Vert

Michael K Laidlaw About 5 000 words

#406 3524 31st NW

Calgary, Canada T2L 2A5

Email: 4451moana@gmail.com

Vert


by


Michael Kamakana

When I am a child I believe my father knows everything. Why the sky is blue or gray or white or black. What are the stars and what is the moon and what is the sun. Why the forest is green or red or orange. What is sunset and what is twilight what is dawn and what is sunrise. Why the sea is blue or gray or green or black. Why are the outer walls of the Community all white and the inner walls all glass and how does that glass turn white and how does it turn clear and why does this happen. When I am a child before I know my father knows everything, before I know anything, before I even know where I end and the world begins, there is of course that world before me, and I know nothing of it. Who are those strangers we meet virtually but never in person. How is there the forest beyond the walls that we can never come to however far we run. When I am a child there is no one other than my family and the Community, so there is no way I can know how I am different. There is no way to see the difference, though we are not isolated from our greater world, though we see other people and other places. I am a child and though my world is open my world is very small and it is not for years until I understand not all humans live in the Community, not all humans work at University. When I am a child it is the way the world is.

#

When I am a child I believe my father always knows what he is doing for us as family, always knows what will happen, and I have to continue with this belief or I have to question why we leave the Community for him to research at the Institute. When I am a child I believe he is aware of the world outside and the dangers that await us simply because we are different. But I also remember the brief argument behind bedroom door with my mother that solves nothing, that leads to her silence, that leads to his silence, that confuses me and my brothers, who remember no other arguments. My mother leads me from doctors to specialists to all friends of the family, telling me these are the people I must remember, I must ask for help, if she or my father cannot, though she does not say how that could happen. She does not answer my questions, she brings me to virtual, and swiftly she crouches to look at my face and smiles in love. We are going to a world before virtual, she says, it will be different but your mother and your father will always be there. My mother tells me I am a child of the Community and it seems we will be away for longer than one year, which at that age is seventh of my life. We fly across an ocean. When I am a child I remember how pleased I am to hear of how aeroplane wings work, of drag and lift, of tilt and yaw, though once I know this it is only how the plane looks and none of technical details that fascinate my elder brothers will interest me. When I am a child it is falling through the dense rain in gray skies that I will remember of coming to the City State of the Institute.

#

When I am a child I think it is entirely usual that all children and most adults look different. That is the way of my family and of the Community, for my eldest brother has blue eyes, my second brother has grey eyes, and I have green eyes. My best friend has copper hair, my next friend has black skin, my hair is black and skin when fresh is brown. But all of these are arbitrary as who is tallest and who is smartest, for we have all been well brought up to disregard accidental characteristics even if we do not term them anything more than, he is this or she is this or they are this other way. My father works with men and women who are likewise as diverse as my siblings and friends, usually because they are their parents in some manner. Some are couples men and women or men and men or women and women, some are other constellations, some are solo or drifting. When I am a child I do not know that this is not the way of the world but only the Community. When I am a child and we come to the City State of the Institute I learn the difference.

#

When I am a child attending holographic play by myself, three local boys I have not met challenge me with prod of an illuminated plastic sabre. Not violently, not painfully, but curiously. Then gesture and laugh to each other when I wince and step away. I wonder if this is the way of meeting strangers when there is no virtual, but this is not so,

He feels it, one cries in surprise,

Sure, he’s alive, just like us, says the second, just a vert,

Not just like us idiot, says the third, he’s just a tree- c’mon let’s cut him-

No, comes the voice of our Minder as she enters our playspace, a young woman who glares at the boys, no, you will not cut him,

O he’s just a tree, why not-

No, he’s a vert and more right to be here than you three if I read your schedules correctly,

But-

No, no arguments or you’re all in trouble, now apologize to the vert and go,

At this the three boys file by me mumbling something that might be apologies, then dash to the nearest exit with departing sneers she does not see. She is looking at me and not them, looking with softness I recognize as preceding usual gifts from adults, though usually only those I already know of the Community. She strides over in concern, noticing the sheen on my cheeks, but this is more from hurt at the tone of ‘just a tree’ than anything else, and swiftly crouches to look at my face and smiles part in comfort, part in curiosity, as she strokes my cheek,

You’re all right, she says,

I’m all right,

We’re a big City State here, you see, very big- but old, very old, and we haven’t seen many of your sort here yet,

Yes,

We haven’t many vert- yet, she smiles, but I’m sure that will change,

Yes,

You’re all right, she says,

I’m all right.

