Friday, July 27, 2007

Short story: Flowers for the Bedroom

By Ahmad Syam
(The Jakarta Post, July 10, 2005)

Hamdan's plants would never come into flower. Their roots gradually dried up, their stalks blackened, then their leaves turned yellow before they faded and died.
Everyone knows that kerosene shouldn't be poured over plants. Not only do the newly cultivated plants die, but so do others that have been growing for years.
Plants are sensitive and susceptible, even to the weather, and need special care to grow. They could die simply if their owner forgot to water them.
"Honey, the plants you have just cultivated...!" Hamidah cried out from their garden that morning.
"What is it?" Hamdan replied from the living room and walked out to the garden.
"Come here, you can see them for yourself," Hamidah shouted.
Looking around, her husband asked, "What did they die of? Who did it?"
"Please don't ask me things like that, honey! There are only three people in our house. You, our driver Pak Timun and me. Don't you trust me and Pak Timun?" Hamidah said sharply.
"I'm sorry, honey! I didn't mean to accuse you. I just wonder how this could be happened. Do you think our neighbors did this? Perhaps they're jealous of our pretty garden," Hamdan sighed and gazed down at the dead plants.
"Do you think you cultivated them in the right way?"
"I'm sure, honey! I dig up the soil deep enough before planting the seeds. I also never forget fertilize them," Hamdan told her desperately.
"You might have sprayed them with too much fertilizer?" Hamidah asked softly.
"It's impossible. I followed the instruction on the fertilizer bottle to the letter. Hmm... It smells of kerosene. Somebody must have poured kerosene onto these plants! But who?"
It was almost a year since Hamdan fell in love with flowers.
Every Saturday after leaving for work, he passed by a flower shop and bought some seedlings, whatever their price.
His wife was very surprised when she found several packets of flower seeds inside Hamdan's car the first time he brought them home. She thought she knew her husband well. It had been seven years they had lived together, and she knew that Hamdan didn't like flowers at all.
Nevertheless, Hamidah was terribly excited about the change of her husband's attitude toward flowers. Earlier, she had asked him to buy her flower seeds frequently. Hamdan had agreed to bring seedlings home, but he didn't fulfill his promise.
He had many reasons not to. The seeds and seedlings were expensive, he said one day. At another time, he complained that the flowers would only disrupt his activities.
"Hamidah, for what would you cultivate flowers? They take up all your time!" he said when she told him her plans to create a garden in the front yard.
"Oh, of course not, honey, I need some other activity to do during my leisure time aside from watching TV." Hamidah said, flirting.
"Honey, I don't want to see you tired because of flowers. You have to tidy the garden, as the leaves falls every day. Moreover, you must water the plants in order to keep them alive." Hamdan tried to dissuade his wife. "It is better for you to take up sewing or knitting if you want to kill your loneliness when I'm at work. You will get more benefits compared to gardening," he added.
"Sewing? Knitting? Gardening is much more relaxing than either!"
"But I don't believe you can do it by yourself. Look! Our yard is too large. It takes considerable time and a great deal of energy to keep it tidy, sweep and cut the grass," Hamdan tried to explain.
"I know. Our yard even inspired me to design a lovely garden. You will see... Without plants, it looks like a drought hit it. Can you imagine how peaceful it will look with fresh, colorful flowers? They will relieve your stress after work." Hamidah persuaded gently.
"Ok, it's up to you. I'll buy the seeds and seedlings for you. But you must remember your responsibility in tending to them ... and of course, I don't want to see you tired when I'm home," Hamdan said firmly.
"That's more than enough! If you do not want to help me care for them, I'll have Pak Timun help me," Hamidah replied calmly.
Back then, Hamdan wasn't concerned about flowers. Hamidah smiled, remembering his refusal to design a garden. She couldn't believe that Hamdan could have changed his mind.
This also caused Hamdan's behavior to change profoundly, especially in what he read and talked about. He didn't let himself miss any news on plants and flowers, and he always made sure to watch a gardening program on TV and collected any books that could help broaden his knowledge of varieties of flowering plants.
Hamdan took over Pak Timun's duties in the garden. He pruned the stalks happily, planted seeds and made a small fence to protect the garden from his neighbors' chickens.
His wife was delighted. Finally, Hamdan's heart had been touched by flowers, Hamidah thought. Furthermore, Hamdan's efforts in the garden had reduced her workload. Now, she was only responsible for watering the plants every morning and afternoon.
"Honey, why do you like flowers now? It's surprising to me. I used to have to force you to help me create a garden, which you rejected firmly. And now, you're the one with the drive...?" she asked with great curiosity.
"Is it forbidden for men to like flowers so that you think it's amazing?" he replied.
"I'm not saying that, nobody said that men aren't allowed to love flowers. I just wonder why you changed. You used to hate flowers, but now you can't be away from them."
