Cashew was quietly standing outside and looking judgementally at the overgrown garden that grew behind the mansion. The area was quite large, fitting a dusty, cracked pond, long forgotten benches, crumbling archway and surrounded by a rotting wooden fence. Everything had a thick layer of moss and was partly covered in vines and weeds. Cashew had finally finished cleaning the whole mansion of its previous, seemingly never-ending, dust and dirt, but Monsuta’s frequent accidents, such as knocking over dishes on the table or tripping over a bucket of coal also didn’t help Cashew’s job. Nevertheless, he could finally say that the house was spotless until Monsuta’s next accident, and now he could finally move on and do a job he actually enjoyed. Even by only looking, he could already tell what should be done and where, and already had an image in his mind of what the garden would look like after a few days of hard work...
“Cashew, hurry up we’re leaving!” A loud bang could be heard from the front of the house as the doors shut, along with the sound of hooves and carriage wheels rolling up to the main entrance. With an exasperated look on his face, Cashew made his way to the front to find out what all the ruckus was about, and was immediately surprised to see two children sitting on the drivers seat of the carriage. They looked to be about 12 years old and were of opposite genders, but their similarity in soft, red eye colour as well as face shape all hinted that they were siblings. Both were wearing a white blouse and black shawl over the top. The blouse was fastened with a thin bow on the top and had a stitched cat on the left collar. They also had identical black, puffy shorts but their hair was different. The girl had reddish-orange hair which went to her shoulder and the boy had reddish-pink hair which was cut to his ears. Their face was practically the same too. Finally, both wore white socks which went up to their knees and a pair of small, red shoes with a Velcro strap over the top of them. They were looking uncomfortably sharply at Cashew while holding the reins to the two black horses attached to the carriage. Monsuta was impatiently waving at Cashew to hurry up and get into the carriage and, upon passing the children, Cashew noticed with a growing unease that their pupils were not round, but long and oval like a cat.
“Oh yes! I never did finish introducing them to you, did I?” When Monsuta clapped his hands twice, the two children nimbly jumped down and stood together beside him. “These are my only two staff before you arrived. They are my cats, Sasha and Alphy.”
“Nice to meet you I’m, huh?” Cashew stood for a while with a plain expression, unable to tell if he heard wrong or if Monsuta was playing a joke on him. “Come again..?”
“These are my two cats, Sasha,” Monsuta gestured to the girl who shook hands with the, still shocked, Cashew, “and Alphy.” Monsuta then gestured to the boy who in turn, copied his sister’s actions, and also shook hands with Cashew, who could only mumble a hello and continued to blankly stare at the two. “They can turn into humans at any time, and are very trusty drivers. They have very basic abilities of playing piano, running errands and ruining the curtains. Also, when I sometimes go out into London they look after the house for me; They’re created to serve only my soul, but even still, they’re not much company, as they don’t really join in conversation and follow my orders without a single complaint.” Cashew had so many questions running through his mind during the minutes of Monsuta’s conversation, that he had to put in an additional effort to just keep on standing. (Is it true that shape shifters existed in this world? How did I never notice this before? Where was London? And... and...) and many more questions followed in pursuit. But before he had a chance to ask anything, the two children jumped back to hold the horse reins whilst Monsuta was already inside the carriage. Left with no more options, Cashew slowly followed inside.
“Anything else you forgot to mention?”
As the carriage started to move, Cashew’s usual annoyance at Monsuta was beginning to return. Monsuta yawned and with already shutting eyes he managed to quietly make out a “I also have motion sleepiness,” and fell asleep for the rest of the journey with a spoon in his mouth and a book in his hand.
(This guy is unbelievable! He just falls asleep after telling me so many unbelievable and crazy things at once.) Feeling at his peak of annoyance, Cashew snatched the book that Monsuta was going to read and saw that the title for today was ‘Bamboo Business’. (I might as well read this while we travel to town, since I’ve got no one to talk to and nothing to kill Monsuta with...
Is bamboo a tree or a grass?
Bamboo belongs to the Bambusoideae subfamily of the perennial evergreen grass family Poaceae, Gramineae. It was German Botanist, Charles Kunth, that first published his taxonomic findings in 1815. Of all grasses, bamboo is the largest and the only one that can diversify into forest. Although bamboo is a grass, many of the larger woody bamboo species are very tree-like in appearance and are often called “bamboo trees”. However, there are a few essential differences between grasses and trees....)
This was how the time passed for Cashew and in full honesty, he had forgotten his annoyance and confusion from before and had ended up getting fully emerged into the Bamboo book from his arch nemesis. It seems his gardener instincts had taken over and the guy was so invested into reading now that he didn’t even notice when the carriage came to a stop.
