One Man’s Decision to Become a Tree

(Selected two parts of a Novelette)  


Mo Shen and his plants 


His interaction with animals was put to an end just as cruelly as that and Mo Shen went back to living with one foot in the grave.  Every day he watched the sun rise and set again, with the same thought grinding through his mind, Since I cant keep animals, Ill just have to think of something quieter to occupy myself, thats all.  He thought and he thought and began to take action.   


Before long his neighbours found that that gormless individual was up to something new.  He was constantly seen moving all sorts of plant into his house.  His apartment soon resembled a forest; he was hemmed in by plants, which gave him a feeling of security.  They were the barricade that separated him from other people.  Never again would he be disturbed by the outside world; he felt as if he had put on a suit of armour, that he had become impervious to all blows.  He was deeply moved by this feeling of confidence previously unknown to him. 


Mo Shen regained his sense of the meaning of life.  He was in high spirits, especially meditating in his little thicket of plants; that was just beyond description.  He felt he was approaching paradise, as if he were walking on clouds.  He had never reached that state of mind before.  He no longer had to leave his house to go and meditate before that piece of city wall that everyone hated so much.  They wouldnt need to call him a weirdo any more.  He could reap all the benefits of meditation without leaving his home.  He was all the more fond of his plants because of that.  Every day when he got up the first thing he did was to greet his plants, Hey, Good morning to you all! he would say in a loud voice.  He felt that they too made their greeting to him.  It was as if he stood before a group of refined gentlemen, with one hand tucked behind his back he bowed ever so slightly returning their salutation with gentlemanly respect.  Then he became an expert horticulturalist, carefully examining each plant in turn, carefully touching each leaf, inspecting the path of their veins, and judging the direction of their future development.  Next he would bend down and rub the soil at their roots, plunging his beautiful hands deep into the dirt without the least qualms.  He checked the temperature of the water, and misted them with a humidifier.  He moved the plants that did not like the sun into shady spots.  He never watered them in full sunlight, knowing that that was tantamount to cold-blooded murder to plants.  He was very meticulous in giving the correct amount of water to each plant, as well as the right amount of fertiliser.  He knew that too much water not only did no good for plants, it could actually kill them, just like if you overfed a child on chocolate, it wouldnt do them any good, they would grow obese and die of a heart attack. 


Ever since he began this collection of plants, his fingernails were black as soot; they were full of dirt.  He had always taken good care of his hands; they were white and finely shaped.  His fingers were long and tapered; it looked as if his soul were housed within his fingers.  His hands were extremely expressive, his fingers were always moving about hesitantly, hanging in mid air, revealing his ponderous character.  When he was younger, both women and children had displayed curiosity towards his hands.  Young children would often grab his hands with interest, and turn them this way and that and ask, Do you eat with these hands? 

Of course I do, he would reply, smiling. 

Then, do you work with them too? 

He replied, smiling, Of course I do. 

They look as though you never did a thing in your life. 

He smiled as he replied, I only wish it were so. 


One particular kind of child would enjoy playing with his hands, as if they were delicate playthings.  As for the women that developed an interest in his hands, that usually bordered on a fetish.  They looked at him with eagle eyes as they snatched up his hands.  He must be either terribly fascinating or terribly boring, the women contemplated to themselves.  Once in a bar a woman had suddenly asked him, Do you write poetry? 

He gave the middle-aged woman an odd look, Why? 

The woman was still intrigued, Because you have the hands of a poet. 

In the end, he had to disappoint her.     


