Holy Basil


I obtained Holy Basil seeds from my neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Slabs. Apparently the Slabses had a family relation (Virginia Slabs’s brother, so I was told) that frequently visited India, where the basil originates. The story was that, unable to hold down a job, the intrepid explorer had scurried off to the misty depths of Asia in search of elephant graveyards, in the belief that he would find there an elixir, or some incunabulum foretelling the future, or, offering direct proof of his business acumen to those that doubted, return to civilization with a bezoar that he could sell for a handsome profit. But it was all hush-hush, a pilgrimage of uncertainties—though he called it a banishment. This may sound a little unusual to you, and it did to me.

Anyhow, it’s not the sort of thing that you just blurt out over coffee and cakes, yet one Saturday afternoon, Mrs. Slabs invited me to her home in order to thank me for the geometric stacks of rutabagas I had a habit of sequestering near her doorstep, part of the rich bounty from a mad garden determined to overburden my graceful hands, the hands that one bluish morning planted seeds there, on its giddy soil. We sat in a pearl-white garden gazebo and had tea (with digestive biscuits). She insisted that I call her Virginia, and her hair, having the the color and luminosity of corn silk, gleamed in the afternoon sun. This is when I learned more of Polynices Albss and his strange trips to India. She related to me that at first the trips were of short duration, never more than a couple of months, but soon they lasted for small eternities (his term). Polynices would often return with a trunk full of old maps—she pulled various exhibits from a stash under the table–nearly obscene curios (actually the dried roots of some potato relative, having the hue of a marten’s underbelly and featuring wild but anatomically correct bifurcations, probably a sort of mandrake, and yet my instinctual probity–quite rare in a magician–demanded that I seek not to extend the conversation in a lubricious direction), various tabla drums, unplayable stringed instruments, and, on one occasion, but a fortnight ago, an ivory jewel box containing small packets of seeds and malodorous incense-like peelings in pretty muslin bags, tied with ghostly drawstrings. And now I had my Ocimum tenuiflorum seeds, formerly known as Ocimum sanctum (formerly known as: and now you may experience for yourself the syphilitic madness that grips so many botanist). Yet in common parlance, these were Holy Basil seeds.

Virginia Slabs told me that if I planted the seeds near my house I would be able to feel the heavy vibrations of an elephant herd going off to die. She had no doubt heard this chestnut from Polynices. It was getting late and I asked Virginia to give my regards to Mr. Slabs. He was a director at the Institute of Mental Wellness, and was away on business, as was frequently the case.

The next day I planted the seeds. My high expectations were generously rewarded months later when the plants spread, overtaking the rutabagas. There was something oddly Darwinian about this, but I preferred to leave the speculation to employment-seeking botanists desirous of fame and fortune in the publishing business.

Yet on a particularly balmy night, I swore I could feel deep, earth-moving vibrations, but these were after sober reflection the epileptic convulsions of an ancient air-conditioner dying a solitary death.



  1. Lovely story – Mrs. Slab knew how to keep her company. The wonderful little seeds yielded it’s own surprise, lol air conditioner vibrations!


  2. Hehe. I was wondering how would the planting of those seeds bring about elephant-like vibrations. Ha! I didn’t see the vibration taking a new form — that from the air-conditioner! Love this, Prospero. Virginia really had something up her sleeve.


  3. Love this fascinating tale of growth and searching and that pairing of the ancient air conditioner with elephant vibrations (a twin breath) is so vivid. So many parts of the whole a delightful joy to read and imagine: geometric stacks of rutebagas…her gleaming hair with the ‘luminosity of corn silk…’ So many.


  4. tu as une façon fascinante de raconter les histoires ! tu parles aussi aux plantes pour qu’elles poussent mieux ?
    happy sunday


  5. i knew that those vibrations must make their apparition somehow, you are too skillful to forget to tie up all the loose ends. i was just wondering whether you would go for a magical realism solution (like, say, Gabriel García Márquez), where the surnatural does indeed penetrate the real world, or for a (self)ironical trap 🙂


    • surnatural: a clever amalgam of two opposing languages (studying Racine in English will do this to you) .


  6. oh, and how did you come up with that Polynices name? last time i heard it, it must have been while studying Racine in college 🙂


    • Do you really want to know?

      Polynices and Eteocles were brothers and ultimately involved in a deadly battle. You’ll notice that both Polynices and Mr. Slabs (a.k.a Eteocles) are missing.


      • but exactly, Racine tells their story. yet i had all forgotten about it, what i wanted to know is how on earth you had their names ready in your memory when you needed the names for your brotherly figures 🙂 – it is not like one walks around shaking hands of Polynices every day 🙂


  7. I thought that everyone had, at some point of other, memorized Racine. It’s difficult to get at the root of this issue–a pitiful Franco-English pun for the consideration of all the misguided individuals who somehow managed to absorb these two languages (probably by osmosis, as intentional learning is so overrated).


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