Flower Garden: An Arabic Adoption Folktale
Yippee!! Adoption Today Magazine published my short folktale, The Flower Garden, in their September issue which has just been released. You can read it here below, or go to their website, http://www.adoptinfo.net/catalog_g111.html?catId=55347. (It looks like you may need a subscription to read it there.)
“A folktale is a type of traditional story that tries to explain or understand the world. Such stories were orally passed down through the generations and feature morals or lessons. The stories usually take place long ago in a faraway place and are woven around talking animals, royalty, peasants, or mythical creatures. In a folktale, goodness is always rewarded. Heroes and heroines live happily ever after while villains are suitably punished. Throughout the generations, the story may change but its core remains the same. They mirror the values and culture of the society from which they originated. “(http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-folktale.)
I mentioned before I love to read, and I read almost anything I can get my hands on. When I was little I would spend hours squirreled away in the corner of the library, pulling books off of the shelves and reading. I read all genres: mystery, humor, fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, biographies… not too much science fiction, but that’s just me. I read the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Amelia Bedelia, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, books by Lois Lenski and Beverly Cleary, and the scandalous Judy Blume, (which were shelved by themselves way up high on a shelf. I would have to sneak to read those!). I especially loved reading about places that seemed far away and mysterious. I loved reading the true stores of Brothers Grimm, the Blue Fairy Tale Books; and the scary Russsian tales of Baba Yaga with her house on chicken legs kept me awake for many nights. Funny to think that one of my favorite books was a wonderful, illustrated multi volume of the Children’s Bible. I can still see them all, taking up a whole row on the bookshelf, bright blue and white binding. I wasn’t so much interested in the religion part but found the stories contained within those pages magical, fascinating and frightening.
After my youngest daughter was home for a bit, I began to think about different ways to tell her about her life story, her adoption story. There are many ways to tell people things; the good old straight away, and the metaphorical. Sometimes we may have to be told things in a few different ways before we can really grasp the meaning or importance behind it.
I think many of us have forgotten about the power of fairy tales and fables. The joy of reading something that is told through symbols,and the inner work that it takes to sometimes decipher the messages embedded within. Kids get this stuff, it seeps into their brains and they work it out little by little. That’s the magic. The meanings may not hit you over the head, but seem to pop up over time here and there.
When we were in the Middle East, (and even at home a few times), people sometimes asked us if we were going to tell our daughter that she was adopted. I was so surprised at this question. “Of course we will tell her!” I thought, ‘What a strange thing to ask.” (See my previous post, Letter to My Daughter’s Birth Mother, to see the sometimes-bumpy road that thought has had). One day my husband said to someone who had asked, “Yes, as a matter of fact, I told her last night. So now she knows. Phew! Glad we got that out of the way”
I laughed. Our daughter was only ten weeks old, and he had sat with her in the rocking chair the previous night, singing and talking to her. I guess among the things he spoke to her about was her story: us finding her, her finding us. So there it was, out in the open, now she knew. She is adopted. We love her. End of story. (Not really, of course this will be an ongoing story, but I love his directness.)
The Flower Garden grew out of all of this; my love of books, my love of other cultures, my love for my daughter. I would like my child to have a story about her life that is a bit magical. (Wouldn’t we all love to have a story written about us?) One that incorporates her culture, her history and the wonderful land she is from.
So, here it is my short folktale for my daughter, and for all the children and families in the Middle East who have been touched by both the loss and love of adoption.
The Flower Garden
In a far away land of love and sorrow, strength and hardship there lived a kind young farmer. He was very handsome with eyes the deep color of evergreen and arms as thick and strong as the magnificent cedar trees that covered the hilltops. Over time the young farmer fell in love with a maiden from a nearby village. The maiden was beautiful with long shiny black hair; red lips and the most lovely heart-shaped face that all the villagers said reflected the great love in her heart. Together the young couple worked hard, harvesting their land, growing wheat and olives, and tending to their animals. They were happy, but more than anything the maiden longed for a small flower garden, for it seemed with all their hard work, there was never enough time for she and the farmer to just sit together and watch the gentle sunrise in the morning and the brilliant stars at night.
