We Know So Little: 001

Common Fig (ficus carica)

We Know So Little: 001

Common Fig (ficus carica)

by Robert James Russell


Take the fig tree.

Well, take this specific fig tree: Sprouting through a tiny crack in a cave on the island of Cyprus, bewildering researchers. Why was it growing here, reaching out for the light, where a fig tree had no business growing?

What they discovered was disturbing, yes, but also perfectly sublime.

Under the tree they found three sets of human remains, tattered clothes and broken bones preserved in the damp dark. Soon after, they pieced together this: during the 1974 Cyprus Conflict, a man, Ahmet Hergune, was murdered, his body dumped anonymously in this cave along with two others who were killed when their captors tossed in a stick of dynamite, seeking to obliterate them from this plane completely.

But, see, earlier that day, Ahmet had eaten a fig, and from his body’s ruination—and from a hole blown in the cave wall by the dynamite, a gaping wound that streamed in the bright, creamy Mediterranean sun—a tiny fig seed took root, having all the nutrients it would ever need.

The fig tree grew and consumed Ahmet, twisting up toward the light. And while researchers retrieved some of Ahmet’s clothing in the soil, beneath the tree—allowing his family to properly mourn and make peace decades after his disappearance—his mortal remains survive now in these branches, this smooth white bark, these deeply-lobed leaves, this particular woodsy-sweet fragrance.

It’s too easy for us to regard trees and grass and plant life as something else entirely, half-alive growths incapable of consciousness or reason or love. And yet, here I see hope—that even in some torturous death, in a moment of great despair, the world spins on and we entwine with the earth and are remade somehow in a way we may never fully understand.

Here, in this fig tree, Ahmet lives on.

Here, in this fig tree, we’re reborn again, and again.

Robert James Russell is the author of the novellas Mesilla (Dock Street Press) and Sea of Trees (Winter Goose Publishing), and the chapbook Don’t Ask Me to Spell It Out (WhiskeyPaper Press). He is a founding editor of the literary journals Midwestern Gothic and CHEAP POP. You can find his illustrations and writing at robertjamesrussell.com, or on Twitter/Instagram at @robhollywood.

Artwork by: Robert James Russell