I stood by my herb bed and looked up. The moringa tree that I’ve moved there two years ago was now more than twice my height, a testament to the length of time I had neglected my garden. What used to be a row of chili, eggplants, lemon grass and various smaller herbs was now a thick mass of ‘kadok’ and ‘belalai gajah’. Lemon grass leaves both dead and alive were tumbling everywhere like a wild mess of tangled hair. Amongst them were vines, which I do not recognise, climbing whatever they could grasp and pulling them down with their weight.
And of course, there was the moringa tree, towering over the whole place like a misplaced giant among dwarves. The thick and sturdy trunk stretched up into the sky to where I couldn’t reach if I wanted to fetch some of its leaves. Moringas are not hard to care for once they’ve gotten themselves securely rooted. They could withstand the lack of water when I forget to give them their drink so unlike many of the other plants that did not survive my absence, my moringas persevered.
In the past, I would trim down my trees at least once a year to allow for an easier harvest and to avoid having its roots digging in too deep so I could easily move them around. However, with my exams taking place last year and my months-long eczema breakout, my garden was slowly being transformed into a mini forest and as the number of days grow, so did the difficulty of the restoration project. And instead of taking the sensible and rational route of early intervention, I let the tides of sorrow crept onto me.
One of my biggest frustrations is how passionately I launch myself into things that I truly love and yet in the end, they somehow die away into nothingness. Some of them happen because of chances and circumstances but many, many more are lost by my own hands, either by neglect, fear, frustration or lethargy. Often times I find myself letting my own bitterness contaminate the sweet taste of pure fervor, and the satisfying scent that accompanies the exhaustion after a day’s work had soured into a musty odour of fatigue. Little by little, I lost sight of the sparkles that comes with tiny victories and saw only the mountains I have yet to climb–and I couldn’t find it within me to take another step.
However, every now and then my zeal would return and at a whim, I would pack my backpack and step back out into the blizzard with the intense wish to gain back all that I have lost. The medals in my trophy cabinet back at home assured me that I have done it before and I could do it again–but the assurance last only for a moment. Fixing a mistake is often harder than starting anew and while you may lose the height of your skills, the memories of them stay, mocking you in your face. It doesn’t take long for me to doubt everything that I do and sometimes everything that I am; because if this present me is nothing like the person I was–then who am I?
But for now, I pushed all of those thoughts from my head and I had one clear objective. This tree is too big for my herb bed and I am going to move it to a more suitable home, some place where it would be given all the opportunity to grow and bring us the first of the much loved drumstick fruit. I sawed the tree down to a manageable height and kept the leaves for my mother. I pulled the mess of ‘kadok’ and ‘belalai gajah’ for our ‘ulam’ until there is nothing on the ground but the trunk of the tree and the roots beneath. And with a rusty trowel in one hand, I thrusted it into the Earth and started digging.
As it is my habit when I work in the garden, I began talking to the plant, apologising for my neglect and telling it that I am trying to get back into the swing. I told it about how the last time I felt I couldn’t do something turned out okay in the end and although I don’t really feel it, I think it’s a sign that I need to pick myself up and move on. I thanked it for waiting for me even though I don’t deserve it. The tree never said much but it lets me talk nevertheless.
The day was not hot. The sun hid behind clouds and our mango tree provided me a lovely shade from the dimmed sun rays. Nonetheless, my lack of physical activities in the recent months had started to make itself known. Although the moisture within the soil couldn’t be more perfect (not too dry and not too wet), I started to feel tired after going past half a foot down. It didn’t help that the deeper I go, the harder it was to navigate through the root and avoid the sharp edges of the sides of the bed which was covered in tiny stones. So I grasped the trunk tightly in my arms and gave it a gentle but strong tug. It didn’t give.
Of course, it wouldn’t be that easy. I know that, I whispered, as I continued to dig. Say what I want about my own inner conflict, I made the decision to leave my garden and I have to make amends.
But, my dearest, my sweet, could you please help me out a bit?
I paused to look up at its leaves. The little green circles danced prettily as the wind blew, breaking its perfect mosaic for but a few moments. No, I gulped and pressed on. No, the tree had done more than I had done. It too had its struggle when the ground was dry and the moths fly by. I wasn’t the only lonely one.
Relationships go both ways, do they not? But love, would you please, please lend me a bit of a hand?
The trunk did not answer.
Ah, you are just as stone hearted as I. Then so be it.
My hands are now red and a few of the cracks on my fingers which were about to heal had burst back open as they pressed on the hard edge of my trowel. The small bits of concrete jutting out from the inside of the bed are scratching me every other minute and the roots showed now signs of tapering off. My back was aching and I couldn’t find a comfortable position. I had forgotten how to whisper, or the fact that I have neighbours, and they could probably hear me having a full blown one-sided argument with a tree.
My child, the reason why I couldn’t go out was because of my eczema. Well, partly anyway. And if you don’t make way any time soon, I’m going to hurt it and that could cause another outbreak. Yes, patience, I know. I am trying to be patient but patience would not stop my hand from breaking. Do you want me to just saw your roots off?
The trunk stared me down.
Fine. Fine. Fine. You were patient, I will be patient too.
I groaned and went back in with the thinnest of patience. My hand was now shaking with a mix of exhaustion and frustration. I was covered in soil from head to toe and I no longer cared about keeping my hand safe. I stabbed the trowel into the ground again and again and again and the dirt that got into the cracks of my skin were now practically cemented with sweat and bits of blood. I was now a foot in from when I started. I placed my hand between the two main roots and tugged with all my might but I couldn’t move it even a bit. And I was starting to feel like a fool for even trying.
Please, I am trying to be better. I want to be better, I really do but it’s already so hard. Just the idea of it all seems so insurmountable. If I can’t even pull you out, my sweet, what can I do?
The trunk stayed quiet.
I was now desperate. I had done nothing today other than digging this hole and I have nothing to show for it. The sun would be setting soon and the roots showed no sign of thinning. I looked around at my garden in its horrendous state and asked myself if I have anything to show for all that I have done in my life. I just wanted to stop.
Then I paused and looked back at the tree. Something clicked at the back of my head and I eyed it tentatively.
Are you… are you trying to teach me a lesson on perseverance?
I waited for an answer which did not come. I turned to the pile of unearthed soil and back into the hole in the bed. The way I see it, I only have three choices. I could just leave the whole thing be and probably let the tree die now that I’ve upset it so much. I could push all the Earth back in but that would only get me back to where I started.
Or of course, I could keep going. I know that somehow, in the end, I would get to tip of the roots. Even if I have to use a stone as a makeshift shovel, I could theoretically get it done eventually. The tricky circumstances, the need for time and my own doubts are obstacles I need to overcome all my life, whatever the struggle. Whether the problem is restarting a garden, finishing a book draft or just pulling out a tree, I still have to face problems from within and without, and I have to learn to wait.
Okay. Well, I guess I’ll take it then.
With that I went back in, this time quietly, as I reflected on the things that I already know deep inside and even discussed about in my head but which are now being repeated to me. I thought of the many tiny knolls I succeeded to climb because I went on despite the obstacles. Silat routines, NaNoWriMo challenges, artworks, school achievements and public presentations. Even little things that I am proud to have done but never shared because they seem so insignificantly small. But I did them.
And so with the hole nearly two feet deep, I hugged the trunk of the tree, took a deep breath and gave it a sharp tug. Finally it gave way and I had in my hand another medal to add to my cabinet. I grinned at it and thought I could feel it grinning back.
Was my tree really teaching me a lesson on perseverance? You tell me.