By Flo Au
You could not focus on your work as usual. Piles of paper and documents filled your desk and shelves, surrounding you like a range of mountains with their half-mocking smiles. Life was like a joke, particularly when it came to its end and you looked back. You were eager to be buried in the piles in front with your bleeding heart gouged out and to be turned into a robot like most other colleagues around, emotionless and thoughtless, scribbling fervently on paper or capering hectically on keyboards. The tattoos on their arms followed the swift movements, vibrating and glowing in beads of perspiration under the fluorescent lights.
Your eyes aimlessly wandered to one of the nearly buried corners of your desk where stood your digital calendar, wakening your sense of time. It was on the verge of the Spring Festival. Just one more week, then. Yet, for you, you only cared it had been nearly two months. First, a few days in a surgical ward. Then, around a month in, a separation facility in ICU. Perhaps a week’s time in a high-dependency unit. Now back to a surgical ward again.
You thought of your father’s tattoo. You recalled your physiotherapy with him last night, inch by inch, massaging his arm which you had rarely noticed before. His climbing plant extended from his shoulder to his wrist. Clumps of pin-shaped leaves alternatively separating themselves from flowers of different sizes, small and large, densely clustered along the multiple stems braiding into the thickest one in the middle. Near its end, still some tiny bulbs, all seven of them waited to bloom in all directions. When?
Trying to expel the nausea and fear starting to grasp your throat, you decided to take a walk to have a few breaths of fresh air. You went downstairs to the Fountain Tree garden. You did not know if it would still be called such a name since the tree had been struck by lightning almost a week ago. The broken bole was lying right in front of the stub. Was the tree dead? Many of your colleagues said it was dying.
In the garden, except for the desolate, melancholic view of the tree, it was all bright and sunny. Colors, the manifestations of life, were everywhere. A blanket of different climbing plants fully covered the garden fence in green, yellow, pink, and white, swinging and swaying gracefully in the breeze to greet visitors, to share vigor with them in their dancing pool swirling in the light. In contrast, in the area of the broken tree, all lives were prohibited to enter by the black-and-yellow striped cellophane tape like a crime scene. Around the bole and stub was a thick rug of fallen leaves curling up in yellow-brown along their brinks, ready to blend into the soil. The scrawny branches scattered and decayed, dried up and lay dead.
A shadow was squatting inside, using a little shovel to turn up the soil around the stub and pluck off the weeds. It was the gardener, his straw hat loosely hung over his back, his long sleeves rolled up to show his tattoo glistening in his sweat and the sunlight. He was around five years younger than your father. You spotted a bench and sat on it, watching the gardener in silence. Feeling someone look at him intently, the gardener turned his head to your direction and grinned at you.
Is it dead?
I don’t know.
Everyone says it’s dying.
As a gardener, I wish to see it grow.
You think you can save it?
I’m not God.
When one goes, it’s like the light switched off. Nothing’s left.
I don’t think so.
I trust. And you know, indeed.
It is vast.
The sky. Without the tree, it looks even bigger.
He paused his work and gazed up to the cloudless sky. Following him, you stared straight to the depth of the azure blue and were soon in a daze. Your father’s pants and chokes echoed in your ears.
You shook your head. It was only some birds chirping and insects buzzing in the garden. The gardener resumed his work, loosening and firming the soil. It was bright and warm. The air in the garden was incensed with grass, soil, and flowers. You took a deep breath. You felt some energy to concentrate again.
Is it a joke?
It’s an epiphany.
They all grow?
I believe so.
You were one of the seven people your father knew and not knew, surrounding his bed in the hospital. They were all in a position they appeared to belong to. So naturally fit, like jigsaw pieces falling back to their places and driving out all the emptiness. Seamless. A perfect painting by the great, grand designer. Unwittingly, they were holding one another’s hands, their tattoos seemingly extending from one arm to another, budding and growing and then blossoming. Clutching your father’s arm, your eyes traced his climbing plant and the seven bulbs from his shoulder to his palm.
There might be the end of the end. There might be a signal for a new start. A new time. A new space. A new universe. Did they see this, too? Did they also wait to see? Trust and wait, you told yourself. You kept yourself alert. Afraid of missing the final moment, you dared not close your eyes. Silence except the breathing sounds, except some sobbing sounds. Inhaled and exhaled…
We were the bulbs. Our hearts were. Now waiting. You knew you needed to insist. You were one of the bulbs attached to the end of his climbing vine, growing, together with the six, bigger and bigger. We would never forget. Yes, trust and wait. We were destined to see…