It was late spring and that silk cotton tree was still there,
and though the fallen flowers were killed in part trampled underfoot
by the pedestrians, they still displayed their martyr’s colors.
Soon the seedpods would burst and the cotton floss would scatter
like a thin fog. She loved this tree, which was both gentle
and heroic. So heroic, it fell and died vigorously; so gentle, it
was calm as if there was nothing to say.
If she had not seen the silk cotton tree, she might not have
recognized the street. Twenty years before, the very place had
been dominated by a quilt shop and a motorcycle repair place.
An old soldier and his wife sold Danzi noodles at the entrance to
the alley. The area was rundown and attracted a group of old
people, tramps, or young people who had left home. A breath of spring emanated only from the room they rented on the second
floor facing the street. They were nineteen years old at the time
and were like two children of a tribal chief on their very first
night hunt, each of whom carried a short knife at their waist and
a torch in hand.
They were poor. The twenty-square foot room they rented
contained only a desk, a chair, a plastic wardrobe, a single bed
and an electric kettle. He said that one day they would have a
200-square foot house with front and back yards where they
would plant twenty silk cotton trees, since you women like it!
What do you mean “you women”? How many wives are you
going to have? Tell me! She pinched his neck, bit his shoulders,
and cried because she couldn’t take being wronged in the slightest.
She felt that love should be complete and monopolizing,
like a walnut in its shell in the stomach that would take an entire
lifetime to be digested.
One chilly winter morning, she melted butter with the
steam from the kettle. For breakfast they had six slices of toast,
each coated with small spoonfuls of butter. They were poor but
happy. She even wondered if the cotton floss from one tree was
enough to make two pillows. But she always felt insecure. One
time she boiled peanuts and suggested to him to compete in
memorizing telephone numbers, one peanut for each number
remembered. She memorized every number he told her. In this
fashion she would find out about those nights on which she was
unable to control his whereabouts.
The silk cotton tree flowers would be falling soon. After
quarreling, she told him, “Let me do one thing.” He agreed.
Holding a bowl of water, she got on top of him and with a double-
edged razor concentrated on shaving him. Bits of beard
floated and sank in the bowl. Something was missing. She knew she only had to turn the blade and the clear water in the bowl
would be transformed into a holy red liquid. She stopped what
she was doing and urged him to go. She knew then that their
first love was destroyed.
The street was now a flourishing commercial district. The
silk cotton tree was shorter. She recalled the dying love of twenty
years before, as if a thirty-nine-year old mother had secretly
read her nineteen-year old daughter’s diary. It was hard to tell if
her smile was one of forgiveness or envy.