I’ve never been a fan of practical jokes. Generally, I leave pranks to other people. Every so often, however, an idea strikes my fancy, and is so good (or so I believe) that I feel compelled to put it into action.
Such was the case with The Plant. I live in an apartment on the second floor of a renovated bread factory. The first floor is reserved for shops and the like (a dental office, a hair salon, etc), but the second floor is home to eight apartments. The single hallway on the second floor is long and barren, or, rather, it was until someone put a potted plant at the far end. I say someone because the plant was dying, it’s palm fronds dried and yellowed, which meant the landlord hadn’t put it there.
Where exactly this plant came from was a mystery.
And so I decided to have a little fun. I wrote the following letter and placed it, unsigned, in the plant’s pot:
You should know that this is not your plant.
You haven’t seen it before, though I suspect you think you have.
Think back to the day before yesterday. Was that a Monday?
As you were heading to work, to school, to parents, to friends, did you remember to lock the door as you left your apartment? Did you remember to turn off the lights? Did you remember to say goodbye to whomever you’re living with?
This is your routine.
Everyday you work through it, one step at a time, almost checking it off as if it’s something on a list. There’s variety, sure enough. Maybe you had oatmeal for breakfast instead of PC Frosted Flakes; maybe you made your coffee instead of buying it. There’s variety, yes, but, like your body, no matter how many tweaks and pulls and dabs of this or that you apply to it, it remains (more or less) the same.
This is your routine.
But on the day before yesterday, as you were leaving the apartment (not forgetting to lock your door), you noticed that something had changed.
Out of the corner of your eye, you saw something at the end of the hallway. For a brief moment (no more than a breath), you thought it was someone who had been waiting for you. For some of you, the thought was a hopeful one; for others…well, it was less so.
When you realized what it actually was that had been left at the end of the hall (not a person at all, but a plant), you wondered who’d left it there and why.
Without an answer to either question, you remarked to yourself only that this addition to the building’s hallway was a warm one, despite the plant’s apparent decay.
But you should know that this is not your plant.
You haven’t seen it before, though you think you have.
You see it now because something has changed with you.
Something has changed with all of us.
This is a bringing together.
A communion, if you like.
And when it’s gone…
I admit that the joke wasn’t especially funny. Then again, it wasn’t meant to be; I only meant to add a little mystery to our new hallway guest. In point of fact, I was just being silly and having a little fun. I expected people to read the letter, roll their eyes, remark that someone on the second floor was clearly one biscuit short of a box, and then carry on.
But that’s not what happened.
An hour after leaving the letter, I saw that it had been taken. I was dismayed, figuring someone had read it and decided to throw it away. A full two days later, however, the letter was returned to the plant. On the following morning, I discovered that the letter had been taken again; the next morning it was returned, only this time I could see that it had been folded a number of times, as if the person who’d taken it needed it small enough to fit in his or her pocket.
This happened several more times before I lost my nerve and stole the letter back.
But what should I make of my neighbours’ reaction? Whether they were intrigued, enlightened, amused, or just plain old creeped out (as my wife wonders) is beyond me.
I’d like to think that my neighbours were overcome by the power of the written word. That, of course, is nothing but a self-inflated delusion. Still, I can’t help but notice how writing (clumsy though mine is) has a way of sticking with people, of connecting with them, even if only briefly.
And in this world where community rarely extends beyond texts, tweets, and the filaments of the World Wide Web, such a connection can’t be all that bad. To my mind, that it originated as a lame practical joke is of little importance.
But who’s to say—maybe next Christmas I’ll be going door to door, handing out baked cookies.
One can only hope.
Rowing For Pleasure is a weekly opinions column written by Z S Roe. Please leave a comment or question—all opinions are welcome, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. If you like what you read here, please subscribe.
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