“You were reading my book?” Monsuta’s sleepy voice, which suddenly sounded from right next to Cashew’s ear, was what brought him back into the real world. The sounds of shouting people, smell of dusty streets and sight of little shops selling anything you could think of told Cashew that they had arrived back to the same town in which Monsuta had first found him.
“No, I was just taking a quick look at what nonsense you were reading for today.” Cashew grumbled while smacking the book shut and shoving it forcefully back into Monsuta’s hands with his usual look of disgust. Cashew knew that he would rather die than ever confess that he had actually enjoyed one of Monsuta’s books. (It was only because this one was mildly connected to gardening) he kept stubbornly repeating to himself, but deep inside, he made a mental note to read more plant books from Monsuta’s library when the other wasn’t looking or asleep. As they walked to the old flower shop, it slowly dawned on Cashew that there were fewer people than usual out on the streets today. The people who were left looked tired, and no children were playing outside. He decided it was probably his imagination, to which Cashew’s worries were immediately broken when, to his surprise, he saw that fresh flowers had been set up around his old house.
“No way, Merl?” In awe, he quickened his pace and at the sight of a big, bearded man he called out “Merl! When did you get back, old man?” A big, stoic man with greying hair and beard turned around with a wide grin spread across his face. He was wearing worn out dungarees and was in the middle of clipping the spikes off of some rare, green roses.
“Good to see you, boy. I finally finished my job down South, the folks who ordered me had an extremely large, overgrown garden and very high standards as to how they wanted me to shape everything. I’ll be going to another one in the East this time tomorrow...” His voice died away when Monsuta approached closely, followed by his two cats who were now in their human form.
(Hmph, so much for those two being children...)
Merl put his arm over Cashew and first called a cheery welcome toward Monsuta, gesturing him to look around the show of flowers and then quietly whispered to Cashew “Shirley told me, is that him?” Cashew nodded.
“Merl, don’t worry, I’ll get some more supplies from the cellar and I’ll have him dealt with in no time.” Merl gave him a stern look and then finally shrugged. “You’re grasping at straws, boy, but I guess for now I can just hope that you know what you’re doing.” Turning around, he put on his big smile and went back to attending to customers.
“Young sir! Please take a look at the fresh selection of flowers we’ve got out here...” seeing Merl keeping Monsuta busy, Cashew quickly entered the flower shop, passed through his usual route down the stairs, and into the mad scientist’s cave. “Shirley,” he called out, “I’m back and I need a few things!”
Shirley emerged this time from behind a long blanket that was covering something large. “You’re back, how was your time playing with fire? Did you really kill him?”
“No, not yet... that monster just keeps telling the grim reaper to come back another day.” Cashew had already started packing all the supplies he could think of using over the next few weeks. This time he packed a few more things just in case one didn’t work, such as a hammer and some nails, another jar of poison, explosives, glue etcetera. “Uh, this will sound a little strange but do you believe in magic?” He suddenly asked. It seems as though despite his usual, unfazed look on the outside, Cashew was still recovering from the shock of learning that shapeshifters existed.
“Why of course!” But this answer only made Cashew more shocked. Looking up from packing, Shirley continued, “just because you’ve had a short life and have not been exposed to any magic yet, does not mean that it doesn’t exist.” She made her way back to whatever she was working on from before. “For example, this,” giving a strong pull of a rope hanging from somewhere in the ceiling, the blanket in the corner was sent flying into the air and revealed a gigantic metal structure beneath it, “is a time machine which I have created from magic dust of a dragon’s scales which Merl found was infesting the garden he had to take care of. It should work soon enough so come back in a month or so and it should be ready!” At this point, Cashew was just tired of being surprised at everything. Shirley let go of the rope and as the blanket fell back over the time machine, she walked up to Cashew, yet this time a shadow haunted her eyes. “Sadly, with magic comes evil, and a truly evil man had been around last week...”
(She must be talking about the reason the mood around town is so gloomy recently,) Cashew thought.
“Cashew, I’m so glad you came after he had left. A few people, children included, disappeared but only one person was close enough to catch a glimpse of him. His appearance is still uncertain, but she said this man had a very strong and dark aura around him so she was immediately sent into uncontrollable fear from the amount of bloodlust he emitted.” (This sounds strangely similar to the disgusting aura around Monsuta... could it be... Him?)
“I’m just glad you and Merl are alright.” And with those last few words, Cashew finished packing by putting in his old, iron dagger as the last thing he would need in his satchel, and made his way back up the stairs.
