From The Trees I Have Loved That Loved Me Back
by Jennifer Berghage
|Banana Tree by Mahdis Mousavi from Unsplash|
The Children Deck Me Out in Red To Test Out Bad Luck—In Which They Learn to Focus on the Good
I am a strong banana tree, proud to be the only one planted in the very center of the beautiful backyard at this rambling cream-colored two-story stucco house in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that is home to the new American family which has recently moved in.
In the afternoons, I enjoy the laughter of the children and all their activity around me. They sit under my shade when the sun is hot, and they listen to my long leaves rustle on the rare occasions when the wind blows softly in the twilight of evening. Sometimes, if we're very lucky, their father hooks up the hose so the children can play in the water, and I grow as much from drinking up the cool, clear water, as from their delightful playfulness around me.
There is a young boy that plays with the American children, and he sits quietly with his hand out and in it, some treats for the birds. He is so peaceful and still that the sweet little birds sometimes alight on his fingers and let him hold them and pet them while they eat their treats. The American children roll on the grass in fits of giggles while watching him. I think they've never seen such things as a boy holding and petting wild birds.
On New Year's Eve, in the darkness of the night, I watch the children run around on the second-story stonewalled balcony of their home. They are such free little spirits, dressed in the barest of essentials, just their soft cotton underwear, to help them stay cool in the heat. They have not very many Earth years between them, one has only four, and the other has six.
They are delighted by the fireworks that explode like flowers in the sky to celebrate the New Year. I can see the love pouring out of their parents' hearts as they spend time with the children before going out with other grown-ups, their friends, to celebrate. The fireworks will fill the skies for hours, magical twinkling many-colored starlights soaring down to Earth.
I can see the mother and father tucking the children in to sleep. The mother's perfume wafts out through the windows and surrounds me in a cloud of soft, delicious, powdery fragrance. It looks like the mother's two daughters will soon have another playmate, a brother perhaps, since Mother is glowing with fertility in the evening gown which becomes her. Father leans over and gives each of his daughters a kiss, and tells them their Aya will be at home watching over them. Sleep, children, sleep sweetly.
But not too long after their parents leave, I am surprised by the arrival of Sharon, the American girl who lives next door. She is a bit older than my two children; she must be around 9 or 10 years. It is late, but she sneaks through the bushes and into our backyard, where she calls to the children softly. "Come out, come out, we mustn't sleep away these special hours!"
My children come to the window and whisper so as not to awaken their Aya, "We are coming, we are coming!" And down the stairs they tiptoe, out onto the soft grasses until they are standing right beneath my big leaves and branches.
"Do you want an adventure?" says Sharon.
"Of course, of course," says the older of my two children.
"Well then, I will help you," says Sharon. "Do you see this red t-shirt I have brought with me? Let us tie it onto the branches of the strong banana tree right here in your yard, for it is said that if one ties red cloth to a banana tree, it will bring bad luck! Do you believe in bad luck? I don't. Let's try it and see if it's true!"
Well I can see my children start to shiver with fear, wondering what kind of bad luck they might bring by tying the red t-shirt to my branches. I think to myself what can I do to help dispel this fear? How can I protect them? What if it's true and bad luck will come? No one has ever done such a thing to me before.
I feel the softness of the cloth as it is wound around the broadness of my leaves. I'll hold it for them, but who knows what it might bring? I am prepared to protect them and I send them messages to go back to their beds. It is late and who knows who might be lurking about on such an eve of celebration and drunkenness?
"All right," says Sharon, "we're all set up. Now let us see what comes about. Goodnight little ones," she says.
"Good night, good night," say my wee ones and off they scamper through the soft grasses, tiptoeing back up the stairs and climbing back into their beds. Back through the bushes goes Sharon, to climb into her own soft bed, not knowing what a clamor she has wrought.
My children's parents arrive home and I see them through the window bestowing extra kisses upon their sleeping children. The grown-ups retire to their own big bed and soon fall into a deep sleep.
Suddenly I hear the hissing and whispering of a trio of dark-skinned men who crouch under my branches, hiding from those who might see them. "We will go up the balcony stairs and into the house," says one. "Let's collect any silver and things that we can sell quickly," says another. " I will check for anything else that might be useful," says the third.
I feel useless to do anything to keep them out of the house, and I can do nothing as they tiptoe up the very stairs that my children previously navigated. The moon comes from behind the clouds, and still the fireworks explode every now and then, offshoots of celebration; it's the New Year when all that is owed must be paid, so that a clean slate appears to wipe out the debts of the previous year. I know that the trio is attempting to clear their slate by whatever means possible.
Soon I see the trio coming back one-by-one, arms full of the treasures of my American family's household. Their radio, their coffee pot, their silver, and many shiny glass bottles of liquor. The trio runs underneath my branches and across the yard to the stream that runs across the back. They pile their newfound wealth next to the stream and gather stealthily to plan their next robbery.
"Let's go next door," says the largest one. "We can pile everything up next to the stream and collect the piles all at once."
"A good idea," says the tallest one. "Let's leave this here and be on our way."
So off they go to little Sharon's house next door.
But unbeknownst to them, the grown-ups next door are still awake and having coffee before going to their beds, so that when the trio sets about sneaking into the house the grown-ups hear them and quickly call the police. "Stop, stop, I say!" cries the man of the house as the trio runs out into the darkness.
And they keep running. And they don't stop to collect the pile of shiny things they've set by the stream, the things that belong to my American family.
I am feeling very much relieved, so I waft out energy bands of peace and goodwill.
Just after dawn the next morning, I see through the window, the Aya of my American family bringing coffee to the grown-ups to wake them from their slumber, and she says to the Mother, "Did Sahib have many drinkies in the night?"
And Mother says, "Why no, we came to bed just after we returned home from the party."
And the Aya says "Well things been gone missing...." So the parents of my children rise and go through their home to check and discover, to their surprise, all the empty places of the things that are missing.
Soon their next door neighbors come rapping at the door and trumpeting that they've had a robbery attempt. They ask if everything is okay for my American family.
As they go through their home, they show their friends the empty spots where their family radio was kept, where the silver was kept, where their shiny bottles of liquor for guests was kept, and they quickly go to check on their children. To their relief, the children are well, so the grown-ups make coffee and adjourn outside with their neighbors, where, to their surprise, they find the pile of shiny things waiting for them in the garden by the stream, abandoned in the haste of the trio's getaway.
And there the people stand, whispering about these dangerous events.
"It is a good start to the New Year," says my oldest little one to her sister, awakened by the kafuffle. "The thieves didn't get away with anything, and no one was hurt."
She tiptoes softly down the staircase and across the grass and reaches up into my branches to unwind the red cloth. "I am sorry we tested you," she says to me. "Thank you for your protection; we will not do this again." And I feel relieved as I feel the breeze caress the leaves and branches that were wound by the red cloth.
"I did everything I could," I say. "But my protection only goes so far. You must help me in my mission, and not tempt the fates by testing these cultural legends and superstitions about bad luck."
I feel sure that the children will uphold the natural ways of nature and not bind me in red cloth again, as I hear the younger say, "It is a good day. We are celebrating a New Year, and though we tested the legends of bad luck, we were protected, and no one was hurt. Let's count our blessings, and swear never to test the bad legends again."