Every morning, sometimes before breakfast, sometimes after, I unlock the big frosted glass door of my kitchen and step out into the quintal. The first things I notice are the dying papayas right outside and then the trees that are tallest and most striking: these are, on the right, the mangoes, the Chinese fan palm, the avocado, and the enormous fig tree beyond these. And on the left, two coconut palms and an unidentified pinnate tree that towers above them and which is the tallest tree in the garden. If it is early enough, there may be the screech of parakeets zooming over the treetops (occasionally they will even briefly land to wake up everyone in the vicinity before moving on). Or there may be the scamper, leap and splash of black-tufted marmosets passing through the garden in their daily morning migration (I would love to know where they come from each morning, where they are going to, assuming these locations are fixed.) Whatever the time, there will be Great Kiskadees perpetually, if intermittently, launching loud piercing calls to the sky.
I go down the concrete steps, their slate cladding either cracked and loose, or completely gone, due to years of blistering heat and heavy rains. I walk barefoot down the concrete path, feeling the crunch of dried leaves under my soles, dodging the dog shit: stinking, mushy and heavy when fresh or after a night of rain; when desiccated by days of baking in the sun, hard and light as tufa.
I notice the shrubs and bushes and small trees now. Acerola with its sour red cherries, the green erect straps of snake plant (or Saint George as we call it here), lobster-claw Heliconia with its attendant hummingbirds and another plant that I do not know the name of but which is essentially a tall woody stem with countless purplish, stalkless leaves growing directly from it. On the areas of dirt either side of the path, seedlings and plantlets try to stake a claim: clovers, dock-like weeds, tiny red or blue dandelionesque wildflowers, countless seedlings of the tall pinnate tree that I already mentioned, and miniature mimosas: whether young or just small I don’t know, and never will, as the owners of the house periodically clear fell these nascent weed gardens. Where a tree root has cracked the plastic pipe that is meant to take the water from my kitchen sink to the mains sewage, there is always a luscious flare of new green growth, fed by plentiful water and the fertilizer of moisture-fattened grains of rice and shreds of spaghetti.
I go down a couple of steps, perhaps snatching an acerola cherry from the tree and popping it in my mouth, only to let out a hiss at its predictable, spine-tingling sourness. I then walk across the concrete retaining wall that holds behind it a small soil bed from which the lower of the two coconut palms grows, and which below looks down on the further series of 50 or 60 steps that leads to the front gate and so to the street. I walk across this wall as from here the view of the mountains is not obscured by the trees. I can see across the tired, 3D Tetris of Lapa’s apartment blocks, across the city centre and the endless grey suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, across the extensive rural hinterland of Duque de Caxias, all the way to the Fluminense Mountains 40 kilometres to the north. Some days the highlands are obscured by smog or cloud, but most days stretching from east to west they are a clearly delineated line, that hazy granular blue distant mountains take, broken only by the nameless peak that rises like a nipple above Xerém. And all above the enormous blazing blue sky, glitched only by the dark flecks of frigates and black vultures roaming the morning thermals.
Once assured that the mountains are still intact, I go back inside to start my day.
The quintal I speak of is that of the place in Santa Teresa I have called home for almost four years now. The precise arrangement of the dwellings is difficult to describe without excessive photo documentation, but suffice to say, I live in a sort of cavern that is below a big, family home, sort of as if the house was on stilts and I was living under them, only not so. It is perhaps easier to describe the piece of land and then, after, the homes it contains.
The road I live on winds up from Rio’s city centre—Lapa to be precise—and then continues all the way through the hills of Santa Teresa and beyond, reaching eventually the rainforests of Tijuca National Park and the famous Christ the Redeemer statue. I live at the beginning of the street, within honking distance of Lapa. As the road cuts perpendicularly across the slope of the hill, the homes on the left are on an upslope and those on the right on a downslope. Therefore the houses and apartment blocks on the right have their entrances on street level but often extend downhill, so that a part, or even the majority, of the building is out of sight below the level of the street.
In any case, I live on the left, in the grounds of a rectangle of land that stretches uphill to the arse ends of the buildings on a parallel street higher up the slope. Beside the padlock-and-chain secured gate there is a commercial space: once an organic grocery store, now an Umbanda spiritual centre. Inside the gate the steps begin. I will not go into excessive detail, but these rotten, concrete stairs – in various sections from three to thirty steps, with attendant terraces and flats, with their rusted railings – climb the slope passing first a terrace, then the outdoor toilet and utility room, then the bamboo house built around a former kennel by an indigenous man (and recently abandoned by him due to disagreements with the landlady), then to the pair of studio house-apartment thingies (I live in one of these), and finally around the corner up to the main house. The main house is a large two-storey structure and lies above the studios: we are protected by the overhanging belly of its roofed verandas. Beyond the house, there are in fact further steps that lead up to a sort-of garden or plantation area at the back of the house. But that area, and the house in general, does not concern me.
My quintal is the areas of growth that lie on either side of the concrete steps and path, as they exist from the gate up to the door of my home, as well as the trees and other growth that is visible in the neighbours’ gardens on either side, and to some extent anything that is visible (or audible) from the area described. This garden is a jigsaw of non-continuous but interconnected soil spaces split first along the y-axis by the central spine of the path, and then stretched out over about six x-axis levels contained by various retaining walls that break up the continuity of the slope. This sounds more fragmented than it appears, as when walking through it and with all the trees and bushes obscuring and linking areas, it seems much more like one thickly leafed slope bursting with abundant tropical plant life.
This is the general layout of the place, but to give a better idea of what it’s like on the ground, I will take you through the garden from the front gate back up to the retaining wall I stood on to look out at the mountains. From there to my house, you already know (at least a little).
On the street outside the gate, if you look up you will see a small tree growing out of the half-crumbling front wall. I have no idea what species this is, fig perhaps. When you step in the gate you are in a dark, roofed porch. The only things to see here are some slim, black-stemmed weeds that grow from cracks in the wall. But a little further on, up near the top of the first set of stairs, you will see silently floating on miniscule and noiseless wings dozens of Tetra angustula stingless bees, which have long, yellowy-orange abdomens and long legs that hang down and at right angle to their body. Looking closer one sees that they are hovering by what appears to be a narrow tube of frosted glass protruding from between two stones. This is in fact the wax entryway to their hive, and the bees that are floating in the air are the soldiers on guard duty. The slightly smaller bees flitting in and out of the entrance are the workers. This information – let it be noted – is a groundbreaking scientific discovery of the last decade, as bees were not thought to have soldier castes until such a group was discovered in this precisely this bee (though subsequent research has shown that other species also have soldiers).
