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decline, the feeling that part of yourself is being lost and fading away, or about his body being eroded to mere skin and bone . . .
“One morning he told me that he had dreamt about a small and distant city which chided him for forgetting his promise to plant a tree there. The most beautiful mark of respect people can pay to a place that has saved them is to plant a tree, he said.Trees are of the earth, they grow tall, become green, sprout leaves, isn’t that so? Dear God, why did we wait all this time? A few days later Robbie died. Since I have come to hate the passage of time, and have no confidence in what it will do to my own feelings and health, I immediately consulted an expert as to what kind of tree is best able to adapt to the Mediterranean climate, then hastened to bring it here, a gift from us to this small city and its inhabitants”.
The expression on my face at her story was not sad but sincere. I expressed condolences for her husband’s death on behalf of the inhabitants of Beni Mellal and was on the point of telling her that the small and enchanting city she had known had grown, becoming ugly and disfigured, and that the engrained conviction shared by successive directors of the Municipal Office was that of hating trees and inventing all means and reasons to uproot them; however, out of consideration for the gratuitous pains she was putting herself to, I preferred to play to the full the role of the civilised Municipal Office employee appreciative of the great symbolic significance of her gesture.
As we walked towards her car to get the tree she told me how she had been treated rudely at the Prefecture. They had kept her waiting for several hours and, when she had finally managed to make the various people sent to question her understand that she did not speak French but they had somehow grasped the reason for her presence, they had sent her to the Municipal Office. She opened the boot of her small Fiat, explaining that she had hired it in Casablanca, and I saw a small ficus tree in a black plastic pot, its slim trunk topped with three small leaves, erect like mouse ears. She took the pot and handed me the envelope she had been holding in her hand, telling me it contained a quotation from Oscar Wilde which Robbie had hoped could be written on a copper plaque under the tree. The envelope also contained her address, she said, and if the local authorities needed money for the upkeep of the tree as it grew she would send it immediately. It also con-
BANIPAL 40 – LIBYAN FICTION 15