By Rakhi Pande
Shireen carefully placed the unwieldy pot on the dining table. She checked again to see if she had inadvertently damaged the lush green and tall money plant she had just bought on impulse. Her very first one, though, growing up she always had seen at least one if not more money plants at home, so, not technically her first however, her first very own money plant for her apartment. Company leased of course.
She was fascinated and charmed by it. The plant naturally caught the eye as a new focal point in the room. Glossy emerald green leaves – darker than the emerald embedded in her ring, its marbled texture never repeated on any leaf; unique and different. The leaves looked like they had been coloured in with oil pastels.
She marvelled at the fact that a simple acquisition like that ensured that she did not immediately swipe on her phone screen to check her messages or indulge in the endless and somewhat mindless scrolling through social media posts, once home. She could stare at the plant for hours, seemingly, to observe the graceful curves of the stalks swirling upward around the moss stick.
Shireen had no idea a towering money plant with such gigantic leaves could grow out of a diminutive six-inch pot. It was possible because of the moss stick. That it could hold twenty times its weight in water, was a fact she had just learnt from the attendant at the plant shop. None of the leaves of the ubiquitous money plants she remembered from her childhood in every home been quite this size.
The little label stuck on the pot listed its scientific name – Epipremnum aureum, but the attendant at the store had called it Pothos. For a brief second, Shireen had misheard the name as Pathos. That very day she had made her high school students apply the persuasive technique of ethos, logos and pathos in their written assignments. She realised her error almost immediately. Both the scientific names didn’t sound right to her – she preferred calling it simply by its colloquially popular name — money plant.
This was purely an impulse purchase – having accompanied two of her colleagues, Min and Lena to the flower shop to select a bouquet to be sent to their dean who was hospitalised for a knee replacement surgery, she had spotted the large section containing various money plants under the enticing fifty percent off banner. That was a big deal in Singapore.
She had moved there two years ago on a work visa that included accommodation – a real coup. Her hectic work life ensured that the idea of getting a plant hadn’t even crossed her mind – until now. Min who was Singaporean Chinese, Lena from Russia and she had struck up an easy friendship.
The informative leaflet displayed on a stand stated that the money plant would not require much watering or maintenance. It could be placed anywhere indoor, as long as it was exposed to some light. A balcony or windowsill was not a prerequisite.
“You need to steal it,” Min giggled, “for the money part of it to work.” Amused, Shireen imagined herself trying to attempt something like that in a city with probably the strictest penalties for crime. Good luck trying to explain the principles of feng shui* as a defence. Her expression made them all laugh, and Shireen spent a few careful minutes selecting one with the lushest foliage.
Once home, she put some thought into where to place it. She decided to do some research about her new acquisition and read many interesting articles about the pothos. Some of them contradicted each other as was the norm with the internet. She had not even thought about her bedroom as an option – having absorbed the adage or warning that plants should not be kept there – a belief oft heard over the years.
However, one article strongly proclaimed that since the epipremnum emitted oxygen at night, it should be placed in the bedroom to improve sleep quality; that it was a myth that plants should not be placed there.
She tried to look for information supporting the Asian belief with some scientific reasons to back it up but couldn’t find anything online that forbade plants in the bedroom, not even on the myriad vastu shastra* sites that popped up in response to her search.
They all agreed in one aspect, that the plant should be placed in the South East direction. She decided to leave the money plant on the dining table for the time being and then, choose a spot the next day.
The next evening, having carried a lot of work home, she was too tired to do anything more than drop into bed early. However, remembering how the money plant’s presence had enlivened her sitting room, she forced herself to roll out of bed and bring it into the bedroom. She placed it on the dresser for the time being, vowing to figure out a better placement over the weekend.
She fell asleep almost immediately after and awoke refreshed, crediting the plant for this, even though she had no real scientific idea about the quantities of oxygen a plant that size gave out.
The weekend arrived soon enough and once Shireen had completed dusting, vacuuming and mopping her apartment, she looked around her bedroom for likely spots and found an ideal one — just below her window. It was designed to mimic a French window, with glass panels nearly all the way down to the floor. This would place the plant quite close to her bed as well, all the better to imbibe oxygen. The window was South facing, so it wouldn’t get direct sunlight but a lot of bright, indirect light.
She was determined to do all she could to ensure that the plant stayed healthy. She went to bed that night smiling over Lena’s comment that she was getting obsessive about the plant just like one does with a new pet. Just because she had bought a plant tonic for it despite its exorbitant cost.
She struggled awake from a deep sleep saying, “Do you need something…?” Fully awake moments later, she could have sworn it was Lena standing by her bedside to ask for a duvet.
Min and Lena occasionally slept over just like she did at theirs, especially on weekends they planned an early morning trek or outing. Not this weekend though.
Feeling a bit uneasy, Shireen couldn’t fall asleep for quite a while.
It was probably the silhouette of the money plant that her subconscious had registered, she told herself. It was nearly four feet tall and she was not yet used to its new placement.
“I guess I did get some sleep,” she thought wryly as she awoke comfortably later than usual for a Sunday morning. In the bright light of day, she looked over at the money plant which was diagonally adjacent to her bed, not directly beside it.
