Red Planetary Skywalker GAP 2.5.17
Beaver’s last day is spent swimming and floating in the Green Lady’s tranquil cauldron. The Green Lady. She’s preparing a brew with Beaver tea, the scent of vanilla imbued in every ripple sent out by an elegant flick of Beaver tail, diving and surfacing, basking in the sun. They call him lazy, but they don’t know he’s come here at the Green Lady’s behest, to freely give what she’s asking for. How do I know this? Does it matter? Curiosity killed the cat, or didn’t your Mama teach you that? Curiously, that’s not what killed Beaver . . .
I know because I drank the tea she brewed, Beaver tea, and I sat beside her cauldron while she stirred. Baseer sat beside me and bade me describe what she was doing. He sits here now, when you see him, then you’ll know how I know. Until then, listen, this is what I see in the dregs of my Beaver tea . . .
A woman sits on stone cold steps on a sunny summer day; she wipes beads of sweat from her brow with the corner of her headscarf. It’s a brown and ochre paisley affair, speckled with rust dots, and has rolled over hems. Whoever hemmed it took great care to turn over the edge just so; not a single paisley is incomplete on that headscarf she has on her head. Whoever hemmed it chose threads that matched the color of the cloth exactly, look here it’s chocolate brown cloth and the thread barely visible, yet here the cloth is ochre and the thread, it is also ochre and barely visible. Whoever hemmed this headscarf changed threads as they hemmed. The woman had it tied under her chin in a loose knot earlier, but as the day wore on she untied the knot and let the ends hang down on either side of her shoulders, like braids. Braids she no longer has, age has thinned her hair and knobbed her hands, yet she sits on those stone cold steps, scraping the inside of watermelons with hands that are knobbed yes, but strong and firm in their action.
One by one she scrapes with a curved serrated blade. Her granddaughter watches. The blades edge looks to her wide eyes as though it’s cut by stars, marked by stars that left their points behind when they returned to the sky. She watches one hand grip the watermelon tilted over a strainer set on a big pot, the other hand gently scraping scraping scraping the flesh and tippling it off into the strainer. This is how her grandmother makes watermelon juice. It is a long long wait until she’ll give her some, the girl knows this, but when she’s given a glass of the red liquid, it’ll be sweet and watery and bursting with flavor. Somehow, on this hot day, it’ll also be cold as ice.
Her granny speaks without looking up from her work. “Listen, Azizeh, when you eat watermelon, always always spit out the seeds. Always spit out the seeds to cherry, pomegranate, apple, spit the seeds out or they’ll grow into trees in your belly and that won’t feel so good eh?”
She looks up and laughs at the look on her granddaughters face, imagining giant tree’s taking root in her body, trunk and branches growing; how will they be contained inside her, they’ll split her apart, she’s too small to grow trees! Cucumbers are vining through her belly and twisting her organs, squeezing the life out of her, oh why had she swallowed those seeds?
“Yes,” Azizeh nods her head fervently, “I’ll remember to always always spit out the seeds!”
Her granny narrows her eyes and stares at her a moment then leans forward and waves the starry edge of her curved blade in front of Azizeh’s nose.
“They don’t teach you this do they, those fool women in that no good land you live in? They’ve all forgotten, forgotten these things, I can tell nobody has told you this before eh? Spit it out!”
“No Bibi, I’ve never heard this before,” says Azizeh, suddenly afraid, are there trees growing slowly in her belly right now? From all those seeds she ate? She asks her Bibi, she’ll know.
Bibi looks her over, and then she puts down her pot with the strainer. She puts down the watermelon. She stands up and suddenly she looks younger, taller, her skin smoother and creamy. Azizeh feels a chill go up her spine; the hair on her arms seems to be tingling. Bibi’s eyes grow as big as the moon and she walks in a circle around Azizeh.
“Hmm,” she says, “You’ve eaten quite a number of seeds haven’t you? What a shame nobody told you not to, but it’s to be expected in that rat infested land you live in. They’ve all forgotten, their heads filled with nonsense, their hearts seized by fear. Disgusting! Once they were strong, they knew the ways, now they’re controlled by those bearded men with their untruths and lies!”
Bibi spits and says a word Azizeh doesn’t recognize. She knows there’s no love lost between Bibi and the country she lives in with her parents and all her mother’s family. Bibi used to live there herself and she makes it clear how much she loathes that country, a befouled besmirched tainted place she calls it. Azizeh can see how she feels that way. Azizeh sometimes feels that way too when the odor of shit on the streets and urine on the walls assaults her nostrils, especially in the heat of summer. The smells are awful and she often wonders what sorts of people create such living conditions, allow such conditions to exist? Her mother simply shakes her head when she asks and talks about how Azizeh is a lucky girl to have a home with a toilet and doesn’t have to use the streets as a place to have her own bowel movements. Still, Azizeh wonders all the same at people like her mother who stand by without opening their toilets to the people who they know have none, it’s all very puzzling to her and doesn’t make the mounds of shit covered with flies or the stench of urine any less. Bibi’s talking but Azizeh hasn’t heard a word she said, what did she miss?
“Bibi,” she interrupts, “How come you left? How come you didn’t stay and try to make it a better place for everyone?”
