The Garden – Sunflower (III)

“We are back, Gardener!” Flare was once again at the gates of the Garden, this time, with the sunflower. (Or rather, a sun named Sunflower, now).

“Hello there,” the Gardener appeared. “So you have experienced the miracle.” He nodded, observing that the sunflower had now become a little sun-ling.

“Yes! Sunflower is now a sun!” Flare declared with pride. “Now we can traverse this Garden together, him and I, perhaps even this universe. We are both suns now!”

“Ah, can you?” The Gardener asked. Then he spoke to the little sun-ling (I suppose we should call him Sunflower now, with a capital S, so we know that Sunflower is now his name.) “I will speak to Flare alone, Sunflower. You will find, twenty paces from here, a small brick house. It houses the map of this Garden. You may enter the house and study the map. Then when I call again, come back and tell me where you would like to go next, in this garden of mine.”

Sunflower nodded excitedly and stole a glance at Flare. Flare gave his approval and Sunflower sped away.

“Do you think you will travel with Sunflower now?” The Gardener asked Flare.

“Yes!” Flare declared. “When he was just a sunflower, I could not bring him to the places I went. But now, he is a young sun and there is nowhere in the universe young suns like us cannot go!”

“Ah, but are you still a young sun?” The Gardener asked.

At his question, Flare stilled. For he had been so engrossed with the task of caring for the sunflower, then blazing away whenever he could, that he had not looked at himself for a long long time now. Now he did, and saw to his dismay that his flames were no longer as bright and luminous as they were. (It might seem to you that not much time has passed, since Flare first found Sunflower as a seedling; but that is how time works, so often it slips by, too silently.)

“No, I am not.” Flare said quietly. (Suns, as we know, live for a very very long time. But they too, use up the fuel of their gaseous heart, grow old, and die some time. Flare knew this too.) “But even an old sun such as I, there will still be places we can go together.”

“Ah, but would these be the places Sunflower wants to go?” The Gardener asked. Flare had no reply. And after a moment, the Gardener said, “Let’s ask him, shall we?” And he called out to Sunflower.

Sunflower blazed up in an instant, breathless with excitement.

“And where would you like to go, my dear Sunflower?” The Gardener asked.

“Oh! May I choose? May I really? There are too many places I want to see! At the other end of the Garden, there are seven planets, each the colour of a rainbow! I think I shall want to start there!” Sunflower answered.

“Ah, that is too far for Flare to follow, would you still want to go, if he cannot come?” The Gardener asked.

At this question, Sunflower stilled and looked at Flare. And Flare saw in Sunflower’s eyes, the exact reflection of himself, as he was, aeons and aeons ago.

“You can go.” Flare said quietly.

“Oh! Can I? May I! Then yes Gardener, I want to go!” Sunflower exclaimed.

“Ah but the Rainbow planets are far, and you are but a young sun-ling. To get there you must wait for an epoch, unless someone gives you one light of his.” The Gardener said.

There was a moment of silence at this. Then Flare spoke, “You can have a light of mine, dear Sunflower.”

The Gardener looked at Flare, then at Sunflower, and said “So it shall be done.”

And in an instant, Sunflower’s light became so luminous and so magnificent, that there no doubt he was now a real sun, one capable to blazing, like Flare once did, to the ends of the universe.

“May I go now then?” Sunflower asked eagerly.

“Oh just a moment,” Flare said as he moved closer to Sunflower. “How far you have come, my little sunflower.” He smiled, a little sadly, at Sunflower. “You will have so much fun out there.”

“Yes,” Sunflower said, solemn for a moment. “My dear Flare, I will never forget that you were my sun. I shall come back and tell your about my travels!” Then he reached out and touched Flare, light to light. “Goodbye now!”

And then he sped away.

“That was my last light,” said Flare, long after Sunflower left.

“I know, ” replied the Gardener.

“There was time and world enough for us to be apart.” Flare said sadly. “I wanted my time alone, and now, I have.”

“Do not be too hard on yourself, you did not do badly by the sunflower,” the Gardener said kindly. “You are a sun, and suns are made to want to blaze across skies and travel to the ends of the universe. You did then, he does now.”

“But I thought I had done all that, before I came to your garden.” Flare replied.

“Yes you did. But we do not leave ourselves behind when we enter The Garden.  We are still who we are and want what it is in our nature to want. For you Flare, that was your independence, and your solitude.” The Gardener said wisely. “What you learn in the Garden is love someone, until the love and responsibility truly become part of who you are.”

“So what will happen now?” Flare asked. “I have lost my last light. I cannot be a real sun in The Garden,” he said sadly, glancing at his own dying embers.

“No, you cannot. But I promised you a place here, should you accomplish the task I set you, and you did.” The Gardener smiled. “You will never be strong enough again to light up a planet, but I will gather what remains of you now. You will be a most beautiful sunset, in a painting I shall place in the house on the easternmost reach of the planet where Sunflower is. Every morning, the first rays of his light shall shine on you and you will always be together this way.”