The Tetra angustula colony cycle is fascinating. Similar to many other bees, it forms new colonies by swarming. Scout bees look for a possible nesting site within the vicinity. When one is found, work begins on cleaning the chosen cavity and preparing a hive for the young virgin queen and the bees she will take with her. Pollen, honey and wax are all transferred from the mother nest to the new colony, and contact between the two hives can be maintained for weeks or even months. Shortly after she has moved in to her new home, the Tetra angustula queen sets off on her nuptial flight, mates and returns to the nest to begin laying eggs.
There is much more that could be said about this bee, but I shall strive to be like honey, and in being short be sweet. One last fact I can’t but mention is that at night the bees build a wax lid on their entrance tube and so shut themselves up safely for a night of rest.
At the top of these stairs one comes to a tiled terrace, which looks down on the street. It is not used much by anyone, simply accumulating dog urine and faeces and dead leaves until someone bothers to clean it. It’s a handy spot from which to see who’s at the gate, or chuck garbage bags into the street if you’re too lazy to go all the way down. There is a waist-high parapet and below is the street: during carnival there are great views of the blocos descending from higher in Santa Teresa. Most of the year, the only people who look out here are residents waiting for food deliveries and the wooden totem with an erect penis that guards our dwelling. This was made by my former neighbour the instrument-maker (of which more above). I looked at it recently and noticed the base was Swiss-cheesed by some insect, maybe termites, but they seemed to be gone. I hope they are really gone, as otherwise I fear the thing will one day keel over and fall and kill someone passing on the street below, in an unintentional echo of the ceramic penis scene in Clockwork Orange.
From the naturalist’s perspective, the great virtue of this terrace is the huge, gargantuanally branching fig tree that overhangs it. The tree’s trunk and roots—which drip and flow like hot wax down the brickwork they grip for support—are across the chain link fence in the neighbour’s, but a large portion of its branches—perhaps even the majority due to lack of competition—are stretched into our garden. They are liberally hung with strands of epiphytic Rhipsalis—aka mistletoe cactus—and serve as highways for the local marmosets who overleap each other as they run along the electricity wire in the street before jumping up onto the lowest hanging fig branch and continuing their journey uphill. When the fig fruits it attracts countless frugivorous bats that flap about its crown as if it is a turret in Dracula’s castle. They feast liberally and shit so copiously that it sounds like it’s raining. The droppings—consisting of a liquid matrix and a dozen or so miniscule seeds—are the colour of stale blood. They pepper the garden so abundantly that 10cm² could easily contain 10 or 20 droppings and these harden to—quite literally—the strength of cement, though unlike cement they will lose their adhesive power when exposed to water for a long time, and so heavy tropical storms eventually get rid of those on the tiles and the concrete path, but the ones on the walls can stay for years. I wonder if this is an adaptive function of the fig. For I believe this species is epiphytic (or parasitic rather?), and it would only make sense if their fruit somehow congealed the faeces of the bat so, instead of falling to the ground, the seeds could adhere to other trees and thus be in a better position to grow and get the light. Certainly, I’ve never come across such hard and glue-like crap before, but what do I know of crap, other than that of humans, dogs and cats. In any case, if the seeds need to be in the soil to sprout, the stickiness of the bat faeces that expels them most definitely would be fatal to future generations, especially in heavily forested districts. For this reason I think that my conjecture of adaptation is reasonable, though a conjecture it remains.
The next set of steps is locally known as the mata-sogra (mother-in-law killer). It is a set of 28 steps bounded on the left by a wall and on the right by insufficient and rusty railing: I say a railing, but it is in fact a single banister with space enough below for a child to pass walking and an adult to roll. As has happened before. I once came down the steps to find a viscous pool of deep red blood on the terrace from where someone from upstairs had fallen. Apparently he was okay—or rather alive and not seriously injured—and there had been so much blood simply because the skin on the back of his head had been somehow peeled off in the fall. I expected the landlady to repair or improve the steps after this, but of course she did not.
Halfway up the steps there is a tiny, intermediate landing that leads off to a small terrace. This terrace contains a tap and a pile of earth, the origin of which—and why it is still there—I cannot begin to fathom, but my dog Bertha is lucky it is there, as it is one of the few places that grass grows in the garden, and so when she has an upset stomach she will seek out this pile of dirt and its straggling grass plants and eat them until she vomits. Off this small terrace is the outdoor toilet and utility room that contains my washing machine and occasionally a rat or two.
Continuing up the mata-sogra, there is one final surprise just before the top: the step. The step was most probably intentionally designed to kill. It is an uneven step that slopes instead of lying flat. It is like this as a plastic pipe runs along the angle between this step and the one above, and so instead of leaving it exposed (which would also be a danger), the ingenious solution was to cement over it and create a smooth slope of a step. This is of course highly dangerous, as when walking one’s gait naturally adapts to perceived distance and stepping on this step as if it is a normal step could easily throw one off balance. Situated as it is, at the top of the steps, this could easily lead to a very serious—even fatal—fall. Luckily residents get used to it and non-residents tend to be so careful on these so obviously dangerous stairs that they easily avoid any accidents. There are faded letters painted on this step, presumably some kind of warning, which to this day I have never bothered to try to decipher.
Next we come to another flat section. On the right is the dividing wall to the neighbour’s. This is not the neighbour with the fig tree, but the other side. It has an equally large garden that is a font of wildlife as the house itself is unoccupied. It is from this garden that come the invading woody tunnels of termites and the slow opossums, which my dog leaves stiff for me to dispose of in the morning. I send them back to where they came from, grasping them by the tail and flinging them back over the wall: one time the tail detached from the poor dead opossum and it flew straight into the wall, necessitating a second try. Along the crest of this wall once slowly footed a Brazilian porcupine. More prosaically it is from this wall that my neighbour’s abandoned cat would wail after a night-time expedition into the abandoned garden from which it could not return, as after the bushes growing out of the wall were pruned Mariana could climb up the wall and into the neighbour’s but not down again. And so she would wail and wail until coaxed to descend.
Off this section is a bamboo gate which leads into a cluttered yard and the remains of a house-cum-kennel, formerly resided in by my long-time neighbour. He is an instrument maker of indigenous extraction who converted the kennels into a small, simple house, made mostly of bamboo. He dismantled the house when he left, leaving just the original concrete walls and the zinc roofing sheets. The yard is still full of his plotted plants: palms, Heliconia, and snake plants among others. There is also a pitanga tree, a Chinese fan palm and many empty Brazil nut pods hanging from the railings with herbs and shrubs growing inside them.
