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  • Anna Sára Rumi

The Concrete Jungle

There is a park right across my house and whenever it rains, I try to visit its oldest, biggest tree. With muddy shoes, I stand under that tree with stubborn determination. Strong grip around the lowest, thickest branch and a forceful jump, launching me into a magical universe: I am climbing.

My alarm rings at sharply eight am, its aggressive, intrusive noise snaps me out of sweet dreams. I count to five before opening my eyes, wishing to see my old room again, a warm, candle-lit space, filled with giant Monstera plants and decorated by postcards I had bought at the flea market in Nieuwmarkt. The sweet melancholy of my old morning routine fills me with joy: upon waking up, I first used to prepare a cup of fresh ginger tea and with the steaming hot drink in my hands, I stood in front of all those postcards, trying to improve my Dutch skills by translating these personal notes, the words that somehow got lost along their way to their rightful owners and instead ended up on the wall of my tiny studio apartment.

No time for reminiscing.

Once I force my eyes open I am confronted with the dystopian reality. My current room reminds me of those capsule hostels where you can barely stretch yourself without touching the walls. Everything is neat, compact, the design is sleek and effective. The automated curtains have already opened up by themselves,trigged by the loud alarm clock and rainy, dull greyness greets me as I peek out the window. It seems like some things never change. I try to find the line where the sky ends and the concrete jungle starts, but everything blurs together: the high-rise building across my window merges with the sky. The marriage of nature and concrete, officiated by heavy air pollution. I dream of being able to open my window, to let crisp, fresh air in.

But no time for reminiscing.

It is a Tuesday, so I cannot take a shower today. Due to the water shortage, access has become limited in my building block and the board has decided to distribute resources across floors on a daily basis. I miss taking steaming hot showers every morning, the kind that almost burns your skin. Today, I am shivering while I strip naked and put my uniform on. Just like the design of the room, the clothes are modern and compact, but also too thin for my liking, although why wouldn’t they be, since everyone is spending all their time inside....luckily, I have a scrappy old winter jacket, warm socks and a pair of rain boots in questionable condition, things I acquired just a couple of months ago by picking them up from a dirty ditch on the side of the road. Forgotten and abandoned.

I never used to be a morning person, but lately I find myself being the most content during the early hours. They are the most peaceful, slow-paced moments of my day and frankly, life is never dreamy and lousy anymore. I used to detest tranquillity, but now I desperately long for it. It seems like some things do change. Then again, I look at my old wristwatch, an inheritance from my late grandmother and I am, of course, running late. It seems like some things never change.

Walking towards the station, I suddenly remember. Many years ago, maybe in another life, I was holding his hand in the dark as we were walking down the dirt path, the scrap woodchips crunching under our feet as we were sipping our home made mulled wine from our rusty camping mugs. Bitter-sweet flavour, fresh and juicy oranges, the strong scent of cinnamon. I snap out of my meaningless daydreaming due to a sudden, sharp pain in my left knee. The unyielding concrete is destroying my body and is slowly taking away my memories.

I board the train towards Amsterdam Oost, to a place that once used to be the edge of the city, few minutes away from the fields of Diemen. The rain has started again, and as I look out the window everything becomes blurry. The shadows at the brisk of dawn become disfigured by the drops of rain running down the glass. It almost seems like they are shadows of trees. Just a week ago, ancient oaks were aligning the road leading to my small community garden. Now there is only one left, the last post-human standing, slowly fading away, losing all its leaves and branches. No soil, no nourishment.

As anticipated, I arrive late, and as I approach the shed I try to make out the faces of the figures sitting around in a circle, hiding from the mist and rain, preparing for a hard day of work. A notices me first and she swiftly jumps off to pour me a cup of tea, the only medicine against the Amsterdam weather. C appears to be in the middle of telling a story about the course she started running for young kids interested in gardening and carpentry. “Suddenly, they started screaming on the top of their lungs and I was confused. I asked ‘What? What is happening?’ and they answered, terrified: ‘It’s a worm.’ They refused to even go close to it.” It’s a miracle that worms exist in this dry and dying soil. The kids refused to touch the trees as well. I will hug thousands in their names.

In fact, we are all responsible for one tree each. After C finishes her story, we grab our notebooks and start our observations, carefully noting down any changes we notice, anxiously looking for signs of decline. Once they take their last breaths, so will we. I glance across the herb garden and I see A dismantling the old compost box, lifting heavy wheelbarrows. From the somewhat warmer, but definitely drier insides of the Dome I hear C, E and J discussing government subsidies. Apparently, millions of Euros are allocated for creating green spaces in the city, but just to the right of me I am confronted with a scene that completely contradicts this eco-friendly narrative. On the ashes of freshly cut trees a new, post-modern building is constructed. Who will champion in this battle, I wonder.

Hello there, dear reader! Do you like reading science-fiction? What about living in the dystopian future? Maybe you are wondering whether the text above is fiction or reality. Have I just shared my deeply personal experience of living in Amsterdam, a supposedly green city that I might perceive differently? Have I drawn you into a fictional world, a dystopian image of Amsterdam, am I just constructing an imaginary narrative, one of the many possible pathways into the urban future? Does this garden, that I describe at the end, exist near the Eastern edge of the city? Are A, C, E, J and all the others real?

Let me tell you, the answer does not matter. I suggest, you let fiction serve reality, or maybe the other way around. The next time you find yourself in one of Amsterdam’s many parks, be brave and climb a tree!

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