When he got home that night, Mo Shen lay on his bed and looked at his hands.  He said to himself, Do I have the hands of a poet? Do I really?  He had never noticed such an aspect in his own hands before.  Never having written a single poem in his life, he became even fonder of his own hands.  Now that he was going against his nature by dirtying his hands he was making no small sacrifice.  Yet, when he looked upon his flourishing plants he felt an incomparable comfort.  He looked after that bunch of plants as if they were babes in arms.  He placed his trust in them.  With those plants he had a future - life had meaning.  The group of plants were his circle: he spoke with them, he sat amongst them to read, to eat, to take a nap.  He was a part of them.  He didnt feel in the least bit lonesome.  He was very happy with his discovery; he wondered how he had gone so long without discovering this source of happiness?  As a result, his purchasing of plants soon grew out of control.  He collected more and more interesting specimens and wild flowers.  He scanned the streets for the particular species of plant he was looking for, he became selective in the kind of plants he collected.  He wasnt interested in just any kind of plant, he showed a clear preference.  He turned his attentions on unusual broad-leaved plants, like the large-leaved cheese plant, rubber plants, Japanese banana trees and the like.  He liked plants with odd shapes.  He liked plants from the desert that could weather a drought, they usually grew very slowly, plants like cacti, mother-in-laws tongue, desert roses.  Then there were plants from the Columbian tropical rainforest.  Deep greens and purples appeared on their leaves.  They disliked the sunlight and preferred shady corners.  If the sunlight fell upon them they would curl up their leaves and look most hard done by.  There was another special flower, an ugly and odd-looking one, it looked like a cluster of ringworms, but it had one special ability.  When flies or mosquitoes flew past it would emit a special fragrance to entice them to alight, then the stamen would make a jellyfish convulsion, it was an extremely sensual movement and the fly would quite happily be sucked head first down the little hole.  Before long the fly disappeared and that is how the plant dealt with that.  The fly is dissolved in the little cave and no one knows where it goes after that.  At first Mo Shen felt it was a little frightening.  He wondered if he should throw the plant away.  But soon he was entranced by the flower’s delicate movements, it reminded him of Chatterbox with her silvery tongue; remaining favourite of the house despite all black marks against her name.  In remembrance of past times, he stopped thinking about whether or not it was cruel to the flies, and gave it pride of place on his windowsill.  He had read in a book that that rare plant loves the sun, that it can make its enticements only when it has had enough sunlight.  It was the first time in his life that hed seen a plant eat an animal: the carefree act of cruelty left him rubbing his eyes in disbelief.  This unique method of nourishment piqued his curiosity.  He was wild with delight that such a precious plant could be found in this little backwater of a place! 


To begin with he arranged his plants about the sitting room what was called a sitting room, of course no one had ever come to sit with him there before, even for a second.  Now it comes in handy, he thought to himself.  He was so excited he could hardly sit still.  He moved his pots of plants to and fro trying to find the most suitable place for them.  The plants lived warm and comfortable under his protection.  Later he went ahead and made the sitting room into a greenhouse, making the plants the owners of that room, they exercised their rights of ownership there.  And he, Mo Shen, was only there to complement them.  He was perfectly happy to think of it like that.  It was difficult for him to express the joy that his plants brought him.  He was willing to make this sacrifice for them. 


Owing to his mad obsession with buying plants, it soon became obvious that there was simply not enough space in the sitting room.  He soon had no choice but to move some into each room in his apartment, including his bedroom.  He knew that it wasnt appropriate to share a room with plants.  Plants will fight with a person for oxygen during the night, which is not very healthy for the person.  But now that his bed was surrounded by plants of every size, he felt as if he were sleeping in a tropical rainforest, it was very exotic, he felt as if his heart had come into bloom.  He thought now he had no need to go off on a long voyage to Africa, and there was no need to go off travelling to Southeast Asia.  Just sitting at home was like sitting in a primeval forest.  It was a wonderful feeling!  And he neednt worry about other people turning against him: these quiet plants couldnt possibly bother anyone.  His neighbours had no right to interfere with him on this one.  It was as if these plants had awarded him his freedom.  He felt as if there was light at the end of the tunnel, and that the road ahead was broad and straight.  He had already made his decision to spend the rest of his life with these plants.  He no longer felt lonely.  At night he could feel the plants breathing along with him.  The breathing of another within these walls was a new experience for him.  Whilst he felt it a little strange, that feeling was accompanied by a kind of novelty and excitement.  He was extremely satisfied with this bunch of plants of his.  They would never do things to disappoint him; they were just as quiet as the man who looked after them.  However, he was rarely quiet before them, he was always muttering something to them.  He looked at the great big fellow from Africa and said, My, big guy, youre growing too fast, youre going to burst through my little room soon, arent you?  Then he turned to examine the rubber tree once more, My goodness, how did you grow such big leaves overnight? Each leaf was as big as a palm fan.  Usually youd have to grow this kind of plant for eight or nine years before it would reach this size, plants of this kind are pretty delicate and don’t adapt well to a human environment.  Even those that dont die often have dry, wilted leaves and grow poorly.  The proverb says, A Dragon tree may grow for a thousand years before it blooms, but his dragon tree had flowered in two years of his raising it.  It was a real rarity.  His Ganoderma[Footnote] was especially fresh and healthy looking.  It blushed pink like the cheek of an eighteen-year-old girl.  The only strange thing about it was the magical speed at which it grew.  In six months it had already grown as big as an umbrella, it was a miracle.  Mo Shen was very pleased that he had found his green fingersSince he had no luck getting on with people and had been attacked for keeping pets, at least growing plants shouldnt get him into too much trouble.  His plants didnt let him down, with his whole-hearted care they grew furiously and soon took over all the space in his apartment.  Soon he could only move about by squeezing through in the spaces left between them, he had to walk sideways to get from his sitting room to the kitchen, there was no other way to get through.  He had broken teacups, plates and bowls on several occasions.  Branches and limbs of plants struck his arms and obscured his vision as he carried crockery from the kitchen into the sitting room so that it was all he could do to keep from dropping and smashing them.  Several times he tried to carry his dinner into his greenhouse area so that he could enjoy his meal with his plants, only to be tripped up by a vine beneath his feet and drop the whole lot on the floor.  He had no choice but to go to bed on an empty stomach.  The Oleander grew particularly quickly.  It soon reached the top of his room.  Mo Shen was a bit worried about it.  He did not know what to do with these plants that were growing so ferociously. 


