The flowers’ dawn

by | May 29, 2009 | Stories | 0 comments

She opened her eyes as the dawn was crawling into the room through the badly-fitted wooden planks replacing now the broken window panes. She felt her husband’s warm breath on her shoulder and remained still and quiet like the red petals entangled in her long black hair that was spread on the pillow.
She knew well this silence that came with the birth of the new day. It was hers and hers only. It sometimes reminded her of the little parties that she used to organise for imaginary friends when she was a child. Now she felt she was visited by her own thoughts and feelings that would never appear unless she was alone. They slipped inside the room during those quiet moments before the toils of the day started, together with the golden specs of dust that floated inside the rays of sun filtered through the blinds. They were the lithe memories of gestures of tenderness and smiles shared with her husband, but also the puzzled helplessness in front of her mother-in-law’s acrid comments that she had been married for so long and still had no child, as well as her own disappointment and sadness at the thought that maybe she would never have a baby of her own.
The sleepy heaviness of her husband’s hand on her stomach made her feel safe and protected. She felt great tenderness for this man with whom she had been sharing her bed and her life for more than seven years, for the regular breath of his youth and for the deep lines already carved between his brows. She also felt an immense gratitude for his perfect gift, born, she knew it well, out of despair and love.
For many years, before the bombs started to fall, she thought that the most unpleasant of her invisible morning visitors were the odd, wordless anger and envy that accompanied the half-dreamed images of women in far-away places being offered beautiful bunches of red carnations. A sharp pain filled her when she imagined their blond hair and she heard their laughter as they received the love blooms. She thought that those women would never grasp the full, perfect beauty of the flowers they had been offered by their husbands or lovers. They would have never felt under their touch the black earth that held the seeds with their secret promise and they would never understand the thrill of seeing the first delicate seedlings in the greenhouse trays.
Those flowers received by laughing women she would never meet, in countries that she would never see, were grown by her husband. The carnations that were offered in Christian countries for that spring celebration of love carried with them the care, the hopes and the labour of the man next to her.
This year, however, their perfume and brightness also took to those untroubled lands the sound of bombs falling over towns, the broken glass of the greenhouses, the burning skies, the cries and the fear of death.
These had now become the most dreaded of her morning visitors. The fights had been going on for such a long time, that the days of peace seemed as elusive as the traces of scent that lingered over the fields after the flowers had been cut, carefully packed in boxes and shipped away. The face of war was everywhere. It grinned from behind the men who returned home jobless. It lingered above cribs in which babies were crying of hunger and near taps that spurted water every other day, if you were lucky. It laughed at desperate people who tried to cross the borders, running away from weapons, death and blockades.
Now she felt a twinge of guilt for the times when she resented the blond women who received flowers on St. Valentine’s Day, although nothing could change the fact that, except for her wedding day, she had never received one of those perfect bouquets of carnations.
Despite this, the love blooms had set the calendar of her life ever since she had got married. She was there by her husband’s side when he negotiated the price of the seeds – well, not in person, she wasn’t allowed that, but her heart with its wild beats of hope and worries was certainly there, with him. Then they prepared together the greenhouse where the seeds would be planted in long trays. Her mind and her body and the five senses had learned to care for the carnations. She could smell if the earth was moist enough for the seeds to germinate, she watched the first green leaves grow towards the sun, she could feel the rush of the sap inside the stalks, she listened carefully to the voices of the wind in the fields of grown flowers.
Every year, at the beginning of February, she helped pack thousands of flowers in cardboard boxes. She watched them as they were loaded in the truck and almost resented her husband’s badly-hidden embarrassment when he brought her a few blooms on broken stems. She knew he could see her disappointment, when he held her tight in his arms and told her how lucky they were that they had a contract for all the flowers. They spoke then in whispers about their dearest dream, a house just for the two of them, at the edge of a carnations field, with a garden in front and a new greenhouse.
She didn’t like those years when they lived with his parents. Her in-laws were not bad people, she was aware of that. They didn’t treat her badly, as it happened in other families. But it hadn’t taken her long to realise that they had wanted their son to marry just to have more control over him. He had always wanted to leave Gaza and make a new start somewhere else, but now that he had a wife he stopped speaking about this and she had never dared ask if he still thought about it.
Finally, all those flowers and frustrations turned into the tiny house where they lived now. She felt her heart darken when she looked at the wooden planks nailed in the window, at the cardboard boxes where they kept the few things they could save from the other two rooms that had collapsed when a bomb fell near by. They were lucky they still had this room and three of the kitchen walls.
It was a miracle that the flowers had not been all destroyed. The fear that they may die or starve was constantly accompanied by the panic that the carnations field would be hit by a missile. When she thought that the water supplies would be exhausted and that the flowers would shrivel and die on their stems, she felt the air became thick and heavy against her body as if she had to move through melted honey. It took both human devotion and divine miracle to make life and beauty spring out of this dry, sandy soil. And now, just with a few bombs and a truckload of weapons, this land was once again laid bare.
Yet, while the plants grew and the flowers started to bloom, she silently watched her husband as he became more and more quiet and troubled. For months, exports from the strip had been almost entirely banned. If they could not send the crop out, all their work would have been in vain. Who would ever care to buy flowers here?
When he told her that the Dutch government had asked for carnations and that they could sell part of their crop, she thought again of the blond women and their delight when they received the flowers that her husband had grown. And she could not tell, not even to herself, what was that turmoil inside her chest, if it was happiness or fury, hope or sadness, envy or fear, or all of them together in a whirlwind that made her dizzy.
Later he was told that only twenty-five thousand flowers in all were allowed to go. Twenty-five thousand, that was like a handful of sand on a beach! Still her husband was among the few lucky ones who could send a few boxes. She didn’t ask him what would happen to the rest. She had heard other women at the aid centre saying that the only choice was to burn the crops or feed them to the sheep.
The day before, she had helped her husband cut the most beautiful carnations from the field and pack them in boxes. She watched him drive away and felt that part of her heart died there, in the field, among the red and white flowers that had been left behind.
She was in her three-walled kitchen when she heard the car. She had to fight her tears as she remembered her husband’s shy look when he used to bring her a small bunch of mismatched blooms. She waited for him to come into the kitchen, but he didn’t. She thought that maybe he wanted to be alone, to deal first with his own pain and the memory of his days of toil and worry and care. An eternity seemed to have passed before he came into the kitchen. He didn’t utter a sound, just took her by the hand and led her through the door.
When she stepped in, her soul seemed to explode in tears. The whole room was filled with carnations, spread in all their white and red brightness on the floor, on the table and two chairs, on the cardboard boxes, on her old sewing machine, on their bed. He put his arms around her and kissed her gently, tenderly, without a word.


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