11:12:10 pm on
Sunday 14 Jul 2024

Ricardo Teixeira

In her house, there was no need for plastic bags. She went to the nearest organic farming shop by bike, and carried home few groceries in linen bags. She bags and clothes from old sheets. The rest of her diet, no more than fresh fruits and vegetables, she happily took from the garden in the back of the house. No roots, though. She ate raw, as much as possible.

In her house, there could never be any meat. Meat is murder. It carries so much pain, suffering and pollution there is no way around it; cut it all together. Just thinking about it made her sad. Those poor cows, locked into feet-long fences waiting for torture, by a half-a-man butcher. The thought alone made her run to her cats and pet them gently, as if demanding forgiveness from Nature for her barbaric humankind, but pets uncorrupted, pure Nature.

In her house, there was no need for pet food. She worked out an efficient way, where cats eat what she doesn't, and the earth in the garden eats what the cats don't. When her leftovers were not enough, the cats would scavenge the rest in near trash cans. When Nature is in harmony, waste doesn’t exist.

In her house, there was no electricity. Drinking water came from a nearby fountain. Bathing water was an avoidable luxury. She woke up with the sun and went to bed with the moon. There was no stove blowing gases into the stratosphere, no diesel generators screaming the agony of the industrial age, no frivolous power-consuming kitchen appliances, televisions or radios. In her house, there was no music.

One morning, she received a letter. She thought it was odd. Who would do such an unfortunate fact, as sending her the rectangular remains of a butchered tree? In her house there were no human friends, only few memories. She couldn't accept people travelling, damaging the environment with airplane tickets and train rides and road trips. More than once, she knocked the door on the face of old friends coming to see her. Caring about her was caring about future generations. So why would anyone do such a thing as write to her?

She opened the envelope, with a stern look in her aging forehead and tears forming in her eyes. She thought of going to the garden, touching the large olive tree there and asking forgiveness for what happened to one of her sisters. She never did, though.

The letter carried a simple message.

"You are a hypocrite. You think you spare pain, but you hurt that which you love the most. And for it, in three days you will die."

She thought it was a joke. A joke like the one kids usually pull on her when they throw eggs at her vine-covered broken house windows. Eggs, of all things, would you imagine. The embryos of chicken turned into flying abortions on a collision course with her green façade. They run away when they see her long hair and gross linen clothes running after them with a tree branch in her hand. Not that she would ever amputate a branch from a tree. It just fell.

Later that day, after her daily meditation and yoga sessions, as she was having dinner, a dark mood came over her. It was as if the ancient spirits of the earth were summoning her for trial. She could not help judging herself. When she went to bed, an ancient mattress on the dusty floor, nightmares came haunting her sleep. Words flew past her, attacking her, hurting her, making her cry and bleed. They called her a hypocrite, a phony, a lie. "When you eat, don't you destroy? When you breathe, don't you pollute? Are you not standing inside a house, the most unnatural of all human creations? Are you not as bad as all the rest of them are?" She woke up and stood in the darkness. Since there was no electricity, getting up would be useless. The vines had grown to cover her windows, so even the moon was shut off. Reality was as dimly lit as her sleep. So she went to the door and sat on the sidewalk. She let the artificial lights of the city sink into her. She felt protected. What she so piously hated was now saving her from herself.

When the morning came in the second day after the letter, she was still there. A sudden irritation came over her. She went into the house and went through her clothes and her supplies. She knocked them all to the floor, scaring the cats, making them run away to the garden. Hidden behind a shelf was all the money she still had. She went out; one would say that in a killing haze. She got into the first supermarket she saw. She bought eggs, potato chips, vegetable oil, and all kinds of meat she could afford. She bought a bottle of wine. She bought a pack of cigarettes. And to carry it all home, she bought a plastic bag.

She went to a public phone, inserted a coin and called her ex-husband for the first time in five years. "Can I come over," she asked. It was as if he was hearing a ghost. It was so early. Her new wife had already left, but he was still home. He just said "okay", and called a colleague at work to inform he would be late. He sat on the sofa, eyes glued to the door, allowing the invasion of painful memories, once put to rest, to swallow him.

Still, he wasn't at all prepared to see her. A tremendously long hair mingling with her skinny legs, a smelly, disfigured middle aged woman disconnected to the one he had once married. She didn't wait to be invited in. She just entered the door and proceeded to the kitchen. She still remembered how to operate the stove that had once been hers.

All the dishes and pans were still in the same place she left them.

"Today I'm cooking lunch for you." And she did. She went to the bathroom and took a long bath as he stood still by the door. All the layers of dirt came off, and she was finally a woman beneath. She returned wearing a towel, passed by him and moved into the kitchen as if she had never left. He was speechless, just as he had been when she decided to leave five years ago. That day, they had lunch at nine thirty in the morning: fried potatoes, eggs and all kinds of meat, accompanied by wine. He didn't complain, just like he hadn't complained when she moved out.

They didn't exchange a word during lunch. She ate like a starving child. At the end, she took out the cigarette pack and started smoking silently. Her eyes were fascinated by the smoke. One cigarette came and went after the other. He was stunned.

They didn't exchange a word. When she left, she just said "can I borrow this?", and left with his car keys and some money from his wallet without waiting for an answer. All that afternoon, she rode his car through the sea road, feeling the light salty breeze cleansing her hair and tainting her ideals. She smiled like she hadn't smiled in a while. Five years, to be precise.

At night, she went to the shopping center and bought herself new clothes. She went out to a bar that surprised her for still being there. And she danced around people half her age. She danced around the living.

When she returned home, the sun was rising, spreading its first rays beyond the vines. She lay on the floor, looking at the cracks on the wall. They looked like cancer spreading from that first nodule the doctors had diagnosed five years ago. She remembered the day. She was judged for not eating right, for drinking, for smoking. Hera verdict come as her body’s final expiration date. She was as good as dead.

She decided to spare her husband the pain of losing her to death. He should lose her to life. She looked inwards and saw Nature getting back at her, poisoning her body. So she tried to make peace with Nature. She vowed never to hurt Nature again, so that nature would not hurt her anymore. This peace treaty worked for five years. Now, Nature had sent her a letter. She was as good as dead again.

She got up from the floor before lunchtime. She went to read the letter again. But there was no letter. She looked for it all over the house, and came to the conclusion that there had never been one. If there was no letter, than the message was no child play. The message had to be true.

She went to the garden and dug a grave, one final organic resting bed. She felt a deep pain in her chest from her efforts. She felt the world close in darkness long before the moon came to tuck her into her earth-colored linen sheets. In a last slow gesture, she took off all her clothes, and lay on the hole. One cat came over and licked her feet. To her, that was reconciliation.

The wind was getting strong. Her eyes were closing. Little dust grains began to cover her. The earth was starting to swallow her, and she felt happy. The same molecules in her body, the same cancer molecules that slowly ate her life away for five years, were now going to feed her garden and breed healthy fruits and vegetables. Nature would again have her way, and in her house there would be true harmony.

By day, Dr. Ricardo Teixeira is an environmental engineer, who dabbles in neuroscience. Through chilly Lisbon nights, he writes fiction then stored in dusty, dark drawers to await the light of day.

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