The pomegranate tree

This post is also available in: العربية (Arabic)

 Photo Courtesy of Anwar Sabri Photo Courtesy of Anwar Sabri

How I love the sun, which now, in this moment between three and four in the afternoon, brushes the courtyard of our house. This modest yard, with its orchard of just two trees—a pomegranate and a pink-flowered lantana—and pots of basil, mint, cactus and white carnations, and most recently, the green and red peppers planted by my mother. I would need a thousand lifetimes lived out among these creations to understand the secret of their enchantment.


Each day, after my siesta, I rise from bed and make my way there. I wash myself in its warm light. I take the hose and spray water over the ground. A gold sheet suspended in air is sunlight reflected from the stream. Droplets glow on the leaves of the trees. I look at the cactus. There’s no need to water it every day, but nor is there any harm in, ever so softly, sprinkling a few drops to dampen it, for those drops, more softly still, to slip down over its smooth surface. Others shine on the basil leaves and mint.

Do you feel what I feel?

It is now that I head over to the beautiful pomegranate tree, boughs garlanded with flutes of red blossom. I believe she must have been a woman, long ago.


This tree has a tragic past. Once heavy with fruit every year, her pomegranate-heavy branches would hang out over the courtyard’s edge, and the children from our alley would climb the wall to pick them. Battles would break out. They never gave the fruit a chance to ripen, and we rarely got to taste them at their sweetest.


 Photo Courtesy of Anwar Sabri Photo Courtesy of Anwar Sabri

Our ownership of this glorious tree was a particular sore point for our neighbour. We shared a huge water cistern with him, which extended from our courtyard to his. He wanted to uproot the tree, on the grounds that its roots ran underground into his section of the cistern and damaged it. His mission, the fruit of his own sick reasoning, was to cut our tree down, and it caused us many difficulties: we spent much time and energy warding him off, protecting the tree which had grown and borne fruit for years without causing harm to anyone.


Then the day came. He received permission from the landlord to cut down the pomegranate, and cut it down he did, and when he did, he severed with it some great portion of my soul, and denied the children their ration of pomegranate. But its stumps and roots remained, stuck fast in the soil, and in just two years the tree flowered again. It put out branches, the stump rose into a trunk, and we heard nothing more from our neighbour.


It was more beautiful, more glorious than before. Even the fruit hung thicker. I was persuaded that trees cannot die: that their souls live on in the ground to blossom anew.


It was, I believe, the soul of that woman who had lived in our house many years before. It was said that she had made a solemn pledge to plant and tend the tree following an incident, something that had taken place one day, during Eid.

After her family had finished eating the woman went to stretch her back out on a mattress in the living room, closing her eyes and entering into a state somewhere between sleep and waking. She started to feel a numbness in her limbs, like something was slipping out of her and slowly floating up over herbed. The numbing sensation spread, then something got stuck, a dense lump held over her chest, and she heard strange sounds, like voices debating back and forth. Their tone grew sharper, the lump still squatting over her chest. It was though all her breath was heading out, trying to leave her body. And suddenly, the breath flew from her mouth, and she saw her body laid out on the mattress, her mouth ajar and her eyes fixed on the ceiling, and she was drawn upward, closer and closer to the voices.


She heard one say,

No, not this woman! You’ve made a mistake. Dear angel, you’ve mixed up the names, you must put her back. The soul that should be coming our way is that one…

And she turned to see what the voice meant, to where it was indicating she look, and she found herself looking down at the courtyard, at a pomegranate tree draped in blossom, and as she looked her soul began to sink back down, to return, to enter back—O, how it hurt—through her open mouth and spread out through her body. She felt as though she’d been operated on, as though her chest had been cut open.

She opened her eyes, but her body was heavy, so heavy. With difficulty she stirred her limbs.

It was some days before she able to speak and tell the others what had happened to her, about her temporary death, about how she had returned to life all thanks to a pomegranate tree that wasn’t there. And it was then that she made up her mind to plant the tree that saved her life.

 Photo Courtesy of Anwar Sabri Photo Courtesy of Anwar Sabri

And in that single instant of light, reaching back and forward through the years, that first flowering is made visible within me. Me, and the light, running into one another amid the droplets and the fragrance of damp soil. No one else notices this love.

If they knew of it, I believe that they would kill me, for it’s customary for lovers to be killed. Not one of them knows that I have abandoned their prayers. For others.

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