The florist noticed the newlings. They were the shade that green is born with before it meets the wind and fades or the sun and deepens. He kept his eyes on them as he walked, balancing the four small flowerpots in his arms, towards a makeshift table of bricks in his shop. His shop flourished alongside the road in a broad galli. It lacked walls and a roof. It had a boundary though, one that was defined by potted Sadabahar flowers, Periwinkles.
“Good Morning, Soldiers. Brave the heat and the dust today and tomorrow, and soon you’ll be strong enough to brave the hearts you’ll be given to.”
“Take this,” he cupped a hand and downed it in a mug of water, sprinkled the babies with what he expertly managed to collect, “and give it to them. This is what you’re made of – water, sun and air. Of the earth.” He looked at the nodes of his plantlings cupped between two fingers, tender like the skin on the belly of a baby squirrel. “This is what they’re made of also. Give them what they’ve….”
A presence distracted him. He looked over his shoulder and followed his eyes till they held the intruder. Errr customer. Yes, the shop was open.
“Ha beta, what can I help you with?” he looked at her lovingly. But she didn’t answer him, she only looked at him softly. He couldn’t let his gaze leave hers. That would be rude. So he waited till her eyes slowly shifted to the saplings. That was when he realised, he was in the company of his children – ones with leaves, and limbs.
“Sunny, what about this?” a man appeared from behind some larger ferns with a small potted ghaneri between his palms. “Kitna?” How much?
Her name is Sunny, it seems; this must be her father – the florist quickly deduced before he answered 45. It was a small plant.
“We’ll take it? I think he’ll like this, no?” he looked at Sunita.
“I like it, so he’ll like it,” she replied confidently.
“Bhai saab,” Sunny’s dad looked at the florist and nodded, taking out a 50.
As they crossed the boundary of the flower shop Sunny did not look back at the man and her sapling siblings but she thought about them. The florist did not look at Sunny as she walked away with her father and went back to his morning conversation with his potted children. “Give them what they’ve lost,” he said.
Although she was skinny, there was something very wholesome about her body. At such a young age she loved wholly but was shy and quiet in front of someone new. She would abandon herself in the arms of those she chose to rest in and allow them to be her security. She, knowingly, offered herself to be theirs. Love like that didn’t seem to take, only give. Her father saw her reach the zenith of love in a few different forms. She held her toys close to her, a four year old expert at mothering. How did she know what to do and how to hold them considering the lack of a female presence in her life so far. She knew that a kiss, so light it felt like air, on his own lips or hand or forehead or cheek would instantly bring her dad back to the safety of his family and home – her. She hugged him in a way a four year old daughter would, but she was a four year old that gave more to her hugs, though he hadn’t anything to compare it to. It was the most marvellous amount of love anyone was capable of giving. That, he knew. Her palm resting on his head, her runny nose on his sleeve, her eyes on him as she slowly gave herself to slumber. She wasn’t like this with anyone else, except him, her grandfather and her dog. He never knew how to respond to her love but to accept it. But she, she knew how to love him and how to be loved by him. What he thought were attempts, she recognised as the core of his heart bared. Children know what is genuine. Maybe because it’s the only thing they know. Sincerity. There was love inside her that was untouched by the world’s definition of it. And she used all of it, all the time and there was always more to give, even when she was very sleepy. Hunger, however, was a different story.
It was love that originated from the purest unknowing heart. Love that was so simple, it was genius, like the way love was created to be. It was love that came from the mind. It was the answer people were looking. Why hadn’t people loved like this before?
“Papa,” said a twenty-five year old Sunny.
“I’m listening,” her grandfather said. He was trying to fix batteries to the television remote.
“Look at me,” she was crying.
“Sunny?” Her grandfather put down the metal and plastic parts of the remote and held her hands in his, passed the warmth his body had been building up unconsciously for this very reason. He lived for her. They sat like that for every second of 10 minutes, holding hands, crying; both of them.
Sunny’s demeanour felt limp in his hands. She was sad but quietly. And that’s the worst kind of sad. It looks defeated.
“Sunny,” he said again. “Look at me, my girl.”
She raised her head and from there her arms as well, and wrapped them around her grandfather.
“Sunny, tell me what’s wrong,” he said as he peeled her from himself. As much as he wanted to hold her tightly, he couldn’t protect her if he didn’t know what he was protecting her from.
“When you’re drained, draw from the earth you’re always rooted to.”
Sunny’s grandfather was Rojan. His body held a calm soul. He could be described the same at every age. His face was broad and thick but deep and caring. As a father, lover and friend he allowed space that wasn’t void between the other and himself. He tried to not shield his son from life, as bad as it came, only to help him understand the transitional nature of it, to be sanguine as he, Rojan, had aimed all his life to be. His wife had time to find herself even after marriage. He watched her plump into the person she was meant to be. He was always there for her. Even when his presence, to him, felt unnecessary, he stayed.
He had this in him, this tendency to ensure people’s growth by merely loving them. It laid innate till he fully acknowledged it.
His twenties were a set of mistakes that took him from one low to another. Friends stood by him and put up with his frivolous living, girls came, came and left, and family he knew nothing of – he was an orphan till 19 when he took employment and found roommates to get him out of the State’s care. When he had finally gotten out, he lived the way he had dreamt all his teenage life but in the process he lied, betrayed trust and hurt everyone and himself. He was aware of the genuine individual he was capable of being but never really tapped into it until later. It wasn’t too late when he consciously started paying mind to his decisions but it certainly was delayed. He thought about the years he spent “trying to be free” and thought of them as clearly wasted.
If anything, the course his life took helped him realise the weight he was able to gain from the sheer presence of people around him, who stayed.
He came through, others would too. He carried this thought with him through his encounters and so, gave support just as he received it.
Sunny, however, was different. According to him, the world had to be perfect for her, nothing could hurt her. As she grew up, he experienced the quintessence of the person she was and realised the futility in protecting her. Her mind was strong and she chose to love. But he was her grandfather and her love seemed, though it wasn’t, delicate.
He looked at her as she tiredly tried to reason out her tears. She looked at him desperately trying to help her. He didn’t know that he already had.
“It, the earth, has moved through seasons. As it turned, it changed. Lands moved apart and closer. Its disparate people ate its disparate fruit. You, younglings, carry the changes of the mud. You will grow tasting the future, seasoned with history.”
The saplings, made of the earth, grew and gave people breath. Sunny, made of older skin, was love with limbs and eyes; love encased in a skinny body.