My Father’s Garden

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The seeds rested in the palm of my father’s left hand – with the millions of lines and wrinkles, the folds and the creases. The soil had painted those lines a darker shade of brown, and the middle of his palm now acted like a valley, shielding the tiny seeds. He picked out one of the seeds with his right hand. His nails were dirty and the skin on his fingertips looked worn.

A wind blew through the trees and he closed his palm. He turned his hand over, waiting for the wind to pass. It blew through his hair, which he had let grow long. His shirt, only half buttoned up, flapped like a flag. When the wind stopped he grabbed my arm and brought it closer to him. He opened my hand and, cradling it with his right hand, he put his left fist over my palm and let the seeds drop into it. There was still a mark circling his ring finger.

‘Here.’

He had hands that could change temper in a moment. If they ever struck you – which they used to do – they were hard hands that showed no sympathy or forgiveness. But, later, when the same hands dabbed at your moist cheek and rubbed away your tears, they were soft hands. They were tender and they were gentle hands and you always forgave them.

I held the seeds as my father picked up the shovel he had thrust into the ground earlier. He lifted the shovel and pierced the earth. The blade slid in easily but he kicked it in deeper. I opened my hand and looked at the seeds on my open palm. My hand didn’t have the wrinkles his did. My nails were longer and they didn’t have any dirt in them.

He finished digging his holes – one each for the five seeds.

‘Give them to me.’

He held open his hand and I dropped them in. He closed his fist and bent down on one knee – he groaned as he went down, bending over slowly with some effort.

I looked around the garden that he had built in such a short period of time. He had begun after mum had left. After he’d finished ‘mourning’ as he’d called it. He put away the bottles one morning and within a few months he’d built a garden. Right here in the backyard – where once there was nothing but fake grass and a lemon tree ­– he had planted tomatoes and strawberries and a radiant bush of roses.