Teaser 252: Time to Leave the Garden of Peace

The days, weeks, months fell into a consistent routine with a persistent rhythm. There were the usual and frequent breaks for preparation and planting and cultivating and harvesting. We would occasionally be approached by some in the village, always those whose homes were particularly dilapidated or squalid. We all knew who needed help the most. We were not isolated and there was constant interaction between those of the garden and those of the surrounding communities. Slowly, over time, we built more sturdy structures, we added electricity generation, mostly solar panels, running water and treatment containers, one structure at a time, every one drawn by Nassira with the intended residents' full participation. The recipients of our help would arrive for planting, or harvest, or anything else which needed a large number of man hours to accomplish, and it would be done in short order. Often, relatives, friends, guests even, would arrive and help, too.

We would hold meetings regularly to discuss and plan and prepare and one meeting produced the idea we should establish some type of school, maybe more than one, so we began planning for the coming fall. Kitana heard from some at the university in Bamako about a doctorate aimed at administration of community operations, something like what we were already doing. You can imagine she was accepted. When she completed her thesis, a couple years later, she practically designed the entire program, although she had plenty of help, Bernard and Nassira providing necessary detail and her husband providing her his unfailing encouragement and support. I looked around one day, one hot, stifling day, and reached the conclusion my presence was unnecessary, that it had, in fact, become unnecessary months before. There were now several of us grinding grain so the miller already had appropriate replacements. His work here was done.

At the last meeting I attended, when all the business and discussion and concerns had all been voiced, I announced, “I will be leaving soon. You have all made this experiment, this endeavor, now run so smoothly, so cooperatively, I can step away and you will not miss a heartbeat. I have other things to do, to accomplish, the miller shall grind in other places which need it. I'm going to visit my beloved Magdalena first, come back, and prepare to leave.”

Kitana smiled deeply. “I have been expecting this, Al-Barrak. For weeks now you have spent little time in the kitchen grinding. You have trained your replacements, but I knew it when you pulled out your first bulb of garlic, opened it, rubbed it on your finger to smell it, then put your finger in your mouth to taste it. You had such a little boy smile on your face. That's when I knew you would leave soon. You wanted to see how the garlic turned out since you didn't get to plant any of it.”

I thought, when Kitana spoke this, about the moments I returned and she saw me for the first time in six months, twenty-six weeks, and she had called me “my Gregory.” I knew when she said it what she meant. In the same way she was “my Kitana,” for the two of us had truly led this little experiment from the start, Kitana leading what she was capable, and I leading what I was capable. I had watched her grow from a head-strong, self-confident, but brash young female to a self-assured, empathetic, soothing and nurturing full adult woman. The most striking change in Kitana, as far as our relations, was the complete dissolution of her natural skepticism, first with me, eventually with everyone. Despite all this progress, Kitana still struggled occasionally with the miller, only in her understanding. She never was quite certain what to think when the miller became “unresponsive,” as she had witnessed. His calm repose and simple statement, “I have returned,” did little to assuage her concern, her natural skepticism. The miller told her once, “This is why it is so regrettable I cannot hug you, Kitana, cannot hold you against my body, my very being, and reach you in a manner I cannot any other way. You would, quite literally, woman, feel my heartbeat, my life blood coursing through my body, calm, restive, serene, and it, in turn, would calm and assure you, but we cannot hold each other in this manner in our current circumstances, and it is regrettable, for you would never question it again.”

- Just Desserts, Segment Thirty-OneGo Home” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021

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