Saturday, November 15, 2014

Nothing 7

Louis was kneeling in the dirt, pulling dead sage stems out of the ground. He was getting pretty good at pulling things up,  weeds, old roots, dead stems of living plants.  The whole team came out to the gardens once a month, raked leaves, threw out garbage, dug up dirt and put in new plants. But Louis came a lot more than that,  every Saturday. He was getting tan, and his arms were getting ropey looking, which was a little exciting since his ex-wife used to always tell him he had programmer physique.

When he first suggested it to the team, they’d looked at him like he was crazy.

“I ran into Ben,” he said at the Monday touch-base. A few guys snickered. They thought Ben was crazy.  Everyone thought Ben was crazy; the way he used to come to work, do his job and leave. The way he never wanted to go out for lunch, not ever, no drinks after work, because he was saving his money. And then the way he left. A senior engineer, and he just put in his two weeks and took off.  No new job, no plans. Just gone.

“He’s doing this gardening,” Louis said.  “We should go do it with him.”

That got more snickers. But then he reminded them how they still needed one community-help and one team-build before the end of the year.

“We could do it twice and count it for both,” he said. And they agreed, eventually, because everyone hated coming up with ideas for the community-help. And for the team-build, all anyone ever wanted to do was have cocktail night, and after the last one when J.P. fell and knocked out two of his teeth, Walter had said their team wasn’t allowed to do cocktail night anymore.

They whined a lot the first time, but by the end of the two hours, they were into it. Even Walter was into it, surveying their work, whistling through his teeth. “It looks good,” he said, bare arms crossed over the chest of his gray t-shirt. Louis had never seen him in anything but a suit (he came from investment banking so he had a lot of suits). Everyone liked it so much, they decided to do it for all their team-builds and community-helps. 

That was almost a year ago—let’s see, eight, nine months—and actually, the whole team was getting pretty good at gardening. They’d started their own little vegetable garden in the courtyard, and a bunch of people had started calling them “team dirt.” Half the time they went to the garden, Ben wasn’t even there, and they still worked, worked hard and took pride in their work like someone was watching.

Louis usually tried to work with the sage because he loved the way it smelled, sappy and medicinal. Today Lara was working on it, too. She was probably his favorite person to work with on the gardens, because she actually knew about gardening. She was a little older, a mother of teenagers, and she would teach Louis a little trick here and there, a better way to prune flowers, a method of turning the spade on its side to pry out the big rocks blocking his digging.

Louis looked up, watched the team digging, raking, watering. He looked at Ben, who was wearing gloves and picking withered fruits off the giant prickly pear cactus. When he was there, he was there first, and he would stay and keep working after they left. He barely talked, just smiled and worked.

Louis wondered if Ben was happy doing nothing. He wondered if he could do it. Nothing. He knew nothing wasn’t gardening all day, that this was the most something part of the day for Ben.  Imagine—cleaning up after plants and then not doing anything else. Doing nothing. Maybe not yet. But you had to admit that there was something really interesting about it,  something appealing.

Louis pulled a handful of dead root from the ground, closed his eyes, took in a deep breath of sage and dry wood.  Exhaled and cleared his mind.

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