One day, when he was sitting reading beneath the spreading Cheese Tree (he had to regard this plant as a tree, it had grown so tall) he suddenly noticed that cracks had appeared between the walls and the ceiling of his room.  He was scared.  If things carried on at this rate the plants would soon burst through the roof, and then the people upstairs would have something to complain about.  He had to go and buy a saw, and a ladder.  He carried them back home dripping with sweat from the exertion.  He propped up the ladder and climbed up to saw the branches down in length.  His delicate hands were tormented worse than ever before, several blisters appeared on his palms.  No more than a few days had passed when he found that the tree had reached the ceiling once more.  He could only continue his hopeless pruning of the tree.  He was already exhausted and the idea of giving up on these plants had crossed his mind.  The wild plants grew together into a densely woven net that covered his apartment.  His movements were seriously restricted.  With each step he had to lift up the leafy branches before him, as if he were an explorer moving through a real forest.  His own living space grew ever smaller.  Soon only the space on the bed was left to him, he did feel that something wasnt quite right, but he didnt see it as an invasion, the devouring of his space was going on in secret.  Without his realising it they were taking over his territory.  A fine Cheese plant was constantly producing shoots and sprouts, they stretched in all directions as if it were baring claws and teeth, they coiled on the ground like snakes.  Mo Shen had to go carefully by them to avoid coming to the ground with a crash.  At night he felt increasingly short of breath, he was often trapped in the grip of nightmares.  He would wake up afraid of suffocating, and experience difficulty breathing.  He felt lacking in oxygen.  He knew that this was the result of him fighting the plants for oxygen.  He could only resort to opening the windows.  Previously, regardless of season he had always left the windows open a crack.  But there was another problem: some plants required a certain temperature and humidity.  Mo Shen had to bow to the needs of those more delicate plants.  One night as Mo Shen was sleeping soundly he suddenly became aware of something cool slithering about his neck, he stretched out a hand subconsciously to touch it: something was entwined about his throat.  He pulled hard at it but couldnt pull it away.  He switched on his bedside lamp in a state of panic, only to find a creeper wrapped snake-like around his neck.  He felt both fear and surprise.  He was bemused.  The frequent odd occurrences were beginning to make him that something peculiar was going on.  Surely he wasnt going to have to give up his plants as well, he said to himself.  He quickly drew a negative conclusion to that question.  That would be too cruel to him; he obviously could not withstand such a blow.  He lay still for a while, then switched off the light and went back to sleep.  But he still found it difficult to breathe, he felt suffocated.  He opened his mouth wide; he opened his eyes.  In the darkness he made out innumerable mouths opening on the leaves of the cheese plant, the little mouths were open wide and gulping down oxygen.  Mo Shen threw himself out of bed and ran towards the window.  He tripped over a plant pot and nearly knocked his front teeth out.  He opened all the windows in exasperation, only then did he begin to feel a little more comfortable.   


