By Karis Ng
Click, Clack… Mother rushed down the stairs, smoothing out her hair as she went. Cassie’s thoughts were interrupted as her mother grabbed her phone and office card, complaining, “Gosh, I never understood paperwork, it just keeps coming. Shoot, I’m going to miss the early train to work…” thirteen-year-old Cassie sat back up straight, rubbing her eyes. She wiped off the tear that was ever-so-slowly rolling down her warm cheek. Her mind had wandered away yet again when she was supposed to finish her long-due assignments. If only things were the way they were.
A few months ago, Cassie and her parents were forced to move out of their farmhouse in the countryside to downtown New York. She remembers begging her mother not to leave the only place she has ever called home. Her heart shattered into a million pieces as she said her last goodbyes to the last of her childhood, the last of her freedom. Cassie felt lost in the uncharted streets of New York, which to her was like an alien world. There was nothing that reminded her of the home. No greenery, no chirping, no laughter… nothing. The buzz drowned her into the crowd and she never felt so small as if she was fading into nothing but dust. She was trying hard to catch up to the pace of New York, yet her parents didn’t seem to have a problem with that, just her.
Before her mind could wander off again, Cassie did a double take, “Oh dear, I’m late!” She rushed to shove her books and papers in her schoolbag, not caring if they were torn or damaged, muttering curses as she flung out the door, throwing herself down the stairs.
Cassie finally got onto the bus, just barely. Gazing out the window, she sought for any sign of closeness to her surroundings. She stared out to the grey shields of the city, masking it in an endless cycle of gloom, trapping people in a space where they chase and run for nothing. Tall buildings towered over everything, traffic that went on for miles. The only thing that seemed slightly familiar yet vastly different was the concrete jungle, a jungle without greenery and life. She never knew why her family had to move out of their farmhouse. Her father said it was because her mother had a new job, so they had to move. But something wasn’t adding up, and Cassie could feel it since the day they moved – her mother still wore the same office card, still had the same routine and went out the door the same time every morning. She knew they were lying, but never said a word and went with the flow, but she missed the past. Cassie missed frolicking through the meadow, picking the colourful wild flowers and climbing the old oak tree near the old farmhouse. Everything was like something out of a painting, so flawless and majestic. It felt like paradise every day and always brought tears to her eyes just by reminiscing. After what seemed like an eternity at school, she pushed through the apartment door, the word weary written all over her face as she held a stack of assignments and study materials. “Great, honey, you’re home,” Mother said without looking up from her phone.
“Indeed, I am,” Cassie replied. “By the way, our farmhouse is still right where it was, right?”
Mother looked up and said easily, “Yes, of course, we promised you that we wouldn’t sell or take it down, we love it as much as you do. Why do you ask?”
“I was just thinking of visiting the house for the weekend since it’s Friday.”
Mother quickly spat out, “No, I don’t think it’s a good idea, you have a lot of work to do. Just stay home.”
“But I can bring my work, plus I work so much more efficiently there and you know that!” Cassie argued back.
Mother’s mood drastically changed, her darkened expression threatening Cassie. “No, buts! We are NOT going to the farmhouse. Go to your room.”
Cassie has never seen that side of her mother. She whimpered and went back to her temporary shelter. Cassie definitely knew something was up. She desperately wanted to get to the bottom of things.
As soon as the sun rose on a lovely Saturday morning, Cassie went to her mother to “apologize” and told her that she was leaving to go hang out with a schoolmate. Her mother let her go without hesitation. She rushed out the door to the metro station, but her mind was swirling with anxiety. She had never been anywhere near running away or going behind her parents’ back. Cassie hopped onto her train and sat down in the nearest seat, her heart was still pounding, not from fear, but from the adrenaline rush of doing something outside her bubble. She started to smile from ear to ear as the train took off bringing her back to her childhood dreams, picturing the welcoming brick house and galloping through the ever-green grass, simply lying down and soaking up the sun.
The familiar call of the train station rang in Cassie’s ears. She beamed with triumph as she bounced off her seat to exit the station. She ran like the wind and opened her arms to rejoice, but it felt different. She stared at what was once her home. She froze with shock and disbelief – the house, once situated on the hill, was gone. The slope was in construction, the house was down in shambles. The cheerful songs of nature were replaced by loud machinery; the greenery was replaced with concrete and bars; the fresh air was dusted in murk and smog. With every pound of the wrecking ball that demolished the petite frame of the farmhouse, Cassie’s heart broke. She watched as the last of her childhood was destroyed before her very eyes. She held onto the straps of her backpack, her hands trembling and her knees giving way as she fell on her knees, sobbing. Cassie’s hand was brought to her shirt as she clutched onto the fabric which hid her heart, it felt like something inside her slowly died. It wasn’t just her farmhouse that was gone, but the last of her memories – her youth, her home, her past. Maybe this was a sign of asking her to move on, but it was something she couldn’t accept.
