Nonno Panda TALES 3
Lily the Albino Hummingbird
and the Crying Ficus
One day I got lost in the dark wood, unable to find the right way…
I came across Lily the albino hummingbird in a state of shock. Following a delicious scent that day she’d found herself in a greenhouse. She plunged delightedly into a beautiful trumpet-shaped flower, which reminded her ecstatically of plants in a far-off land, and began to suck out its sweet essence. Her dreaming delight was interrupted by the sudden realisation that water was dripping onto her tail. She backed out rather fussily, impatient at this disturbance to her lunch, to investigate this strange phenomenon. It must be the automatic sprinklers, she thought at first. But seeing there weren’t any, she looked for the source of the moisture elsewhere.
I had the feeling the story was a long one, so I asked Lily to stop flapping her wings in front of my nose. The buzzing noise was irritating me and making me sneeze. Not only could I not understand her properly, but she was getting exhausted and I was afraid she would collapse in front of me at any moment.
Hummingbirds need to be nourished constantly to keep up the level of energy they need to stay in the air. So I told her to land on my paw and calm down, and take a few deep breaths. I also sat comfortably so I could listen carefully to her story.
She explained that she’d realised with a start that the wetness was coming from the leaves of a large plant above her. “Good Nature,” she said in surprise, “it’s tears!” Fying up to the plant, she asked, “What on earth is the matter with you, dear Ficus? Why are you spraying me with water?”
“Because I am terribly unhappy,” the plant replied, and plunged into the whole story of her life, from the time she had been lopped off from her old mother.
“They took me straight from my mother to a strange place,” wept the plant, “where I was supposed to look for the sun and grow towards it . . . as we do normally,” she explained, in case the bird was unfamiliar with the ways of plants. “Eventually I began to enjoy all the water and plant food the humans gave me and I grew big and strong.
“As I grew, I sent my roots downwards at the same time as my leaves grew up. One day I realised that one of my roots was suspended in thin air. I panicked and reached down further . . . more air! I was hanging unsupported! It was horrible. I tried desperately to grasp at something, but no! There was nothing beneath me. I was lost in space!” The plant took a few moments to recover from this emotional part of the story. Then she continued.
“Desperate to find some security, I sent my leaves up and up, searching for some way I could balance myself. But all that happened was that they got burnt.
“Eventually, the ground under me started to crack all over the place and I realised I had been betrayed! What had been the source of my nourishment was a container of artificial soil on the one hundred and thirty-ninth floor of a building. My roots, searching for the ground, had cracked a whole section of concrete which was crumbling into the terrace below. Even the source of my colour was artificial!
“I should have realised that I could never have got so near the real sun. It was merely some sort of small, human version of the real thing, made especially to deceive us poor ignorant plants. And that’s my story, bird. That’s how I found myself exiled in this concentration camp of a place, having to wait for my daily meal and the water-spray which force me to survive. Nobody ever comes to visit us, not even a gentle breeze to tickle our leaves . . . just people, anonymous people, who come here to take pictures, because we are all such rarities.”
“Your story is very much the same as ours,” the hummingbird said. “Very similar.”
“Yes,” the plant said, petulantly, impatient at the interruption. “I’m sure it is–” And then she peered closely at her visitor. “Tell me,” she said. “Aren’t you hummingbirds normally rather more colourful? I mean, why are you white? You don’t have some strange disease or something?” said the plant, cringing and shrinking back, just in case.
“Uh, no,” Lily said. “No, actually –,”
“My friend, the fir tree, tells me they suffer a terrible fate, you know. Every year many of them are cut down, murdered, and their corpses ritually dressed in sparkling objects, like earrings, for a bit. And then their corpses are got rid of.”
The plant gave the bird a minute to digest this awful information before it continued.
“And tell me also, white bird – you haven’t answered my question, by the way – are your heads and sexual organs cut off and used to decorate human boudoirs?”
“Good nature, no!” Lily said in disgust.
“That’s what happens to lots of flowers. Some of them are deliberately grown just to have a slow lingering death stood in a glass container with water. Humans watch them dying and say, ‘Gosh, isn’t that lovely!’ And how many of your close relatives have been eaten by hungry humans? The vegetables I know all swear that it is their regular fate.”
“Well, as it happens – ,” the bird said, thinking of her friends, the mad cows. Lily mentioned at this point she was getting rather tired of this endless tale of recriminations.
“And what about the grass? I ask you, what about grass? It only has to grow a few inches more than humans like and what do they do? I ask you, what do they do?”
“I don’t know,” the bird said with a sinking feeling in her stomach.
“ Chop it off! That’s what they do!” The plant was getting hysterical.
At that point Lily announced she was about to go but the Ficus carried on talking, as if she hadn’t heard.
“And think of the cork tree! They flay it alive, you know!”
“Good-bye. I’m sorry you’re so unhappy,” Lily said, visibly affected by the story.
“We plants have a desperately unhappy life, and nobody seems to care,” the Ficus said, taking a long, deep, sad breath. “No vegetable rights campaigners for us. We’re left alone to weep in silence. But maybe you can be our voice in the world,” said the plant, realising her only audience was about to abandon her. “Are you going?”
“Yes!” said the bird. “Sorry.”
“Nobody stays very long. I can’t think why. You didn’t answer my question, by the way. Why are you white?”
“I’ll tell you another time,” she said, flapping up towards the hole in the roof, from where she’d come to tell me her story.
“Oh well, dear Lily,” I said. “Nothing these days is like it used to be. And, yes, the Ficus has a point when she said the plants should have their own – what did she call it? – vegetable rights campaigners? I agree, so the plant world can be protected by a bunch of activists who’ll run around, spraying with paint any garden or terrace, or any window box with flowers, and telling everybody “ Plants have feelings, too, you know!” Humans these days don’t need to use real plants in their gardens or terraces. Fake plastic flowers and plants could do the trick. I’m sure the technology exists to devise a plastic plant that could produce a plastic flower once a season, and create the same effect as in real life. As for fragrance, I’m sure a variety can be tailor-made and programmed, using the right aromatherapy essences to suit your mood swings during the day. You see, technology is the answer to everything, my dear Lily. But I belong to the old Zen school. I believe everything in nature has a purpose. As my friend Kahlil Gibran says about life’s pleasures:
And now you ask in your heart, “How shall we distinguish between What is good in feeling pleasure from what is not good?”
Go to your fields and your gardens, and you shall learn it is the Pleasure of the bee to gather honey from the flower,
But it is also the pleasure of the flower to yield its honey to the bee.
For to the bee a flower is a fountain of life,
And to the flower a bee is a messenger of love.
And to both, flower and bee, the giving and the receiving of pleasure is both a need and an ecstasy.
“So, my dear Lily, people waste too much time in politics pretending it’s to benefit the many whereas in reality. . . well! We are animals. We move on instinct. We shouldn’t get contaminated by the humans’ way of thinking.”
I do not know if it was me quoting from my friend or simply what I’d said that managed to calm Lily down, but she looked at me and smiled and then she flew off, but not before she’d tickled my ear – it was her usual way to kiss me goodbye . . . and so I was able to continue my daily walk.