#

When I am a child I believe my father will answer any question. Though perhaps I have just not found the limits of his knowing everything, or the limits of his joy in sharing things. But before sleep that night, that night when some boy calls me ‘just a tree’, that night is the first time I notice his hesitation in answering any question. He does not move the first time I ask. When I am a child above my bed swings models of planets and human and alien spacecraft and my father looms dark above me for a moment after I ask him again what the boy meant. Then he sits on the edge of my bed and brings his face into the light and I see his serious and unhappy look, the look he will share if in any way I have in somehow disappointed him, the look that will indicate some polite sadness, but I do not know what I have done. When I am a child my father will always patiently explain my error in behavior, and the cause is not being bad, is not something I am, is always something I have not known. But he will tell me now and I will know and not make the same error again. His voice is very gentle and very grave as he holds my hands together above the covers, and he tells me it is not my error,

Those boys, he says, those boys are badly brought up, to say those things, to use those inexact and wounding terms,

They said I’m just a tree, I don’t understand, I know what a tree is and I’m not one,

It’s a word they use, because, because they don’t understand, not you, you understand, you know you’ve always been different,

Everyone is different in the Community,

Even there, there’s not so many different as you,

But how can I be just a tree,

You’re not, never let anyone tell you you’re just anything, you’re you, you’re- you’re what we call a vert,

What’s a vert,

Your mother and I, my father says, were approached by the team researching possibilities of new human embodiment- it was flattering, actually, that out of so many hosts investigated we were found to have the required qualities-

When I am a child none of this makes any sense but my memory remains,

What’s a vert, I say again.

#

When I am a child is not so long ago in vert terms, for I have lived no more than half a lifetime, but this is long enough for numbers to change from one century to the next for others, for my mother and my father and my brothers, for the Community. As we no longer live the pace of our ancestors it is difficult to realize how swiftly things changed in lifetimes measured by circuits around the sun rather than rare visits of comets. When I am a child ‘what is a vert’ is an actual question borne of ignorance and not the beginning of wondrous comic inversion, or hateful bigoted assertion. For we are new in a way relatively new City States have never known, in a way even the Community also finds new, but at least there are more vert there and to be different is not somehow an attack on identity of this or that parochial culture of the Old World. Here are so many peoples who will claim to be other than simply human as anyone else, who do not disregard accidental characteristics, who distrust difference. When I am a child I watch a clip of an older woman saying how those people of the New World are all inter-marrying, how those people do not know from what place they are, how those people are any people, and I do not understand how her claims are meant to denigrate the freedoms I have thought usual. For no one tells me whom I can know and cannot know or what language we speak or what food we eat or what games we play. When I am a child I do not understand this woman and how much worse it would be if she knows I am a vert. When I am a child I do not know what I am, what a vert is, but before sleep that night, that night when some boy calls me ‘just a tree’, my father tells me.