Cassie ran up close with tears. She took in the state of her home along with a glimpse at the company that was responsible for the construction. It was oddly familiar – the red triangle with a black “S” that looked like “8” in the middle, but no matter how hard Cassie tried, she still couldn’t put her finger on when or where she had seen the logo before, at least not with her puffy red eyes. Cassie decided it was no use to linger much longer as the more she stared, the more she hated society and the more she willed herself to run away, though not before she took out a jar and scooped some of the dirt from her home into it as a reminder of what it had become.
Cassie was back on the train, exhausted mentally and physically. The blurred buildings passed through her. She closed her eyes and thought of her lost home, her lost youth and the nature that was a part of her soul. Cassie tried to close her eyes and forget about everything that had happened. Mother was right, revisiting the house was a bad idea, an atrocious act. Yet, how did Mother know? She hadn’t visited the house before nor had she heard any news about it. Cassie suddenly gasped – the logo from the construction company was the one she saw every morning on her mother’s staff card! No, it can’t be! Cassie thought in fury. How had she not figured that out any sooner? She resented herself for trusting. She never thought that even her mother would lie to her and swear on a promise that she didn’t keep. However, there was no turning back, she could only wait for the confrontation.
Cassie barged into the apartment complex, nearly breaking the door. She walked into her mother’s room seeking for answers and truth. But she collected herself before heading in and decided to play good-cop, bad-cop.
“Good day, Mother,”
“Back so soon?” Mother replied, head buried into her phone.
“It’s not that early, it’s four in the afternoon already. Besides I was just reminded of an assignment that is due next week and I need your help.”
Cassie continued, faking a smile that hid her anger, “I have to make a portfolio of my parents, and there’s a few questions I need to ask. Firstly, what’s your job?”
Mother look up and answered hesitantly, “A chief business officer… anything else?” “Yes, what company do you work for and what do you do?”
Mother snapped, “You don’t need to know that much, it’s only homework anyways.”
Cassie smirked coldly, “I know everything! You can’t hide anymore! Tell me what you’ve done!”
Mother answered nervously, “What have I done? I didn’t do anything!” shaking her head in denial.
At this point, Cassie broke down in tears and yelled hysterically, “TELL ME! Why did you promise that the house would be fine?”
Mother stuttered, “How… how… it’s not possible.”
“Yes, yes it is! I went back to the farmhouse today, to see what? To see my youth demolished! You lied to my face, why!” Cassie paused again. Her salty tears soaked through her shirt once more. She glared at her mother. Mother’s eyes were left with a black hollow.
“OK, I did it,” her mother confessed emotionlessly, with a blank face, “I had to, the company was declining and the only thing I could suggest to my boss was to use the land near the farmhouse. If not, what could I do? Get fired? No!”
“So, you decided to move out into the city and rip my childhood and a part of me away? How could you, Mother?” Cassie bellowed. She heard her inner self, one so distraught, she grimaced every time the child in her wailed, begging her to stop fighting. Cassie sucked it up and left, leaving her mother in the room.
Cassie carefully took out the jar of dirt she collected from the site of the farmhouse and watered it a little, keeping it moist. She felt abandoned by the world, alienated and isolated. There was nothing left, just her and herself only. The dirt was the last piece of her youth, a final reminder of the planet that was once green.
A few days later, Cassie peered into the jar. Something had sprouted. She smiled weakly at the new life, regaining the lost hope for restoring green in her life and spreading it to others. Everyone has a part of nature in them, even Scarlett, a city girl, who once said that it held a special place in her heart. As quickly as the thought came, she realized how ridiculous and far-fetched it sounded and the excitement quickly simmered down. Just like that, the fragile life withered away.
Day after day, week after week, Cassie finally came to a conclusion – coping with stress is an endless cycle. Forever will she have to hold on to the withering memories; forever will she have to wear her walls up; forever will she have to accept change. Hope of greenery can only be a line to hold on to. Only from within is our world green with life, because surrendering to today’s ever-changing society, meant living in false liberty full of hypocrites, being moulded to the shape of the norm. Uncertainty has become our biggest normality. For the planet to be green, we can yearn; for a change in our life, we can hope.