She stood looking at it, thinking about that funny dream. Did the leaves look a darker green already? It had already grown, as one of the tips had curved even higher. The pointed leaf at the tip had unfurled itself, too. She couldn’t resist touching its shiny surface which resembled a plastic leaf.
She had sprayed the plant tonic just a couple of days ago – its recommended usage was once a week.
I’m just imagining this, she thought, but she secretly felt like a proud mother who’s noticed significant progress in their offspring.
Shireen tried to wake up, to move, to speak, but something was stopping her. She felt something flowing from the money plant – something glutinous, yet luminous, which was trying to envelop her. Some unconscious resistance that she managed did not allow that to fully occur, however.
She opened her mouth to call out, make some sound, but the words were lost in the ethereal white light that didn’t allow any sound to pass through. This sent her into a full-blown panic and she made one last concerted effort to resist whatever was happening.
Shireen awoke with a start, wide-eyed, stiff and scared. It took a few seconds for her brain to process that she had just had a bad dream.
One that seemed very real though.
In the dream, her room, her surroundings had been exactly the same. Must be from the MSG or food colouring in her takeout, she thought. She had often had vivid dreams after eating out, especially after anything which had orange food colour added to it. Like Schezwan or chicken tikka.
She found it difficult to fall sleep again – and stayed awake for what seemed like hours. Only when daylight dispersed the complete dark of the room, she fell into an exhausted sleep.
In the morning, for some reason, she could not bring herself to look at the money plant. “You are being ridiculous,” she admonished herself.
Had it always appeared this dark and forbidding? Weren’t most money plants a brighter green with more of a white marbled effect? Hers was mostly completely green. How had she not noticed it before? Only a few leaves had the white marble streak.
She caught herself avoiding walking by it too. The rational part of her brain mocked her for even entertaining a supposition that what she had ‘dreamt’ should impact her actions in broad daylight. “Shame on you, a supposed role model to students!” she scoffed at herself.
Shireen went online and put in a specific search request for why plants should not be placed in the bedroom. To her immense frustration, not one piece of content appeared. She couldn’t believe it. This was the internet. You could type literally anything and there were tons of articles or threads about it. Nothing in this case, though. Some posts that turned up as a result of her search warned against growing a peepal plant at home. These posts originated from Indian sites. She had some vague memories of hearing stories from her grandparents about spirits residing in the peepal tree. However, as was wont with the internet, most of the articles stated that this tree was sacred for many cultures. But this was a money plant, not even closely related to the peepal. She gave up the search.
Lena and Min trooped into Shireen’s place for dinner on Friday eve. They would stay the night, sleeping on the comfortable bed that appeared magically from the wall in her sitting room neatly settling itself over the couch – just by pulling on one lever.
It was only when they had all finished dessert that Min noticed. “Where’s your money plant?” Lena was astonished that she hadn’t noticed its absence. “Even you couldn’t kill a money plant!”
Shireen had already planned what to say when the topic was broached and smoothly replied that she had gifted it to her elderly neighbour downstairs, Mrs. Tan, as a gesture of goodwill when she had admired the plant. Mrs. Tan’s helper, Wei, often brought by a meal for her, sent by the kind, old lady.
Shireen didn’t want to delve into the reasons why she simply was not comfortable with the plant anymore. Not just in the bedroom; anywhere.
She had caught herself thinking about the unsettling and uncannily lucid dream and knew that she could not spend another night with the plant in the same room. She hated that she had hesitated to even touch the pot to lift it and bring it back into the sitting room in the morning. She would never ever admit the real reason for getting rid of it to anyone, not even Min and Lena, but she distinctly felt that she’d had a narrow escape.
She caught herself wondering if the reason plants should not be in the bedroom had something to do with what she had experienced in her dream. Could it be that some unknown and undiscovered interaction between plants and humans was possible? Was it a friendly, symbiotic exchange of energies she had mistaken for something sinister, a transference, or… a takeover?
Shireen shivered and firmly blocked this line of thought. It did, however, give her an idea for a written assignment for her students on traditional cultural beliefs impacting modern existence; ingrained spiritual beliefs or superstition, affecting day to day life – it would be interesting to read essays from over forty nationalities. She got to work on her laptop.
Mrs. Tan looked at her overcrowded but beautiful house. Though spacious, nearly every nook and cranny occupied with years of acquisitions.
She wondered where to put the money plant that young girl upstairs had gifted her. She was pleased as the money plant was a symbol of luck and prosperity. An auspicious gift. She called out to Wei to carry the plant.
No, her living room had no space at all.
That left only the bedroom.
As instructed, Wei placed the plant on Mrs. Tan’s broad, antique bedside table.
*Feng shui — A traditional practice originating from ancient China, which claims to use energy forces to harmonize individuals with their surrounding environment
*Vastu shastra — An ancient Indian system of architecture integrated with nature, incorporating traditional Hindu and Buddhist beliefs
Rakhi Pande heads the English department at a British curriculum school in Dubai, UAE. She segued into this profession after quitting her erstwhile post as General Manager in the field of brand management in India. An avid reader and award-winning educator, while dabbling with blogging and other creative pursuits, she tries to write whenever time permits.
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