When I was a child, my mum had invited her friends over for afternoon tea. We lived in a sleepy town in the midst of the Irish countryside. Nature enveloped us from everywhere like a verdant green carpet that swept across the earth and hills around a magnificent aquamarine lake. Nothing much happened around here. Most of the townsfolk were farmers, bakers, butchers, and lots of housewives. We rarely delved into the bustling cities for fear of becoming hedonistic and worldly. Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of city life, we slowly developed our own placid lifestyle and detested anything but.
Mum was baking her signature Victoria Sponge Cake. Soon, the house was infused with its warm, sweet scent. She also made the jam herself. She’d used some summer forest berries made of strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries to create an intoxicating spread for the cake. It never stays on the cake tray for more than a day.
When Mum laid the cake and tea on the table, she tapped her head as if she’d forgotten something. She asked me to gather some flowers for the table before her friends arrive.
I went out the backyard and was welcomed with the chilly breeze that playfully tousled my hair. Though it was summer, it usually gets cold in the countryside so I wrapped my purple bonnet and hugged my sweater for extra warmth. We had all sorts of flowers that grew here and I’ve come to learn how to arrange the various flowers together in ravishing bouquets. Since the flowers were for an afternoon tea for women, I decided to choose some feminine blooms, shades of syrupy pink peonies, sugary pink garden roses, and scattered green viburnums, ranunculuses, and sweet peas. Their mixed fragrances breathed life into me.
How I longed to be a florist all my life and create sensational bouquets for celebrations or to simply romance ordinary life. But I knew that most of the girls in our town were wedded off young and taught to cook, clean, bear children, and help in the farm. I looked at the dazzling sunshine spilling golden sunbeams through a willow tree’s leaves and creating a canvas of sparkling diamonds on the lake. I took in a deep breath of inspiration. Life was benevolent and offered heavenly glimpses of beauty if we were to seek them. I’ve often forayed books in our local library; travelogues, world literature, musings, biographies, and astronomy. Despite the constant chitter chatter of my social circle on the finite time we have and how we should expend it on doing, in my opinion, the drudging chores, why can’t we live everyday searching for fleeting epiphanies and serendipities?
As I knotted the blooms together in a tight caress, the breeze carried dulcet music from afar. I was instantly entranced and followed the trail through the forest. I knew my mum would be expecting me soon but I couldn’t contain my curiosity. Like the child that I was, I followed the music from this mythical Pied Piper. The music was getting louder and louder with every step. Then I saw a thin lady with wispy white hair sitting on the veranda of her cottage playing the violin. This image was so amusing to me that I giggled and caught her attention. She gave me a warm smile and bid me to come closer. I treaded softly.
“What’s your name, dear?” asked the old lady.
“Eve,” I replied.
“Ah! Like the first woman who was created by God,” she said.
As if the heavens heard her, the sky started groaning and rumbling, then it started drizzling.
“Do come in, otherwise you’ll get soaked,” she said.
I hesitated but I had no choice. I also began worrying about my mum’s reaction when she didn’t find me.
“Oh, stop worrying, my darling, otherwise you’ll get that angelic face of yours etched with wrinkles,” she said. “Care for some rose tea and raspberry macaroons?”
I picked up the dainty pink confection and stared at it. I’ve never tried a “macaroon” before but I delved right in. It felt like eating sugar-filled clouds with raspberry jam in the middle. “They’re delicious,” I said. I also took a sip of the rose tea and filled my belly with its aromatic warmth. We usually had plain black tea but this infusion was divine.
“Right so! The French are great at making dainty little confections like themselves!” said the lady with a laugh. “I learned how to make those in Paris.”
“I’ve never been outside my town,” I said sadly. “Our townsfolk believe that girls’ duties lie at home.”
“Nonsense,” she said, gesticulating. “Then why did God create all this magnificence on Earth? Didn’t He expect us to enjoy earthly pleasures so we would be enticed to pursue a heavenly one?”
It made sense. A bit. I was too entrenched in my beliefs to be shaken out of them.
“Have you heard the story of The Ambitious Violet by Kahlil Gibran?” she asked.
I shook my head.
She went to her library which was brimming with books and took out a dusty paperback and hurriedly flipped the pages. “Ah! There we are!” she exclaimed. And she started reading the book in her mellifluous voice.
“There was a beautiful and fragrant violet who lived placidly amongst her friends, and swayed happily amidst the other flowers in a solitary garden. One morning, as her crown was embellished with beads of dew, she lifted her head and looked about; she saw a tall and handsome Rose standing proudly and reaching high into space, like a burning torch upon an emerald lamp.”
She described the violet’s complaints about living an uneventful life and how she yearned to become like the beautiful rose. Her wish was granted and for a moment she was delighted. However, a storm suddenly appeared on the horizon and the gusty winds blew off the tall flowers, including the newly transformed rose. Her little violet sisters were tucked by the earth and were unaffected. Soon, she started getting reprimanded for being a greedy and ambitious violet that deserved her deathly fate.
“And the dying rose moved and gathered the remnants of her strength, and quietly said, “You are contented and meek dullards; I have never feared the tempest. Yesterday I, too, was satisfied and contented with Life, but contentment has acted as a barrier between my existence and the tempest of Life, confining me to a sickly and sluggish peace and tranquility of mind. I could have lived the same life you are living now by clinging with fear to the earth. I could have waited for winter to shroud me with Snow and deliver to Death, who will surely claim all violets. I am happy now because I have probed outside my little world into the mystery of the Universe; something which you have not yet done.”
“I have lived one hour as a proud rose; I have existed for a time like a queen; I have looked at the Universe from behind the eyes of the rose; I have heard the whisper of the firmament through the ears of the rose and touched the folds of Light’s garment with rose petals. Is there any here who can claim such honor?” Having this spoken, she lowered her head, and with a choking voice she gasped, “I shall die now, for my soul has attained its goal. I have finally extended my knowledge to a world beyond the narrow cavern of my birth. This is the design of Life….This is the secret of Existence.” Then the rose quivered, slowly folded her petals, and breathed her last with a heavenly smile upon her lips… a smile of fulfillment of hope and purpose in Life… a smile of victory… a God’s smile.”
I realized who that violet was. It was me and I started weeping because I yearned for a purposeful existence, one in which my wings could be extended full force and fly. But I was confounded by the rules of society and its measures of success, which were often so limited and lacked divine inspiration.
“You remind me of myself when I was younger,” said the old lady. “I questioned myself incessantly about my purpose and found that I leaned towards giving people the gift of knowledge, so I became a journalist. I covered many events, wars, celebrations, and most importantly, brought people from all over the world together when they read each other’s stories.”
She went into a state of reverie and shared her reminisces with me. There was the coverage of the Palestinian war, the opening of another Louvre in the Middle East, that interview with Paulo Coelho, a feature on the daily lives of women in Mauritius, plus a frenzy of other unique experiences that have shaped her character and enriched her life to unimaginable levels. From the humble visiting Perranporth in Cornwall to the emotional visit to Auschwitz, everything changed her in some way. Before that, she just had a dream and a will.
The rain stopped and the sky was dotted with fluffy clouds. A brilliant rainbow was painted as an arc from the horizon to the sky.
I thanked the old lady for her hospitality and her musings. Before leaving, I asked her for her name.
She smiled and replied, “My name is Joy.”