Adventures of a Botanist
by Bob Brill
Table of Contents
Chapter 11, part 1; part 2
appears in this issue.
12: Happy Ending
That put an end to the meeting. People started drifting out. No one wanted to meet Sidney’s eye, except me. I smiled at him and offered him the namaste greeting. He returned the gesture and the smile. We were soon the only ones in the room.
I don’t know what came over me, but I began to laugh. Sidney began to laugh and soon we were laughing so hard we could barely stand up. As our mirth subsided, we gave each other the namaste salute again and that kicked off another round of laughter.
Marguerite walked in. She saw us laughing. A big grin broke out on her face and she started laughing too. She had no idea what was so funny, in fact, neither did we, but laughter is so contagious. I thought of the old Okeh Laughing Record. Somebody blew raspberries on a trombone and each time he did, a group of people burst into chuckles, titters and guffaws. It was one of the dumbest records I ever heard, but it always made me laugh.
When our merriment petered out, Marguerite asked, “So what are we laughing about?”
Sidney wiped his eyes and said, “I just quit my job.”
“Oh, that’s pretty funny,” said Marguerite.
“You’ve no idea how funny it is.”
“Well, I laughed, didn’t I? But actually, I don’t get it.”
“I don’t think I can explain it, not even to myself. But if I could, well, you know when you have to explain a joke, it stops being funny.”
With that we sobered up.
“I hope you haven’t unpacked,” Sidney said to Marguerite.
“You mean, you really did quit your job?” she asked.
“I’m afraid so.”
“Wait a minute, Sidney,” I said. “You just got here. Why don’t you two hang out for a while? You haven’t even seen the rain forest yet.” I told him then about my Flora of Puerto Seguro project. That gave me an idea. “How would you like to collaborate with me on that?”
“Sounds like fun. Is there any money in it? We’ll need an income.”
“Yes, I think there could be. Not a lot, of course. And not right away. About two weeks ago I met an interesting guy here. He’s a small press publisher, specializing in botanical titles. I gave him a tour of the rain forest and showed him my Flora notes. He wants to publish it when it’s done. Claims he can place it in hundreds of libraries.”
“That’s great. You got a camera?”
“I’ve been thinking about getting one.”
“Get a decent digital camera. Photograph every specimen in its habitat. Put a picture next to every description. Most floras are boring. Too technical. Not enough pictures. Make your book attractive. Include anecdotes. Local history. Local plant use. Make it interesting.”
Sidney’s ideas excited me. “But won’t that make it expensive?” I asked. “My publisher friend may not want to take it that far.”
“We prepare the book ourselves. There’s good software now to format a book on your computer.”
“I don’t think I’d be very good at that.”
Marguerite said, “I think I could do that part. You two guys collect the plants and write the text. I’ll learn the software and do the book layout. I’m sure I’d be good at that.”
“Yes, Marguerite,” said Sidney. “I believe you would. This is starting to look like a plan.”
I gave Larry a few hours to cool down and then I went to see him. “I noticed how you came to the defense of your pal,” was his opening remark.
“No, Larry, I didn’t defend him or his point of view. I defended his right to speak out. I thought his words were worth considering.”
“Why did you feel you had to say anything? It was between him and me.”
“Larry, that first night you came down to the island with Bart, you invited me to join the project. You described my job as team conscience. That was said in the context of fiscal responsibility, meaning I would keep you from being too loose with the rutabaga. But I see my role as being broader than that. To force you to be honest with yourself when vital issues are raised that are personally repugnant to you.”
“Okay, Albert. I’m listening.”
“You blew off Sidney because you took his argument to be a personal attack on you, but it wasn’t. And it wasn’t presented as fact, but merely a speculation worth thinking about. And it is worth thinking about. What if the plants have been lying to us? That would call for a total reevaluation of what we’re doing.
“I know Project Namaste is close to your heart. If it could succeed, it would be a huge turning point in human history. If the plants have secretly withdrawn their support, you may be tilting at windmills. So ask yourself, do you think we can pull this off without help from the plants?”
“Yes, Albert, I do. Sooner with plant help, but still doable on our own.”
“Fair enough, Larry. I’ll say no more. Just think over the implications of Sidney’s ideas, then do whatever you think is right.”
I started to leave.
Larry called me back.
I turned around in the doorway.
“Thank you, Albert. I’m going to offer Sidney his job back.”
Later that day Larry was quite surprised when Sidney turned down the offer. “I’ve accepted another position. Albert and I are writing a book.”
“Albert isn’t quitting too, is he?”
“Oh no. His duties at the lab leave him plenty of free time. Besides, he needs the salary. He’s very kindly offered me and Marguerite some financial support while the book is in progress.”
“Then I’ll have to give Albert a raise. I do hope you’ll reconsider, Sidney, and accept my apologies.”
Thus began a satisfyingly productive period for me. Norman Hordeum got me a good deal on a camera. Its serial number had been effaced, but it was in good working order and I did not consider it polite to question its pedigree. I ordered some desktop publishing software and Marguerite, true to her prediction, quickly mastered its use. Sidney and I spent happy days in the forest and quiet evenings compiling our book. It was delightful having a knowledgeable collaborator. In this manner a year passed and our work came to completion. We sent the final files off to James Lilyfield, my prospective publisher. He was delighted with our work and the book went to press.
