Diary of a Plant
WRITTEN BY AYESHA ASAD
They arrive on Saturday, unloading knapsacks of crude stone blades and curved knives. Coats of fur wrap around their bodies; beneath wiry strands of hair lie firm, smooth skin and chapped purple lips.
We huddle together, peering at them from afar: our strange new visitors. My mother shivers against the wind. Look here, she murmurs, they are our neighbors. We must share our homes with them and treat them with kindness, and they will do so in return.
I stare, fascinated, as they begin to turn over soil, planting seeds that will grow into our baby sisters and brothers. The ground blooms; we rise up to greet pale yellow, slender-limbed cousins and rotund green nephews. I welcome them, beckon them, decorate my journal’s pages with their poetry.
Soon, paved stones begin to split the fields and sparks burst out from between rocks. It is then that I see the first skyscraper demolished, torn asunder from its bed of green. I remain mute for weeks afterward.
I discover what chimneys are when I see a dark cloud smothering the sky; I shout in fear. Thick, billowing smoke sputters out in groves; the sun blackens behind it. Four of my friends choke on its poison.
Our neighbors begin to multiply in hordes. I witness them plucking children away from mothers like they are the spores on dandelions. Grassy hills give away under iron rails, the nails pressing into their skins. Soon, the hordes trample over cities, their dark leather shoes smothering houses, smearing their remains across dirty soles. I see my friends cling to their ridges and valleys, eyes wide and terrified, afraid that Goliath’s foot will stamp on the ground again, crushing their paper-thin, piteous bodies. When one shoe looms above our heads, like a monstrous, imposing bomb, we learn to duck and cover like children in school-shooter drills, scurrying into the confines of our houses.
I remember when our neighborhood was bathed in carpets of green and ripples of glassy blue; we often rose to meet the sun, stretching our limbs wide to feel the sultry heat warming our skin, curling our toes, sighing against our bodies.
But today, the heat is too much to bear. Stifling, scorching rays puncture our skin; the sun, once our caregiver, becomes our enemy. Our bellies brown and wrinkle – skin cancer is no joke.
One day, we begin to hear slight, sharp sounds, sounds that crackle and pop and sputter, sounds like sparks flying off telephone lines or chimneys clogging with ash or oil erupting in flames. The bitter tang of gasoline fills my nostrils; I hear gears grinding and engines roaring. Perhaps the sun has begun to burn, I wonder dully. My face is a patchwork of worry lines and bruised purple undereye bags; I have reached past the point of caring.
But the crackling sounds do not come from the sun; they emerge out of the thick, gray, smoke that clogs our city, leaching color out of towering olive steeples and massive russet skyscrapers, choking pink grocery stores and mud houses. Then we hear the ceaseless, idle chatter, the careless laughs that flit over our heads. Our invaders torch our city like Spanish conquerors toppling Rome, incinerating buildings and hanging children with plastic nooses – and they remain carefree, unconcerned.
Can we salvage something, please, I ask my mother as she chokes, coughs up blackened lungs. Please, let me save my journal, the one with words that danced to form rivers of milk and honey, the one that mentioned the beautiful army and how they would cultivate and nourish us, sow our cities till we were bursting with blooming petals and pale morning dew and enormous yellow mangoes and towering pillars of bark, the one that promised to turn us into the Promised Land –
My mother shakes her head, pale eyes bloodshot, her skin gaunt and papery brown, her hair fraying yellow on the tips. It is too late, she says, we thought they would be like the wild squirrels and bright yellow frogs and pale pink flamingoes; we thought they would pour us honey and feed our famished roots and scrub our floors till they glittered.
But instead, we lie curled on our bellies, watching the fire lapping at our toes. There is no air left to breathe. It was worse than I expected, oh, so much worse. Perhaps we were fools to trust them.