Opposite the bamboo gate and following the steps up are some narrow plant beds where a type of caladium grows—green with pink splotches of various sizes—which reminds of a cosmic microwave background radiation map of the early universe, though the resemblance is slight. Here also lizards bask in the sun and scuttle noisily when one passes. Bertha spends hours here staring that the rocks that border the beds waiting for a lizard to emerge so she can pounce. At the top of this bed is a tall bromeliad with a woody, tree-like stem about which is wrapped a creeper with large and plentiful tripartite leaves (effectively tripartite, the two side leaves each having much smaller stunted leaves growing out from them, making five leaves in total). At the feet of the bromeliad are several pinnate seedlings from the tree that I will describe in more detail below. And at the very bottom of the heap, crawling along the soil and dead leaves is some type of creeping vine with small, dark-green leaves. I can only assume that it was designed to creep on something, and has perhaps been prevented from mounting the bromeliad only due to the fact that another plant is occupying its niche, but—again—I really have no idea.
Heading on up there are some short flights of steps that turn left and then right, bringing us to the acerola tree and retaining wall that I stand on to look out at the mountains.
I said I would stop here but I may as well continue some more, return at a leisurely pace to my home and point out some things I missed the first time.
Opposite the wall there is a long narrow soil-bed “passage” between the zinc roof of my neighbour’s former home and another retaining wall. I did not notice this space for a couple of years after I moved in, as it is obscured by the branches of the acerola, which one has to duck under to enter. Inside there is not much to see, mostly dead leaves, discarded palm fronds and dog shit. One interesting thing is a circular, blackly rotted remnant of a palm trunk. The trunk is completely gone and all that remains is a ring of those compacted rootlets that one often sees at the foot of palm trees. Now that my neighbour is not there to clear it, the corrugated roof of his former home is packed with dead leaves from which a type of flowering weed grows, the name of which I do not know. But it is edible. He told me this, advising me to fry it with garlic, though I always just put it raw on my chicken ovary sandwiches. One good side of my neighbour moving out is that when I gather acerola in the early morning I don’t need to worry about the berries falling on his roof and banging loudly and waking him up.
Turning back and up a few steps one is on the largest level of the quintal. The concrete path swings left towards my place (and that of my conjoined neighbour) and then to steps that lead up to the main house where the landlady now lives (after a few years of absence, she was forced to return due to the Corona crash). On either side of the path are soil beds. On the right is the smaller one, though it punches above its weight as it contains my prize cactus and two of the tallest trees in the garden.
First my prize cactus. Once upon a time, when I first moved into the house, there was a tall (maybe 2 metres) cactus growing by the path. I tend to grow attached to most plants in my garden, but as they never grow to such a size in Ireland, this cactus was particularly dear to me. It was a type of prickly pear cactus (Opuntia), the specific name of which I did discover but have forgotten since. In any case, I liked this cactus. It grew in a circle of old tree trunk, not really a pot as it was open at the bottom, but whatever. At some point in time, I or someone else smashed a glass close to the cactus. I, seeing the glass, but too lazy to dispose of it properly, decided to place it inside the cactus “pot”, on the impeccable logic that no one was ever going to put their foot inside a cactus pot and that so us residents would be safe until time eternal from the menace of cut feet. How wrong I was.
Some new people moved in, including a man who was rather particular about many things, including plant growth. While he was moving some of his things in he was pricked by the cactus (poor boy!), and—consumed by rage—he felled the defenceless plant (poor cactus!) with a machete and chopped it into (no exaggeration) about 20 different sections, such was his fury. As well as this, he upended and destroyed the trunk-pot thing, thus releasing the smashed glass that I had thought forever removed from the garden’s catalogue of perils. I was fuming. Every day the severed limbs of my poor friend lay like a corpse in the garden.
I eventually noticed that roots were growing from the dying cactus. My friend was alive! I immediately gathered about ten of the healthiest sections to replant.
What I ended up doing, however, due to sheer laziness, was simply to leave them on the floor of my house for a month. Which made it even more miraculous that, when I finally did get around to planting them, they all took. Most I planted in butter tubs and decapitated toilet cleaner bottles around my house. Two of these still remain, slim and sinuous, half vine-like. The rest I tried to plant in the garden, but these all succumbed to the various deweeding holocausts of different residents. Three I planted in pots outdoors and these grew very big over the years (more on these later). And one I planted in the soil bed I am now describing, but away from the path to avoid sensitive boys like my neighbour getting pricked. Now some three years later the cactus is nearly as tall as its progenitor, and this is why I call it my prize cactus.
Of the two tallest trees, one is a coconut palm with its clusters of inaccessible green fruits tantalizingly out of reach. Usually it is only the brown and withered specimens that fall, though occasionally a green one drops. Unfortunately these mostly burst on impact and, by the time I rush to the foot of the tree—presuming I heard the crash—the liquid has drained away. Other times the coconuts pop open of their own accord while still in the tree and more than once have I stood below the crown with my mouth open catching sweet dribbles. Every now and then coconuts fall and remain intact after impact. Once a whole section fell and even after the breakage there were still 7 or 8 good ones that I washed down and stored in my fridge (the decaying plant matter in the crown of the tree blackens them like soot). On the other coconut tree on the bed below, to facilitate ascent, there are planks of wood nailed into the trunk, including a drawer face with the ring-pull still attached. But some (most in fact) of the rungs are missing and even if they weren’t I would never dare to climb, as that tree leans out over the slope and so to fall from it would be to fall not just from the great height of the tree but also that of the intervening dip in the slope that the tree has leaned out over in order to drink in as much sunlight as possible. This coconut has yellow nuts, which makes me think it’s a king coconut but I really don’t know. I have never tasted its water as the height is so great that all falling coconuts are invariably smashed on impact.
Beside the green coconut is the tallest tree in the garden. A pinnate with ash-like leaves, the name of which I do not know. It has a mottled trunk and grows tall and slender like a mature birch. Its trunk splits near the base into a main and ancillary trunk, one of which rises to great heights and the other which is quite tall in itself but comparatively smaller. Up the trunk climbs a (I’m quite sure) Monstera deliciosa vine, also known as costela-de-adão—Adam’s rib—in Portuguese, due to the gapped and perforated leaves that resemble ribs. This vine also has many aerial roots that drip down like long, vegetable ropes. Around September usually the pinnate tree simultaneously produces new leaves and seeds: these tiny green seeds number in the tens of thousands and fall in tinkling showers for days on end so that it is easy to confuse with drizzle when one hears it. So many of these seeds fall that the ground becomes a green pointillist carpet, and if it rains these seeds are washed down the steps and gather in corners in deep drifts. Due to its superabundant seed-bearing ability, there are almost always a few seedlings of this tree around the garden, but I have never seen any of them survive very long. I believe that I have seen parakeets feeding on these seeds in the high branches: I cannot be sure, but in any case I observed their silhouettes marching up there for a conspicuously long and silent time (these birds usually prefer to land for brief periods, yell raucously, and then move on). It is the roots of this tree that cracked the pipe from my kitchen sink, in case anyone was wondering.
