The calathea is also known as the ‘living plant.’ Which is odd, because every plant is alive, until it’s dead. But the calathea does something special that makes it extra alive: it folds up its leaves when it gets dark and unfurls them again with the first rays of sunshine. I find that disturbing. I’m not sure why, but it creeps me out that we had sex in front of the calathea. Plants should be sitting quietly in the corner. Or better yet, in the little park across the street. Either way, they should be motionless. A moving plant just seems too magical to me, like something that’s been dragged into our world from an alternate universe.
A mythical green being, violently ripped out of the soil of the rainforest and cultivated in greenhouses in the polder. Packaged in porcelain and potting soil: locked up in the city. A mermaid in an aquarium. Pegasus at a petting zoo. A forest sprite on Astroturf.
My head is lying on the pillow, which smells like you: salty sweat and perfume.
I’m naked on your bed looking at the living houseplant beside your desk. You’re in the shower. The calathea’s leaves aren’t fully closed yet.
He looks healthy. You make sure to keep him out of the sun, which is important for the tropical plant that he is, accustomed to flourishing in the permanent shade of the South American rainforests.
I turn my head and see the city I know through the bedroom window. I hear the familiar pigeons. The ding of the tram. I feel the febrile summer heat expanding in my lungs. Everything out there is familiar. But in here, in this girly bedroom, everything is foreign. Especially the plant in the corner. And yet we’re not so different. Here, in this room, I’m just as exotic as he is. He is an uprooted plant with magical properties. I am a conquistador: I came here and I conquered.
The exact moment that my ship ran aground on the riverbed coincided with the moment my back hit the mattress. Your dress disappeared over your head and out of sight – there you were, in just your underwear. Oh! The country where my ship had stranded smelled of wood, ripe fruit and dry ferns, a scent that brought tears to my eyes after months out at sea. As my moist eyes became accustomed to the dark, I took in this land, this new soil, which clung to my boots and stretched out endlessly before me: a dark forest to my right, a city to my left. Red walls blown apart by cannons.
My siege had been long, but seeing the damage from up close made me weep anew. I limped over and rested my hands against the stone, pressed my lips to it.
I saw the towers of a temple looming up; they made my knees quake. I kissed the copper handles on the gate, let my finger glide down the wood carvings. I heard someone murmuring and I fear it was me: ‘Have mercy.’
Without asking, you wrestled me down into the mud and, weighed down by my harness, I was felled like a tree. You kissed me with lips as red as a marquis’ rubies, a colour I knew, but they held a flavour I’d never tasted before. Blood. You were biting down on my lip.
My sword slid out of its sheath. My helmet rolled away and disappeared among the folded-up plants, causing the damp soil beneath me to dishevel my hair. You tugged at it, lifted me up. I pressed my lips to the sunburned skin above your breasts.
Finally, after many months, my hands and feet felt the new world, and now a voracious hunger came over me. I held one of your tiny ears, a pearlescent pink, between my thumb and forefinger and sank my teeth into it. You screamed. And for a moment I was afraid of going too far, of being deemed an invasive species. Was I trying to lay claim to something that could only be given freely? You reassured me by pulling aside your panties, nimbly raising up and pressing yourself down onto my mouth. Instinctively I thrust out my tongue, and the juice of the maracujá ran in waves down my chin. I gulped it down, parched from the many leagues at sea. And as I lay there, gorging myself on you, the mosquitoes drank from me just as greedily, then rose up, flew off into the night and kneaded my blood into new eggs. As I was lying there in the mud, barely arrived, my blood was already being disseminated across the new country.
I heard your breath grow heavier, felt your breasts trembling in my hands. Your eyes found me – bright blue with a hint of sapphire. It started raining, and my seed spilled out from between your legs. It mixed with the rain, forming a witch’s brew that seeped into the earth. You dragged me through the large gate into the city, laid me down on the steps of the temple and said, ‘I’m going to get a shower.’
You laugh at the corny metaphor – your juice likened to the sweet taste of the maracujá. You laugh even more loudly at the idea that I conquered you instead of the other way around, and get up to head for the bathroom. I scratch a mosquito bite and, as I’m lying naked on the bed, watch the plant in the corner of the room.
Dusk begins to fall and slowly – or am I imagining it? – the leaves of the calathea curl up. I try to avoid looking at the plant.
And yet we’re not so different. Here, in this room, I’m just as exotic as he is: an uprooted plant with magical properties; I, a conquistador. Not the violent kind – but then again, every explorer, good or bad, disrupts something. You always bring something with you from back home that ends up taking root in the new country: even if it’s just a tickle in your throat, a bacterium in your bloodstream, seeds clinging to the sole of a shoe. An idea about what love is.