The Fertile Soil
Oliver looked at his pocket watch, but briefly held his focus on the time. The open tracery of the silvery hands was articulately interwoven with curves and braids and as he clicked open the delicate engraved hatch, the pocket watch opened. He noticed the tiny strange gears pushing their little grooved edges along each other’s sides, the little wheel spinning from side to side in the depths of the machinery. He saw the little engraving under the cover of the pocket watch. It said Remenloir. It sounded like a French name. Remenloir must have been talented to make this compact intricate object, he thought.
Cosima’s voice broke into his thoughts, with her noble Russian accent. “Oliver, look at what’s on the underside of the peeling bark of that log. It looks like a miniature alien space station from the movies. Is it what you talked about when we were camping?” Oliver glanced at the log. Some parts of it were covered with a carpet of yellow capsules. He thought it surprising that they were in the middle of the city. He wondered how the tiny vulnerable fuzzy spores had gotten there.
“Yes, they are physarium polycephalum, Oliver said, dismissively. The soft blades tickled his calves and he felt the hardness of the London Plane tree bumping against his vertebrae.
Oliver was about to ask what Cosima was reading, but realized this was a pointless question, because he knew what she was always reading. In her hand was a smudgy book with paper edges that were softened by turning, called BWV: Pieces by Bach.
“Let’s get on with the lines,” Oliver said, concerned about the play. The sun was glowing orange, peering down above the trees onto sweet smelling grasses that were tipping slightly in the warm wind. The birds were out and chirping their harmonic melodies into the jubilant air. Oliver stood up to read his Shakespeare monologue. “I understand the business, I hear it: to have an ?open ear, a quick eye, and a nimble hand, is ?necessary for– ”.
He stopped. A strange figure was coming round the bend in the distance. A garbage bag was in his grasp. The man was going at a fast pace on a straight line towards them. The raggedy remnants of a formal jacket and button down shirt were hanging from thin, square shoulders. His shadow made a tall and slender figure on the grass. And then he stopped “If you would excuse me, I would like to put my things down in the bushes” he said in a sharp tone with a hint of sarcasm.
Cosima had a timid and cautious look when she heard this. The man vanished into the tall grasses behind them, and Oliver’s eyes widened. The hairs on the back his neck went prickly.
“You are very talented,” the stranger stated, his sarcasm increasing, as he was coming out of the bushes. “How many languages do you speak?” He was close and pointed his finger straight at Oliver. Oliver saw curved black lines under the man’s fingernails and the folds of his joints were grimy. Oliver could hear Cosima’s frozen silence but he was afraid to glance his eyes away from the strong finger pointed at him.
“One,” Oliver answered, trying to sound as confident as he could. He heard no reply from Cosima.
“One?” the man said, as if this was not enough. “I speak four: English, Italian, Arabic, and Spanish,” he said ominously.
Cosima’s face was pale now.
“Can you leave us alone? We are working.” Oliver asked, trying to sound polite.
Then the man turned to Cosima. “And what about you?” I could taste the air rising with tension “How many languages do you speak?” He was almost shouting now.
“And I speak four?!” he spoke with proud defiance , walking closer, towering over the two small figures.
“Can you please go away?” Cosima pleaded, her face almost white now.
“Are you afraid of me?” His voice was quiet, but stuck in the black smelling air like a cobweb. Oliver sensed desperation in the man’s gruff voice.
“No just please go away. We understand your frustration, but we have no way to help you. Please. We need to work.” Oliver’s voice was shaking but he was trying to hold on to some of its assertiveness.
Oliver could see the man’s face change. It went softer and he seemed regretful and sad. He stormed away.
The sun was glowing red dipping below the black silhouette of the trees on the far hill. Oliver looked at Cosima. She was staring at the sun.
“Let’s go home,” she said.
Oliver did not reply but stood up, his joints heavy like lead, and his throat felt like a pipe with a rubber ball stuck inside it.
That night, Oliver stayed up worrying. He remembered the slime molds Cosima noticed on the log; how those brilliant amoebas who had survived for two billion years since the beginning of the terrestrial ecosystem, sacrificed themselves for others in their species to reproduce; how they turned themselves into spores that might, just by chance land in a fertile patch of soil. He thought about where the spores landed.
He worried about the man in the raggedy remnants of a formal jacket with the button down shirt hanging from those thin, square shoulders. He worried about how the man probably left his family and home and had landed in this place and the hard concrete ground of a foreign city, empty of resources for him. Oliver wondered what events had caused the man’s ruin. Oliver felt helpless. And he worried about Cosima’s landing. He started to read his lines again
“I understand the business, I hear it: to have an open ear, a quick eye and a nimble hand is necessary for a cut-purse; a good nose is requisite also to smell out work for the other senses. I see this is the time that the unjust man doth thrive. What an exchange had this been without boot! What a boot is here with this exchange! Sure the gods do this year connive at us, and we may do any thing extempore.”
As he read, a shiny hot transparent bead wandered down his cheek.
Callum Nissen, Age 12, Grade 7, The Anderson School, Honorable Mention