On the left is the largest single area of soil in the garden. For all that it is mostly barren, as—as mentioned above—the owners of the house cut back any growth that appears (under the trees they do not need to do this as much as natural competition for sunlight takes care of things). There is a type of bush with thick, glossy, pear-shaped leaves and thin aerial roots. I identified it at one point as a type of beach or restinga plant, but I cannot remember or find its name anymore. It is in this section also that grow the thickets of lobster-claw Heliconia. And in fact one of the acerola trees: I often speak of the acerola tree, but in fact there are three so close together that—though clearly distinguishable at trunk level—their canopies meld together into one continuous randomly fruiting mass (not only tree by tree, but branch by branch seeming to flower and fruit at different times, contributing to the confusion). There used to be a dead tree in this part, with an orchid growing on it, but the same man who dismembered my cactus knocked it down and informed me that he’d done me a favour as it could have fallen on me while reading (me, not the tree). Which brings me to the main virtue of this section: not really what grows in it itself, but the fact that it is here that I have a hideous plastic chair which flakes black paint and which I sit on in the mornings to read. Also, around and into this section many trees grow their branches, no doubt taking advantage of the sunlight freely available due to the lack of growth. It is here that the avocado and mango trees bend in from the neighbour’s garden (the one that also has the fig tree and—for the record—a small banana palm plantation.
Up another short set of steps we are finally on the level with my house. There is a small bed on the right, flush with the wall of my neighbour’s veranda. And a larger one on the left. Since I have lived here these beds have undergone various transformation, due to the fact that there are no large, permanent plants in them. There have been papayas (two generations, the first bearing good fruit, the second not so much), that weed my neighbour told me to fry with garlic (in superabundance), an aloe vera (still extant), a supermarket flower that perished a week after planting, and various others. I believe that the only plants to have survived the four years I’ve been here are a flowering bush and another tree-bromeliad, like the one described earlier: and even this was cut down to a stump at one point, much to my dismay, though this dismay vanished quickly as within a couple of months the thing was enormous and bushy (if not quite as tall) again. Most recently, actually just last week at time of writing, my latest neighbour (an old man who has green fingers), planted many new things here, including the three potted cacti I planted all those years ago. That he took this liberty with my potted plants in no way bothered me, as I had wanted to do so myself but had not due to—you may be seeing a pattern here—raw laziness. The reason I wanted to plant them in the open soil was that they seemed to be fading in vigour in the pots (I’d added some extra soil to see if that would help) and—much to my dismay—my prize cactus that I thought would last for ages has dry rot in its stem, which seems to have hollowed it out in places. Thus I was afraid of losing both the prize and the potted cacti. Now that they are planted, there are four cacti in the garden and two in my apartment (I debate whether I should try plant them before I leave or trust them potted to the next resident…but eureka! I have just discovered the solution: I will give them to green fingers next door and he will take care of them.) In any case, I have the great pleasure of knowing that from the one cactus so cruelly cut down, there are now six separate ones still living. So, fuck you Bruno!
Then it’s into my house, where the fun does not end: bats, fire ants, African house geckos, spiders, cockroaches and—of course—mosquitoes all share my dwelling. I may go further into that later, but for now I will only mention the bats.
Once upon a time there was a full-length mirror in my tiny “sitting room” (more of an alcove connected to the kitchen). It had a frame, painted purple like the wall, and there were mysterious rectangular shapes in the wall adjacent to it. The sofa was in front of it so it was rarely used and I didn’t pay much attention to it. Until one day I woke up and saw that the mirror had fallen off the wall and snapped in two on the back of the sofa. Miraculously it hadn’t shattered completely and luckily my dog did not sleep on the sofa at that point in time. I then noticed that behind where the mirror had been was a door. What I had thought was the frame of the mirror was in fact the doorframe of this sealed-up entrance. I looked more closely and realised that the mirror had not been attached to the door. A small square of board had been attached to the door and then the mirror was presumably glued onto this. It was shoddy work (you may be noticing a pattern here). In any case, this board was honeycombed with termites and had obviously become too weak and the mirror had detached and fallen. Curious, I wanted to look inside. If I recall correctly I did not do this for a couple of days, but at some point I pulled the door open. It was stiff and brittle and I did not wish to tear it apart completely, so I had to be very careful. I could see that its body was rotten with termite activity and the tiny, blind-seeming creatures nodded and swarmed anxiously as I exposed them to the light. I managed to open the door about 6 inches: any more and I felt I would end up ripping the thing off its hinges. But it was enough to shine a torch inside. It was a hole, a black hole with some dusty beams clogging it. Not much to see, no way of going inside. The excitement at the mystery ended abruptly. I tried to close the door, but it would not close completely, not at least without risking damaging the door even more. So it stayed open a crack. Just a crack, but this crack was to be important.
The son of the owner came to look at the door. He told me that this was the old elevator, that there had been an elevator from the shop below up to the house above, obviously with an intermediate stop in my studio. How did that work? There was something exciting and bizarre about the idea of people emerging from an elevator into my kitchen—“Excuse me, wrong floor”—but I knew of course that it would never have worked like that. Either it was all one family living here or there was a lock or something on each floor. In any case, it was cool. I also realised that they must have tunnelled rather extensively into the hillside to build this lift. Where we were standing was some way from the street and—of course—the ground-floor entrance to the elevator was directly below us. It seemed to me like something from James Bond.
Finally the son gave me a kerosene spray to kill the termites and said he would get his mother to fix it. Which she never did. At one point they must have been a rich family, but they certainly no longer were, though not as poor as the landlady would claim when she wished to dodge repairs. But, then again, I was not as poor as I claimed to be when wishing to avoid her requests for a rent increase or that I pay more on the electricity bill.
And then the bats appeared. I considered fictionalising their first appearance, something along the lines of: “I was cooking pasta when all of a sudden I heard a strange squeaking and when I turned around I saw a flock of bats erupting from the elevator.” But I don’t wish to introduce falsehoods into this otherwise flawless narrative. The fact is I do not remember when I first saw them. In all likelihood I probably noticed them flying inside the house more frequently (they sometimes came in the window at night) and then realised this was because they were coming out of the disused elevator shaft.