“And this painting, what else will I find in it?” Flare asked.

“Oh,” The Gardener answered with a wink. “It will be a painting of a sun setting behind the hillocks on a golden planet, setting aglow a stream and the panes of a glass house–a glass house, with a sunflower in it.”

And that is how it came to be, that there is an empty house on the easternmost tip of the green planet (for that is where the Sunflower is now going about his work as the sun of a planet).

Every morning, the first rays of the sunflower, now a sun named Sunflower, shines through the windows and lights up the canvas where Flare resides. When morning has passed and Sunflower was too high overhead for its light to reach Flare, Flare waited through the rest of the day and night for the next dawn when Sunflower’s light would once again touch him; remembering during those hours, how once it was the sunflower who was doing the waiting, for him, Flare, his sun.

Now we come to the end of the story. You might wonder, why didn’t the Gardener put more windows in Flare’s house, so that Sunflower’s light can shine in during the afternoon? Or why not make the house a glass one, like the one Sunflower grew up in? Sunflower’s light could shine on Flare all day then. What clever children you are!

But there is a lesson in this and it is a little too sad for me to explain it to you. For I have a sunflower of my own and I must learn the lesson myself. I can only say this to you — that one day someone is waiting for us, but one day, we find ourselves waiting instead. Come read this again, when you too have little sunflowers of your own, you will understand then. We must love our sunflowers the best we can.

And you will also understand that all stories end, and we will leave Flare and Sunflower here, in this beautiful ending.

Goodbye!

Previous parts here:

Part I

Part II

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The Garden – Sunflower (II)

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Part I

When Flare awoke again, it was morning. He stretched his rays out, yawning as he did so, and set about tending to them — kindling the rays in some places and patting some flames out in others, until he was all groomed and ready for the day. He did not immediately check on the sunflower, whom he had left trembling and whimpering the night before, because he had quite forgotten about it. (We must forgive Flare a little, for the task was new; but only a little because when you are responsible for the life of something else, you ought to be very serious about it indeed.)

When Flare did remember to check on the sunflower moments later, he was startled to see that the tip of the sunflower shoot drooping.

“Oh! Were you trembling and whimpering the entire night?” Flare asked anxiously as he moved closer to the sunflower shoot and peered at it. He was worried about failing his task, of course. But although we know Flare as a proud sun, he was also kind, and he was genuinely sorry that the sunflower was feeling poorly because of his neglect.

“All right then, what can I do?” Flare asked, inching closer to the sunflower. As he did, he noticed that the sunflower shoot grew a little more upright. “Oh, do you want me to come closer to you?” Flare moved towards the shoot again. He did so cautiously to avoiding burning the sunflower with his flames. Then the most curious thing happened, two budding leaves, which Flare had not noticed before, began to wave excitedly. “Ah this is what you want then!” Flare felt very pleased with himself.

But it was not easy for Flare to be close to the sunflower shoot without hurting it. Suns are very hot and although Flare could pull his flames closer to him and cool some of them, he could not put them out altogether without putting himself out as a sun. So he had to hold himself very carefully, and very still. But this he did, because he noticed that the sunflower shoot stood taller the nearer he went, and finally its budding leaves rustled in a sigh of delight when Flare was almost right beside it.

And so, Flare stood beside it all through the day; and then he stood beside it until stars rose in the inky night and both of them slept once again.

The next day, Flare awoke to a soft but clear “meep”. The sunflower was no longer a shoot, but had a tight bud at the tip of its stem.

“You have grown!” Flare exclaimed!

The sunflower waved the sharp tip of its bud in response.

“Can you understand me?” Flare asked in wonder as he leaned his warm face closer to the sunflower, careful not to burn him.

The sunflower rustled its leaves then, lightly tickling Flare’s cheeks.

Flare laughed at the touch, and then realised that the sunflower was not burnt although his face was as hot as the rest of him.

“You’re a hardy little one! Shall I take you around your little glass house then?” Flare smiled and swept the sunflower up on a flattened palm of flame. “I shall show you this, our home, for a while.”

And so, Flare and the sunflower spent many days exploring the nooks and crannies of the glass house; and the sunflower slept each night wrapped in the warm licks of Flare’s flames.

Then one day, Flare woke up to a mewling yawn. When he opened his eyes, he saw the sunflower’s tight bud began to unfurl slowly, until a sooty face framed with bright yellow petals was revealed.

“Hello,” the Sunflower said shyly.

“Oh hello!” Flare exclaimed, wondering at the constant surprises the sunflower brought. “I’m Flare.”

“I’m Sunflower.”

“So you are!” Flare said. “You are all sturdy and grown up now — a real sunflower! Come! Let us go out of this glass house, and explore this planet today!” For Flare was an explorer at heart, and quite delighted that he could now bring Sunflower out of the glass house, and into the warm beauty of the golden planet.