Only the ignorant wishing to hurt you will call you ‘just a tree’, he says, because that is as far as limited education can bring them, because some people just do not want to know, but the common and polite term is ‘vert’. You are a vert. It simply means ‘green’ in another language, and describes that basic difference in your being, how you are different, you have always known you are different, you are proud to be different, is this not so, and this is the name. Vert,

Vert, I repeat,

Now, you like to play with your stuffed animals, my father says, you like to pretend you are one, every child does this, and then you watch the shows from Nature Reserves where those animals who have survived the Sixth, those animals who are the real models for your toys, try to continue in what habitat we humans have left them. We have not left so much habitat, or rather our human ancestors have not left much, even where Indra’s net of interdependent life is strongest, for this is still in our thoughtless global world, where some have thought only humans were of value, and all is connected, all is one world- do you know what Gaea does then, yes,

Seas rise over City States sink, I chant the dark repetition, deserts grow over grass, fires burn over forests, many children of the world die, our mother the earth does this,

And this is the world we live in now, my father says, this is the world we must change for,

Vert, I ask,

Now, at first we humans think our world will continue, my father says, just that we must adjust the world, but this is because we are not ready with how much we must change ourselves. We cannot become like your stuffed animals. We have not left enough world for what we are as humans, so we must change what we are. We change into Vert. This world will not begin to recover in my lifetime but perhaps it will begin in yours.

#

When I am a child I do not understand deep time or any time but yesterday and today and tomorrow and the next day, so I do not understand when my father talks of the encroaching seas and sinking City States as something that will happen over many years, over centuries here or there, and even my vert sense of time still places that beyond my life. When I am a child there are of course already seasons on seasons of floods, there are brushfires over entire prairies, there are droughts that have already lasted human lifetimes, bringing deserts to edges of forests, there are summers of permafrost melting gaseous methane that only accelerates the next season, there are flood barriers erected higher and higher against tides that will never retreat, there are so many signs of the climate emergency which has come, there are so many signs only the militantly ignorant will argue against our human role. When I am a child the arguments are what we humans can do about this human-fostered apocalypse, and here agreement ends. When I am a child I have no idea what these arguments are, only that later, much later, my father will tell me I am always one of the answers. When I am a child there are many answers that people around the world try to halt but cannot even slow the degeneration of our familiar climates. Though as usual it is the poorest and least fortunate who suffer first, who flee climate catastrophes as refugees in numbers the fortress of the Old World will not accept, while the island continents of the New World only swell and fragment and there are new political and cultural groups. Who insist separation, insist wars they prosecute are defensive, insist barriers they erect to refugees are only to protect the world, and not to separate their own people from any others. When I am a child I do not know politics beyond my father and his colleagues at the Institute, who are now restrained from many ways of being in this City State. They may no longer travel without card, they may no longer pass any borders, they may no longer communicate on unapproved sites, and these are only the first steps towards control of their lives and work. When I am a child my father appeals to the Community but we learn the City State of the Institute here controls the Community. When I am a child I hear another argument between my father and my mother behind the bedroom door that solves nothing, that leads to her silence, that leads to his silence, that confuses me and my brothers, who remember no other arguments solved.

And then one morning my father is taken away.