Bibi laughs. She laughs until tears roll down her eyes, which she wipes with the corners of her headscarf. Then she shakes her head and waves her star edged moon blade in front of Azizeh.
“Such a big question from such a little girl,” she says, “Just remember to spit those seeds out little one, and there are no trees growing in your belly . . . as yet.”
Then she goes back to her watermelon scraping, an old woman on a cold stone step, scraping scraping separating seeds and flesh from the water until at last she’s done and she hands her granddaughter a glass of icy cold watermelon water to drink.
Now look here, in this fertile green valley with its sparkling creeks and fishy rivers, there’s a girl with a brown paisley bandana tied around her head. She’s barefoot planting potatoes in a tilled field and see how her brow wrinkles in annoyance? She’s found another rock. Look over there, see that pile of rocks? Every year she’s been digging out rocks while she plants potatoes and every year there’s more than before climbing out of the earth. She’s tired, of rocks and stones, and fighting this hard gritty ground that tears up her nails. She falls to her knees and weeps. Then she falls to the ground and weeps with her head buried in the earth, why oh why is it so hard? She sits like this for a while and then she hears the voice first, for look over there beside her, you missed it didn’t you, thought it was a butterfly, well it’s a fairy, now hush, listen, it’s speaking to her . . .
“It’s the imps you know,” the fairy says, “The imps that keep burying rocks in here for you to dig up.”
The girl sits up and rubs her eyes with the paisley bandana. It belonged, once upon a time, to her granny, Bibi, but now its hers. She rubs her eyes but the fairy is still there, speaking.
“You’ve got to use them, the rocks, when you leave them there like that the imps use them instead. You choose, either you use them or they will and nine times out of ten it’ll be to your annoyance.”
The girl laughs and agrees, “Yes, you can say that again! I’ve been digging those out forever it feels like! Build something you say, like a wall to feed birds on?”
“Sure,” says the fairy, “A wall to feed the birds, that’ll delight them won’t it, especially in the winter when seed is scarce?”
The girls face gets a strange look on it at the mention of the word seed, seed seed seed, what’s that about seed, she can’t remember; dig dig dig, it’s something big, something Bibi said once, about seeds, she wasn’t to swallow the seeds!! Yes that was it! She frowns, she’d forgotten, how many seeds has she swallowed since then, she wonders? Better spit them out the way Bibi taught her, she’d forgotten that too! What else had she forgotten? The fairy, where has it gone? She looks around but all she sees are butterflies circling the pile of stones, so she gets up and stands straight and stretches.
She walks over to the pile of stones and as she begins sorting through them, she remembers Bibi’s last words to her, when she’d visited her beloved granny and been treated to one last round of icy cold red watermelon juice. How many years ago had that been? The day she’d left to catch her flight, Bibi had pressed her brown paisley headscarf into her hand. She’d held her close, as though she knew they’d not meet again.
She’d said, “Beware of walls, Azizeh, but be aware that the only ones to fear are the ones built up around the heart. These are the most dangerous and deadly of all walls, for in the absence of feeling, that juicy thirst quencher, the heart dehydrates, shrivels, withers and eventually dies. Sometimes the constrictive bands of the walls built around it grow so tight and the heart struggles to be freed, imploding and scorching all that it touches in the expansion. In the most rare of instances, the heart remembers, and the remembering heart, well that heart has its own way of reckoning with walls.”
She blinks back tears as she feels the cold stone in her hand, remembering Bibi’s words. She sits for a long while, remembering all that she had forgotten.
She remembers that her great-grandmother knew the old ways too, in that shit infested country that Bibi despised, her great-grandmother had lived and hidden her knowledge under her voluminous white sheets. Beneath the lettered prose and verse of bearded men, she’d kept all the old ways alive in plain sight, and she’d shared them, she’d shared them with all people. With the one’s who were afraid, she’d give them what they needed in their own verse as a prayer to recite, and with those more open, she’d openly meet them with rosewater and moonblade in hand. Yes, her great-grandmother knew and she had been revered and respected and beloved in that disgusting country by its people, who had honored her for sharing and loving them without prejudice; how could she not, she was on of them, one with them herself. Unlike Bibi, who had been a foreigner in a foreign land. But that was a different story. For now she recalls her great-grandmother parroting what Bibi had already taught her about seeds, and her wrinkled eyes laughing in surprise when she discovered that she already knew; how delighted the old lady had been, to have a blood relative, a conspirator! She’d taught her much, how had she forgotten? Her grandmother, not Bibi, the other one, the one with the pinched lips and tight expression, the one who’d forgotten and emptied out of everything, who’d frowned constantly, she’d hated watching her mother teach her the old ways under her roof. She’d been an austere woman and tolerated neither bearded verse nor old nonsense herself. Azizeh sits like this and goes on remembering . . .
The butterflies flutter in circles around her while one by one fairies come and pick up stones, helping build that wall; the one where she’ll feed birds seeds, and squirrels will scamper, where invitations to springtime rites and summertime festivities will be tucked into the moss door and the children will place pinecones and acorns for their friends while she scrapes watermelon juice for them with the star kissed moon blade her granny had wrapped in her headscarf and pressed into her hand so long ago.
But look here, this is a tale for you, now keep it inside and only spit it out when the time is right, for seeds aren’t for swallowing as now you know, but the ones you do swallow, spit them out in such a way as to make them count, got it?