So for many day, Sunflower kept by Flare’s side as they explored the planet together. He snuggled in Flare’s warm flames at night, accompanied him around the glass house in the day, watched as Flare blazed across the skies of the planet.

It was a new feeling for Flare. He lit up entire planets as a sun, his light moved civilizations, but no on had depended on him in this way. On him, not his energy, not what he could give in warmth and life. No one had liked him in any way for he had always was a proud sun.

“Why do you like me?” He asked the Sunflower one day.

“You are my sun.” Sunflower said simply, and something in Flare’s roaring heart stirred. Perhaps, this was the start of the peace he wanted to find all along, here, in this Garden.

(But you must know by now, that there is a catch in the story. There always is.)

Suns, they are not made for glasshouses. Not while they are young and blazing. Not even if the glasshouse had a sunflower in it. Suns are not made even for an entire golden planet. Soon, Flare found himself longing for the breath of the skies and the wind from the stars.  He did not want to leave the sunflower, but the sunflower was a flower. He was too young and delicate for Flare to bring beyond the warm atmosphere of the golden planet and into the biting ocean of stars and planets.

(You may know how this feels. Sometimes you love someone very much and want to make them happy; but you also want to do things which you know will not. We are all selfish sometimes.)

So Flare began to sneak out of the glass house, off the golden planet. First, for short snaps of time when Sunflower was having his afternoon naps. He always came back before Sunflower awoke.

But slowly, Flare felt the need to go further, for longer. Here was an asteroid belt, glittering like diamonds, just a bit further away. Here was a rain of comets, here a sparkling bridge across the galaxies. And so, he did. But Sunflower was always asleep when he returned.

Until one day, he came home to the sad sooty face of the Sunflower.

“Why do you leave?” Sunflower had asked him. It was after Flare had spent a particularly long time away, basking in a seasonal shower of stars.

“I leave because I am a sun, and I had always roamed the entire universe.” Flare said gently, feeling guilty at Sunflower’s forlorn expression.

“This house, this planet, it is not enough?” Sunflower asked.

“It was enough for many many days. And you are still the light of my mornings, and the warmth of my nights.” Flare answered.

“Can I come?” Sunflower asked timidly.

“Ah, you are a sunflower, I am a sun. You are not made to go beyond this planet. I fear you will wither out where I go.” Flare answered solemnly.

“Oh.” Sunflower said sadly. “But you must go. So here, I shall wait.”

“I will always come back.” Flare said then, but with a heavy heavy heart.

(Of course, Flare did not know it then. He would never know. But Sunflower had adored him so — he knew from the very first time Flare left him, and had even then, Sunflower had been waiting.)

Then one day, Flare returned him after his afternoon jaunts as usual. To his surprise, Sunflower was not in the glass house and there was shattered glass in a corner of the house. Flare looked round hurriedly and caught a glimpse of bright yellow out by the stream. He sped over.

“Look!” Sunflower said, looking up in excitement when he heard Flare. He was brandishing a roughly hewn prism of glass. “It took many tries to get the shape right, but look! When the glass is like so, and the sun shines through it… Rainbows!” Sunflower beamed widely then, pleased with himself, as his prism broke light into little rainbows on the grass.

“Oh yes.” Flare said, relieved that Sunflower was safe. “Have you been at this the whole afternoon?”

Sunflower nodded. There was no trace of disappointment or sadness at being left behind by Flare on this day.

“Tomorrow, I’ll try to make a bigger one!” Sunflower declared happily.

“All right then, let’s head back now.” Flare reached out to Sunflower and linked a flame with one of Sunflower’s leaves, pleased that Sunflower now had interests of his own.

Of course Flare did not see it then, not in that moment when he glimpsed the return of his freedom. But later on, he would remember that this was first time the sunflower had stopped longing for him. This was the first time Flare was no longer the centre of Sunflower’s world. Sunflower was no longer waiting for him.

Then time, time came and went.

(You may remember that Flare was on a quest to find a permanent place in the Garden. He had almost forgotten himself because in some way, he already had what he wanted. But every story must move towards an end, and here is how it happened for Flare.)

For at long last, Flare woke up one day to feel a rising warmth beside him, and opened his eyes to find that Sunflower was no longer a lanky shoot with a sooty face framed by bright yellow petals.

“You are a sun!” Flare exclaimed in wonder, realising at once that this was the miraculous occurrence the Gardener had spoken of, the first time he set foot on the edge of the Garden.

“Yes!” Sunflower, now the sun named Sunflower, smiled.

(t.b.c.)


Leaf

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Last summer,

I was a leaf,

yearning for the freedom of fall.

Carry me in your mouth,

I tell the swift,

every year.

Carry me somewhere,

carry me south,

carry me to Africa.

Or, carry me back to summer,

because it is cold,

and I do not like winter.

I did not like Africa.

Did I ever?

Last fall,

I missed,

I missed the tree.