“Just consider it.”

“Okay.”

This has been going for months, a cycle that feels like it could never reach a conclusion. Every weekend her parents would phone in, checking on the business, throw in a few small talks but on the last few minutes they would always mention the ‘topic’ and every time it happens she would feel worse than the last time for diverting the subject.

Sarah put her phone away after exchanging goodbyes with her parents and stared at the envelope in her hands with the edges torn, the first word of the letter inside spelling out ‘Congratulations’ in all caps and an exclamation point at the end for emphasis.

The ring from the doorbell snapped her out of her reverie. Lifting up her gaze she was greeted with a familiar old man smiling at her.

“Mr. Teo, nice to see you here!”

He gave a hearty chuckle for her welcome. “It’s been years, Sarah. Are you doing well?”

The question hit her unexpectedly. Was she actually doing well? She couldn’t be sure. Still smiling, she replied him with a yes.

“I see you’ve opened a flower shop.” He inspected the flowers next to the counter, lightly tracing the petals. “Reminds me of the old times.”

Seeing him standing there in the flesh took her back to the past. She remembered the evenings she spent looking over the bright flowers on the old man’s lawn until one day the old man caught her looking at them. She learned that the old man planted those flowers for his sickly wife, in hopes of cheering her up in the morning for the day and it did. She would find both of them tending flowers in the garden every weekend when she visited them, hands covered in dirt but smiling nonetheless. It amazed her how such a simple frail thing could bring such a big smile on people. The old couple and their flowers were the ones who inspired her to do what she’s doing.

She didn’t know what made her do it but she told him everything that has been bugging her. She told him of her shop and how it’s been slow in business lately and the debts that has been piling up, that she received an offer from university in which she was half-hearted to go and her parents coaxing her to let go of her flower shop. The old man listened the whole time, not interrupting her until the very last word. She breathed in deeply after her outburst, wiping away the tears threatening to spill.

“Do you enjoy doing this?”

Sarah thought hard on that question. The flower shop and her orchard were the only thing she can remember working hard on ever since she graduated high school. She thought of the hours and expenses she spent reading books and taking crash courses just to improve her shop. It was tough but in the end she never felt like it was a waste of effort.

“It’s my dream, so yes.”

The old man nodded at her answer. “Then, isn’t that enough of a reason to not give up?”

The old man exited after buying an assortment of flowers and left her with a question that plagued her mind for the whole day.

The next few days passed by the same as always but with the exception of a letter of complaint coming from the lot renter. It demanded that rent has to be paid in a week’s time or she would be kicked out of the lot which added more stress to her current situation. Calls were made, help was asked but it all wasn’t quite enough to cover future expenses for the shop and the orchard. It wasn’t looking bright. That same evening her parents called in again to remind her of her admission.

She hung up the phone to no conclusion as always. Her eyes wandered to the table beside her bed where two letters sat. Her hands reached over the table and grasped the warning letter and the congratulatory letter in each hand, the contents vastly different. She could only laugh at the irony of the situation.

By the time Sarah got to her shop the next day, Mr. Teo was already there standing outside waiting for her with an unrecognisable man beside him. She asked him what he was doing here only to be told that they would talk about it inside.

Before the other man could speak, Mr. Teo spoke for him.

“Do you perhaps supply hibiscus flowers here?”

Sarah nodded at his question. “I do plant some.”

“Good. Kamal here is one of my close friends. He’s searching for a supplier for the upcoming Independence Day celebration so I suggested you to him.” the old man exchanged glances with his friend, prompting him to speak. Kamal cleared his throat.

“If you don’t mind me asking, why is this so important to you?”

Sarah looked over to the flowers near the entrance door slowly swaying with the wind, entranced by the motion.

“It’s the only thing I’ve ever known since young.” she tilted her head slightly to those flowers. “Flowers speak for those who wants to express themselves. Just a single flower could mean so many different things. Everyone that came to the shop came with a purpose and message in mind, whether it’s an expression of love or sympathy,” her eyes drifted back towards the two man sitting in front of her. “Maybe it’s for decorative reason or the person just wants to buy it for fun, everyone can find a meaning in the flowers.”

She sighed at her words. “I wanted to give a medium to those people. I just can’t find it in me to give up, no matter what anyone says.”

Kamal gave her a hint of smile. “It seems like you truly met my expectations.” he reached into his breast pocket and slid his business card over the table to Sarah. “I’d like you to supply me the flowers for the upcoming celebration and if you do this well, I’d like us to continue our partnership in the future.”

Sarah couldn’t believe her ears. Her mind was scrambling for anything to say. She pinched the back of her hand under the table to make sure she wasn’t dreaming.

The old man laughed at her reaction. “This means you get to keep your shop. Well, if you keeping working at it.”

With that, Kamal stood up and checked his watch. “I have to go. I’ll send you the documents later.”

After exchanging goodbyes, Sarah turned her attention back towards the old man once they were left alone. “Why did you help me?”

The old man shifted on his seat.. “Do you know why the hibiscus is called ‘bunga raya’ by the nation?” he paused for awhile before continuing. “It’s self-explanatory, really. It’s because it’s a symbol of celebration. A celebration for achieving one’s dream, whatever it may be.” the old man shrugged. “Besides, I think my wife would want me to help too.”

Sarah shook her head. “Thank you…”

He regained his smile at that. “I don’t know how much this would help but it’s definitely a promise to something better and you have to hold on to that.” the old man backed up his chair and walked over to Sarah to place an object covered in brown wrapping paper on the table. “Maybe you should stay for the celebration, calm your mind for a little while.”

After the old man left, Sarah unwrapped the paper to find a single hibiscus staring back at her, just like the ones the old man used to plant in his garden.

Sarah decided to stay back for the celebration once she finished delivering her flowers. She found a spot where she could oversee everything that’s going on just as the music began to play. Her eyes drifted towards her hibiscus flowers decorating the whole stage to the ones adorning the performers’ hair and clothes, blending with the blues and yellows of the national flag. A sense of pride swelled in her as she committed everything to her memories.

 

Happy Independence Day, Malaysia.

 

Syukrina,
Year 3, Faculty of Pharmacy,
Alexandria University.

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