When he got up in the morning, he found that the mushroom-shaped Ganoderma he was growing had produced magnificent coloured spots.  Dots that were an orange-pink colour, it was quite lovely.  In a moment, he decided that all that had happened the night before was nothing but a nightmare.  He began to get his breakfast ready, when he suddenly became aware that the upper half of his body was itching beyond all relief.  He lifted his vest to have a look and saw that his body was covered with red spots, just like the spots on the Ganoderma.  Those same spots looked particularly striking upon his own snow-white skin.  He was terrified, he left his breakfast untouched and rushed straight out to a local pharmacy.  When he arrived at the pharmacy, he hesitated.  He managed to ask the pharmacist if they had any ointment for itching.  The pharmacist began to speak in a professional tone of voice, That all depends on what kind of irritation you have.  Mo Shen described his symptoms most unwillingly to the pharmacist.  In fact he only needed lift his top and show the pharmacist his rash and he would be able to find the right medicine.  Mo Shen felt an irrational fear of other people finding out the root of his problems.  He felt that if they knew what the cause of his illness was, he would be besieged once more.  He would rather suffer in silence.  His life was a case history of that.  The pharmacist could only prescribe some common anti-inflammatory creams for him to try.  There wasnt much to choose between them, he could only give it a go, it probably wouldn’t do any good.  Mo Shen left the pharmacy with two different types of ointment, doing his best to avoid bumping into his neighbours.  Returning home he quickly applied the ointment to his body.  After three days he showed no signs of recovery, if anything his symptoms were getting worse.  He itched beyond all relief; and finally he started losing sleep.  In the end he had to go and consult a doctor.  He chose a private clinic especially far away from his home.  When he lifted his top up the doctor took one look then made an unnecessarily detailed inquiry into Mo Shens living conditions.  He begrudgingly admitted that he did grow some plants.  The doctor told him that what he had was a kind of rash caused by an over-humid atmosphere.  An excruciating expression flashed across Mo Shens face as he begged the doctor to keep his secret.  The doctor looked at him in bewilderment.  It was only a standard case of sensitive skin, nothing like syphilis or warts.  There was no awful reason behind it; he really had nothing to hide.  It was rather Mo Shens slightly disturbed nature that would give you cause for concern if anything.  The doctor went on to prescribe some medicine, pills and ointment.  Just as Mo Shen was about to walk out of the clinic, the doctor cleared his throat and delicately said that it might be best to move some of his plants elsewhere, as it would be advantageous for his recovery.  In fact, Mo Shen was already clear in his heart of hearts where the roots of the problem lay, but he wasnt very willing to admit the truth.  In the past few years he and his plants had come to rely on each other.  They had passed through many a dark and lonely night together.  His communications with his plants were the only thing that prevented his total degeneration of speech, he was full of an unswerving gratitude towards them.  He believed that it was the plants that had saved him and not that he had nurtured them.  He was willing to do all he could for them.  If they were to be taken away, that would be equal to taking away his life.  He felt troubled.  What was he going to do with his plants?  He thought about it all the way home and reaching home he felt thoroughly despondent.  When he looked at those plants that were increasing, growing all over the place, his hands were tied.  He didnt care if two and two did make four.  He took the pills the doctor had given him.  Before long he was feeling drowsy.  He walked over to his bed where plants and their pots lay entangled together.  Just as he was about to lie down he found that his sheets were covered with great big leaves.  They had finally invaded his bed!  That was the last little space he had to himself, his last remaining private space!  He threw the leaves onto floor in a rage and stamped upon them viciously.  He had never been so rough with his plants before.  He recalled how excited he was when the first tender shoot had trailed itself about the head of his bed and he felt as if he were lying in a cradle, as if he had entered a Utopian realm.  He thought of how the plants had repaid his careful tending, he had lived on a desert island, what more could he ask for?  He felt very lucky.  He thought he finally understood the meaning of happiness!  Who could have imagined that the rapid growth of the creepers would make him feel unsafe?  He was impossibly confused.  But he could not raise a hand against his plants.  He felt a kind of satisfaction amid his helplessness.  He felt rather confused about his current predicament.  On the one hand he was thoroughly pleased with himself; on the other hand he couldnt help but feel a little concerned, his hands were tied in the matter.  At that moment the medicine made it impossible for him to continue turning the matter over in his mind and he slept.  He slept very deeply and in his dreams the Ganoderma grew enormous and filled the whole room, the four walls were gradually pushed away into the distance.  All of the plants were encroaching upon him, their movements were no longer furtive, they were openly invading his space.  He was pushed onto the bed were he was made to make no sudden moves.  His space was now restricted to the bed.  When he stretched his legs out down the bed, a creeper tied down his hands and feet.  The Venus Flytrap that he had fallen in love with mercilessly sucked off half of his little finger.  Their actions seemed to be a warning, This is our world.  We want to exercise our rights, that is what you promised.  When he woke up the room was very muggy, it was so damp he felt as if mildew were attacking the bones in his body.  Mo Shen recalled the details of his dream carefully.  He was oppressed by a distinctly inauspicious feeling.  He felt that a disaster was about to happen.  He began to consider the true nature of his current predicament.   



