Don’t Look Back
Whether there was a fig tree in the garden, I just can’t remember. I do recall, though, the grapevine roofing over our summer afternoon patio with grandma and my friends.
“Had I stayed,” I told my sister via Skype, “I now could have been self-isolating with you, mum, and dad in grandma’s patio.”
“But you left fifteen years ago because you liked travelling,” my sister said, “and because it was your dream to live, work, and study in different countries, wasn’t it?”
My grandparents’ house was put up for sale decades ago, so my idea of sitting in that patio to self-isolate now was wishful thinking. What happened after their death, I can’t remember. Who bought their house, I can’t remember either. But one sound from that time still resounds in my head: mum’s voice rumbling every time we walked by the house. Holding my hand on a tight grip as she turned to look in the direction of the front yard, she grunted about the new owner’s lack of consideration for nature. Before the sale, the four-foot fence between grandma’s house and her neighbour’s was cloaked with lilacs.
My sister and I would stand in front of the fence with a transparent plastic bag and waited, like living statues, for bees to alight on the lilacs. Part of the fun was taking turns to catch bees and keep them trapped in the airtight-knotted bag, until they stopped flying around. At age seven, listening to a bee buzzing in oxygen-deprived desperation and watching it hit against the plastic with no way out was a feat of childhood malice.
When the new owner moved in, the fence went away. So did the lilacs. In their place, a six-foot brick wall was put up, dictating a new type of security and privacy.
“Yes, going places has always been my passion,” I admitted. “But you know what? Today I feel just like the bees.”
My sister’s face pixeled and froze for a moment. Then she mouthed something back, but the choppy connexion distorted her lips and her comment made it out of the speaker in chunks.
“If those bees had looked back, they would have probably fared a better fate.”
“Don’t put the responsibility on those little creatures. They just fell victim to our trickery.”
I failed to continue talking. Looking away from the screen at the white scenery outside the window, I thought of the many times I whined about the silent invasion of snow. By mid-March the snow had outstayed its welcome. It was around the same time the threat of Coronavirus confined me to four walls and a window from where I could contemplate lifeless roads and a blurry week ahead. I was sequestered in a suffocating existence between the kitchen and the living-room and between the living-room and my bedroom.
“Hello? You still there?”
My eyes darted back to the screen with a close-up of my sister blinking.
“Where else can I go?”
“Listen, coronavirus will pass and you’ll be free to fly wherever you want. We can’t wait to see you land down here and hug you. By the way, do you remember the day you came up with the idea of holding a bee by its wings—”
“And you asked me to yank both of the wings off at the same time?”
“I didn’t ask you to do that!” she cried out, pulling away from the screen. “You’d say, ‘Look, look. This one looks agitated.’ And you’d let the bee go in circles on the ground, wingless, as the poor thing tried to take flight.”
“Actually, mum did something even worse to them.”
“Yeah, she was really their invisible enemy.”
At sundown, mum would spray a white powder over the lilacs and around the base of the stems. On windy days, brittle petals broke off and rolled down onto the stony path leading from the back garden to the patio. Ants stopped going to the lilacs and began attacking the petals on the path. In retaliation, mum went from sprinkling poison in the fence area alone to shaking the poison bottle indiscriminatingly all over the grass and path as if she were shaking a salt cellar over a big salad bowl. That white powder found its way deep into the most secret folds of the lilacs. More than once, my sister and I found dead bees at the bottom of the pistils. But at such a young age, we couldn’t but believe our mum’s version: bees didn’t die from outdoor ant killers; they died off from a strange virus whose name neither of us could retain.
When our Skype conversation ended, I stood up and walked to the window. My palms and face plastered on the pane, I was learning to live a wingless life. Desperate to get out, I knew I was trapped in a stifling reality.
I came away from the window, sat back down at my computer, and began typing away.
Don’t look back when you’re sad.
It’s the same chap behind your back;
all he needs is one gentle pat
to remind him he’s been the chap
trapped on a path in no man’s land.
Don’t look back when fear harms.
That’s when old scars surface to mar;
just know memories do stand guard
and stark sadness does jar your heart
by throwing darts so hard and sharp.
Don’t look back when pain sails.
Its wake has no place in your day;
all it wants is to sway your aims
in a way that you fail the race
and that you gain no praise or fame.
Don’t look back when doubts fly.
There’s no fight without a wee cry;
even when the line seems sky high
a fine surprise will meet your eyes.
So why not just enjoy the ride?
Mauro lives in western Canada and is currently completing a master’s degree in travel & nature writing at Bath Spa University. He also holds a postgraduate diploma in creative writing from the University of York. He has lived, studied, and worked in different countries, such as the USA, Canada, Argentina, France, and Spain. Part of his writing is inspired by the places he visits and the people he meets in them.