|He stepped to
one side of the rug before him. He had learned that beneath its
deliberate imperfection may be hidden a perfectly effective
detonator. He saw his big dusty boots on the tiled floor. The
light from the splintered doorway caught Rivera's spittle. There was
a stain on the fronds of the rug. A corner curled a little towards
Young Lionel Bronstein could not quite identify the resinous aroma in the place. If he dared to close his eyes a moment, the scent would be redolent of much, for the elusive near-sweet culinary fragrance made a house a home.
People live here. They rise in the morning, relieve themselves, wash, meet and eat together, and talk about the inconsequential things of daily life. Perhaps a child trips on the rug and spills the mint tea he is carrying carefully to his grandmother in the next room. They laugh together. A mother prepares a green salad, an elder sister bends to slide a tray of biscuits from an oven. A father ruffles the hair of his son.
Lionel pictured Papa grinning with approval as the boy completed a particularly difficult phrase accurately for the first time in clarinet practice and Grandmamma clapping her hands in delight, Aunt Sadie grasping her smelling salts and Uncle Jonathan - the late, dear, sweet Uncle Jonathan - murmuring, "Shalom."
Lionel felt a shift in his bowels and the voice from his guts moaned. He heard himself.
He saw a glow emanating from beneath the closed door beside him. Beyond it, a voice heaved a sigh. He heard a creaking. There followed a sound of something bursting, a splat, resistance giving way, release: yes, something is being released.
Had his military training kicked in, he would have squared up to the door, taken a deep breath, held his rifle across his chest, gauged the height of the latch, shouted, "Ya!" and thrown his weight behind his right boot, exploiting the element of surprise; he found himself reaching for the door knob, quietly turning it and solemnly opening the door.
He was looking into a sunlit room. He saw, at its centre, a tree. It was an olive.
A child's cry caused him to look down. A young girl lay on her back. She was naked, her head uncovered. The olive tree had burst through the girl's breast, from where her heart must be.
The trunk was growing rapidly, thickening and twisting. As he watched, each coiling movement of the trunk extended to become a branch. From every branch, there sprouted grey stems and from every stem, silver green leaves unfurled. Moment by moment now, fruits issued in clusters, dozens at a time, each olive dangling, drawn by the Earth's gravitational pull.
Clomp! An olive fell to the floor. Then another. A few more. As the tree bushed and the shifting branches pressed against the walls and ceiling, more olives dropped, surrounding the girl with the green fruit. Silvery green leaves and twigs were scattered among the harvest. Soon, more of the fruit were a rich purple. Ah! Now he knew the source of the aroma in this house, in this child's home. He recalled his mother's mysterious conjuring of a family meal from the clatter of her kitchen and the succession of smells that wafted from her labours there.
This child turned her head towards him, frowning. She was speaking to him, but the creaking of the fast-growing tree and the noise of olives bouncing on the floor smothered her voice. She was beckoning.
The young man moved towards the child. She beckoned again. He knelt beside her and leaned in close to her cheek, the better to hear what she was mouthing against the noise. He could smell apples on her young breath.
She breathed the sigh of a troubled child. She gestured towards her heart from which grew the olive branches, the heart of a heartless world.