Mia’s garden was her safe place.
When she wasn’t tending to the roses and begonias, she was curled up in between the bushes, her head tilted back, gazing at the stars and listening. She would listen to the wind rustling the leaves on the trees marking the edges of her garden. She would listen to the tiny splashes of dew as they would drip from leaf to leaf before falling into the ground. And she would listen to the murmurs of the petals.
No one had believed her, not even her mother, when she told them about the first rose that ever spoke to her.
She had been in her garden, as usual, pruning the weeds, watering the budding bushes. That’s when she’d discovered the first rose. It had bloomed in all glory and was hiding under the arm of its neighboring creeper’s leaves. Mia had carefully pushed aside the upturned leaf and stared at it in awe.
The rose was in full bloom, its petals curling around the skull like little ribbons. It wasn’t a simple rose either. The petals were a deep luscious red at the bottom and the color lightened to an almost-pink as it crept up. The insides were a delicate buttery cream, with veins of pink and red, curling along the curves of the petals.
Mia had never seen anything so beautiful in her life.
She cupped her hands under the rose, careful not to snap the stem or touch a thorn. She slowly lowered her face to the petals, inhaling. The scent was so sweet that it had Mia sighing and giggling.
‘Pwetty flower,’ Mia whispered, turning her cheek to the petals and caressing the rose.
This was the first flower in her garden…..it was as precious to her as a first child might be to its mother. She would water it everyday, she would keep the flower alive for as long as she could, she would never let her parents or her friends or her neighbors pick it, she would keep it encased in glass like in the fairy tale if she had to…..
That’s when she heard it; a voice soft as velvet, melodious as her mother’s lullabies, sweet as honey….
Mia jumped, letting go of her precious flower. Her eyes scanned the garden but there was no one there. The voice had stopped, too. There was just the muffled evening news coming from inside her house, the barely intelligible murmur that floated around a suburb as the evening began, and maybe a sigh of the wind here and there. Even the yapping of old man Shuler’s dog was absent.
Mia was young and believed in impossible things. Around that time, she had even been following dear Alice’s practice of believing in as many as six impossible things before breakfast. Her parents, being the modern parents they were, convinced themselves that this was good for her growth and made her write the six things down every morning.
So it was no surprise that the first thing that occurred to Mia, after confirming that the premises was indeed devoid of any human presence, was that her flower had spoken. So she approached the flower gingerly, her tiny hands clasped together in front of her.
“Hello? Miss…Rose?” she called to her flower.
And sure enough, a murmur rose from the flower, too soft for little Mia to make the words out. But the voice was unmistakable! It was the same one she’d heard seconds ago!
Eyes wide and pulse racing, Mia carefully held her flower once again and brought it close to her ears.
‘The name’s Ruby, love,’ it said, that honey-like velvety soft voice.
‘Ru-by,’ repeated Mia, letting the syllables roll off her tongue in that uneven and imperfect way that children usually do.
A soft laugh erupted from the flower, warming Mia’s insides. She giggled, too, not knowing why and not caring if it was the right thing to do. For some reason, Mia felt like Miss Ruby Rose would not reprimand her for improper behaviour as her mother sometimes did. And she was right.
Ruby told Mia many stories that evening, most of which Mia wouldn’t come to truly understand for a long time. She told her of all her lives, of all the times she had bloomed; once as a small, soft petunia; once as a velvety and bright buttercup; once as a ruby-red rose, plucked in the prime of her life by a strapping young man to win the affections of his beau.
Mia listened with awe as Ruby spoke. And she listened and listened, absorbing the stories and swimming in the voice of her wonderful rose; and she would have gone on forever–she had wanted to– had it not been for her mother who called her in for dinner. No amount of pleading seemed to work on her mother, and so Mia left that night, with promises to return as soon as she could.
And that night Mia had gone to bed, playing and replaying the events of the evening in her head.
Mia had never really had friends before. She was only five, after all. And sure, Evan and Cass came over to play sometimes, but they were nothing like her flower.
Ruby, Mia decided, was her first true friend. In fact, she was almost sure they were the best of friends already. And even if they weren’t, she thought, it was merely a matter of time before they would be.
