Opinion | Off the Cuff

Killing a giant, saving a home

‘Life begins when a person first realises how soon it will end’

  • By Kevin Martin|Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 00:00 January 10, 2013
  • Gulf News

Marcus is sartorially challenged. Either that, or like a flower he imagines he can get away with combining any two colours together. This is the observation of Marcus’s grandmother — made wistfully, one must add, for Mrs Denton is a model of elegance and, word has it, has been that way since birth.

With a chuckle she exclaims: “I’m not sure who Marcus takes after in his dress sense because he certainly hasn’t been wanting for good example.”

This morning, they are seated in the foyer of their local council building awaiting an appointment. Dorothy Denton, edging towards 75, is attired in a fine knee-length tricel skirt the colour of pink pearls with matching button earrings and a salmon top with a milk-white collar.

Marcus, beside her, has tried and failed miserably to show how a purple hooded top can somehow find a common coordinate point with trousers the shade of dark chocolate, violently offset by a pair of green trainers.

Dorothy, however, apart from looking pleasing on the eye, is here today merely in an ornamental capacity. It is Marcus, a year shy of 30, that’s the nominated spokesperson. Together they need to convince a councillor — help make up his mind — about a tree. A neighbour’s eucalyptus tree, to be precise, which has begun tilting its vast height and girth in the direction of the Denton residence.

After growing ramrod straight for years, the tree has begun — like the Leaning Tower — to incline further and further away from the vertical. If at some point it falls — as fall it must — it is expected to come crashing down exactly where Dorothy’s bedroom is located.

This worry has provided Marcus with so many months of sleepless nights that he fears he, in turn, is becoming addicted to wakefulness in the dark, while grandma Dorothy sleeps on unperturbed.

It doesn’t help when Mrs Denton states regularly that her philosophy has been shaped around Marcelene Cox’s: “Life begins when a person first realises how soon it will end.”

“Knowing how soon it will end doesn’t necessarily mean one has to hasten its arrival,” counters Marcus.

“One day at a time, Marcus,” Dorothy reminds him, waving aside his fears with an airy hand. “More like one metre a day, gran,” says Marcus, rubbing red-rimmed eyes and referring to his anxiety-calculated speed of the tree’s tilting.

The Smiths — their neighbours — are here too, today, to present their side. They used to be friends once but the tree has literally put a different slant on their relationship. “Hellos” and “Good days” are a trifle forced.

At ten minutes past ten, the council official presiding over issues such as leaning trees emerges and ushers the parties into his office. The Smiths, given first go, state how precious the tree has become, it having been planted by a great-grandparent who procured it as a sapling from territory that was both dangerous and uninhabitable. It is in his memory they ask that it be allowed to stand.

“Show me pictures,” says the councillor. An array of photo prints is promptly fanned across the councillor’s desk. He picks one like he’s engaged in a card trick, scrutinises it then tucks it back.

“So essentially it’s of sentimental value,” he concludes, before turning to the Dentons. “Let’s hear you,” says the councillor. Marcus reaches into a bag and extracts a video camera. “These are shots spread over six months,” he points out. Everybody views the tree’s increasing inclination.

“Forget the tree trunk itself for a moment,” continues Marcus. “I invite Teddy and Beth Smith to look at the roots and then to witness the cracks on their own front porch which weren’t there six months ago. The tree is not just threatening our place it’s destroying theirs too, uprooting it.”

Then in a variation on Cox he adds: “Action must begin when one realises how soon life can end.”

The Smiths, alarmed, toss in the towel, shake hands and everyone leaves happily.

Gulf News
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