My real name is Hiroshi Eng, but you can call me CC -it doesn’t really stand for anything, this CC, but it’s useful to have a moniker of some kind. Real names are such character give-aways. I used to study Politics and International Relations at Cambridge – until, that is, I saw a giant Coco de Mer in the Cambridge University Botanic Garden. It is, this Coco de Mer, the largest seed in the world. If you’ve never seen one, and it’s more than likely you haven’t, a Coco resembles a pair of well-rounded buttocks. From the moment I set eyes on this Coco, each of its peachy halves burnished by the sun, I knew my political career was over. I guess, as Jung would have it, I connected with my anima. My inner female, which at that moment was snoozing in the masculine hub of my unconscious, decided it was time to take a trip through my habit-fixed neurotransmitters.
Life changes, I now know, and it changes in the strangest of ways. Businessmen and showbusiness hoofers become the mouthpieces of political strategy; viruses spring from bio-lab bats and begin to mine our cells for a nice warm nest to replicate in; humans turn into pillars of salt because we can’t help looking over our shoulders at Sodom as it burns. Me?
I find myself in a Birmingham hotel lobby -ergo, a long, impersonal, art-deco lounge- and I’m looking at a wilting pilea peperomoides -a Chinese money plant- on one of the tables nearby.
“Your stay, sir,” says the suited receptionist, “is for one night only. Correct?”
I nod. I’m looking across at the plant, trying not to show too much interest.
“Is it business or leisure, sir?”
I’m still looking at the plant. Everything comes from a seed. Every seed-birthed creature needs tending.
“Yes,” I say, turning my attention back to the receptionist, “it’s leisure.”
“That’s fine, sir. Here’s your key.”
In my mind -yes, in my mind- I hear a voice. It’s the voice of the Coco de Mer seed. You gotta save the pilea, CC. The world is up the canyon without a paddle, boy, but you gotta save the pilea. You didn’t give up your have-a-go-at-the-prime-ministership for nothing. You are a plant paramedic, a lifesaver.
“Your key, sir.”
I’m glad to get inside my room for a while. It’s been two days -seems like a lifetime- since I caught the midday train out of Cambridge. Sure, I now know I did the right thing, but you do have to give yourself time to get your head together -especially when you’re operating covertly.
Don’t pile on the pressure, the Coco in my head says.
“I’m trying not to,” I answer, “but it’s a lot to take on board.”
What did I tell you? the Coco says. When you first met me in the Botanic Garden, from that very first moment, CC, I shared with you a simple credo.
I nod. “You did.”
I told you that we all have to work together, flora and fauna. We all have to help each other to grow. We have to ignore the deliberations of our leaders. They are busy stoking the furnace of death. It is down to us to make organic connections with one another, as imperfect as they may be, to reach out and nurture one another.
“I know.” I tapped my palm against my chest. “The message is in here.”
Sometimes, CC, I miss home, but I also know that I am lucky to be here. I have adapted to my life in the West. I am cared for. I know that I have something to give. In other words, the peculiar circumstances of my life have made me unique. You are like that.
I laugh at that. “I am peculiar, I guess.”
You are marked out as somebody special. I saw that in you too. I knew that you were not like all the others who came to see me. You spoke to me. You shared your soul with me. You reached out to me.
“I have been taking a lot of tranquilizers recently. Maybe,” -I pause- “oh, I don’t know. All I know is, Coco, you listened. You didn’t judge me. You looked good in the Botanic, all that sunlight and water. You looked perfect, even. You showed me that I was a trillion miles away from my true potential.”
Thanks, the Coco in my head says after a few moments. You’re making me emotional, CC. That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.
I lie back on the bed and switch on the TV with the remote. It’s the news. The American president is religiously mocking some newspaper hack’s questions. He, the American president, looks like a fat bar of gold bullion -with the eyes of a big bad wolf. Evidently, he has never met a Coco de Mer in the flesh.
For God’s sake, CC, the Coco in my head quips, switch it off. Associating with liars, even if they’re on TV, is bad for the digestion. It causes a reflux of acid. In worst case scenarios, my friend, it can cause cellular deterioration.
I remote the “off” button. I know Coco is right. A friend of mine, Tzukazaki, had an uncle who watched the TV news on a loop -sadly, Tzukazaki’s uncle became bloated with peritonitis and dropped dead.
Let’s get back to the pilea peperomoides, Coco says.
“You think I should take it, don’t you? I ask, nodding. “You think I should, you know, save it, don’t you?”
You don’t need to ask me that, CC.
I don’t bother with my bag, my clothing, anything. I go down to the hotel lobby. I’m wearing the jacket and jeans I had on when I came in. The receptionist nods at me; I don’t nod back.
Be cool, Coco says.
I go to the bar and purchase a glass of mineral water. I take it across to the table with the Chinese money plant on it. For a moment, as I sit down, I think the plant is winking at me. It’s as if it already knows what’s coming. I try to steady my throbbing heartbeat –maybe it will calm the money plant if I can calm myself, is my thinking.
There’s a lovely little patch of garden a few miles back, Coco is saying now. We passed it in the taxi. Do you remember?
I nod my head.
We should replant this baby back there, Coco finishes.
Nodding again, I notice that the barman is looking at me. I try a smile but he doesn’t smile back.
Let’s go, Coco urges.
Grabbing the pilea peperomoides from the table now, I leap to my feet and begin to run for the exit. Instantly, I manage to knock over one of the dining chairs as I make my escape; moreover, I hear a man’s voice calling after me, shouting an order for me to halt.
It’s OK, CC, Coco says. Your work is of global importance. It starts with one plant -it ends with a forest.
I’m smiling to myself as I run along the street. The money plant is flapping enthusiastically in the cool air -applauding me, is my conclusion.
Remember, CC, the Coco in my head says, you are the seed of the future.