Through the bars on my window I stare for hours at a mango tree. My Aishalton eyes know this to be a mangy city tree, but it is visually pleasing notwithstanding. Its bark is brownish grey, coated with a flakey undercoat of moss the colour of a furry, diseased tongue. By craning my neck at a creaky breaky angle, I can see a fat, split knot identical to one of the gargoyles on New College’s south wall. It hefts its ugly chin at me, squab and swarthy. Its expression is part grumpy comedian, part dungeonmaster.
As counterpoint to my solid ailments I’m also getting variations on the vapours. It makes me feel rather Victorian. For example, I’m allergic to insect bites, so I over-use the air conditioning. Thus my toes are frozen, and my brain bemused by the indoor British climate, complete with gargoyles, absurdly vying with a gleaming mango tree framed against a deep tropical sky four feet away.
Every half hour or so, a new creature will sample the tree’s hospitality. First, a slim green lizard slides silkily upward, pulsing. He too cranes his neck, flaunting a flexibility unavailable to the larger species. Second, a hummingbird thrills its few assessing seconds before rejecting the mango tree’s paucity and passing by. The next visitor is a gecko, darting distinctively, bulgy-eyed, ungraceful but charming. And finally a kiskadee stomps over, raucous and extrovert, chewing its beaky cud.
It feels so like an airlock that I struggle to believe in the ever-present heat awaiting me out there. I struggle to believe that I am free to leave. I feel like a junior Chinese philosopher who is in trouble with his Master for squandering this mango tree’s existential potential by wasting time casting aspersions at ugly gargoyles and whinging about his unrepentantly crumbling physiology. I wish I could draw.