Saturday, November 21, 2009

The String Beans

By Edmond Séchan

The old woman lives and works in a dark building in Paris. On a sewing machine as aged as she is, she makes evening bags, handbags with pearl embroidery and silver fringe, for elegant ladies and festive occasions.

Every morning and evening the old woman works. But for a short time in the afternoon, when the weather is pleasant, she closes her sewing machine, takes her handbag – an ordinary one – and goes out.

She has followed the same path for many years, through the gardens, near where she lives. As she walks slowly around the impeccable flowerbeds, she dreams of her childhood gardens, filled with the perfume of peonies and lilacs.

On her way home one evening, she sees a discarded flowerpot. The azalea it holds is dead. Still the soil is good and the pot can be used, so the lady carries it upstairs. A flowerpot. Some earth. Good. She holds the pot close, her eyes shining.

In the precious earth she plants one bean from among those chosen for her dinner and sets the pot on the window-sill. Every day she waters the soil. To her amazement, two leaves appear, then a third. To support the tender sprig, the old lady ties its stem to a knitting needle, stuck in the pot with some yarn.

But enemies appear. A neighbour above shakes dust from his rug down on the bean on the window-sill. Pigeons peck at the leaves and will not be chased away. The old lady decides to move the plant, but there is not enough sun in her room. So she puts the flowerpot out on the landing. She must keep moving the pot as the patch of sun moves. Sometimes she forgets and neglects it. Sometimes she goes to the landing and neglects her work.

Then she has an idea. One walks dogs and children. Why not string beans? So she takes her plant to the garden. In the garden there are sun and water. And sitting on a bench each day, she watches the plant as it starts to become green.

But the walks are brief, because she must work. Back in the dark building the leaves begin to fall. The old lady makes a decision. Early one morning she carries her string bean to the garden, and plants it behind a hedge in the midst of luxurious flowers. Afterwards, a little tired, she rests on the bench. She is happy. Without anyone knowing, she has saved a plant, a life.

Missing the familiar presence of the few green leaves, the old lady leaves her lonely room and each day goes discreetly to see her plant. With enough sun and water, drawing strength from the rich earth, the string bean grows, blossoms, seeds.

Nobody knows it is hers, her own secret garden. She has saved it, and seeing it grow is her comfort and joy, day and night. Soon it reaches out above the hedge that has hidden it and kept it from harm.

One day she arrives to find gardeners at work, planting and pruning, clipping and cutting. She is just in time to see them approach her string bean. It’s presence upsets the harmony of the design. It is an intruder. She doesn’t dare rush in, to tell these men. She waits, her heart racing. And one of the gardener pulls out the string bean and throws it on the ground.

When the men leave for lunch and she is alone, the old lady gently lifts the broken plant. It is dead, and the leaves are already fading. She looks at it for a long time.

She picks some of the string beans and holds them in her hand as a bouquet. Quickly she returns to her room. She puts soil from the gardens in the pot, and in it plants three new seeds. Everything will begin again, as before, perhaps even better than before.

Behind her window, the old lady once again is on the look-out, her eyes fixed on the little pot of earth where the three little seeds sleep. This time she will know how to protect them, when to move them, when to bring them home. A healthy, quiet rain comes from the sky, falling gently on the pot and the life it contains….


French movie maker Edmond Séchan’s, ‘The String Bean’ won the Golden Palm award for short films at the 1963 Canne film festival.


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