THE CURIOUS POT
Oranges once grew in the field across the road from my flat at the edge of the kibbutz. Now, a collection of expansive, self-proclaimed villas built by people who were attracted to the tranquility, nature, and comfort of the kibbutz without having to be a part of it. On my side of the road is what remains of the kibbutz – unchanged yet totally different from what its pioneering, socialist founders meant it to be. Members continue to negotiate the maze of asphalt paths on their bicycles to and from a working cow shed, factory, children’s nurseries, communal dining hall and unimaginative living units. However, one cannot help noticing the growing presence of motorized disability wheelchairs, tourist zimmers, and arrow shaped signs directing the unfamiliar to a swimming pool, restaurant or parking area. It is a community that had reluctantly succumbed to impatient financial directives, yet struggles to deny change, simultaneously.
My modest flat is in a 2-story building on columns situated between both opposing worlds. Rental is reasonable, the flat well maintained, the other three residents are friendly and mostly unobtrusive, and the location is convenient. Admittedly, there is nothing particularly special about this arrangement – except for a collection of random, albeit curious, objects in the open entrance, between the columns, that residents use as a storage area, bicycle stand, children’s play area, and plant nursery.
At first, the potted Iris that someone brought me during a recent house warming party brightened up the otherwise unremarkable window sill in the salon. But, the flower soon wilted and the leaves sagged sadly. Either I had watered it too much or too little, depending upon who was asked.
So, I resignedly decided to surrender my unhappy Iris to a collection of homeless potted plants that were unwanted or too demanding along the perimeter of the entrance. There, they could enjoy partial sunlight, an occasional breeze, and the fortuitous misdirected spray of the automatic lawn sprinkler. Nature would take its course: plants either flourished or wilted. I hoped for the best.
Next to my unfortunate Iris was a large terracotta clay pot with a solitary recently sprouted seedling. Unrecognised, unclaimed and unknown – this too sought life.
Occasionally, I would stop by my poor Iris on the way to see how it was doing. Alas, it had withered into nothingness without much of a fight. But, the young sprout quickly reached a foot tall and clearly had no intention of stopping there. It was in its element. Unashamedly, I soon forgot about my Iris as my curiosity grew about the mysterious flourishing sprout that I was determined would turn out to be anything but a common weed. I wasn’t alone. Other residents, I had noticed, glanced at the potted plant as they walked by. There was no flower, yet, but the green and serrated leaves seemed oddly familiar. There was something about the pointed shape of the leaves (seven per stem) and a central vein that extended to its tip. Wikipedia confirmed without a doubt that this seemingly benign plant was indeed, Cannabis.
Someone had the audacious Chutzpah to challenge Kibbutz policy against any sort of drugs, challenging behavior or inconsiderate expression of personal needs by openly growing Marijuana (aka, weed) in the open. How daring! How adventurous! How jealous I was! Clearly, the Kibbutz central committee concerned with community issues would not take this lightly, if they knew. The screening process that residents are subjected to left no doubt about their attitude, indeed apprehension, towards anti-social behaviors. Simply in order to rent this flat I had to submit countless documents to affirm my good standing in society, which included several written references, criminal record checks, bank statements, salary slips, medical tests, and signed oaths. Only a DNA test and a polygraph record of interrogation by special security services were omitted, although there is little doubt that this too would have been considered if permitted by the Geneva Convention on Human Rights.
So, who could it be among the other three residents in the building? The most likely suspect was Amir, a 20 year old single man who lived alone in the ground floor flat. He was neither sociable nor talkative. In fact, I don’t recall him saying anything. Amir would quietly slip to his work in the Kibbutz carpentry shop and back to his solitary flat without a word – avoiding eye contact, and smiling out of embarrassment rather than happiness. Only once did I manage to get a brief and surprising peak into his private life when he momentarily left the door of his flat ajar while taking out the trash. There, in his living room, were no chairs, no sofas, no wide screen televisions and not a single house plant (real or otherwise) or decorative wall display but a full sized snooker table. One can’t think of a pool table without conjuring up a picture of bottled beer and cigarettes. Drugs are not far off. Did the reclusive Amir ’party’?
But, Amir would hardly have the courage to challenge Kibbutz establishment and defy the law in this way, let alone interact with other people. Everything about him screamed caution and pursuit of the illusory safety that is promised by social disengagement. Amir had a lot of secrets, but openly growing cannabis was not one of them.
Perhaps it was the busy young couple, Gadi and Yael, next door? He did some sort of high tech office job in the nearby city of Tiberias. She periodically taught Israeli folk dance whenever not consumed by the needs of her two young children, who were absolutely adorable when asleep. Frequently the children played in the small landing between our two flats, which was likely to be more of the parents’ idea than theirs. Yael was pleasant enough but an anxious type – always worrying about this or that and endlessly seeking reassurance from anyone ready to stop and listen. She had this revealing compulsion to flick her hair over her shoulder when she spoke – more out of nervous habit than need. One could easily imagine the couple taking a stolen puff of the magic weed to calm down after a hectic day once the children were finally asleep. Then again, to openly flaunt the law and kibbutz policy was highly unlikely given their daily struggle to cope with life’s stressors and keep their heads above water level. Their boat could not risk any additional load or disturbance without losing balance and sinking. I am sure that they knew that. On the other hand, if they were not using cannabis to smooth the edges, maybe someone should have recommended it to them.
