One fiery pink memory, down in our local park alone. Seven years old, sick of the swings
and slippery dip and solitude, doing what mum always told me not to. I knew it was
poisonous, oleander. Not even indigenous either, mum said, like not being native was a crime
in the plant kingdom. I heard her warning voice as I chewed the leaves, thinking the pink
fiery taste would soon spread through me. I gnawed on unyielding green, waiting for
flashfires of pink pain to shoot all over my skin. Eventually something smouldered on my
tongue, a toxic tang that I possibly only imagined. I was still chewing as I drifted from the
pink bush to the next, with its white hot blooms. The midday brightness was so harsh that the
petals blazed like blind spots on my vision, and I remembered how mum said staring at the
sun would send you blind, and how I’d tried and how it never did, though the afterimage
lasted a long time.
There were pink and white oleanders all through the park, which mum said was a disgrace on
the part of the council, like everything else the council did, or the government for that matter.
But these ones clustered in the centre were more sinister, somehow, and more beautiful,
maybe, bowed low in their civilized circle girt with stones. I knelt to bury my face deep in the
deepest foliage and breathed in the oily sweating poison of the leaves, with mum’s voice
retelling the story she saw in the paper about a mother in California who killed herself and all
her children putting oleander branches on a bonfire by mistake. Still nothing happened, and
my knees grew sore kneeling. I stood, becoming aware again of the chewed leaves stored in
my cheek, and my bitter saliva. So I recommenced chewing. I gave it at least two or three
minutes before I spat the wad into the grass. Then I tried to retch, pretending, bending right
down over my scuffed shoes to rasp, but nothing came up.
It was another minute before I let myself decide that mum was wrong, and the story wasn’t
true. I hadn’t died, I wasn’t dying. I didn’t even feel sick. In the memory of that moment I
will always be immortal. I ran home too full of life, just like those kids in California, home to
mum’s back pain and painkillers and the kitchen radio, and made her a cup of the strong
black tea that did no more harm than the codeine. I bounced the teabag, ignoring the news
headlines which at seven years old were still just noise, not an Indian election or the White
House or Haiti or gas flaring or flood or bushfires. With my back trained on my mother, I
pinned my eyes to the panes of the window which myna birds sometimes mistook for the sky.