Friday, July 12, 2019

A case for plucking flowers

The man squatted on the narrow pavement. He was digging angrily at a patch of soil that had refused to yield shrubbery, let alone flowers on this roundabout – designed to look pretty while also controlling traffic coming off the busy highway. The rest of the garden was blooming with flower trees, the white champas fragrant and stark against the springy green leaves, the yellow oleanders bright as the sun, the roses blushing pink and red.
Just this patch, this stubborn patch, had stayed dry. He was determined to coax shoots out of the challenging soil. Sweat trickled lazily down his back, soaking his vest. It was still early, and he wanted to be done before the sun rose higher and made it even harder to work.
He heard footsteps. Peering through the shrub, he could see on the other side gnarled feet in blue rubber chappals. Striped pyjamas. A scruffy vest. An early morning, just-woken thief with a plastic bag in hand! The gardener sprang to his feet. “You! No plucking flowers here!”
The thief, who hadn’t noticed the gardener behind shrub, was caught off guard but stood his ground. It’s for my pooja, it’s for god,” he said defiantly.
“God doesn’t need your flowers! He created them!” said the gardener, aggressively placing his soil-streaked hands on his hips. His shirt parted and his Hanuman medallion glinted in the morning light. “Go away! They’ll stay on this plant as long as God wants them there.”
The man backed away and went off. The gardener knew he’d fill his plastic bag at an unguarded stretch of the flower beds he tended between there and the next red light. He shrugged and got back to work.
A while later, he spied across from him a flash of red. Through the shrubs he glimpsed again a pair of chappals. This time red, too-big for the little feet in them. Thin legs, a frayed, once-white frock ending well below the knee, an eager face, and sunbleached untidy hair in a ponytail.
“What?” he demanded, not needing to stand up to make eye contact with the little waif.
“I want a flower.”
“Go away, no plucking flowers!”
“Uncle, please,” she wheedled.
“What do you want it for?! I’m telling you no!”
He resumed his work. But the feet stayed. He looked at her. “I want to put a flower in my ponytail.”
A long pause. The gardener stood up. He crossed over the shrub carefully, stared at her for a while, wiped his hands on his handkerchief and asked “which one do you want?”

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