While violence is spiraling out of control in Syria I am reading the directions on the back of a newly purchased strawberry planter.
It was little missy’s idea.
“Strawberries?” I said. “Yeah,” she said. There was no eye contact. It was a given. We were going to plant strawberries. “Okay,” I said putting the last few dishes in the dishwasher. The next day I found myself in a garden centre looking for everything you need to grow strawberries.
“So, can we plant them tomorrow?” she asks. I take a glance in missy’s direction. “Tomorrow?” Her hair is hanging over her face as she writes at the kitchen table. She stops writing and tilts her head the right way up. “Why are you repeating me?” “Repeating…?” “…there you go again!” Missy rolls her eyes and drops them on her homework copy again. Clearly, my mental multi-tasking, or rather multi-listening is a dead giveaway and she is right. I am trying to work out if I am home with everything to plant the strawberries while listening to missy and the radio at the same time. U.N investigators and survivors are being interviewed in the aftermath of the massacre in Syria.
Syria. A country a million miles away, ripped apart by violent internal conflict. I am thinking of the futility of killing—of families seeped in fear and dead heat—of the children injured and orphaned—of poor farm villages and their people wrecked with grief.
Missy can’t hear the radio. I have turned it down so she can concentrate on her homework and now I am glad. Words like massacre and mutilation would only raise an eye brow and leave her curious. How do you explain the word massacre to a seven year old child who is dreaming of growing strawberries? Do children in Syria dream? I’m sure the children in Syria are no different from little missy. For a flitting moment I wonder do strawberries grow in Syria?
I never planted strawberries before. I remember a time when I wanted to sell them at a roundabout in Tyrone. My wanting caused awful rows. Mummy wouldn’t let me go. So, I didn’t get a job selling strawberries. Instead, that summer I moped around the house at a time when N.Ireland was in the grip of its own conflict and chaos. Everyone lived in fear, including my Mum. Like most parents, we try to protect our children in any way we can to keep them safe—to prevent them from leaving themselves vulnerable and being subjected to disturbing news reports.
“Will we plant them tomorrow Mammy?” Little missy tempts to get her question answered a second time just as I realize something is missing. I am home with no strawberry seeds.
Missy is disappointed and her shoulders fall as she releases a moan into the air. I laugh and tell her it isn’t the end of the world. We will plant strawberries tomorrow. I will go back to the shop and get the seeds. She jumps up and hugs me tight and tells me her dream is coming true. Suddenly the thought of planting strawberries with little missy feels magical. “Thank God.” I say out loud. “Why are you thanking God Mammy?” “I’m just giving thanks for simple things like strawberry seeds. They have the power to grow amazing dreams.” Missy giggles and goes back to finish her homework. The newsreader finishes up her report on Syria. I leave the strawberry planter in the utility room and start to prepare dinner.
© Aileen McCallan