know,” she told her new friend, “now that we have enjoyed each other’s company for a few days it would be fitting that I give you a name, how about…” Cimmy looked at the rat, who didn’t seem impressed by the solemnity of the moment, while she pondered on the name that would best fit him. It was not something to be taken lightly, a name, it defined a person to one’s peers and it became part of one, like eye color, or gender. She just stopped to acknowledge the fact that she didn’t know whether her friend was a boy or a girl, and decided she didn’t want to know, because it didn’t make any difference.

There was nothing worse than having a mismatched name, she thought, except not having a name at all; she felt bad about not thinking about it sooner. She went through all the names she knew, and none of them felt like a good match, so she said the first word that came to her mind.

“Fay,” she rejoiced. “I’m going to call you Fay. How do you feel about it?” she asked her new furry friend, excited, and her enthusiasm was a bit deflated by the realization that the rat really didn’t have a clue one way or the other. “Well, that’s ok. It matters to me.”

“You know, Fay,” she commented later, munching on a handful of seeds while the rat was working on his, “this is actually not bad: food is plentiful, there is no hassle, no chores, no nasty smells, and I enjoy your wonderful company to boot. I’m not going to lie to you, my friend, I don’t know how long this is going to last. If last time gave me any insight, I may wake up somewhere different tomorrow, somewhere all of this might not exist. If so, I’m going to miss you bad, my friend.”

The rat looked at her intently and continued munching on his seeds.

“Thanks for caring!” Cimmy pouted, and withdrew into her thoughts. What of Rahima, she’d been her best friend since she could remember, what if she wouldn’t be there next time? Her anxiety grew and she started fretting, but since she knew she had no control over the matter, it fizzled out eventually. She remembered Rahima’s disgust at the dreadful seed porridge, and how she thought she’d rather eat nothing at all, and she was so grateful that this version of her friend had never experienced famine, she didn’t know what it was like to not see food for days, and feel the pangs of hunger, and the weakness, and the shadow of death. People have such trouble empathizing with sorrows they never experienced, and she had to pause to figure out whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. Maybe it would have been for the best if she never knew starvation either, and if she could brush it off as something unnatural, that was not meant to exist.

She found herself judging Rahima, against her better nature and the love she had for her friend, for despising the nourishing slop which, according to an unbiased standard, was indeed god-awful, but was still better than the bitter roots, whose high oxalic salt content made one’s mouth and innards sore pretty much all the time.

“How did we survive on those?” she asked herself in amazement, knowing in her heart, without anyone having to tell her, that there was something toxic in those roots, something that could cause permanent damage.

Whatever her fate, and whatever petty torments Josepha and Bertha devised for her, she was grateful to have been offered a way out of that hell of despair. She didn’t know what she had done to deserve it, but maybe it was not about deserving, maybe it was about not letting go of hope.

(The Garden)