Four construction workers cut its roots. To get it out, they needed help from two more. It was a huge rhizome, resembling a human brain. The root of the old fig from my courtyard weighed over a hundred kilos. It was a huge brain extracted from the skull of a Mostar neighbourhood. When I saw it, I thought that the fig from my courtyard was the queen of all the figs from this part of the Mediterranean. I imagined it as a murdered queen who ruled over all the other figs, spreading its roots hundreds of meters around. The fig had a crazy root and it’s hard to imagine where its tough tentacles went. We cut them, we had to, there was no other way, the tree would’ve undermined the few surrounding walls, and neither we nor our neighbours wanted the houses, because of an old fig, to suddenly find themselves clinging to each other because the root of the tree undermined the supporting walls of our houses. My mother certainly needed logs, so the idea came very handy to her.
I live in a typical neighbourhood. The houses are crammed together. Between them are usually small yards and gardens. There’s no urban planning, but the neighbourhoods have some special logic of their own. They are mostly on a rough terrain that determines the shape of the plots of the houses themselves. In the beginning, the houses were made of the strong Herzegovina stone. In time some of the stone houses were replaced with new ones, but they also had uneven walls and are irregular in shape as they necessarily follow the shape of the terrain on which they were built. In the neighbourhood world I am privileged because there is a small garden behind my house. In fact, that’s about three feet of land, so it is a bit pretentious to call it a garden, but in my opinion and in the minds of most people growing up in the neighbourhoods, a garden is a word referring to those compact spaces between the stone and the concrete that people are trying to revive with fragrant creeping roses, mint, a few bunches of chard and sometimes, but only sometimes, if the space allows it, some kind of tree, usually pomegranate, tangerine or fig. In that strange order of the neighbourhood there was a little bit of nature.
My town has almost completely been devastated by the war that went on in Bosnia and Herzegovina at the beginning of the 1990ies. It is slowly being renewed, almost without any desire, as if the political powers governing this area want to keep the reminder of all the horror that has ran over us for as long as possible. Horror is conducive to political manipulation, but that’s not all that important here. The town is devastated. There are ruins still in downtown Mostar. Man with his destructiveness destroyed what another man had built before him. These are the two principles that clash in every human being. We all probably know it. But I’m writing about the fig. I’m writing about its strength. For years I’ve been observing the skeletons of buildings as I walk the streets of Mostar. One of the things I see is, of course, how nature sucks in the remnants of human action very easily. For example, I look at the fig tree that crumbles the remains of the stone walls of a building in the middle of a street once called the Boulevard of Popular Revolution.
For thousands of years man has been stealing space from nature, and I bear witness to its power in the middle of the town. That is why man necessarily struggles with nature, overcomes it and tames it and that is actually human nature. The struggle is not a problem, it is an integral part of nature, of the universe. Man’s problem is the complete “estrangement” from nature, the forgetting, the neglect of its principles. It is the haughtiness of the human race, the extreme arrogance. The tiny human being that imagines having the power of God. And that is surely one of the reasons, to say the least, for the modern man’s sense of being lost. If people left this town that I am writing about in these lines, or any other, after some devastating war, it would take only a few decades for nature to reclaim that space, to return its ownership. The strong and resistant root of the fig tree branching out like snake tongues and running like water through the walls would eventually destroys all that has left of man. A wall or two would be left, but it would also blend in the surrounding. If anyone would testify to the existence of that wall, one would see it as a reminder of an ancient civilization. Had most people left Mostar after the last war, it would, in some not so distant future, be the same as an an archaeological site. The town would be eaten by the tough Herzegovina plants. Wild roses, rose-hip, varnish tree and the most tough tree of all – the fig would swallow up the town just like the human “progress” that devours nature. On sunny days, the shade of the fig leaf covers the ruins just like the fig leaf, as the most ancient dress item in human mythology, covers the shameful places. Isn’t the most shameful place of all a reminder of human destruction, and the only one that needs to be concealed?