Klaus Papula
When I wanted to become a gardener, little did I know that I would spend my days planting traffic islands. I dreamt of tweed-clad British gentry amidst hyacinths and rhododendron bushes, therefore I went to Cornwall. At the time I was sixteen, young and full of vigour, Rosamunde Pilcher was trending. If I went out at night with a ruby-red Gräfin von Hardenberg or a delicate pink Chippendale for Mylady in my buttonhole, the girls in their school uniforms from the Order surrounded me, smelling the roses while I talked about the fine root networks of the Galeola orchid, rhizome systems embedded in moist subsoil reacting with explosive signals to the well-trained fingers of the experienced gardener. “They belong to the self-pollinating species, an incredible waste of nature,” I remarked shaking my head while I pressed the flower-petals into the pupils’ wet hands. The corners of the girls’ mouths twitched nervously, their lips gleamed velvety, like the protruding openings of carnivorous pitcher plants, their eyes gleaming like sundew in the summery evening light over the golden meadows of Cornwall. Those were beautiful times; they are over.

This year I turn 55, weighing 220 pounds and knee to butt deep in the dirt of a traffic island. Trucks thunder around me below, steered by tattooed guys with broken noses. From above, it pours in buckets, from below leeches nibble on me. Britain is a wet country. But I have made my peace with this country, these people, their God, who is my God now as well. I am stuck in the purple uniform of the municipal works and wear purple ear protectors that make me deaf to the traffic. My friends call me Tinky-Winky – named after one of the Teletubbies. My enemies, the truckers, as well. Sometimes they throw peanuts at me, when they see me digging in the earth. They know I cannot defend myself. They know that I am powerless. There is me above; there is them below. In between there is the No Man’s Land of granite stones that separates asphalt from earth. Only when the purple pickup with the hazard warning lights arrives and stops traffic can I get down from my hill and climb onto the back of the pickup. For a moment I look the tattooed ones in the eyes. For a moment I am one of them. Otherwise my space is on the circular hills. Others build villas on hills or an opera house. I plant decorative cabbage and radicchio onto the hills of this town. I was born for that, not for the pupils of the Order of English Ladies. Nobody knows the 23 traffic islands of this town like me. My place is in the eye of the typhoon of access roads. God, who created the plants on the third day, put me in this location. When he finally relieves me, he will ask if I settled my task, and I will answer, “Yes, Sir, it is done.”
There are good days and bad days, as in any job. The good days pass by fast. 300 pink endive heads mid-mornings, 150 geraniums in the afternoon and in-between 180 primroses in the colours citrus and azure. Proud, I sit on the hill after an accomplished day’s work and wait for the purple pickup.
On the bad days I help myself with a ritual: towards nine o’clock I open the belt of my purple working trousers and close the belt two holes offset, feeling pleased with how loosely the trousers fit now.
Then I stoop to the crates with my plants.
“Loose pants have their own will,” I tell myself, “they find their own way.”
Around ten o‘clock the purple has already slipped down far. Hairy flesh spreads itself out.
Circularly I slowly move like an old flesh-coloured bear with large purple ears up the hill. The geraniums grow upwards in a spiral behind me. At 11:00 only two enormous cheeks are visible of me. The heavy diesel engines of the trucks howl up at me angrily. The tattooed ones drive around me – some multiple times before midday – and grit their teeth. They spit out of the window. I present what they do not want to see. But that’s how life is. For nobody does the sun always shine.

At about twelve I reach the summit of my hill on my knee.
“The yellow decorative salad has to go deep into the earth,” I think, then bend down, raise my bottom up and dig a hole. The tattooed ones orbit me like gloomy planets do a blazing star. I count to fifteen, by then at the latest something crashes. Rear-end collisions are among the most common types of accidents in a roundabout. I pull up my trousers, fasten my belt, sit on my summit and watch the tattooed one as they climb out of their machines crimson-faced. Coolant leaks from under the trucks. Motors are shut down. The roaring and booming around me is over. A great silence sets in.

“This hill is my Mount Sinai; this hill is my Mount Ararat. This hill separates the righteous from the sinners,” I preach, content with myself and look down on them down there. When they start honking impatiently, I trod to the bottom. Gladly I offer myself as a witness to the questioning police officers. The tattooed ones grit their teeth and clench their fists. Whomever doesn’t have a broken nose by now has a good chance to catch up today.
And so the bad day turns into a good one after all. Tinky-Winky wobbles with the head protectors until the purple pickup arrives. I am sure: If God who created the plants on the third day asks if I have settled my task, I will say, “Yes, Sir, I did my best”.

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