Tizwot and the Could’ve Beans
(Lyndall Bywater, April 2019)
It was a gloomy Saturday morning on the little street. ‘The perfect day for a clear-out,’ Fixit the Dog had said. ‘Let’s empty all those cupboards we’ve been ignoring for months!’ She bounced a little, nearly wiping Scratchit Cat’s coffee table clean of its contents by the wagging of her extremely bushy tail.
‘If it gets you out of my house,’ said Scratchit, teeth clenched and claws flexing, ‘then I’m all for it.’
Tizwot just yawned.
Three hours later, the friends gathered at Tizwot’s house for lunch. Each one looked a little ragged. Even Scratchit Cat had dust in her pristine fur. And each one wore an air of sadness.
‘Oh, please tell me you found some too,’ said Tizwot, her voice shaking a little as she gestured towards a basket on the table.
‘Of course I did!’ Said Scratchit, her green eyes flashing. ‘More than you, by the looks of it.’
‘I did too,’ said Fixit, and her eyes were brimming with tears. She pulled a shabby little cloth bag out of one of her many pockets. ‘I’ve tried everything but … I just don’t know what to do with these.’
‘Oh Fix,’ said Tizwot, hugging her friend, ‘it’s like my mother always told me: you’ve never lived if you haven’t gathered a few Could’ve Beans along the way.’
‘And did your ever so wise and ever so annoying mother also tell you what we should do with them,’ asked Scratchit, jabbing her knife ever so meaningfully into her tuna steak, ‘because mine are beginning to get on my nerves.’
Tizwot thought that Scratchit’s Could’ve Beans looked rather pretty – a huge heap of them piled up on an ornate silver platter. But Scratchit was still holding the knife, so she kept her opinions to herself.
‘Recycling, Scratch … that’s the way forward,’ said Fixit, dropping her own knife to fish through her little cloth bag. She pulled out a few shrivelled brown lumps. ‘Look at this one … I’ve been painting a pretty pattern on it. And this one … I’ve worked out a way of polishing it so it’s not so spiky anymore. And here … this one is horrible … I mean, it’s starting to rot a bit … but if you hold it that way round, you can sort of hide the bad bit. I’m going to make a necklace out of them, I think.’
‘And that’s going to make it all better, is it?’ Scratchit’s tone was mean now.
‘Yes … maybe.’ A fresh tear ran down Fixit’s cheek. ‘Well, there’s got to be some way of making them … of turning them into something nice, hasn’t there?’
‘I think you’re very brave, Fix,’ said Tizwot, before Scratchit could dish out more scorn. ‘I can’t really look at mine. They hurt me too much. Good on you for trying to do something with them.’
‘But that’s it, don’t you see,’ cried Scratchit, disdain turning to fury. ‘It’s the pain that fires you up to do something about them!’ She reached over and picked up a particularly spiky specimen, rolling it between her paws and wincing as the barbs pierced her soft pads. ‘Every single one of these is someone’s fault. Let’s not forget that. You can paint them all you like, Fix, but it doesn’t change the fact that you wouldn’t have them if someone hadn’t done something that ruined your plans.’
‘I’m not sure they always come because of what someone else did,’ ventured Tizwot. ‘Some of mine just happened, I think.’
‘Rubbish,’ said Scratchit, licking blood from her paw. ‘If you didn’t trash your own plans – and why would you – then someone else must have. Freedom will be when you find out who it was. I know exactly whose fault this one is …’ she lifted another vicious-looking gourd from her platter, and the other two noticed a tiny name inscribed on one of the flatter parts. ‘Thanks for this morning, Fix … It’s been good to dig these out again and remind myself of some scores that need settling.’
She smiled into the uncomfortable silence that stretched out between them. Eventually, Fixit could stand the awkwardness no longer: ‘What are you going to do with yours, Tiz?’
‘I don’t know. I’m not as good at recycling as you are, and I definitely don’t know who I should blame for any of mine, so maybe I’ll just bury them. I’ve been meaning to lay some paving slabs in my front garden to make a new path, so I’ll throw them in once I’ve dug out the old concrete.’
