Friday 24 May 2024

Yahya’s Garden by Ashia Mirza, herbal infusion

It was the night he collected the snails and slugs in a green plastic bucket and took them to the woods that he noticed me.

‘Hello, is someone there?’

I could have stayed as the sapling. Or taken the shape of a squirrel, an owl or a fox. Instead, I walked out of the thicket in the form of our ancestors. Dark hair, as lush as the leaves around me. Skin the colour of the dark earth I grew out of. The soil was older than any of the ancient trees. I created a figure that I knew would please him.

Mother wouldn’t be happy.

His startled eyes fell on my breasts with an evolutionary urge.

I could have used sorcery, but I trusted fate instead. Another thing Mother detested.

‘Are you okay? Are you hurt?’ he asked.

‘I’m lost,’ I said.

He pulled his jacket off and wrapped it loosely around my shoulders. It felt like a kite stuck in the tree; plastic debris abandoned in the woods; a dog-poo bag hanging off a branch. I suppressed the shudder to shake it off me, the same way that a human flicks a spider off their shoulder or a fly off their arm.

‘Shall I call the police?’

‘No.’

‘Is there anyone else I can call?’

‘No.’

Maybe it was the desperate swiftness of my reply, but his whole composure changed.

‘There’s a refuge not far from here. I can take you there?’ It took me a moment to realise he was referring to the places where beaten human women stay.

‘No.’

He shuffled his feet and scratched the back of his head.

‘Well … er … I came here to bring these fellers.’ He picked out the slugs and snails one by one and placed them down on the grass. ‘You’re welcome to come back to mine … if you want to, that is …  and you can clean up and use my phone.’ He said it in a way that was settled.

He was always better at making decisions than I was.

Maybe that was why I stayed with him.

Everything seemed so much easier. My head emptied of the heavy balls of clay soil. I captured the energy of the sunlight, and my veins carried the photosynthetic sweetness to my soul.

The neighbours weren’t happy with my nakedness, so I wore the clothes he chose made from wool, flax, silk and cotton when I went outside. Materials that didn’t feel like an itchy fungus on my skin. And I covered myself in a robe when I answered the door after that day when he found the postman frozen with his mouth open and a package in his hand.

I tended to his crops. Year after year, he was delighted with his harvest of leeks, beans, onions, cucumber and courgettes. He said I had green fingers and laughed when I made them so. Somehow, I knew he didn’t want me to tell him that I’d helped them grow healthy and large with enchanted words and a magical touch. That I’d murmured a spell over the slugs and other garden pests, so they left the garden. He didn’t like me interfering with his tomatoes, though; he said it was the first thing he’d ever grown and didn’t want to lose his touch.

We cooked meals I didn’t need because I could absorb nutrients from the ground. But I ate with him, and it reminded me of the feast days I’d loved as a child.

I was different, but he accepted it.

Mother never had.

For eight years, my heart beat as carefree as an infant.

 

I walked to the spot where we had first met and examined a spherical bunch of rooted dandelion     souls. Each floret cast its own euphoric light that danced across my face, and my insides glowed with the energy created.

A young boy came running, trampling many others and stopped next to my cluster. His mouth hung open, and his moody brown eyes grew as wide as the composite flower heads. He looked into my face, and I smiled with understanding. Maybe he saw what I did.

A frenzy of boyhood swept over him, and his face contorted as though it was melting in the sun. He turned and kicked the clump over and over. All the dandelion heads scattered.

His mother pushed a pram over the bereft stems, and it veered towards the army of out-of-control nettles that grew alongside a narrow, stone path. Her right hand held a phone in front of her artificially tanned face. Fake lashes curled up like a Venus flytrap about to snap on her dark, high-arched eyebrows.

Sunset-yellow petals stuck to the thick tyres.

Spinning round.

Dazed. Dying. Dead.

The baby screamed an elegy when the nettles brushed along her legs.

Time stopped.

I picked up a nearby dandelion clock.

I whispered across it and blew.

The white parachutes surfed my breath of life.

Beneath my feet, I felt the long taproot dance. The root that clones when divided. That would grow from a fragment and bring back life.

 

Mother raised out of my garden the next day, as tall as the sunflowers around her. Her face and body were the colour of the destroyed dandelion roots. She trampled dirt into my kitchen, and my bare feet absorbed it like a warm sea breeze.

When the kettle boiled, her vine arm extended forwards and poured the water into a mug. She grew an extra twig, snapped it off, dipped it into the water and tasted it. It reminded me of when Yahya used to dunk chocolate fingers in his tea.

‘Girl, I taste good!’ She put the root back in the water, pulled some petals off her hair and put those in too. She pushed the drink towards me.