Mr and Mrs Schwartz were, on the surface, the least likely culprits in this mystery. In most Western societies they would be considered Pensioners and expected to take up their conventional role on a well-padded recliner across from the television set and commenting on how the world has changed, soured, lost all meaning. But, Kibbutz living is good to seniors in that everyone is encouraged to contribute according to their ability rather than status. Founding members of the kibbutz, Gideon and Shula Schwartz remained as active as ever within the kibbutz and as residents in our building. Gideon – with his relentless sunrise exercise routine at the entrance to the building – was determined to regularly embarrass me as I sleepily stumbled my way with a plastic coffee mug to the car each morning.” At your age, young man, you should be taking a bicycle to work, “he would cajole, “That coffee is a drug. Try carrot juice each morning,” he would add. Gideon made health gurus look amateur.
Mrs Schwartz was more reserved, but as busy as a bee. She spent a lot of time in the open entrance foyer tidying up things, tending to the plants, putting up decorations, and feeding the stray dogs. Never in one place for long, Mrs Schwartz seemed to be everywhere at the right time – like the time when my bicycle went missing. Shula noticed that I had taken it to the post office earlier and suggested that my bike was probably there, which it was. Or, the time when the water main cracked and Shula was there with a large plastic bucket, which she then used to water the plants. Ever practical, always vigilant and usually helpful, she has got to know that cannabis was growing under her window sill. Why would she keep quiet about it? Who was she protecting? Was she caring for this plant?
As much as I tried, I could not conjure up an image of Mr and Mrs Schwartz smoking reefer in their bedroom at night, without laughing. Besides, everyone knew that their real presence in the rental building was to spy on the tenants for the kibbutz and to ensure that no problems develop. But, what about their strange son who visited on occasion? Rumour had it that he was screwed up from one of the wars; the one that was too many. He escaped the kibbutz and the country for several years either to lose himself in the Himalayan mist of Dharamsala, India or to discover himself through ritualistic Chakra chanting. Periodically, he would appear to pick up the mail and reconnect, briefly, with the reasons why he remained anchored to the kibbutz as well as the reasons why he left it, which were frequently the same. Was he planting cannabis along regular stops in his global journey in order to ensure an available supply of the medicinal spiritual enhancing drug? Hmmm! This sounded rather logical and bordering on a micro conspiracy of some sorts, but a bit too sophisticated to expect from someone who appears in a purple robe, sandals, and knotted long hair.
Weeks passed and the cannabis plant soon reached two feet tall but had yet to flower. I paid close attention to see if someone lingered longer than expected when passing by the illicit pot. One evening I noticed Mrs Schwartz and Yael standing by the pot and whispering to each other. Upon joining them, I calmly commented, “Some plants seem to be growing quite nicely here. Not so my Iris. Maybe someone is caring for the others.” Rather subtle, I thought.
Mrs Schwartz smiled and said, “It seems to be getting out of hand. The Kibbutz worries when people take liberties without going through proper procedures as required by the committee.”
“How are you settling in to your flat?” asked Yael.” I noticed that you have regular visitors,” she added.
“Yes, was that incense emanating from your flat the other night?” inquired Mrs Schwartz.
“Incense,” I asked?
“It was late at night, about two in the morning,” Yael said, “I thought it could be a fire,” she added.
Suddenly, I realized that I too am a suspect. Indeed, being the newest resident I am most likely the prime suspect. Had someone noticed that I had been checking progress of this plant regularly? Were my friends attracting unwanted attention upon leaving? Did my choice of music, casual dress and affinity for late night snacks fit some sort of undesirable profile? My mind raced.
“Don’t worry, Yael. The smoke alarms would have sounded if it was a fire,” I explained.
“So, it must have been incense, or something else,” Mrs Schwartz concluded.
“Yes, incense,” I confirmed before excusing myself for a late appointment – ensuring that I held my head erect and retrieved the car keys from my pocket without fumbling. Somehow, I had the familiar sense of guilt for something that I did not do.
Some of my friends thought it amusing. Those who had a particular interest in this sort of horticulture seemed to visit more regularly as if waiting for the right moment to make good use of the plant. I, on the other hand, anxiously hoped that the plant would be gone, more concerned to avoid suspicion than finding out who was responsible. And then, it happened. One morning, on my way to work, the pot was vacant – pulled up, somewhat crudely, from its roots – leaving a large hole where the cannabis plant once was. There was a void.
Life settled back to its normal routine leaving residents with polite and superficial brief interactions upon passing each other on the stairs. Someone had placed a large barbecue grill in the open foyer, and a new palm plant replaced the cannabis sprout in the terracotta clay pot. There were no culprits, no curious suspicions, and little intrigue. Never did I discover who owned this curious pot. Few noticed the migrating birds perched on the balcony railing above the clay pot that stopped by along the way to a nearby nature reserve from Eastern Europe and fed on seeds along the way.