Later, as she knelt by the newly-dug ground, Tizwot gathered the Could’ve Beans to her chest. Letting go of them was harder than she’d imagined. Each one was the memory of something … something she’d hoped for; something she’d dreamed of; something she’d worked for; something she’d wanted for someone she loved. They looked like dead husks, but they were surprisingly heavy, and in the end it was the weight that made her drop them into the hole. Her shoulders tired from digging, she just couldn’t hold them any longer. As she gazed down at them one last time, tears came … tears for the things that would never be. And then she got up and reached for her spade.
To everyone’s relief, the weather got better after that., The three friends enjoyed the longer days and the sunnier lunches. Fixit the Dog’s new necklace, which she had worn religiously for several weeks, seemed to have drifted discreetly to the back of her jewellery box, much to everyone’s relief. The rotten Could’ve Beans never lost their fusty smell, no matter how much of her perfume she daubed on them. Scratchit the Cat’s pads were healing nicely, though she did look a little haggard from keeping up with the 47 lawsuits she’d lodged in the past month. For her part, Tizwot still felt a little fragile when she thought of burying those beans.
One sunny morning she stepped out of her front door and stopped in horror. There, right in the middle of her beautiful new garden path, was a weed. It had forced its way up between two of her perfectly-positioned slabs, leaving one of them cracked and off kilter. Irritated, she dropped her bag on the doorstep and went to the shed for her spray-on weedkiller. When she came back round to the front garden, there was a figure standing in her garden gateway. She beckoned with a wave, and up her garden path walked a very old, very grey squirrel.
‘Can I help you,’ she asked, racking her brain as to whether she’d ever seen him before.
‘Oh, no, I don’t think you can, my dear. I was just admiring your handiwork.’ He gestured to the path.
‘Oh that! Yes, I was rather proud of it when I finished laying it a few weeks back, but now it looks like I’ll have to do some of it again.’
The squirrel looked confused. ‘I’m not sure I know what you mean. It looks beautiful to me’
‘That weed …’ she pointed with the nozzle of her sprayer. ‘It’s broken one of the slabs. Isn’t it amazing how strong they can be, weeds?’
‘But that is the very thing I was admiring, my dear …’ he broke off all of a sudden, as he took in the meaning of the weedkiller. ‘Please don’t tell me you were about to kill it! That is no weed. That little shoot is the first growth of your Bettayet.’
‘Your Bettayet. The tree you planted.’
‘I haven’t planted any trees. I just wanted a new path.’
The squirrel tilted his head to one side and looked up at her. ‘Ah, I imagine you’ve done it without realising then. It’s happened to me a thousand times. It comes of being a hoarder. I’ve lost track of the number of trees I’ve accidentally planted, just because I’ve forgotten where I left my stashes. The missus says I’m single-handedly responsible for reforestation.’
‘But I don’t have any … stashes … Mr Squirrel. I’m a sheep. I just dug the ground and put the slabs in. I chucked some old … erm … organic waste in before I made the cement, but that’s all.’
‘Chucked in, you say. Well, there are more picturesque ways to describe the planting of a great tree, but I’ll let you off, since you clearly have no idea what a great thing you’ve done. This, my dear, is your Bettayet tree …’ he gestured grandly towards the weed. ‘And I am going to guess that the … what did you call it? The organic waste you chucked in was none other than a crop of Could’ve Beans. I am also going to guess that you minimise the situation somewhat by your choice of words. I suspect that, far from chucking them in, you in fact left them there with a heavy heart and not a few tears.’
‘How did you know that?’
‘Because I know the Bettayet. It is a burst of life strong enough to break through the hardest ground. It is almost always unexpected, it is often unwanted, and it sometimes looks rather unattractive when it first appears, but in the end it is the most beautiful tree you will ever see. And here’s the thing, dearest sheep, the Bettayet comes only from the painful act of laying down the Could’ve Beans, watering them with tears and burying them with honour.’
Tizwot wiped her eyes, remembering that dismal day when she put her Could’ve Beans to rest. The squirrel touched her shoulder. ‘You were not burying, my dear, you were planting. But it is perhaps better that we do not know that at the time, otherwise we might lack the patience to wait … or the openheartedness to accept what springs up.’
After a long moment, Tizwot looked up and smiled. ‘Just one question, Mr Squirrel: what do I do about my lovely new paving slabs?’
‘Why, Mrs Sheep, now you get to lay a whole new path.’