And that is how her garden came to be her wonderful little world. She had not been wrong about Ruby the Rose. In fact, all her flowers became her friends…. her little family.
Mia’s flowers bloomed unlike any other under her care.
‘Got little blue thumbs, she has,’ her neighbours would say.
Mia never really understood what that term was for. She merely loved her flowers. She would sing to them and she would speak to them and sometimes, she would even kiss them goodnight. And in turn, they would bloom; their petals wide and bright, their voices light and warm.
Her mother had entertained her whimsy for a while, happy that the child had been putting her imagination and creativity to work. But soon, her patience waned.
And Mia, too, soon realised that her flowers didn’t speak to everyone.
She had liked being special, for a while. She would imagine herself to be one of those lost fairy princesses, doomed to spend her life in an ordinary world until her kingdom needed her again. But, eventually, it just got a little lonely.
But her flowers were more than she could ask for. They told her stories of all the lands they had bloomed in, of all the people they had pleased, of all the loves they had mended and a few they had birthed.
Mia soon came to learn much through the stories.
In the beginning, she would cry every time one of her flowers fell to the ground, their petals all wrinkled and dried up. Her beautiful flowers…dead. It would seem to her, like the end of the world.Ruby the rose’s fall had Mia weeping and lost for days.
But soon, Mia came to understand that death and loss, too, were a part of life.
And even though her flowers were falling now, she knew, that someday they would bloom again, and would get to bask in the bright sun and feel the splash of rain on their petals. And she just hoped that it would be around someone like her…someone who would love them like she had.
The day Mia left her roses, asters, irises and begonias in her garden, the day she moved away from that beautiful little two storeyed house, she took with her a small pot of graftings.
She had lost both her parents. And the memory of them was too vivid…too painful that Mia realize that she couldn’t stay in the house.
Mia was almost sixteen then. She even had some savings from working in the local nursery for years. Enough to get her started. She understood that the system would want her in a foster home or an orphanage but Mia couldn’t fathom living that way. So she packed her belongings, as few as she could, and decided to leave.
She also carried a small bouquet — a half wilting purple iris, it’s petals drying and half a shade away from black, a half a dozen irises in full bloom; three roses, each the size of an infant’s fist; a couple of begonias, in shades ranging from a dull yellow to a bright blood-red.
It was definitely not an assortment that a florist would’ve chosen…. It was odd and unappealing to the eyes. And as she passed the streets she grew up in one last time, she attracted a lot of stares, all sorry and a few wondering how on earth had someone like Mia, who spent her days and nights thinking of nothing but flowers, chosen an assortment so ugly. They wondered if she was broken beyond fixing, after what had happened. I wish I could tell them they couldn’t have been more mistaken.
But Mia didn’t care. The little bouquet was so much more than just a bouquet.
Her flowers had insisted that this once, they be picked. They understood grief and love more than anyone else could. And they understood when Mia told them that she wanted to leave it all behind and start afresh. And so after many a night spent arguing and sobbing, Mia had picked them, her young heart breaking a little more everytime she snapped a stem.
And she carried her friends, her loving family, with her as she left.
No one knew what became of Mia after her sudden departure. None of her friends from town ever heard from her. She became a name that would float around town, swimming in and out of conversations, sometimes spoken with love, sometimes with mirth and sometimes with disgust.
And much like Ruby the rose, who bloomed into a red veined cream specimen after she had wilted off as a small blue bell, the stories about Mia, which started out as funny memories interspersed with sad nods, soon turned into wonderful tales spinning out of the ordinary.
She became the girl who could make any flower bloom, the girl who’s voice would brighten any petal, the girl who’s touch could bring back a dead flower. She became something that she had never been.
But every once in a while, a sweet little child or the elderly Mr. Shuler or one of the many young parents of the town would walk by her garden and remember her as she had been. The girl who was wonderfully starnge, who was always so kind, who loved her flowers. They remembered Mia, as not an extraordinary phenomenon, but simply, as the girl who spoke the language of the flowers.