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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Carlos

Empty Walls and Empty Corners

Updated: Nov 27, 2020

Reflections of a tree hugger and a plant lady on her pending departure.

"Spa Chair" | Watercolor and digital collage | 2020

As I got up from bed and entered the living room, I felt a sense of emptiness. Most of our belongings were packed up and removed from our flat yesterday. We are moving again to another country.

The first thing I noticed were the empty walls. Was this room always this gloomy? It was six in the morning in Sandton, a suburb in northern Johannesburg. Our building faces the northwestern part of the city with an elevated 180 degree view of a melange of gabled rooftops and green lushness—the Magaliesberg mountain range outlines the horizon. The scenery in spring time is the best for you would see the most surreal colors brought by the blue blossoms of the Jacaranda trees all over accentuated by the bright pink bougainvilleas and yellow Magalies plane trees. It is supposed to be summer now but the past few days have been grey and chilly. Perhaps the unusual early morning light is causing the glum mood inside the room or is it because my paintings, the only things that brightened the monotonous walls, were gone?

Johannesburg in spring

My beautiful and ever generous Monstera deliciosa is also gone. I gifted my centerpiece indoor plant to my student, who also loves gardening. I still have a few more pots to give away to a friend who lives across the street and promised to take care of them until we return. She was wishful. I was delaying the removal of my plants actually, but sooner I will have to let go.

When we left Germany, I also distributed my babies to friends and family. I would see them whenever we came to visit and I was always happy to see that they have grown and adapted well to their second homes. I had a tiny balcony in Stuttgart with a trellis, built by my husband, that I covered with herbs, strawberries and potted dwarf sunflowers. Hanging were ivies, fuchsias, and a beaded ornament displaying all four seasons. I had potted tulips that I have successfully regrown each year. And in two large planters were my climbing clematises of purple, pink and white that became a dreamy canopy from spring all through summer.

In Johannesburg I decided not to exert too much effort with gardening. We moved three times in this city that maintaining an urban garden would have been next to impossible. Instead I decorated our flats with low maintenance ornamentals that were sure to display gorgeous foliage all year and would still be alive after weeks of my absence from our travels.

I am mostly alone during the day making art or something creative. I hardly went out unless lured by my lady friends who love to lunch. So my plants were my constant companions—always silent and ever so resilient. I spoke and sang to them. They seemed to enjoy the impromptu entertainment. After my yoga practice, I would lay under my giant monstera as though I were underneath the tree of my childhood. Whenever I was uninspired but pressed with a deadline, I would lay down a blanket on the floor, would grab all my book references and rearrange all my pots in front of me. I remembered my strict music teacher who told me to stand in front of a tree while I do my breathing exercise. I was emulating the same refreshing exercise and it worked all the time.

I am looking at my philodendron right now bobbing in the gentle breeze. It has doubled in size since I brought it home from the garden center. It is not on its usual spot but it looks even more animated—a real living thing. A new leaf is just opening up.

Saudade, yes! That is the word I was looking for to describe what I am feeling right now. I will never see them again nor this space we have called home for four years. But I am glad that I had them and that they made me happy even for just a while. Who knows maybe we will revisit this green city and find them waiting for me.

Saudade is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places, or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, and well-being, which now trigger the senses and make one experience the pain of separation from those joyous sensations. - Wikipedia


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