I sipped the nutritious infusion whilst she tapped her slender root feet in time with the song on the radio.

‘I thought you abhorred all things human?’ I said.

‘We gave them music and dance. And we always danced to this one.’

And that was when I noticed that the song playing was My Girl. I hoped it was a coincidence.

‘You choose to reside as this … ’ She waggled her twigs and leaves around me, ‘but I felt your spirit longing to escape in the dandelion seeds you dispersed. How long will you fester here?’

‘This is my home.’

 ‘Home?’ Her voice raised an octave. ‘Home is where you can breathe with contentment. Home is where you can feel the heartbeat of the earth. Home is with … m … your family and friends.’

‘I have friends.’

His friends. They’ll never understand you.’

You’ll never understand me.’ The music on the radio segued to the next song. By Your Side. I stared at her. How did she do that? It was against the law, her laws, to interfere with human technology.

She came closer. I smelt fresh leaves, sweet petals, scented bark.

I inhaled her oxygen. A drug I had become dependent on. She drew back from my carbon dioxide as though it was tainted with the poison of the boy’s kick.

‘Why are you here, Mother?’

‘It’s been a year since we absorbed him into the earth. He sleeps peacefully, yet you lie awake all night.’

He sleeps peacefully.

     That was the irony. Yahya had never been a good sleeper.

It was his midnight gardening that had drawn my attention. He talked to the daffodils and tulips in spring. Sometimes I had opened them up for him, and he had smiled as though the moon was enchanted. Summer twilight helped him to create a canvas of pale pink clematis, multi-coloured begonia and tall gladioli against the dark back fence. He pruned and divided the perennials in autumn and dug the soil over. Neighbouring curtains had twitched, suspecting nefarious nocturnal activity. Especially when he’d sniffed the jasmine and the honeysuckle as though it was the head of his ex-lover.

And often, he’d bring his telescope out of the shed and look into the realms where we had no control.

She brought me out of my reverie.

‘You’ve had your time, bewitching humans and mooching around ... here.’ She gestured around us with her vines as though I’d made a poor choice.

‘I didn’t enchant him.’ She knew that, of course. I’d seen her peep through the compost pile three months after I’d arrived home with Yahya. She’d cast a reversing spell, and when it hadn’t worked, she’d sagged back into the rotting pile of leaves and twigs like a beaten horse sinking into a boggy pit.

‘Most young Jarrican explore the world once they have finished their studies. You have spent the last nine years in one of the wettest towns on a densely populated, polluted island.’

‘I like the rain. It invigorates me. And this whole planet is polluted. Your laws have seen to that.’

     ‘Zya, you’ve spent so long as a human that you’ve forgotten what it is to be Jarrican. Please, come home with me.’

     I’d only ever heard her use the word please once before, and that was to prevent a war.

‘And you’ve shirked responsibility for long enough.’

And there it was. The reason I had chosen the human life.

I placed the mug down on the wooden worktop and pushed it away from me.

‘I’m here, Mother, because it was easy to stay with someone that looked after me and loved me without question.’

‘A fool’s love … he treated you like a pet … a plant. Fed you, watered you … you tended to him like a slave!’

My wooden stool fell over as I rose, with my fists clenched by my side.

‘I would like you to leave now, Mother.’

She moved towards the open patio doors and looked back.

     ‘Loneliness never settles.’ She stepped outside, walked onto the lawn and sunk into the ground. The radio started to play. Reach Out, I’ll be There.

For the first time in years, I allowed myself to shift. I let some carbon dioxide channel through me. My stiffening arms extended towards the radio, and my twig finger flicked it off before my arm branch swept it to the floor.

Gliding into Yahya’s garden, I sank amongst the marigolds. The dying earth sighed around me.

     I breathed as a Jarrican, devouring the essence of Yahya. 

 

About the author 

Ashia Mirza lives in Bolton. She enjoys swimming and walking, which is when her ideas are dreamt and developed. Her stories have been published in the HG Wells anthology and shortlisted and longlisted in competitions held by Times/Chicken House, Guppy, HachetteKids/Northern Writers and Commonword. She is a Penguin WriteNow alumnus. 

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5 comments:

  1. Wow! So imaginative and well written! I got completely lost in this story, so sad when it was over

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  2. Great story! Well done Ashia x

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  3. A beautiful story, deftly told. Though the short story deals with companionship, love and loss, there’s a huge world hinted at behind the memories, and a mother daughter encounter. Would absolutely love to read more!

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  4. Beautiful story, thank you for sharing it with the world đź’ś

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  5. such an enchanting story! really beautiful x

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