Mo Shen Gives Up 


One evening at dusk when the rain had ceased, Mo Shens neighbours once more saw that weird man moving his plants one by one downstairs, to the side of the road.  He was muttering away to himself as he tossed them out.  Once more his neighbours were surprised by his abnormal behaviour.  At first they only lifted their curtains to steal a look at him, wondering what stupid things that idiot was up to this time.  When they discovered that Mo Shen was throwing out such precious plants they rushed downstairs and fought each other to take the plants back to their own homes.  They thought, this kind of free giveaway happens only too rarely.  His neighbours were laughing at him behind his back, the more stupid he gets, the better it is for us!  Several elderly residents stopped to watch Mo Shen.  He lurched back upstairs, he seemed to have aged greatly in the space of one night; his once-pampered hands seemed troubled.  He stood in his spacious apartment, full of a desolate feeling.  Suddenly he felt a lurch, normally he would busy himself looking after his plants; he would always feel better looking at those thriving green beings.  Looking before him now, the wall rushed to meet his gaze.  He looked back at himself, he cast his eyes over his own body, dry and withered, lacking in vitality; he looked like a natural born loser.  His body swayed from side to side in the spacious room, he was in danger of falling.  He explained it away as exhaustion.  Now a desert spread before him.  He had constructed an oasis with his own hands then destroyed his desert island with those same hands.  He heaved a sigh.  He thought, now there was nothing to bind him there, he could set off on the road with no worries.  He didnt know what setting off meant.  He was running away.  Where was he running to?  He wasnt at all sure, he just wanted to get a good nights sleep first before he set off.  Those fiendish plants had tormented him so badly that he hadnt gotten a good nights sleep in months, he thought to himself as he walked over to this bed.  The bed covers were damp, and smelt unpleasant.  He pulled all the covers and sheets off the bed and threw them down onto the floor.  He lay down on the bare boards of the bed and looked at the ceiling.  Before long he fell asleep.  He didnt know how long he slept for, when he woke up he felt very energetic.  He stretched out his hand to touch his nose; to his surprise he found a spring onion growing there.  His eyebrows had become two palm fronds whilst his legs had turned into the thick and sturdy roots of a rubber tree.  The finer roots of which were continuing to grow outwards.  His arms were two towering branches, covered in burgeoning leaves, full of life.  Everything had changed except for those tapered fingers of his.  Mo Shen was frightened half to death by this transformation.  He had become an extremely rare breed of plant!  These plants had become a part of his body, they went everywhere with him.  Wherever he went there they would follow him.  If he took the smallest step, the leafy branches on his upper body would begin to sway in a lively fashion.  Full of terror he walked to the window and closed the curtains, afraid his neighbours would catch sight of him.  He ran in circles about the room, trying to shake off the leaves that covered his body.  But that only created a whispering song-like noise as they swayed along with Mo Shen’s movements.  The leaf covered branches soughed and swayed.  Usually Mo Shen would have pricked up his ears to listen, but in that moment, Mo Shen grabbed the saw in a fury and attempted to chop off the branches.  He felt an extraordinary pain in his left arm.  These branches were already a part of his flesh and blood.  There was no getting rid of them.  Mo Shen looked at his ridiculous body and felt total despair!  What was he going to do?  What could be done with this one-of-a-kind body?  He stormed up and down his apartment.  He couldnt even leave the house now, let alone go out shopping.  He would have to stay put indoors and wait for a miracle.  His situation could not possibly get any worse.  However there was something else weighing on his mind: what would happen if the plants started to grow rapidly (he had after all seen the like), if one day he broke through the roof he would be exposed to broad daylight.  There would be no keeping his secret then.  He would be a monster known to all in the area.  How embarrassing that would be.  Everyone would come to look at him: he would be the greatest oddity in the world!  He had been trying to escape his whole life; in the end he would become an exhibit before the masses.  This was nothing less than the greatest satire of his nature, it would be shaming to him.  Could it all be bound to end like this?  Who was it that was poking fun at him?  The joke was beginning to go too far, it was totally unacceptable!  He was terrified; he was at his wit’s end.  He buzzed about the room like a bluebottle, complete with his coat of armour.  He thought he would try to kill off the plants by not drinking water.  However, he experienced no desire except the desire to have a drink.  He went on for five days and five nights through sheer willpower.  He refused to let a drop of water pass his lips.  On the sixth day cracks appeared on his skin in a tortoiseshell pattern.  He could hold back no longer, he went despondently to the tap and drank without the least hesitation for a good half an hour.  He felt his heart burst into bloom, he was in a fine mood.  Just then, he saw that his beloved fingers had put forth delicate little green shoots.  They were lovely!  All of a sudden, he asked himself, Why shouldnt I become a plant? Since Im so uncomfortable in the human world, isnt this a rather wonderful chance Im being offered?  And so, he decided that he would just become a tree!  All things considered, it was really the most ideal option available to him.   



Translated by Callisto Searle