30 July 2020
Don’t Sow the Seeds!
By Lynda Goetz
As a gardening enthusiast, I noted with interest the news item about people in the US and the UK receiving unsolicited packets of seeds in the post. Believed to be part of a scam, the seeds have been sent from China and Uzbekistan. Their purpose? So far, unknown, but some have their ideas.
Carrie and the Sweet Peas
Carrie had not had a good lockdown. Living with her father in a fifth floor flat in Hackney had frankly been hell. He was furloughed immediately lockdown was declared in the UK and Carrie, who had just started up a small business selling cupcakes from a tiny premises on the high street, had had to close. She had been one of those who had ‘fallen through the net’. On the advice of a friend, she had set up a limited company to run her business, but as it had only been going for 4 months she had not had the accounts to get a local authority grant or any form of help. Even applying for Universal Credit had proved almost impossible. “At least” she thought as she stared out of the window, “Dad had enough to keep us both going for the last few months – even if my part of the bargain seemed to have been doing all the housework and cooking.”
She saw the white van turn down the road and hoped that this would be the delivery she had been waiting for. She was expecting a bag of earring studs to continue making the papier maché earrings she had been selling on Etsy to earn herself a few pennies until she could work out what to do next. The van stopped in front of their building and the lone driver leapt out, flung open the back doors, disappeared inside, reappeared, slammed them shut and with an armful of parcels dashed into the lobby of their building at a sprint. Several minutes later he re-emerged, still rushing, leapt back into his van and drove off. Carrie went downstairs to check her box. As she had hoped there was a small, padded package inside. She grabbed it, re-locked the box and plodded back up the stairs. She would have taken the lift, but odds-on it wasn’t working. It rarely was, even without the lockdown problems.
In the small, tatty kitchen, she ripped open the packet and tipped the contents onto the work surface. Seeds! She was stunned. What on earth would she want seeds for? She definitely had not ordered these. The only place she had to plant them was a tiny balcony with a couple of shabby pots which her Mum had left behind when she walked out a year ago. Carrie was disappointed and annoyed. She had hoped she could finish a batch of earrings to take at the weekend to the newly-revived market, where she and a friend had a table-top stall.
“Wha’ are you doin’ standin’ there lookin’ like a we’ week?” demanded her father, appearing suddenly in the doorway. His bulk seemed almost to cast a shadow – or would have done had there been anything more than minimal light anywhere in the flat. She shrank into herself.
“Nothing, Dad. I was hoping to get some studs I’d ordered, but I seem to have been sent seeds instead. Hey, look, it even says ‘ear studs’ on the packaging. Looks from the writing as if they were sent from China. Weird!”
“I ‘erd somethink on the news ‘bout tha’,” he said. “In the States they’re worried ‘bout biology warfare. Think they could be toxic or somethink. You should repor’ i’. Not sure ‘oo to tho’. Mebbe just bin’em.”
Carrie could tell her father had already been drinking, even though it was only ten in the morning. She put the packet in her pocket and made to walk out of the kitchen. Her father started shouting. She ignored him, but he grabbed her as she went to duck under his arm propped against the doorjamb. They wrestled, but although he had strength and bulk on his side, she was no lightweight either (all those unsold cupcakes – even before lockdown junk food and inactivity) and she managed to barge past him, clutching the seeds in her dungarees’ pocket.
Ten minutes later she was in the small park near their block. It was hardly beautiful and seemed to have suffered during the pandemic. She decided to tip the seeds into a neglected corner. She poured the remains of her can of Fanta onto them, followed by the can itself. Perhaps they might grow.
They did. Amazingly fast. The next day she was astonished to see a clump of huge sweet peas reaching up into the sky. They were massive. She couldn’t even see the tops. They seemed to be even taller than the blocks of high rise flats all around. And the scent! It was overpowering and beautiful. Even though it had been years since she had been on a climbing frame (they had been removed by the Local Authority due to Health and Safety concerns, long before she had even reached the age of ten), she felt impelled to climb this marvel that had sprouted from the innocuous–looking seeds scattered there only the day before. As she climbed, the smell of the flowers grew even richer; the light breeze gently tickled her skin and the warmth of the sun seemed to increase. Sweet pea tendrils enfolded an empty Fanta can floating in the air, as well as several polystyrene burger containers and other detritus. Carrie did not notice. She kept climbing.
Eventually, after what seemed like hours, she reached the top. It was hard to believe what she saw. Spread out in front of her was another sprawling city. This too was full of high-rise buildings and people; lots of people. Carrie’s knowledge of the world was limited, but she could see these people were Chinese, even though they were all wearing face masks and she could really only see their eyes. She was very unsure how friendly they’d be, so she tried to make herself inconspicuous. Impossible! She stood out like a sore thumb. Pale-skinned, big-boned (well, fat really) and red-haired, it was just not feasible for her to pass unnoticed. Strangely however, those around her seemed to be expecting her. Many girls of her own age gathered round excitedly.
They were pointing at her phone. It was a rather old Huawei. She had been meaning to update it for ages, but then there had been all that stuff about Huawei and security and her father had forbidden her to get a new one ‘in case them Slinkies ‘ad bedded somethink in ‘em’. Anyway, with lockdown and all that there had been no spare money. Now, these girls around her somehow managed to prise it out of her hands. She was alarmed. “No, no,” she shouted. “All my stuff’s on there!” The girls smiled and giggled. They pressed their phones into her hands. Five, six, seven phones. Still she protested. The girls giggled and pressed buttons on her phone and all the others. “Lookee! Lookee!” they squealed excitedly, waving the phones under her nose. She could see her own Instagram account there on all seven new phones. Well, she hardly needed seven phones, but she guessed she could sell six of them easily enough. She allowed herself to be led by the hand to a bench where the girls also gave her more packets of seeds. Was this just a dream?
Carrie woke up feeling hot and bothered on a dusty bench in the little park. She felt for her phone. In the pockets of her dungarees were seven new phones and several packets of seeds. Her old phone had gone. In the corner of the dry uncared for garden a clump of sweet peas climbed into the sky. She wasn’t sure if they would be there tomorrow or if she’d climb again if they were (it had been a tremendous exercise, Boris would have been proud of her), but in the meantime, she had six phones to sell online.