Friday, 22 May 2020

Growing In The Time Of Corona



It’s midnight and I’m exhausted. The zoom calls that seem to have taken control of my life are endless. I am scheduling my work, play and relaxation around them. They are meant to give relief but sometimes this introvert is finding it all a bit too much.

I lift myself out of the too hot bath water when a thought occurs to me; 

'I think I’d like to see the chillies.'

Instead of the relaxing bath I’d been hoping for my mind is whirring with a sense of lost time. Am I doing enough? Am I using this time properly? Should I wait, as planned, till September and my masters or should I be pushing my writing career now? Is it enough to simply write my book during this time or should I be hustling? Forcing out a myriad of articles to sell and pitch to publications in a desperate attempt to make this time count.
            
My body aches with the never-ending pain of fibromyalgia but also something else tonight. The weariness of a millennial forever feeling like she should be doing more in a world that makes it too hard.
            
'The chillies' I think. 'I’ll go and see the chillies.'
            
I get dressed in pajama shorts and a vest, my body still reeling from the heat of the bath water and go into my spare room. It is still, quiet and cool. The hot afternoon sun turned to shade in the light evenings and then darkness falling over them.
           
My chilli plant is sitting on a book case by the window. Four thick stems are all that’s left of the thirty odd seedlings that grew out of the soil only a few weeks before. This is my first plant grown from seed. My baby.
            
Pulling up the smaller seedlings over the last few weeks had been painful. Reaching down to the base of the stem, wiggling gentle and trying to pull them up with roots intact. Each time I had to choose who would stay and who would be unceremoniously dumped in the garden waste. But the seedlings that were left grew thicker and stronger for having more space. This made it easier to be able to pick out the weakling and uproot him from his cosy compost bed.
            
I gently trace my hands along the leaves now growing. In just 6 weeks they had gone from seeds to over 20cms tall with multiple sharp pointed leaves. The promise of what I would find each day was intoxicating.
            
I had begun my growing journey back in March when my husband brought the chilli planting set home from a supermarket shop. The yellow sticker emblazoned on the side giving away its identity as “past it’s sell by”.
            
Although we didn’t know it, that would be our last normal shop for a while. The effect of Covid19 had already begun to show in that last shop. There was no toilet roll, no tins and no pasta. But there were plants. The panicked masses running around the supermarket in an anxiety induced bulk buying frenzy had passed my little pot of compost and seeds by. They were classed as unimportant and unessential at a time like this.
            
Within weeks our lives changed completely. I watched as friends lost jobs they had fought so hard for in a world that gives millennials little help. I saw the fear from loved ones as furloughing was introduced and a 20% cut would mean bills unpaid. My husband fought hard with management to be allowed to work from home. A week after the prime minister had announced the lock down he was still fighting. And my brother and Dad, a radiographer and a doctor, prepared for the onslaught of people fighting for their lives in the hospital like we were entering a war.
            
We did not go unaffected. Soon my husband’s salary was cut, a desperate attempt by his company to try and keep them all afloat through this. We sat at the table heads in hands, lines creased over our foreheads doing sums on the calculator to figure out if we’d make it out of this with bills paid.
            
And here I was. Desperately trying to cheer friends, offer financial support, cook meals for our NHS worker friends unable to find food in a post bulk buying country. It didn’t feel like enough. Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives. And we did.
            
But amongst it all the plants still grew. The chilli seeds all seemed to sprout at once. A myriad of tiny double leafed babies. Every week as corona became more and more serious, the death count rising and the restrictions becoming stricter my chilli plants grew up and grew strong. A small part of my world that was changing but in a good way.
            
Nature had been something I had counted on over the last few weeks. The steadfast changing of the seasons from the beginnings of spring in March right through to the full blossoming of April and now into May. It gave me comfort to know even though our world was at a strange standstill waiting and hoping for this virus to pass, nature was continuing.
            
Whilst friends found comfort in fitness challenges, learning a new language, getting through their to read list or simply slobbing out in front of Netflix I found comfort in the little green stems I was taking care of each day. Every morning I would walk into our spare room, see how much they had grown in just 24 hours, press my middle finger into the dark earthy soil checking the dampness. I had learnt that chillies are thirsty plants. They need plenty of water, sunlight and an even temperature. I relished being able to give them this. To give them all they needed to thrive and grow.
            
They had been planted the same weekend Covid19 had really hit this country and the worse things got the more they had grown. A steadfast quiet port in a storm that was alien and uncontrollable.
            
I look at them now in the dark. Tenderly stroke the leaves and smile. They haven’t fruited yet. It’s only been nine weeks and some varieties of chilli can take up to three and a half months to bear fruit.
            
Perhaps they are waiting to bloom just at the right moment. As this virus begins to pass, as the impersonal heart wrenching numbers in newspapers begin to descend, as we all begin to tentatively open up our doors and step out into the light to grieve and love and embrace and promise that this will change us, and we will live better. Perhaps then they will fruit. A celebration of growing through hard times and coming out the other side.
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