The Red Queen

Chapter 5: Puerto Jimenez, Corcovado National Park, Winter, 2012

I could hear the howlers’ unearthly growls coming from somewhere deep in the jungle. The skies swarmed with butterflies, their wings adorned with owl-shaped eyes; crocodiles stirred and snapped their tails in the murky streams of the mangroves, while the palm-sized parrots chattered nervously in the trees. She stood tall and elegant, carving a lean and elegant figure against the green tangled curtains. Her black hair neatly framed her perfect heart-shaped face.

The Red Queen invited me into her home. She was a housekeeper of broken hearts, an estranged mother who captivated me with stories of battles of love both won and lost. She gave me refuge, dressed me in pretty clothes and painted my hair red. We sashayed through the old gold-mining town, glistening like jewels, flirting with futures and gaining nothing more than admiration for our adornments. “What am I to do with you?” she said to her friend as she tamed her curls into a neat plait. She and her son were staying with us after fleeing an abusive relationship. But not even she could tame the wild that grew stronger outside. She bravely fended off the Dengue fever which struck her for several days and nights. This time, it was I who combed her unruly hair and mopped her sweaty brow. So beautiful, but so fragile now I thought. What am I to do with you?

The wild garden could do that, overpower the strongest birds of paradise. The fight for survival felt more prevalent than ever, man vs jungle, jungle vs man and man vs man. All these struggles, fought daily, seemed like they had no end.

The ornamental clock flower, an alien species of flora that spread from pristine gardens to the jungle floor, scaling up the trees and strangling all that stood in its way, was so beautiful to look at, but in fact, was an unwelcome deadly invader. I was feeling restricted by this micro-community of expats, locals, gold miners, and tourists who sat at the edge of such a giant wilderness which we really knew so little about. Some left town, others were a lot like clock flowers themselves, beautiful and ornamental but slowly trampling on the wild and upsetting the delicate ecosystem. Those who fought back were respected locals and expats who worked hard to maintain this paradise and avoided strangulation, preferring to live at one with nature. 

I was intrigued by all these characters including a local park guide called Butterflies, who gave me two gold chrysalises to care for, but we were never together long enough to see them hatch. I continued to work in the private gardens of a rich American family teaching their workers my native tongue until the Argentinians arrived.

Written and illustrated by Lucy Lilley

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