Saturday, 6 June 2020

Debut Fiction: 'The Woman and the Tree' by Farriz Mashudi

Eyes a vacant lot behind black rims, her writing style, the Film graduate professes, is visual. Hearing this, the scrawl on her name tag, had it been any bolder, might have protested… Her name, barely legible, is printed in the tiniest script.

Minty?” a woman sitting next to her asks, squinting.

“MUNTY,” the girl says, barely audible. “Short for ‘Muntaha’, a devine tree in Heaven. The Muntaha Sidra. You may know it?”

“The sidra tree, you mean? Like on the QF logo?”

The very same. The woman marveled at the provenance, and providence. She speaks at length about how a decade before the lush landscaping, sidra trees sprouted all over the sprawling Qatar Foundation site where the campuses, and now the National Library stood. “It symbolizes overcoming struggles to survive,” she adds, as if it were something the girl didn’t already know.

Nothing else nice to say, she keeps quiet… Not mentioning how the shrub-like tree could reach above ten-feet, but seldom did; how scrappy baby sidras resembled lowly undergrowth; how in nature, they seemed to be dying.

The woman offers the girl a fat-tipped marker to rewrite her name. BIGGER. But the girl doesn’t see the need. The woman would do it for her. The girl looks on as an enlarged ‘Munty’ appears.

An hour passes. More readings. The girl surprises the woman when she volunteers her poetry. It’s about a desert island. She feels isolated. The island’s residents are transient. Its itinerant souls never take root. The woman sighs. Underwhelmed, she’s heard enough. Island or no island, the girl wasn’t living up to her tree... Thou art in Heaven. Hallowed by thy Name... The ‘Munty’ before them was a sacrilege. A reduced, miniature. On Earth, her namesake at least, remained well-grounded.

During the Break, the girl’s confidences overflow. As out of step in London as she is in Doha, yet she lives a cut above her cousins in Khartoum. The woman observes that the names which might have helped more, perhaps -- Peace, Faith, Hope, Constance even, and those she may have secretly wished for, sounding closer to Hannah, Izzy, Pippa -- were to the displaced Sudani, equally discordant. Ill-fitting. Unsuited.

Outside, sidras billow in the sun. Grounds-men tidy at their feet. Sprinklers moisten blankets of mulch. Their fertile beds glisten. They thrive on liquid sustenance and being indulged.

“It’s like coffee”, the woman remarks, “Makes us feel at home wherever we can find it.” Munty laughs, looking at the queue. This heartens her and the woman wants to add, even if only in a whisper, “Dig deep. Find your juice. BE THAT TREE… BE THAT GIRL.”

In a heartbeat the moment is gone. The woman wipes the latte’s froth from her face. She bites her lip and holds her tongue. It wasn’t fated. Nothing else nice to say, she keeps quiet.


Wandsworth Carers Series 2022: 'Flip flops' by Anita

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