Alice lived with her old grandma in a tiny stone cottage nestled deep in the green rolling hills of the English countryside. It was so incredibly far out from anywhere that when wayfarers, that consisting of family and friends, came to visit they would always complain that they were very tired from their journey because somewhere along the way the road signs had inexplicably disappeared, and that they were prevented from falling back on the satellite navigation system because that, too, produced a horrid crackling sound before it failed completely! Alice was never dissuaded or disheartened by these livid anecdotes, in fact, she thought to herself that to live in the middle of nowhere only made her home that extra special, as if it were pushed out of the earth by magic and only those who sincerely desired to find it, would do so in the end.
What was most charming about her home, Alice thought, was not what was inside the stony cottage, but what lay outside it. Her grandma had taught her, since she was a little girl, to love the world around her, and that one way of doing this was to get in the habit of planting nice and good things in it so that nice and good things would want, more than anything else, to grow out from it and show the skies, in their wild and pretty displays of colours and seeds and fruits and flowers, just how much they appreciated the wonderment of a helping pair of human hands.
Alice tended her garden tirelessly, from dawn to dusk, and it did not take long for the large patch of dull and untilled earth to become a paradise of beautiful flowers and fruit trees on whose branches birds sang in the summer, and in the winter white snowflakes would laden upon them for respite. The garden was indeed a dream come true, and her grandma hugged her whenever the two of them stood outside. The old lady had weak and trembling hands and so she could not prune the rose bushes, or pick delicious green gage plums from its high boughs, or shovel manure over the strawberry beds like she once used to, however, she felt a joyful aliveness whenever Alice would rush up to her in eager zest to show what she had accomplished in the garden. And what saw always gave her a new lease of life. A garden never dies if there was always someone there to look after it, and for her that was a nice and comforting thought.
One day grandma felt more tired than usual and decided that she ought to take a nap, even though it was still in the middle of the day. Alice made sure she was comfortable in bed and left the door slightly ajar so that she could hear better should her grandma need anything. She crept downstairs and thought how she could bide her time, for she had read all her books and written enough stories for one day and there was no more chores left in the kitchen. She looked out of the window and saw the garden, bright and happy, and wasted not a moment longer. Slinking her feet into her mud-kissed trekking shoes – she was a passionate adventurer – she jumped outside and began to skip down the paved path that ran straight down the centre of the garden. A yellow butterfly fluttered past her pale cheeks and a great big bumblebee nearly stung her because she was so close to bumping into it! She laughed and apologised. These were her friends and sometimes she acknowledged that she could get carried away and run into things when she did not mean to!
In the middle of the garden her heart whispered her to stop and to twirl round and round, and if anyone had been watching from above, it would have been quite reasonable of them to mistake her for a pirouetting rose, the rose of all roses. For Alice, there was no doubt about it that this tiny world of hers was the best world ever!
Have You ever noticed that the world does blur quite a bit when You twirl away, and yet would You not agree that some things around You still possessed the power to steal Your attention whilst in that twirl? For Alice it almost felt like that the tall stone and brick wall at the end of the garden had appeared from nowhere and was now beckoning her to approach it. She assured herself that this bricked wall must have always been a part of this garden, however, since her attentions had persistently been taken up by the many plants that she had lovingly tended to and whose growing blooms now watched her in adoration, the wall presented itself as more like a mystery, a new adventure, and so she was bewitched, drawn to go closer to it.
The wall was very high and it was made of rugged stones that were capped at the top with layered brickwork the colour of cinnamon and nutmeg. Winding locks of green ivy weaved through its surface and she made effort to trace their origins down to the ground below but could not find any, as if the agedness of the wall was so great that it caused the hard material to grow out an old man’s beard! There was no door or keyhole by which she could investigate what, if anything indeed, lay beyond it. There was a faint chance that she would hear anything, and yet she tried to bring her ears closer and then leant them against the cold stones, straining hard to see if she could pick up anything. There was no sound. Then she went to either side of the wall to see if there was an opening in these corners but what she found there was only angry, spiky bushes, which, if she tried to crawl through she would most definitely be hurt and that would make her grandma upset. She crossed the idea out of her mind. Her curiosity had piqued far too much now. There must be something else that she could do!
The bedroom window!
She rushed back inside the cottage and flew up the stairs before dashing to her bedroom windowsill and parted the half-drawn curtains. Alas, the wall still posed a towering barrier and nothing beyond it could be seen. Now she was absolutely adamant that the wall was never this huge!
Disheartened by the lack of success, she went back into the garden and stood in front of the wall and put her hands on her hips and thought very, very hard. That is when she looked down at her shoes. An idea popped in her head. It was a risky one but it was much more doable than perilously dragging oneself through a bush of stinging nettles and thorny twigs.
She was all too aware that the wall was a tremendously big one and she was only but a pea in comparison and that meant there was no chance in the world that she could punch her way through it. However, she argued, the wall need not be spoiled, for if it were impossible to go through it, and even more impossible to go round it, then, there was only one more way to it – to climb over it!
She made out a series of terrace-like grooves, steps that led You higher and higher to the top. The trickiest part was getting a foothold on that first terrace. If she could manage that then the rest would be easy and, hopefully, without slipping off, she would reach the summit and finally see what unseen things lurked on the other side. She spent a few moments calculating how fast she would have to run to the wall and from what distance in order to achieve the desired propulsion of her leg muscles that would enable her to reach out for that first terraced groove.
In her mind firmly agreed on what she had to pull off, Alice walked backwards along the path and then determinedly paused. Her eyes focused on her intended target, she let out a deep breath and then sprinted like a strong and ferocious cheetah in chase on the wild plains of the savannah. When she was about a metre away from the groove she bent her knees and leapt up, her arms stretched out, and for a second she thought she was fated to bash against the wall, however, her calculations saved the day, for she neatly caught the edge of the first groove and pulled her body up and crouched on it. Elation spread and sparkled through her veins, and she was now on fire! Turning to face the next groove above her she raised her hands and gripped it, once again pulling her body weight up and then letting her right leg tilt and hook itself above the slab, acting as a lever, before shoving her entire body forward.
The next level was no groove. It was the summit of the stone wall itself. She looked back at the cottage and the garden and already, somehow, the scenery had turned a different hue, as if mingled with mist and forgetfulness. The song of birds had quietened a tad, or perhaps, she wondered, that at this altitude the sounds of the world below did not reach the ears with as much volume. She suddenly thought of her grandma and looked down at her watch and she could have sworn that the hands were moving as slow as a gooey slug taking a slimy stroll in the garden after a raining day! It was all rather strange but exciting at the same time and that is why she needed to explore more!
When her fingers grasped the top and she pulled herself over she nearly fell because a rush of triumphant victory can make anyone giddy. Steadying herself, she sat down and looked over the wall for the very first time and joy surged and sluiced in her lungs! Below her shimmered another garden and what was beautiful and bizarre about it was that it looked exactly like hers!
But something was very different too. She felt it in her bones. She carefully got down the wall and by force of intuition looked down at her watch. Lost for words and thought, she was taken aback by what she saw and nearly stumbled over and fell into the nearby bush. All three hands of her watch had lifted off from the central axis and were excitedly spinning and spiralling and gyrating around it. Time was confused, or was it dancing?
She chose to go forward precisely because she was delighted to learn that what she had just climbed over was no ordinary wall… ♥♥♥
Photography & Words: © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Winchester | UK 2016