House Plants, Cathedrals, and Misplaced Homes

(by Sudha Jagatheesh-Jayanand, runner-up in the Flipside Short Story Competition 2022)

Being a plant mom is distressing.

Being a single plant mom—even more so.

Immediately after moving to London by myself for university, I had been adamant
about getting a succulent. One became two, then three. They became flickers of
green and purple in a room with tension as palpable as the four walls that seem to
confine rather than accommodate. My succulents made me feel grounded—a
semblance of control to a life that cannot be constrained.

I lived through my house plants. But one of them was dying.

At first, I thought it was a joke. My exceptional parenting skills need no inspection: I
water often and set them up so they bathe in warm flickers of sunlight through the
day. My regime is perfect to a fault, perfect to the way purple tulips swayed to the
wind in Lincoln’s Inn Fields; perfect to how the sun shone upon glass windows on
Central Building at four thirty-eight the other week. It was perfect, and I saw no
reason why it should fail. But it did.

With skin-crawling agony, green leaves turned wayward-brown, mockingly
dislocating themselves from the stem as if to say, “You cared, but not enough.”

An insult to my steadily perfected perfection. A testament, then, to my failure.

Futile readjustments and a few sprinkles of water later, I left my room (begrudgingly
realising Sunday evenings should not be spent crying over sick baby plants). Despite
socially awkward smiles and British pigeons marching on imaginary lines, I persisted
toward a desperately desired break from my plants and plans I had outlined for the
rest of the month.

The walk across Millennium was always quietly amusing. The people, even more so:
the occasional tune of laughter from a conversation between two; a professional
photographer capturing lovely orange sunsets; dogs on leashes curiously poking
their fluffy heads between metal railings as owners absently scroll through their
phones.

I urge you to attend Sunday-evening organ recitals at St. Paul’s. Glittering walls and
music so blissfully mesmerising is a delight for a soul craving release from
mundanity. The world ceases to exist. Time stops. It is an escape into existential
nihilism amidst volatile periods of unspeakable anthropocentric destruction. It is
endlessly ephemeral.

It is unabashedly raw, mortal compositions trying to capture the immortality of being.

Hilariously ironic, however, is the fact that my Hindu-raised, Tamil-speaking
existence trained in Indian Carnatic seeks out these beautifully serene renditions of
euro-centric, Christian classics of Bach, Schumann, and Mendelssohn, week after
week. But I remain committed anyway. Art and artists are too sublime to remain
unappreciated over sociocultural divides.

My steps echoed as I walked in. The altar server shook his head. “No photography
allowed,” he said. I wondered whether I should tell him I sneaked a picture of the
architectural marvel before he could notice. For some reason, I decided not to.

Dying house plants and secretly captured pictures were new additions to my list of
‘things I cannot seem to place’.

Children giggled across the hall as parents fondly ruffled their hair. Lovers melted
into each other, and old men nodded with familiarity as the organist swayed in his
chair. The music began. Smiles and sighs rang out. A collective realisation
of belonging. Of feeling at home.

Home.

Home is a delicate feeling we try to enclose in physical spaces. Sometimes it stays
put. Other times, it shatters into space, pieces entangling themselves in you. Me. Us.

We search for our homes in people, places, and material things; companions,
cathedrals, and houseplants; to be loved, feel love, and give love.

And when homes crack (as they do)—we mend them. Sometimes. Other times, they
become humbling echoes of the past, gentle in their reminders. Angry smudges on
your phone from times you declined your mother’s calls (I’m 18 now, you know!).
Heavenly echoes of Bach across golden-marble cathedral domes with sunlight
streaming through open windows. House plants that shed leaves because you
care too much and not too little, because you are striving for perfection in a world so
fundamentally, so beautifully, so inter-temporally i m p e r f e c t.

My mind was made. Once in my room, tripping over clothes and some fidgeting later,

I pushed open the windows. Stood back from my tiptoes. Bittersweet, midnight-
London air creeps in. Unencumbered. Unwelcome but not unwanted (the skin on my

fingertips took offence, you see). The walls expanded. The world froze. Nuvole
Bianche flowed through my bones.

In a fierce moment of defiance, I pushed aside the essay I was working on;
existence—existing—seemed more important.

A few days later, I discovered the cause for my succulent’s almost-demise: I had
overwatered it. The leaves fell because they couldn’t hold in the love I had so
carefully poured. In pursuit of perfection that does not exist, I had so conveniently
forgotten the frailty of living beings. Perfection is subjective. We are not mechanical
devices with measured requirements of love and life. Conforming to regularity and
working week after week through suffocating schedules become inconsequential if
the mind vacillates between conflict and calm.

There is power in bursting moments of resistance against the addictive monotonicity
of life. Maybe we should embrace the anomalies in our existence.

My home was in houseplants, cathedrals, and the London air.

It wasn’t perfect. But nevertheless—it was home.

(by Sudha Jagatheesh-Jayanand, runner-up in the Flipside Short Story Competition 2022)

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