Plant A Seed
The woman hummed as she placed the small cotton bags into her tattered purse.
The seams of the worn leather bulged a bit, but held. Her grandmother had given it to her 70 years before for her 16th birthday, not too long before she passed away. She’d carried the bag for all the important events in her life. To weddings and births and funerals. When the seams failed, she’d taken a needle to them, ruining the pristine appearance but maintaining the integrity of the bag itself.
Her great granddaughter sat at the table next to her, tiny legs swinging and tongue poked out the corner of her mouth as she carefully tied 3 knots in the ribbons holding the cotton bags closed.
It has to be 3. 3 is the number of intention, 3 is the number of power. There were 3 nails in the cross for a reason, she’d said, when the child asked her why she needed 3 when 1 would do.
That’s enough for today, she said, and the child looked up at her and smiled.
Are you going to give out your presents again, Oma? she asked, and the woman smiled, reaching one weathered hand out to smooth the strands of her hair.
I only had a few yesterday. There are so many more here today. I think they all should have one. Every single one, the woman said, and her smile turned grim, spreading across her lips to make the thin fine lines around it show more prominently.
Hers was a face made for smiles and laughter. The memory of them carved deeper with every year that passed. Every line was joy or sorrow, painted with the whisper soft caress of time.
Earned, not stolen or bestowed. They were a symbol of a life well lived. This smile wasn’t one she wore often. Shed worn it the first time as a child when her father got his hand blown off resisting the Soviets.
Another time she’d worn it was when her grandson volunteered to fight in the JFO and helped push back the traitors at Donbas.
She wore it for herself today. It was likely she’d wear it every day now until she died or this ended.
She leaned down and pressed a kiss to her great granddaughter’s cheek and slipped the handle of the purse over her forearm.
Walking slowly out the door and down the street. She moved slower than usual, not that she moved fast anymore.
Fast is something she’d said goodbye to when Kravchuk was president. She didn’t need fast anymore, really.
She got where she was going when she needed to. Today, like yesterday, she moved slower because of rubble and the extra aches from sleeping under her home instead of in it.
When she reached the main road, she heard sporadic gunfire and heavy vehicles. The roads in her city seldom saw anything larger than a bus.
They’d missed the last ones evacuating civilians and, with the debris on the ground, no more would come through any time soon.
She saw a half dozen people running in the opposite direction of the sounds, making eye contact with most to see if they needed something she could provide. They all had the look.
Fear and anger combined with disbelief. That was the blessing of youth. The ability to be surprised by the harsh realities of life.
At her age, nothing much surprised her. Except, maybe the way her favorite foods were no longer available.
Her grandson had tried to explain to her about soil depletion and supply chain issues. It was all the same.
Another bout of scarcity brought on by mismanagement and selfishness somewhere.
When she reached the intersection, she looked around for the chair she’d found the day before and saw it listing to one side against a tree, well away from where she’d left it.
She set down her purse and retrieved it, placing it where she could see anyone coming from either direction and sitting down with her purse in her lap. The first of them came two hours later. She waved to them and most ignored her.
A few started walking in her direction to see what she wanted.
Quickly, she reached into her purse and pulled out a handful of bags.
These are for you. Sunflower seeds. Keep them in your pockets. I put these together myself. Just for you and your friends, she said, holding out the cotton bags to the uniform clad man.
He looked disconcerted but took one and shook it, pulling open the knots to look inside with a bemused expression on his face.
He shrugged and murmured his thanks, then moved away, laughing with his friends.
The woman smiled that same grim smile and repeated the interaction a dozen times before one soldier finally stopped to ask her why she wanted them to have them.
You have to think about the future. Your job here is death.
Those seeds are life, she replied, and he raised an eyebrow and nodded.
So you want us to remember to plant them?
It would be best if you took them home and planted them.
Remember what is important in life. But I suspect they’ll get planted whether or not you remember,the old woman said pragmatically and reached into her bag for another sack of seeds.
She handed it to the man who came up behind the first one who made a rude comment to his friend and laughed.
The woman shook her head and smiled again.
There’s no way you can know that, the man said, and she laughed.
The sound was low and joyless in the hush between gunshots and explosions.
Oh, I am old. I have seen a lot of things, yes? Maybe I know more than you. I know war. This is war. I know growing things.
To grow things, you need all the pieces. The seeds, the dirt, the water.
The fertilizer, she said. Far off, something exploded, and the air echoed with the sound. The ground beneath them shuddered as if heaving a weary sigh.
You want to grow peace, you must plant the seeds. How you plant them matters not so much.
You can plant them when you get home, she said and then fixed him with a hard stare.
Or plant them when you lie here. Corpses make excellent fertilizer, no? Is one of the pieces, she said, and gave him her grim smile.
Personally, I hope you plant them here.