So my story draws to a close. The world is still the world as we all know it. So far the Escapods have not launched an attack. They may well be beavering away at Operation Cleanup and any day now we may hear news reports of people keeling over round the globe. Nor have people taken to bowing to each other in peace and brotherhood. At Larry’s lab the handshake has been abandoned for the namaste gesture, but this must be counted as an exception to the general tendency. We don’t see scenes like the following.
Picture two men meeting on a dark, deserted street.
“Namaste,” says the one, “I recognize the divine spirit in you, my brother, and it’s only due to the dire straits I find myself in that I must ask you to give me all your money.”
“Namaste, brother,” says the other. “I acknowledge the god within you and gladly help you in your plight.” As he hands over his wallet, he says, “I trust that you’ll just take the cash and leave me the wallet and my credit cards.”
“Oh, but certainly, brother. I don’t wish to inconvenience you any more than is necessary.”
“And I trust,” says the victim, “that you will not use the money for liquor or drugs, but will nourish yourself with a good meal.”
“I’m glad you mentioned that. Could you recommend a good restaurant in the neighborhood?”
“Yes, there’s one not far from here where they serve wholesome and nourishing food. I can show you where it is.”
“I’d be much obliged. Would you be my guest? I’ll treat you to a meal.”
“I’d be delighted. I daresay you have led an interesting life and have fascinating tales to tell of your struggles with adversity.”
“You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve experienced. Why just the other day ... “ And so they pass out of earshot as arm in arm these two divine souls head for the restaurant.
Larry Avena and his crew still struggle to bring this happy state to pass, but as yet neither plant nor man has unraveled the deep mystery of man’s character.
Some of my readers may be disappointed to learn this. Such readers are probably used to seeing the hero overcome nearly insurmountable difficulties to triumph at last and lead mankind to a greater, nobler destiny, usually in another star system, or if still on Earth, into a dazing, blazing, amazing sunset. Sorry. I leave that hero’s role to Larry and wish him the best of luck. He’ll need every bit of luck he can get.
But I can report a happy ending for me personally.
One day Larry asked me to procure some KR22 from the guys next door to my old lab downtown. Larry had a new idea. It amazed me how, after repeatedly failing, he could still think up new experiments to try. It was a measure of his resiliency and his desperation that he now wanted to try altering the KR22 molecule in an attempt to create namastine, the long sought-after prize.
Belinda had been assigned to work on this task and I brought round a generous supply of KR22 to her lab. The next day her lab assistant sent out an alarm that something had gone wrong. Larry, Bart and I rushed over to Belinda’s lab and found her on the floor, locked in a catatonic stupor, the unmistakable sign that she was undergoing the KR22 experience.
In a moment she opened her eyes. She looked at me, a look that I had only seen her bestow on Bart, and said, “You!”
“You!” She threw her arms around me and pulled me down on top of her.
“Hey,” shouted Bart. “What are you doing?”
She looked at Bart. “I’m sorry, Bart. Albert gave me something you never gave me. It was incredible. It was so ... I can’t describe it.” She kissed me.
A part of me recognized that I was acutely embarrassed, but that was not the part that was in control, and it did not stop me from returning her kiss. She was right. It was so intense, so, as she put it, indescribable. I didn’t care what Bart might do.
He tried to pull me off his wife, but we both held on, and he ended by bringing us both to our feet, still kissing.
“Stop that, you two.”
He finally managed to separate us. The wild hot look she gave me told me that he would never be able to keep us apart. The moment his back was turned we would snap together like magnets.
It seems there had been a mixup with the chemicals. Neither Belinda nor her lab assistant could explain it, but somehow, some KR22 ended up in Belinda’s lemon ginger tea. I wondered if she had felt the urge to try the drug, but she denied it, and I accepted her explanation that it was an accident. And yet, the human spirit is so ingenious. If she needed to change her life, she unconsciously created the ‘accident’ that made it possible.
In Belinda’s trip we were living in Topolobampo in that same ramshackle cabin I knew so well. In the few minutes of her trip we spent six ecstatic months there.
Bart tried manfully to assert his rights. But it became apparent, even to him, that Belinda was unshakable and it was all over for Bart. “You’re a good man, Bart, and we’ve had our times, but Albert is my destiny. There’s no changing that.”
Belinda moved in with me. It was every bit as wonderful as I had hoped. In a private ceremony we each took NoGo, affirming that we never wanted to change this reality for another.
A final footnote.
We decided to take an unofficial honeymoon trip to Topolobampo. We couldn’t find the shack. We had to conclude that there never was such a shack. The beach was polluted from a recent oil spill. Stinking dead fish all over the place. The town was run by gangsters. Drugs, murder and violence ruled the streets. Yes, it was the same world we’ve always known. Not a single person greeted us with the namaste gesture. In fact, no one even offered to shake hands.
We returned to our little haven in the Caribbean, still longing for a golden age to appear upon the Earth, but otherwise totally content. Our little world of two, united in love and passion, was complete. It remains only for the rest of the world to follow suit.
Larry Avena, do your stuff. Till then, this will just have to be happy ending enough.
For the reader who wants more, some topics raised in the text can be further explored on the Internet. For example, try searching on Arawak, Namaste, Lee Wiley, Bessera elegans, Cleve Backster, Lycopodium, or Topolobampo.
“Adventures of a Botanist” first appeared in Nuvein Magazine, Issue 25, Fall, 2005.
Copyright © 2007 by Bob Brill