In any case, I was delighted! As a card-carrying member of the Irish Bat Association in my youth, I had a particularly keen interest in these creatures, and I would watch as they slid out the narrow crack between rotten door and rotten frame, so slim a space that it scarcely seemed possible, and sometimes on the return leg they failed to enter on the first try and had to circle back around the kitchen before heading back and diving in. I particularly loved to see when, lying on my bed, they would enter my room from the kitchen—totally blasé—flying flat and on reaching the back wall of my room turn about without a word and exit like a person who has accidentally walked into the wrong room, doing a suave U-turn while pretending that nothing is amiss. When the shop space below was converted into a macumba space, the smoke from their fires would rise up the elevator shaft and send out a dozen or more bats, where usually there were only two or three. And I’d watch them circle the bare-bulb kitchen light swamped in cobwebs and dead termites from last year’s flight, and then I’d perhaps focus on one bat who would maybe dash about madly for a while (I’d assume it was not a regular to my kitchen, more accustomed to another exit but forced here by the smoke), in jerky levitation it flaps back and forth and then finally finds an escape and slips out between the bars of the window, a space narrower than its wingspan, and unleashes itself into the garden where its skin-wings spread and swoop and it swims through the sea of nitrogen outside, slapping the fat treacle of sky, climbing its winghold ladder like I mount the concrete steps, impelling myself off a more solid surface against the force of gravity as it impels itself off solid air. The whole sky is its tree and wherever it bats its wing is a branch: a marmoset of open air. (When diminished dinosaurs fly it is commonplace; when mammals do the same it is somehow miraculous.) The bat loops and flits and clicks about the quintal, mapping its territory in sonic measures, dodging palms fronds and lashing past night-bloooming papaya trees, gobbling the nectivorous moths that sip at the white flowers spreading pollen, the paper-wings, inquisitive eyes and long, curled proboscis, a compact curlicue, like its daytime brother the butterfly, floating with colour, in its lazy lolling flight mocking the morcego’s intensity, flapping past the new-green acerola, shootlets streaming from the tips of slender branches, new-growth that in temperate zones is seen only in holly and yew and suchlike evergreens. The thin integument of this fresh growth is pierced and sucked by black bean aphids founding cities that bloom and perish by the day, at dawn a thick scale of living creatures, massive blimp-like elders and about their white-wire knees grey juveniles scuttle. The sun swings around twice or thrice and all we find are airy dried-out husks of bodies still glued to the shoots, ready to fall like dead leaves with the next rain.
Roots. A blind, pale world palpitating in the soil, scrounging and worming the rubbish, crawling downwards and dragging nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium up into its plant belly and up to the leaves to drink in the noon sun that cooks the corpse of a midnight bat, fed-fat, its white teeth wounding its grey face, incisors the size of a feline’s, canines like a wolf’s: ants eat it, a line of miniscule pink meats retreat, the parakeets peck the green seed and scream. On other days the caracara falcons squabble in the high branches as coconuts plump and coconuts shrivel. Toucans walk the heights. The grey papaya trunk sprooling with green leaflets up to its fountain skull, the head exploding with leaves, the budding fruit green and then orange and which, when he left, my neighbour (yes, the instrument-maker) told me was juicy and I should eat from it. I tried. After he left, when the fruits were ripe, I attempted to use a rotten broom to dislodge the fruits (they were far above my head). Too high… I found a long, think plank of wood and wobbled it precariously skyward, slapping the fruits completely ineffectually and—what’s more—getting splinters in my palms. In the end, I discovered that the best method was to place the plank on the trunk of the tree and slide it up so as to hit not the fruit but the stems holding them. That way the link was severed and the fruits fell down and I went down the steps (the mata-sogra which my neighbour’s yard overlooked and which the papaya tree looked over) and found them splatted and flat and so I gathered this mush of orange flesh and black pip-like seeds into a plastic bag and took them home to eat with my oats, which I eat every morning after I have gone to the garden to make sure the mountains are still there. Then laziness took over (are you seeing a pattern?) and I did not gather the fruits and saw them spoiled by creatures, disembowelled, their orange innards hanging out. I felt bad about the waste. Until one day I saw two of the culprits, first a slate-blue bird pecking inside the open belly of the fruit and then a black-tufted marmoset casting his gaze around nervously to avoid being ambushed, reaching his tiny hands into the entrails of the fruit to grab a handful of bliss. And be afraid he should be—especially in the bird’s breeding season—for the kiskadee loves to attack (justly, for marmosets eat bird eggs), dive-bombing all intruders: other birds (even big hawks and falcons are chased off) and mammals such as the marmosets, and when they race along the wires the kiskadee will swoop with sharp beak and the marmosets—accustomed to this—simply swing around under the wire and hang and then swing back up and run on a little until the kiskadee, having turned, swoops in for another attack and they need to swing under again. The marmosets do this two or three times until they make it to the fig tree where the leaves and branches protect them from attack. (Let it be noted that the kiskadee’s nest is in a tall, dead tree amid my neighbour’s banana plantation, their woven grass nest in the crook of the pale bone tree with its crusts of dead bark. And I wonder if – like crows apparently – they like dead branches as they can take off in all directions or because it makes it difficult for enemies like the marmoset to creep up…) In any case, I’ve seen the great and holy kiskadee perched passerine upon the same wire the mini-monkeys use as a road with a gecko in its beak battering the thing on its perch (a bad strategy, to try to beat a creature to death on rubber), when the gecko fell a full four metres to the street and seemed dead. Seemed. For after a minute of cautious immobility, it scurried quickly away. And the kiskadee sitting on the wire seemed indifferent. Flew off. I wonder what parasites suck its skin like aphids, what bacteria and viruses haunt its bloodstream…
The sudden gust before a summer storm, streaming the branches back, detaching a brown arm from the coconut tree. Then flickers, flat flashes lighting the whole sky. Moans and booms of thunder. Then, after a brief, introductory patter, the rain. A fury of it. Whitening the horizon, slapping down in the garden, wetting the leaves all the leaves, churning the mud, washing the acerola shoots free of black bean colonies, turning the concrete path and steps into a river, grabbing dead leaves with its currents and flushing them downhill, gathering them in drifts, pooling in puddles, continuing for hours, glistening the Heliconia leaves, feeding with water the cacti with dead leaves speared on their spines, cutting us off from the grid, drowning whole cities of insects, making the Tetra angustula bees disappear without sealing their entry tube. Feeding with water the weeds. Their insistence. When the next sun comes the weeds’ll push up in patches, manifest green from brown, coax the Tetra angustula to their tiny pale purple flowers, clutch skinny roots into the soil, holding hands with the larger plants.
