The Damask Rose Garden, another story from The City of Ultimate Bliss
This part of the story is complete in itself but if you’d like you can read the first part of The City of Ultimate Bliss HERE.
In all her nine years, she’d never seen him at her mother’s shop. He carried something large and brown and tied with string. That was the first thing Habah noticed. The second was that her mother’s gaze and that of the man’s were locked.
Habah studied the man. There was a warm familiarity about him. She couldn’t quite place it. When he smiled at her, she felt suddenly light-headed. The moment acquired the quality of an enchantment. She would happily have rested in that moment forever but her mother sent her back home … and home she went of course, though she wasn’t happy to go.
Who is he? Her mind wouldn’t stop its traveling. She only ceased to speculate when she found her grandmother digging through their old wooden trunk. Her grandmother retrieved a worn sepia photograph. In it Habah’s mother stood shyly beside a man who looked like he could be the younger brother of the man in her mother’s shop. That’s when Habah knew who he was. She knew why the moment was enchanted. The ultimate bliss she had dreamed of and yearned for had arrived in her city, as she always knew he must.
Nonetheless, she was stunned. The tension that had held her together all these years crashed and fell in tidal waves around her. Her eyes rained rivulets down her checks and neck wetting the clean white collar her grandmother had taken such pains to starch and iron.
The old grandmother took Habah in her arms, rocked her gently and sang to her in the language of that other land on the other side of the world, the place from which they’d come. When Habah’s tears had subsided, her grandmother gave her sweet hot tea and tucked her into bed. Habah’s emotions rocked her to sleep.
When Habah awoke, she found him sitting on her bed. He was holding her hand as though it was a precious thing. When he saw she was awake, the light of his joy beamed from eyes so like her own. Where have you been, Father? I have been waiting for you all my life. Every night I call to the moon and ask her to tell you of my longing. From that very moment, on those notes of pain and love, Habah and her father began to restore the years life had stolen.
Their house soon wrapped itself around Habah’s father. All the empty spaces were filled. Habah’s mother’s face was softer and her grandmother smiled more. Her uncle, Ammu Dani, was happy too. Her father walked her to school in the mornings and the other children saw that Habah wasn’t a liar. She did indeed have a father.
Now, safely cocooned in the ultimate bliss of her father’s affection, the evenings were carved of magic, not yearning. She would sit by the window with him, watching the moon, no longer needing to talk to it. While they sat making up the years, her father would tell her stories to sleep on. Her favorite was the one about the prince and the princess.
Once upon a time, he told her, in the manner that all good stories begin, there was a prince and a princess. They were very much in love. They built a cottage to live in not far from the sea. They planted a garden of damask roses that thrived alongside their lemon tree and sturdy mint.
The prince and princess would tend the damask garden knowing that no others had ever been happier than they. The only thing that was missing was a child. The princess would say that a garden is not complete without a child and a child is not complete without a garden. Finally, out of their love a baby was born. They named their baby Delight. She was perfect with ten perfect fingers and ten perfect toes. Their little girl seemed happy in the damask garden, seemed to love the scent of the roses and little sips of lemonade with honey and mint.
One day an evil man came to their village. He was a man who breathed fire and brandished swords. He said he hated love and hated happiness. He kidnapped the prince and locked him in a dungeon. He rattled his swords at the princess and Delight and set the devouring heat of his insanity upon them. In order to keep Delight safe, the princess wrapped her in a warm blanket and stole sadly away in the night. Clutching her daughter and her heartache, the princess searched for a place to make home. She found refuge in a strange new world where she was sure the evil man would never find them but where she prayed the prince someday would.
The prince for his part escaped the evil man’s dungeon. He went back to the cottage one last time. He cut a ripe lemon in half and put its seeds in two small pots of dirt. He pulled up some mint and tucked it into another pot. He prepared cuttings from the damask roses they loved so much. With great care he wrapped these treasures in burlap and tied the package with string. Then he took one last look around. Hot tears dripped and dried in salty streaks down his checks. The prince wiped his eyes and with a deep breath and a determined stride, he set off to find the princess and Delight.
The journey to find his family was long and arduous. The prince had to pass through several foreign lands and cross an ocean or two. He had many adventures, not all of them good. At towns along the way, he found work to pay for the next leg of his journey. All the while and with great difficulty he cared for the little garden treasures wrapped in burlap.
One day after traveling for some time, the prince arrived in the city the princess had chosen as their new home. When he at long last held the princess and their daughter in his arms, the prince’s sore heart ceased aching. He was so overjoyed he nearly forgot about the traveling plants, but he did remember and together with the princess soon had them unpacked and planted. As the new damask garden flourished so did Delight. They all lived happily ever after because that’s what princes and princesses do.
Habah soon learned this story by heart and stored it away there for safekeeping.
Time walked on and Habah’s family thrived. Her father got a part-time job as a carpenter. He began helping with the store and learning the language of their new country. He put his carpentry skills to good use making needed repairs to their home. Her mother and grandmother giggled and joked through their daily routines. Out of his savings, Ammu Dani bought paint. Everyone took a brush in hand to refresh the house.
The mysterious package wrapped in rough fabric held a young lemon tree, some mint and slips of damask roses. Her parents planted everything in the back yard. The lemon tree grew little by little. Her father said it would be awhile until it bore fruit. The mint did what its nature calls it to do. It began to take over the garden. The rose bushes her mother so loved were clearly happy, They put out a few intrepid pink flowers.
On summer evenings Habah’s family sat in their garden. They sipped lemonade with honey and mint. They ate salty cheese and olives with her grandmother’s homemade bread. The garden at dusk was Habah’s favorite place and time, the liminal time when the sun is setting and the moon is rising. As the light grew tender her parents would relax from the labors of their day. They would sit together, often holding hands. Her father would smile and wink at Habah as she played.
Habah’s mother, Laila, was more beautiful than ever. Habah noticed that her mother’s breasts had grown plump and her tummy round. It made Habah smile to know their new baby would play in a damask rose garden and would know nothing of life without the ultimate bliss.
Dedicated to all refugees – all the families that have been split apart – in the sad recognition that unlike Habah and her family many will not find one another and most will probably not find safe haven. “More displaced now than after the Second World War …The total at the end of 2015 reached 65.3 million — or one out of every 113 people on Earth, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).” CNN HERE
May all sentient beings find peace.
This is entirely fiction and not meant to represent any specific person or persons.