Tuesday, March 04, 2008

"The Garden"

By Camincha

The garden of her childhood was at the center of the house. A square about eleven by eleven feet. Alba might have been ten years old.

It was the morning of a hot December 31. The last day of the year, and her mother was readying the house “to receive the New Year.”

She had gone on with the long, consuming preparations over a succession of early mornings to avoid the scorching noon sun. Summer in Miraflores, Peru, was just starting, but already it was hot and humid, beach weather that promised to last for many weeks to come.

Her mother had ordered that the little garden be watered. And she was talking about the flowers. See? She said. How thankful they are! See? she repeated, her smile broadening, her eyes playful.

Alba’s mother seemed pleased at that moment. As if she felt rewarded. She exuded a buoyancy unusual in her, a lovely woman whose young life had been paved with tragedies. She had become an orphan at age eight.

The tiny garden made her smile. It contained the sum of her loving, persistent efforts. The numerous assortments of cuts she gathered in their evening walks when she rummaged in the neatly wrapped burlap bundles left by gardeners for the early morning pick-up. She was looking for the best, the healthiest pieces to plant in her little square.

Alba knew from her frugal upbringing the why of her mother’s behavior. In those bundles was a golden opportunity. A veritable botanical garden just for the picking!

Alba remembers, on their walks, how her mother would bend over the bundles, choosing the healthiest of geraniums, jasmine, roses, carnations and so many others she didn’t even know the names of.

The patch of dirt under her care and devotion, over time, yielded beautiful flowers that surprised everyone with their perfume! Ah! the perfume. And unexpected colors and sizes. The dahlias and geraniums yielded enormously big blossoms, some of mixed colors, others of solid white, pink, red. Roses came also in many colors, but their blossoms could be big, small or tiny. Sweet alyssum were white or purple. Sweet peas were pink, red or white and the lilies had such variety of colors, from the enormous off-white blossoms of the calla lilies, to the all white of the Easter lilies to the yellow with dark red splotches in the small flowers of the Peruvian lilies. All competed for encouragement, admiration and support. In time the little garden yielded a rainbow of perfumed, variegated flowers.

And three feet away against the south wall her mother planted the jasmine that, it seemed, in no time at all, grew and grew and covered itself with white blossoms, in such profusion, with such vigor and zest that the entire area became a three-dimensional tapestry exuding the most penetrating perfume. Summer evenings the perfume embraced you, caressed you, covered you. So strong, you could touch it.

“To receive the New Year,” the windows were washed in the whole house, the floors scrubbed, waxed, polished. The pots and pans in the kitchen, the stove, the table, batan, were all scrubbed until they shone. All the linens were changed. Finally the corridor was swept and mopped till the cement reflected the blue sky like it had been waxed.

Then Alba’s mother turned her attention to the little garden. She ordered that it be watered. Pail after pail of water was filled, another, then another. And poured carefully, slowly on the little garden.

The dirt soaked it up. The mud resembled freshly whipped chocolate icing. The dahlias and geraniums that had started to wilt lifted their wary petals for them. The sweet alyssum, lilies and sweet peas shone with appreciation. Alba stood by watching intently. The maid’s body rippled under the hot sun, her hips swaying, her underarms soaked, her upper lip covered with beads of perspiration. The water was being absorbed by the dark, granulated thirsty soil.

Her mother anxiously supervised. She smiled, her face lighted up. Her eyes bright, kind. See? she said. See how thankful they are! See? Her wistful smile made Alba feel she was in the presence of a miracle.

Alba can hear her right now. See? How thankful they are! See?

Camincha is a pen name for a California-based writer who grew up in Peru.

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