«SILENT ENEMIES AT HOME»
A creative non-fiction essay by Cecilia V. Becerra.
It was a usual afternoon. My grandmother, baptized by me as “Lelé,” was making some patisserie (I remember the smell of cinnamon and lemon), while I was doing my homework at the dinner table in the kitchen and my beautiful three-years-old sister was playing in the rear patio. We knew she was there because we could hear her swinging on the backyard swing.
The floor of our patio was obviously tiled (we could not let in the dirt in our house), but we had left squares of soil where the plants grew. There were: red hibiscus, violet bougainvillea, yellow and pink snapdragons, a big golden pothos plant, a Monstera deliciosa plant, and some yellow daffodils. We were accustomed to the usual visitors related to our plants: the stinging fire ants, which are red, the tickling black Carpenter ants, the dangerous bees, the annoying bumblebees, the vengeful wasps, the lovely sparrows, and even some evasive hummingbirds that enjoyed the sweet pollen of flowers.
My sister and I were like princesses in our secure castle. We had bars on every window, an efficient alarm, and a protective and fierce dog that was efficiently tamed. There was nothing in our house that could harm us, or at least that was what we thought.
As I was saying, it was an afternoon as usual: my grandmother and I were in the kitchen and my sister was playing outside, the three of us waiting for my parents to come back from work. But all of a sudden, my Lelé and I stopped hearing the little one. It is well known that when a child is not making noise is because is immersed in some kind of mischief, that for sure!
I have to say that two of the more remarkable characteristics of my personality are that I am very protective and quite curious. It was due to it that I was wondering: Why do I not hear my sister? What could she be doing? And outside I went, just to have a look to soothe my curiosity. I saw her tiny back. She was sitting on the floor and I could not see her pretty face, and I asked her: “Mel?” –her name is Melina, which means honey in Greek– “Why are you silent? What are you doing?” I have never forgotten what I saw then. Her mouth was open, red, swollen, and drooling like if it were a river springing from her tiny lips. She could barely breathe and was making a whistling sound. Her eyes were full of tears and her face expressed confusion. I gave a loud shout, I took her in my arms and I don’t remember having run faster in my whole life. “Lelé, call an ambulance! Call an ambulance!” When she saw my sister, she took the phone and called in a hurry, and I remember her saying: “I don’t know! No! She is not allergic to bees! We do not see any sting nor thorn, nor wound! Send a medic now! And fast! She can barely breathe! Please!”
I had my sister sitting on the kitchen table and I was trying to see her throat with a lantern just in case she had something obstructing in there. As I saw nothing, I left her with my Lelé and I went running to the patio. I had to know what had caused that to my beloved sister. I looked everywhere but there was no animal or insect nearby. Suddenly, an idea came to my mind so I run again to my sister and said: “What do you have in your hand? Open it!” And there was the answer. It was a tiny leaf with a bite mark on it. But I still didn’t know which stupid plant was causing such distress and pain to my sweet and innocent sister, so outside I went again until I found the matching: it was the golden pothos!
It was 1998. We had no smartphones then, and even though we had access to the internet, my father was the only person who knew the password of the computer. Straight I went to the Plant Encyclopedia, the only possible provider of knowledge about this sinister yet beautiful being, that said:
Toxicity: toxic to dogs, cats, and horses.
Toxic Principles: Insoluble calcium oxalates.
Clinical Signs: Oral irritation, pain and swelling of mouth, tongue and lips, excessive drooling, vomiting (not in horses), and difficulty swallowing.
(Data from the ASPCA – American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).
It was “funny” to find out that no allusion to human beings was specified. We were helpless and, knowing that it wouldn’t suffocate and kill the treasure of my heart, we just waited for the doctors, who only recommended us to give her some cold milk and wait.
From that occasion on, my perspective towards plants changed radically. I respect them, I avoid touching them, and I never use them as gifts unless they have their own flower pot since I don’t want to be implied in the creation and artificial manipulation of flowers and plants that last a week with no signs of rottenness: that is unnatural. We never know when we will have to face a natural defensive mechanism, I only know that that time we were very lucky and that the phrase “The tree is known by its fruit” (“A fructibus cognoscitur arbor”) is not always true.