#

When I am a child my mother makes the world possible. When I am a child my mother withdraws from her research simply to care for me as infant, then as I grow up she finds new ways to research and I am no longer only her son but also her project. She finds there is not enough close guidance for raising a vert, so this will be her research. She ensures I always have enough water when it is hot and dry, insists I have hours of daily sunlight even if it is artificial, ensures I have enough covering for warmth when it is cold, ensures my bed is tended and new and that daily scrubbing refreshes my skin, teaches me to examine my form in mirrors each day to spot any discoloration, teaches me to clip and prune and polish, teaches me to recognize budding healthy or not, teaches me to know my body no less than any growing boy. There are not so many growing boys to whom I am compared. When I am a child my mother makes the world possible, for she tends to our status in the City State, she answers gifts and offers her own, so there is no one who feels we have not contributed, and in our way helping support the aged and infirm, the physically or mentally disenchanted, the children without parents or the many more adults without children. This is a sad City State of the Old World where not many can afford even one child. When I am a child my mother makes it possible for my father to work, for she has purposively decided that her priorities are the family, our home, our meals, our care, and this makes it possible for my brothers and me to grow, makes it possible to believe in the day and the next day and the next day. And despite the strangeness of this City State without virtual, despite how people have begun to argue against and denounce our Community, despite these signs we believe the fear is passing, we believe in our mother. And when my father is taken away she makes it possible to believe he will return. Me and my brothers remember no night when we do not know where he is, at least virtually, when he is home again, at least virtually, and this is sign of how the world has changed. When I am a child my mother knows where to go and who to talk to, why to go and why to talk to, what to ask and what to demand, how to ask and how to demand, for the City State of the Institute is a element of the Old World and there is no transparency let alone virtual here, there are only oppositions of yes and no and light and dark, there is no way to understand what they want, though the Community tries. When I am a child my mother never shows the fears she lives through after they take my father, fears from the world before virtual, fears thought lost or drowned but some in the Old World have begun to use again, now that they have learned to stop the virtual and name by disregarded accidental characteristics, for they are not well brought up. When I am a child my mother and my brothers and me come to an old building with walls of unbroken stone, with no doors, with no windows, with no purpose but to scare those held within, to scare those who might visit, but my mother is not scared. We are accompanied by an Ambassador of the Community, an adult I have never met who is not of the University but the Institute, who only seems to be able to protest against those who hold my father and caution my mother when she asks why. Why is the final question, the last question, the question the others will not answer no matter who and how my mother asks. My father is unshaven gray and wearing gray in a gray room behind the wall of glass but does not for a moment see us, then the glass clears on his side, then he smiles, then he laughs,

My family, he says, you must be free because I am obviously not, I am so pleased,

You may hear him, the Ambassador says, but I am told he may not hear you,

Why, my mother asks,

I am told he is not allowed visitors,

We are visiting,

But he is not,

When I am a child I do not understand what he means by this, but it is enough to see my father whole, to see my mother relax, to hear my father speak again,

Do not concern yourselves with me, he says, his voice is very gentle and very grave, and he tells us it is not our error, I believe it is all a mistake, soon to be cleared up, this, this political nonsense, surely when the Institute confers with the Community I will be released,

Is their father deceived, my mother asks the Ambassador,

Institute and University and the Community, he says, are united in freedom of our people, but this City State is not so open,

What do they want with my husband,

We do not know, we know only what they say, they say he is sympathizer to the Blue, or maybe Green,

I am the Green, my mother says, my child is a vert,

Then this is their way, the Ambassador says, they want the child, probably for cuttings, so first they try to destroy the family,

Is this possible, my mother says, even here, even in this City State,

We are told he will be released, so we assume this is simply demonstration of their power and willingness to do anything for gaining a vert,

Are we deceived, my mother says,

We do not deceive, he says, but they may.

#

When I am a child my mother makes everything possible. She tells us my father will be released and this is so, then she says we will return to the Community but this is not yet so, for I remember the brief argument behind bedroom door with my mother that solves nothing, that leads to her silence, that leads to his silence, that confuses me and my brothers, who remember now the few other arguments, but not how arguments solve anything. And my father insists his research must continue here in person, as virtual is not enough, and though the University and the Community would ask these strangers to visit, this City State will not release them, this City State as all City States of the Old World is ruled rather than led, this City State has no freedom actual or virtual. When I am a child my brothers and me are separated into groups according to age, for each of us will learn something different, and it is only in the evenings we are reunited as family, but there is new tension here as if we now waiting to leave this City State. Departure cannot come soon enough. When I am a child I am different and those three boys from the holographic play are only the first to name me, the first to alert my peers, the first to threaten to cut me, though the cutting should not worry me I know I am too young for cuttings to survive. When I am a child there are several days in that wet spring when the sun comes through as it so rarely does here, and my father and my mother and my brothers and me go to the mountains, in an area considered Common Land, that belongs to no City State alone but to the entire Old World, that even has Nature Reserve, though this is only of forest and no animals. In this place vert are even rarer, known only by rumour, and as always anywhere the rumour is known between fascination and fear, but my skin is fresh and light brown and not so unusual here, that my eyes are solid green, and that my hair is green could be no more than urban fashion as green lips. My mother has ensured we all as family give the appearance of City State dwellers and so our mode is appropriately different, though no one here has seen children as young as my brothers and me so fashionable. When I am a child my brothers are fascinated by industrial ruins, so run about searching, such my mother must search for them, but I simply come to the town square and make the natural vert error of pausing in the sunshine. My father is distracted at the ancient observatory, where he engages the resident with technical discussion on shared cosmological speculations, so it is only two hours later I wake to find myself surrounded by three boys whom I have not met, who challenge me with prod of an illuminated plastic sabre, not violently, not painfully, but curiously,

