Green Fingers - A Writing Exercise

Writing exercise (fiction)

The garden in my parents' house was a small plot with artisan tiles on the ground and tall planters with jasmine, roses, hydrangeas, bougainvilleas, gerberas, marigolds, petals of all seasons blooming in the confines of clay pots. A gardener in his lungi kurta would spend hours watering, pruning, fertilizing, slurping endless cups of chai, polishing the grey tile. The housekeeper insisted he was stealing our flowers, bringing them to the maid - once I saw the maid burying some jasmines in the folds of her dopatta and tying a knot. She knew he had a wife and three children. "But he never brings her any flowers," she'd say and scrub the floors in a jealous rage.

In another city now, where gardeners are not interested in houseplants, I bring bags of dirt from impersonal nurseries annexed to giant department stores. I line a green ceramic pot with soil and nestle the roots of gardenia, they disappear in a cascade of soft topsoil, an embryo in a dark womb. I cradle lavender in the soft bend of my elbow, it hangs like a plump napping baby. Its blooms stand erect in their new home when I plant it in a yellow clay pot. And finally there's basil. Its sweet scent saturates the air, its malleable leaves swoop in obedience when I push it to the bottom of a terracotta pot. I will see it growing, clip the fragrant leaves and add them to bow-tie pasta with spinach and mascarpone cheese. I will arrange them in a layer upon a baguette with tomatoes and mozzarella - bruschetta tasting of home grown basil. I will serve water at book club parties with slices of lemon and a few basil shoots floating in it. So many possibilities in a twelve-inch planter - my young basil sways in the cool evening breeze.

I pluck a stem now and place it in my car. On these tepid summer days, I will breathe in the intoxicating smell on the long commute home. I cut a leaf off with my garden shears and place it in my book, flowers pressed in books are for love-struck adolescents. I sleep with a basil stem in a bud vase next to my bed, my dreams are ripe and aromatic.

It is four o' clock on the day after I planted my garden. My watering can hovers in mid air like the open mouth of a woman just insulted by her lover. There is no breeze tonight, but the gardenia and lavender seem to dance like jealous siblings vying for attention. I see everything, absorb nothing. There are countless snails squirming around my dead basil, a fine powder of tattered leaves shimmers on the unwelcome cement floor of my front porch. The beautiful-flat-rounded blades and that sickly-sweet scent are gone like the wisps of a dawn dream broken by sunlight. What's left is a pot of dirt and gelatinous herbivores, monsters, and taunting reminders in a bud vase, between the pages of a book, on the upholstery of the car.

I am reminded of that morning years ago. I woke up to find all the beautiful flowers in my parents' garden, shredded mercilessly, pots shattered against the tile, the roots of the rose staring up at the sky, burned by a malicious flame. The maid sat with wild hair near her handiwork. "The gardener's wife is pregnant again," whispered the housekeeper. Why did she murder all the flowers, I wondered. Something telepathic transpired in that moment for the wild woman said "These, too, are his children. No more. All dead. If I can't make babies, I will just kill his."