"My reason may be the same as yours. Flowers are beautiful. Moreover, I needed something else to do home. It was just a matter of time." Hamdan said, enthusiastic.
His explanation, of course, didn't satisfy Hamidah's curiosity. But she tried to put aside the question as the change in him inevitably pleased her. She just hoped this could turn Hamdan into a romantic husband.
As time went by, the garden grew full of plants. A great variety of flowers grew in Hamdan's garden -- orchids, roses, jasmines and others besides. It was very colorful as well. If an edelweiss, which can only be found on mountains, could thrive in his garden, then he must have planted it.
Hamdan placed an antique chair in the garden so he could enjoy the sweet scent of the blooms during afternoon chats with his wife, and in the evening over a cup of tea.
He kept adding new plants after work, even there was no more space. His car was always full of seedlings. It was no wonder that Hamdan was now known as a flower lover in his office.
His friends often asked him for advice on how to cultivate plants. He seemed to be an expert on flowers.
It was undeniable that Hamdan was deeply immersed in gardening. The first thing he looked at when he arrived got home were the flowers, and in the morning, before going to work, he gazed at them. Furthermore, every day off, he spent all day in the garden.
"Honey, you don't need to buy any more flower seeds! Look, the garden is teeming with plants! There's no space for new plants," Hamidah worried.
"Hamidah, don't you remember that you used to force me buy flowers, asked me to love flowers? Now I love them, but you object."
"That's not what I mean, honey. You are too much. Will you grow plants inside our house?"
"Absolutely not, my lovely wife. I just buy new varieties of flowers. I don't want to miss them."
"But you seem to be addicted to flowers, honey! You devote all your time gardening and enjoying flowers," she complained.
"What should I do instead of gardening, Hamidah? I wish I had kids... It would be better for me to take care of them rather than spend my time with the plants. But we don't have any choice, do we?"
Children were always the last word between them.
Hamidah tried to stop the conversation because it hurt her terribly. She realized that Hamdan missed having a baby as much as she did. Nevertheless, she felt that Hamdan seemed to blame her for not having kids. She simply kept silent when Hamdan started to talking about children, although she knew Hamdan never intended to offend her.
She worried Hamdan might talk about kids even further...
She cared about how much Hamdan was concerned about the flowers, because she realized she didn't know how to draw his attention off them. She thought it was much better because Hamdan was likely to stay at home rather than going out for fun.
This, however, must have made her lonely.
Hamdan started bringing plants into the house after replanting them into flowerpots, as he thought Hamidah let him go on gardening. He put flowers in the living room and the dining room.
At first, they looked beautiful. A week later, they looked a mess because there were simply too many flowerpots.
One day, Hamidah warned her husband. She said she didn't mind the plants at first. At least, Hamdan didn't need to go outside if he wanted to admire the flowers. Moreover, the indoor flowers erased loneliness in the house. What she didn't like was the dirt they left after they were watered.
Unfortunately, Hamdan ignored her warning. He even hung several orchids in the bathroom. Now, the only place without any flowers was their bedroom.
One night, Hamdan talked about his plan to put several potted flowers in the bedroom. He thought they would make the room more beautiful. He was surprised when Hamidah refused ... then her face filled with tears.
"I thought I was the one who could make you happy! I was wrong, the flowers have replaced me," she cried.
Hamdan was angry, realizing that someone had poured kerosene on his beloved plants.
This was not all, and every day, the flowers dried one by one.
One day, he pitched a tent in the yard. He spent the night in it to apprehend the culprit, and frequently looked tired and sleepy. If he was, he took a day off from work. This week, he had already missed three days of work, but he still hadn't caught the culprit.
At first, he suspected his neighbors. But he couldn't gather any proof. Besides, it was impossible for his neighbors to have done it during the day. They would have had to have done it at night.
Then his suspicions turned to Pak Timun and his wife. They were obvious suspects because he had often asked them for help in the garden. Hamdan would question them carefully.
"Pak Timun, I think of you as family. It's almost seven years you've lived with Hamidah and me. You wouldn't hide anything from me, would you?" he said to Pak Timun one day as he left for work.
"I'm sorry, Pak Hamdan? Are you going to fire me?" Timun replied.
"Of course not, Pak Timun! Tell me the truth. Who poured kerosene on my flowers?"
At the question, Pak Timun suddenly broke out into a sweat. He began to tremble, his face became pale with fear and his heart began to beat faster.
After a long silence, he decided to tell the truth, although he thought he knew what would happen afterward. He decided to take the chance.
"Sorry, Pak Timun? Do you know who poured kerosene on my flowers?" Hamdan repeated.
"I'm sorry, Pak Hamdan! In truth, I did it, but it wasn't my idea. Somebody else told me to!" cried a shaking Timun.
-- Makassar, June, 2005
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