He hasn’t moved for an hour, one says to another,

Two hours, says the second,

He’s a vert, says the third, I’ve heard of them, they’re supposed to fix the air we breathe,

He takes in CO2 and gives back oxygen my dad says, they’ve done that with a lot of animals,

People too,

He’s a tree,

I’m a vert, I say, I just wanted the sunlight,

He hears us, one cries in surprise, he speaks,

Sure, he’s alive, just like us, says the second, just a vert.

Not just like us idiot, says the third, he’s just a tree- c’mon let’s cut him-

No, comes the voice of an adult as she enters, a young woman who glares at the boys, no, you will not cut him,

O he’s just a tree, why not-

No, he’s a vert and more right to be here than you three if I read your schedules correctly,

But-

No, no arguments or you’re all in trouble, now apologize to the vert and go,

At this the three boys file by me mumbling something that might be apologies, then dash to the nearest alley with departing sneers she does not see. She is looking at me and not them, looking with softness I recognize as preceding usual gifts from adults, though usually only those I already know of the Community. She strides over in concern, noticing the sheen on my cheeks, and swiftly crouches to look at my face and smiles part in comfort, part in curiosity, as she strokes my cheek,

You’re all right, she says,

I’m all right,

We’re a small town here, you see, very small- but old, very old, and we haven’t seen many of your sort here yet,

Yes,

We haven’t many vert- yet, she smiles, but I’m sure that will change,

Yes,

You’re all right, she says,

I’m all right.

#

When I am a child my father does not know everything, or he would know that there is now no one who guards me, that as I return to bask in the sun, as I return to sleep, as my mother searches for my brothers, as two hours technical discussion on cosmological speculation become four, there is no one to question three boys who have covered something with a blanket and now carry it into alleys of the town and away from the square. In the Community I am always known body safe and virtually safe and no one will lose me. In the Community no one will induce or continue my sleep by covering me with a blanket. When I am a child I know nothing of any of this until some time later, I know nothing of anything until I stare into still bright light and hear the voices of two girls talking of me to each other, but with fascination and concern and not fear, talking quietly as though I am not there, sad and gentle,

He’s a vert, says one, I’ve heard of them, those boys must have cut him,

And burned him, says the other, what do we do,

Water, I want to say, sunlight, I want to say, but no words come. When I am a child we are in shadows of an alley and sunset is threatening, we are alone, we are searched for but not yet found by my mother and my father. When I am a child I will usually be soon ready for bed after a day of sunlight, but today I have been burned and will not sleep.

He’s still warm, he’s burning up inside, bring him water quickly, I hear these voices then one tries to pour water in my mouth but I cannot swallow, I cough and turn away and so she washes my face and neck and chest with the water, tells the other,

Get the doctor, quickly, quickly.

#

When I am a child I try to regenerate as mature vert do, but I am too young, I am too young to survive the burnings, I am too young to not myself sicken and weaken and finally die, but the others, have some access to the net and know the answer is seasonal pause, that I will enter healing coma while my body matures until it may fight these wounds and survive. City State of the Institute will take us in but there is no argument when we return to the Community, there is no argument for body safety, there is only the face of that one girl looking at me in the light as I come to, the girl whose hair is pale blonde, whose eyes are pale blue, the girl I will always remember when I am no longer a child.

201215

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