At sunrise, a single green metallic fly buzzes aloft in the first ray of sunshine. The mosquitoes rise in modest clouds, eager for blood. Echoing the fly’s green, a hummingbird whooshes past windily and lands on the vegetable rim of a lobster-clawflower and bends over and drinks deep of nectar, its throat pulsing with swallows. The bumblebees buzz like broken hand-fans, fat blobs of hymenoptera machinery, lifting from flower to flower while my dog leaps and snaps, forever hoping to catch one, and I shouting at her as I remember what she obviously doesn’t: the time she did actually catch one and her throat swelled up to the size of an apple of pain and—in agony—she clawed at her own face for relief. Leaves litter the path like shrivelled commas, double-headed three-leafed clover sprouts in palm-sized patches, bean-broth doves bob their heads and peck and burst into the air at the slightest threat. High against the dark green foliage of the mango trees an orange butterfly flaps lazily. Mysterious tweets from overhead as a breeze nuzzles branches, the shingly hiss of stuttering leaves. Another dead opossum, with pink flesh-wound on its side, tight black scrotum, gob of shit by its anus, comically lolling tongue, milky pupilless eyes, its paws still tightly shut as if still grasping a branch. Tanager the colour of fresh blood, black wings. A tiny fly with striped wings that it alternately flexes. Tiny, fine-needled cacti growing epiphytically on the acerola branches, plaques of pale green moss that shine brighter green in the rain. The hole the dogs obsessively dig under the path, no matter how many times one fills it, had an ancient toy car in it. My nose streaming due to pollen-releasing plants. The rev and scream of cicada at dusk. Warble and wail of fighting cats, moaning in warning. The countless plain, unnameable, ordinary shrubs that come and go and who are the real raw face of nature, its implacable continuity. “Mato cresce rápido,” says the landlady. Brightly coloured bottle spiders with a drop of blood on their abdomens. Flattened slugs. Assortment of dried-out, wrinkled, brown leaves. Bright pink bougainvillea bush across the street. Garden smells wet after rains all night, grey clouds, rain continuing: endless heavy pattering of the sky’s music percussioning leaves and soil and concrete.
At one point, I became fascinated with the black-bean aphids and would go out to check on them every day. I first noticed just one colony on the new-growth shoots of the acerola when I was gathering cherries to make juice. I was fascinated with the different sizes of the things, compared to the tiny pinprick young the adults seemed like enormous blimps, resembling some yokai from Spirited Away. I assumed they fed on the new shoots as the skin would be easier to pierce to get at the sap but I did not know if this was true. I noted that they seemed to feed with their faces on the shoot and their arses in the air. I wondered how they arrived there originally as there didn’t seem to be any of them on nearby shoots. The colony grew and I named it Rome. Then I noticed other colonies on nearby shoots, some fairly populous, others seeming to be only one adult and its brood. Rome remained the largest. I would often look out from the kitchen at the acerola tree and marvel at the number of green-growing extremities that the tree had (it could certainly spare some to the aphids) but more than that at the fact that I knew that on these shoots were whole cities of aphids that from the kitchen were utterly invisible, and the acerola tree seemed like the Himalayas and the black-bean colonies like the tiny villages of Nepalese herders in the tectonic folds. But then disaster struck. One day I came out and saw that the city had been abandoned, all that was left were the dried-out corpses of its former residents. They had all died. From disease? Food source drying up? The natural result of an aging population? Natural fluctuation or emigration? For, indeed, other aphid cities were growing, more shoots were colonised. When I looked closer at Rome, I saw some life among the ruins, young aphids crawling about in lonely despair. Were these the start of a new city or just the last remnants of the old? As the days passed more and more colonies appeared and one was even larger than Rome had been, much larger: a grey, seething mass of aphids, so thick they almost looked like they were flaking off the plant. It made sense, the aphids were reproducing and spreading in the heat, the acerola shoots growing fast in the sweltering days. I called this new city São Paulo. When it spread (or seemed to) to adjacent shoots, I called this Grande São Paulo. When I next looked at Rome it was completely abandoned, the young aphids gone, only a few smudged corpses still left glued to the shoot. Then the ladybirds appeared, grey ones with black spots, and their larvae, android, insect alligators that look like they work for Agent Smith from the Matrix. Less than a week after I’d found it, São Paulo was assigned to history, and so I learned (or concluded) that, as in human history, aphid cities are subject to rise and fall, hemmed in no doubt by resource limits, population density, attacks, perhaps even pollution… The colonies continued to be founded, to rise and fall across the acerola, and it was only after days of heavy rain that I saw the acerola aphidless again: they had been wiped out by the great flood, which also brought down many leaves and dead branches and old, brown coconuts and acerola cherries that when the sun returned fermented on the concrete, peered upon and punished by the sun, while the ants all around scurry and the birds fling dropping from the sky, hitting fresh wet soil where the seeds inside the poop will germinate and join the rest of the weeds eking out a precarious living at the feet of gigantic bushes and trees. Tiny mimosa open their leafy arms at dawn and close up at night. Pinnates with young, purplish leaves. Fungi freckling that waterlogged wooden stool: they’ll dry out and die (or go dormant) in a few days. More on fallen, blackened branch, pale green pin mould in a slash. A big queen ant walks past, long wings still attached, climbing over twigs and dead leaves, over dead leaves and twigs, and then under a twig over to the wall the same pale green as the mould where a garden lizard is lounging in the sun, warming its blood, the local star streaming down through the open fingers of the palm, the queen ant still trundling on, searching—I assume—for somewhere to make her nest.