Emerging from the trap door once again, Cashew could make out the busy sound of shuffling and saw that Monsuta, his two cats and even Merl were carrying dozens of crates into Monsuta’s carriage.
“Hey, what’s happening out here?” Cashew couldn’t help but exclaim.
Monsuta was the one to excitedly reply. “Well, I noticed how you were staring at the overgrown garden back at the mansion, and I remember how you mentioned that you liked flowers... so I bought this whole shop!”
“This is absolutely fantastic!” Merl chimed in, “with his purchase, we’ll have enough money for the next year!”
For what felt like the hundredth time that day, Cashew was struck with disbelief.
“How dare you buy all these flowers for me! Don’t you know that this will just be more work for me?”
“Don’t worry, boy,” Merl boomed cheerfully, “I have taught you so well that I am convinced you will do a splendid job.” At this, Cashew angrily shook his head, ran up to Monsuta and tried to take away the crate he was carrying.
“Watch out, Cashew! This one holds the same chrysanthemums I first saw at your shop, and these are by far the flowers I want to see most in out garden!”
“Firstly, are you blind? These are all dead, how did you even find them? I’ll let you know that chrysanthemums only grow in autumn so at least get the seeds for all this stuff... and I won’t let you... take all of this back with us... there isn’t even enough space for us to sit!” Both of them were now pulling on the crate at full force and of course, after a while, Cashew’s sweaty hands were the ones to slip and the crate, along with Monsuta, went crashing down onto the floor. The sudden and loud bang caused Monsuta’s two black horses to jump up in panic and, before anyone could even move a muscle, they wildly kicked free of the carriage reins and the whole thing went rolling down the hill.
“After it!” A panicked Monsuta wildly cried out. Everyone who had witnessed the scene had tried to stop the carriage and ran after it, but it was just too fast and ended up crashing at the bottom of the road and exploring into thousands of wood fragments. Monsuta was surprisingly quite athletic despite his pale appearance and was the first one to approach the heap of wood and dust. When Cashew also arrived, he heard Monsuta sigh in relief and the man slumped down to rest onto the ground. “Thankfully, because of the crates, most of the flowers are okay.”
Everyone else caught up and made sure that no one was hurt. Merl followed close behind and made it to the bottom of the road to inspected the damage as well. “It seems your horses ran away and the two children who you came with ran after them.”
“That’s alright, I’m sure they will make it back to the mansion soon enough” Monsuta calmly replied.
“So what now?” Cashew couldn’t help but dreadfully think that they would have to walk all the way back to the mansion, and since Monsuta still carried his book, the journey would be more painful if he read the whole time.
“Well, I’d kindly like to ask Merl here if I could get a new crate for those chrysanthemums back up by your shop... and any other potted flowers that had their crates destroyed.” While Merl did that, and the crowd around them either helped or disappeared back into their houses, Monsuta took out his Bamboo book once again and started to read out loud.
“Distribution of Native Bamboos around the world. Bamboo is naturally found as secondary vegetation in forests, but in some cases-“
“Hey what do you think you’re doing? Don’t we have some problems left to resolve other than the safety of your stupid flowers?” Cashew was seriously beginning to believe that he was going to die of stress from this man one day.
“The only thing for us at this moment is to rest and enjoy the evening air. I know the owner of that carriage standing over there. He should be going in roughly the same direction as we are and, if we wait for a little while, he should appear soon and hopefully he will let us travel with him. Now, where was I... oh, right. But in some cases, they are the dominant vegetation type. Such is the case in northeast India where bamboo covers many thousands of square kilometres, and on the mountainsides of eastern Africa. Bamboos can also tolerate extreme conditions that most plants can’t. Some species can grow from sea level to up to four thousand metres in the Andes and Himalayas, withstanding temperatures well below minus twenty degrees Celsius.”
(Huh, what was that? Bamboo seeds can tolerate extreme conditions?) Cashew had finally heard something interesting from this man. (That’s it! All I have to do to kill this man is to simply feed him bamboo shoots and wait for the plant to grow from inside him and suck out all of the life he has within!)
The sad truth was that, despite his looks and his physical skill, Cashew was in fact, a bit of an obtuse person. He had run all the way to his shop, taken some bamboo seeds they had stored away in a dusty drawer, taken the crates that Merl had packed up, said his goodbyes and ran all the way back to where Monsuta was still reading.
“Hey Cashew, do you think Bamboo is a tree or a grass?”
“A grass, obviously. Jeez, I’ve read this section already. Now eat these seeds!”