The Plantsman of Clusters

"Zakaria Al-Anqoudi"

When my grandfather Mustafa sowed its seeds years ago, the palm tree was just another sapling he added to the collection of trees he enthusiastically planted on Suwani’s Al-Bey Street, and particularly in his own farmlands. The palm tree didn’t let him down; it thrived and made him proud. Towards the end of the 1950s and ‘60s, Suwani was transformed into a residential area, complete with streets, alleys, and the houses we still live in now. As a result, all these palm trees disappeared, except for that one tree, which ended up with his nephew and the husband of his only daughter–my father. 

My father designed our house in the style of the '70s, and the engineer contracted to execute it insisted that the palm tree be cut from its roots, especially that the house would extend over two floors. But my grandfather refused. "On my dead body, Muhammad. When I die, you can chop down the tree," he told him. In 1976, the house was completed, with the palm tree at its center. 

My father did not have enough time to enjoy his project; God reclaimed his life in 1977, and we returned–our family, our house, and the palm tree–to my grandfather Mustafa. 

The seedling my grandfather planted in the late 1940s lived like a queen in our house, our relationship with it developing over time. In her dreams, my mother saw the tree time and time again as a righteous bearded man dressed in white. Sometimes she woke up from the dream ecstatic, and said: "Blessings are on their way." But when she saw the man frowning and ignoring her, she woke up trembling and plunged into a deep depression, certain that grief would visit our family. 

We grew older, and my grandfather neared 100 years-old, and the palm tree grew larger, inching towards the sky. It extended past the roof, so we needed to resort to a worker to help us gather the harvest, which my grandfather divided among his neighbors, friends and relatives. Every fall, each of them had their share of the dates delivered to their homes.  

 

In 2003, God took my grandfather too, and 10 years later, here I am–living with my wife and son in the room next to the palm tree. After conditions worsened and I could no longer take it, I decided to build a house for myself on the roof of that house. I lost faith in regaining my grandfather's livelihood, which the state had seized in the 1970s. I didn’t hire an engineer, like my father had done, to design the house. Instead, I resorted to my friend, Mokhtar Nashnoush; I told him the story of the palm tree, my grandfather, my father, the engineer, and the scrapping of the original floor plan. I had settled on the idea of cutting down the tree, which pained me. My mother and siblings were in tears; to them, the tree was the last trace of my grandfather, Mustafa Al-Anqoudi. 

I told Mokhtar: "Look, there are only a few centimeters left between the tree and the wall. It has destroyed the wall!" To which Mostafa mockingly responded: "Your eyes are tricking you. The palm tree is standing upright all on its own." 

It was a clear day, and the palm tree was stoic and silent. I stood beneath it and traced its large trunk, which seemed to be pressed against the wall. It's true, the tree wasn't touching it; its trunk had retreated and found a new shape for itself every time the wall began to swell. 

Mokhtar could tell I was hesitant. He turned to me and said: "Build your courtyard, even if it is malformed, and leave the tree alone. Humor your mother, your siblings, and yourself. This is not just a tree; it carries the spirit of that wolf that has not departed the house."

Born in Tripoli, he is a writer, journalist, and media professional covering arts and culture. His articles have been published in many newspapers and websites such as Balad Al-Tayyoub, Libya Al-Mostakbal, and Channel 218.

Zakaria Al-Anqoudi
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