The garden penetrates and intermixes with my home. There are, of course, the bats that fly in and out, but also cosmopolitan house geckos that patrol the windows at night hunting any insects drawn there by the light inside. This can be a perilous niche to occupy. Once I noticed a skeletonised specimen stuck to the frame of the sliding window. I must have inadvertently squashed it weeks or even months before when I slammed the window shut. At this same window come in the fire ants, tiny red ants that give extremely painful bites, not agonising, but more than a mere inconvenience and which can wake you up and keep you awake for some time. Occasionally one wanders in the window and falls down into my bed and stings me. To minimise this I’ve learned not to put any food or sweet drinks on the windowsill as this attracts them, which is more irritating than it sounds, as because I have no desk I spend huge quantities of my day in bed, reading, writing, eating, drinking, watching films, giving classes. And I have no bedside table, so putting things on the sill is natural: the solution is a hardcover Saramago novel that I place on the mattress as sort-of coaster-cum-table. With other ants I have a more satisfactory relationship, mainly due to the fact that they rarely bite and if they do it does not hurt much. They will infest my dog or cat food which can be a problem, but generally they help to keep the house clean as scraps of food that fall on the ground will be swept away without having to await the infrequent passage of my broom. Whenever I squash a cockroach, I can just leave it squirming its entrails on the floor: the ants always find it and begin to dismantle the corpse and carry it away piece by piece. By morning all that will be left will be the tough, chitinous wings. This symbiotic relationship is obviously deeply gratifying. Giants moths and other large insects often enter the open window, especially at night (not to mention the countless smaller insects which I barely notice). When the cat lived here she once brought in a live mouse with a very long tail and, on more occasions that I can count, I woke to find dead doves on the floor with their throats invariably ripped open and small seeds still adhered to the inside of their gullet. Opossums used to raid my kitchen bin at night, but since the dog moved in, they will be killed if they attempt this. Another resident of my residence is a type of casebearer moth, specifically the larvae. If I look around my home, I will always find a few of their silk cases clinging to the walls. (For some unknown reason I thought for a long time that these were the larvae of weevils.) As well as silk, these constructions are supplemented with sand, soil and insect droppings to help with camouflage. I’m quite sure I’ve also seen shards of human hair in them. I am not sure it is the species I have in my house, but certain similar species like these feed mainly on spider webs, which sounds pretty grim, but of course I am projecting. When I thought they were weevil larva, I always killed them (I’d lost many bags of rice and pasta to those fuckers), and when I found out they were from a moth, I continued to kill them as they consume clothes and paper and so deserve to die. When I say I kill them, I generally pick them up, look at their little white larval faces writhing in fury from the entrance of their organic sleeping bag and then either flush them down the sink or throw them out the window, depending on what’s closer. They grow into moths but I don’t know what moths. My suspicion is the tiny moths that I see in my bedroom all the time and which I often confuse with mosquitoes, sometimes to the point of clapping them to a pulp between my hands only to look and see on my palm – instead of a metallic-smelling blood stain – a blot of moth-dust. Which brings me to mosquitoes, but before I speak about them, I will mention the fact that for some months I thought cockroach egg sacks, or—what a wonderful word—oothecas, were some sort of curious seed. It is rare for me to have a disgust reaction to any animal, but I don’t like to touch cockroaches and the fact that—without gloves—I held their oothecas and peered at them makes me feel quite ill. Mosquitoes: there are lots of them, they eat my blood. They especially like my ankles so, even in 40°C weather I wear socks with my flip-flops, and all summer I sleep completely naked except for a scrap of sheeting draped over my feet like a shroud. These measures defend me from the worst of it. I enjoy exploding them vengefully after they have fed from me and they are fat and bloated and slow and very clearly visible on the wall. Another moment of vulnerability for these insects is when they are mating—they are slow and highly visible (and distracted)—and easy to kill. But the best is when there is a cloud of them in the bedroom and I lie on the bed holding a pillow and intentionally, treacherously uncover my feet to attract them. I wait and slowly the cloud descends towards my sweaty paws, and just as the first are about to bite I bring the pillow down with as much force as I can muster and thereby kill many in one fell swoop. It is highly satisfying. Their larvae infest the saucers of my cactus pots, sometimes even manage establish themselves in the dog bowl if I just top up the water constantly instead of emptying it every time. They twitch like beached eels. They look like aliens from one of Saturn’s moons. They are undoubtedly evil and so I take great glee in pouring their home (and them) into the toilet.
If on the one end, the quintal enters my home, wheedling its organic fingers into my human dwelling, compromising its sterility, on its other edges the garden reaches out for more hospitable lands, and is in turn invaded by these. For my garden—like most, but perhaps more so—does not neatly end where it ends, but continues through neighbouring gardens, with the comings and goings of birds, insects and animals (the passing marmosets and opossums, the butterflies, the toucans and caracaras). The surrounding neighbourhood of Santa Teresa is, though close to the city centre, suburban rather than urban in character, full of lush gardens and areas of wooded ridges and slopes. In fact the houses next to and behind ours and further along the slope have even more trees and connect with areas of true dense mato where no people go, unless it is—perhaps—to fuck or dispose of a dead body. If I look on Google Earth I can see an unbroken line of green—back gardens and trees—all the way uphill to the other house I formerly lived in, the quintal of which is much larger and wilder than the place I now live. And following this green line through gardens and on the forested slopes below or above the main roads it is possible to imagine a monkey passing from my quintal through all of Santa Teresa without putting a foot on the ground. There are some points where streets and houses might make this a little difficult, though not necessarily impossible, but they are rare. And once you are a little above the city, more or less where the favelas begin, it’s soon clear sailing and the roof of green extends unbroken up into the forests of the Tijuca Massif where—as well as many of the visitors to my garden—there are troops of capuchin monkeys, huge tegu lizards, rattlesnakes, armadillos, coatis and much more. And so the quintal connects with big stretches of rainforests, connecting the minor infinities I have described with the even larger infinities of slope upon slope of rainforest dense with trees and bushes and creepers and lianas and mosses and all the mammals and birds and amphibians and reptiles and molluscs and insects and fungi and bacteria and viruses and everything else that mashes together in that dense, solid cake of roiling, ingrown vegetation. But the story of that land is most certainly for another day, or perhaps—there being a limit to the amount of infinities we can share our lives with—another lifetime altogether.
Appendix: Species List
This list is partial and massively limited in accuracy and extent by my lack of knowledge (or desire) to create something more complete. There are probably more omissions than mistakes, not because I did not include on the list anything I was unsure about (I did include these), but simply because I did not find the time to look up most creatures, and those that I did attempt to find the name of, if a result did not appear rapidly, I gave up on almost immediately. Some (even many) identifications must be incorrect: where I felt that on balance of probability I had identified the species I included its name, even if I was not totally sure. The inconsistency of the listing (e.g. sometimes species name, sometimes common or generic) was not intentional but has become inevitable, due purely to my own volition.
In addition, I generally only looked up the more conspicuous species: I saw dozens of insects and weeds that I did not ever even think about contemplating looking up. As such the list is not a list of what is in the garden, but rather an incomplete mentioning of some of the most obvious species one would notice on a cursory glance around the place.
To add to the confusion at some point I gave up all pretence of verifiability and began to invent names for some of the organisms I couldn’t identify (easily at least). This was partly on the justifiable grounds that I did not want to exclude species that were familiar to me in the garden merely because I couldn’t identify them correctly, and partly for fun. Any initial feeling that this was somehow fraudulent or lazy was quickly overcome by the realisation that my names are ultimately no less (or more) relevant to the reality of these life forms than any of those found in dictionaries or scientific lists.
- Domestic cat (Gato, Felis catus)
- Dog (Cachorro, Canis lupus familiaris)
- Big-eared Opossum (Gambá-de-orelha-preta, Didelphis aurita)
- Brazilian porcupine (Ouriço-cacheiro, Coendou prehensilis)
- Mouse (Camundongo)
- Rat (Rato)
- Bat (Morcego)
- Black-tufted marmoset (Mico-estrela, Callithrix penicillata)
- Human (Humano, Homo sapiens)
- Great kiskadee (Bem-te-vi, Pitangus sulphuratus)
- Hummingbird (Beija flor)
- Parakeet (Periquito)
- Black vulture (Urubu-de-cabeça-preta, Coragyps atratus)
- Magnificent frigate (Fragata/Tesourão, Fregata magnificens)
- Southern crested caracara (Carcará, Caracara plancus)
- Channel billed toucan (Tucano-de-bico-preto, Ramphastos vitellinus)
- Rufous-bellied thrush (Sabiá Laranjeira, Turdus rufiventris)
- Bean broth dove (Rola-caldo-de-feijão, Columbina talpacoti)
- Brazilian tanager (Tiê–sangue, Ramphocelus bresilius)
- Black-fronted piping guan (Jacutinga, Aburria jacutinga)
- Hawk (Gavião)
- Brown-backed crowing warbler
- Slate blue fruit bird (Sanhaço)
- Swallow (Andorinha)
- Cosmopolitan house gecko (Lagartixa-doméstica-tropical,Hemidactylus mabouia)
- Garden lizard (Lagarto)
- Tinned sardine (Sardinha em lata)
Insects (and other non-vertebrates)
- Stingless Bee (Jataí, Tetra angustula)
- Black stingless bee (Arapuá, Trigona spinipes)
- Honey bee
- Bumblebee (Mamangava)
- Black bumblebee
- Mosquito (Pernilongo, Culex)
- Mosquito (Mosquito, Aedes aegypti)
- Casebearer moth (Traça)
- Moth (Mariposa) (other, various)
- Yellow Butterfly
- White Butterfly
- Grey Butterfly
- Orange Butterfly
- Other Butterflies (Borboleta) (various)
- Weevil (Gorgulho)
- Fire ant (Formiga-de-fogo, Solenopsis invicta)
- Atta ant (Saúva)
- Ants (Formiga) (other, various)
- Termite (Cupim)
- Green bottle fly (Mosca)
- Black Bean aphid (Piolho-negro-da-fava, Aphis fabae)
- Ladybird (Joaninha)
- Coloured garden spider
- Jumping spider
- Speckled house spider
- Neotropical daddy long legs
- Cicada (Cigarra)
- Slug (Lesma)
- Cockroach (Barata)
- Cricket (Grilo)
- Shield insect (Pentatomoidea)
- Long-legged black mirror insect
- White multi-tailed flylet
- Giant millipede
- Centipede (Lacraia)
- Fruit fly
- Brown house fly
- Bronze liver-blood fly
- Drain fly (Psychodinae)
- Tomato (Tomate, Solanum lycopersicum)
- Acerola (Malpighia emarginata)
- Pitanga (Eugenia uniflora)
- Green Coconut (Coqueiro)
- Yellow Coconut
- Mango tree (Mangueira)
- Papaya (Mamão)
- Pinnate tree (unidentified)
- Snake plant (São Jorge, Dracaena trifasciata)
- Avocado (Abacate)
- Drooping Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia monacantha)
- Chinese palm fan (Leque da China, Livistona chinensis)
- Grass (Grama)
- Fig tree (Figueira)
- Bromeliad (tree) (Bromélia)
- Bromeliad (epiphyte, “air plant”) (Bromélia)
- Mimosa (small)
- Wildflowers (various)
- Heliconia (Lobster-claw)
- Aloe vera (Babosa)
- Moss (Musgo)
- Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea glabra)
- Mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis)
- Golden Pothus (Hera-do-diabo, Epipremnum aureum)
- Clover (Trevo)
- Fern (Samambaia)
- Moses-in-the-cradle (Abacaxi-roxo, Tradescantia spathacea)
- Walking Iris (Íris-da-praia, Neomarica candida)
- Cape leadwort (Bela Emília, Plumbago auriculata)
- ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)
- Raintree (Brunfelsia)
- Madgascar dragon tree (Dracaena marginata)
- Dwarf Umbrella Tree (Árvore-guarda-chuva-anã, Schefflera arboricola)
- Manga-da-praia (Clusia fluminensis)
- Jewels-of-Opar (Major Gomes, Talinum paniculatum)
- Dracena Chocolate
- Common St Paul’s Wort (Sigesbeckia orientalis)
- Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum)
- Purple Heart (Setcreasea pallid)
- Crape Jasmime (Tabernaemontana divaricata ‘Flore Pleno’)
- Fragrant Thunbergia (Tumbérgia-branca, Thunbergia fragrans)
- Pumpkin (Abóbora)
- Orange Pod Creeper
Other (prokarytae, protoctista, fungi)
 Dracena chocolate, as it turned out.
 More than 4 years now…
 Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum)
 I said I was quite sure, but this really meant I wasn’t sure at all: it is actually Golden Pothus (Hera-do-diabo, Epipremnum aureum)
 Manga-da-praia, Clusia fluminensis
 We’re onto a third now, though no fruit have ripened yet.
 As I discovered later this is Jewels-of-Opar (Major Gomes, Talinum paniculatum)
 It has since been hacked down to a stump again and is regrowing once more.
 In another more recent development, after one of the cacti in the plot in front of my kitchen fell over in the heavy rains I replanted it elsewhere (in the ‘long narrow soil-bed “passage”’ mentioned above), on the logic that the cacti were more likely to survive if not all in one location (and also foreseeing that its present location was problematically close to the path and if it grew any more it would prick another Bruno and suffer a repetition of its former incarnation’s brutal destruction). At the same time I took an arm from another of the cacti and planted it close to the Heliconia near where I have my chair. There are now seven cacti in five separate locations.
 I’ve since found many more such grim remains.
 I now suspect these tiny “moths” are drain flies…
Dermot O’Sullivan is an Irish writer whose work has been published in various journals including The Honest Ulsterman, Causeway/Cabhsair, The Dalhousie Review and Fence. He currently lives in Brazil, where he recently had his first full-length play produced.