One spring day the maiden awoke. It was soon to be the anniversary of the day she and her love had first met and she had been working for many months on a small gift to give him. She had gathered the wool from only the finest sheep, combing it over and over until it was soft and light, and then spinning it endlessly on the wheel. She spent many nights bent over her loom making the cloth she needed and finally walked to the market to sell fresh eggs, greens from the garden and her special, delicious honey cakes. Using the money she earned from her wares she bought all the goods she needed for the farm, and then using a bit of the extra money from her cakes, she bought some delicate, golden thread. That night she picked up her needle and using the gold thread set about putting the final details of embroidery on the cloth.
The day of the anniversary she and the farmer went about their usual chores feeding the animals, tending to the crops, and raking out the barn. By midday they were tired and hungry so the maiden gathered some olives and cheese for lunch and using figs, sugar and flour made a special pastry. After they ate, the maiden took out the magnificent cape she had made and wrapped it around the farmer’s broad shoulders.
“For you,” she said. “So you can stay warm, and think of me while you work in the fields.”
The farmer smiled, saying, “I do not need any reminder of you, for you are always in my heart, but I will wear this robe proudly.”
He then took out his hand; in it was a small piece of folded cloth.
“I am sorry my gift is not as grand,” he said.
The maiden carefully unwrapped the cloth and there inside sat a single, tiny, flower seed. The farmer told the maiden that it was time for them to have a flower garden, where they could sit together in the morning and again at night, and he was certain that the blossoms in the garden were going to be as beautiful as she.
The maiden promised the farmer that she would give the plant all her love every day, and she was certain that the flowers would not only be beautiful but also have vines as strong as the cedars on the hills and as green as his own eyes, for it would take the love of both of them to make it grow.
Together they dug a small hole in the dirt, near the corner of the house where the sun rose, whispered their love into the ground and gently covered over the seed.
Every morning the maiden woke up, watered and cared for the seed. She would sing and talk to the little flower she knew was growing below, and as she waited she imagined the beautiful flower garden she and the farmer would someday share.
But as often happens, these things were not to be, for one day the farmer was working in the olive grove when the trees started to blow and the leaves began to dip in and out in a dangerous dance. The farmer looked to the distance and saw a dark, whirling cloud of thick, black smoke racing towards him. Quickly he got on his horse and rode towards the house thinking only of his love. He knew just where she would be, at the corner of their house tending to their dreams.
“Quickly, quickly,” he shouted, “We must go. Danger is coming!”
The maiden’s eyes opened wide in fear and she trembled as she leapt onto the back of the horse.
“Wait, wait! Our garden, our dreams!” she cried as they started to ride away.
The farmer stopped, the clouds above their heads were turning a cold, grey color and he knew they couldn’t stay much longer. There was no time to dig up the precious flower. Taking off his cape he leaned down and draped it gently over the little mound of dirt.
“Be safe little one,” he whispered before turning and galloping away.
The storm rolled in, dark and fierce, destroying everything in it path; tearing down the valley, tossing aside the mighty cedar trees, and destroying all of the hard-earned crops. It raged on for days, determined to wipe out all that it touched, but somehow, quietly, beneath the safety of the farmer’s cape and protected by the maiden’s whispered love, the small plant grew.
A while later a man and his wife from the city, who had heard about the deadly storm, decided to go to the countryside and see if they could offer some assistance to those who lived there. They knew all about sadness and lost, having experienced much of their own, and as they walked through the abandoned village and devastated farmlands the woman’s shoulder sagged. She couldn’t help but think about all of the families that were lost, and the hopes and dreams that had been destroyed. Suddenly her foot caught on something and she stumbled forward. There on the ground was a ripped and tattered cape, its gold thread shining ever so slightly through the thick layer of dust that covered it. The woman lifted the cape and there beneath it, protected from the devastation, was a tiny, flower shoot just beginning to show one folded red bud at the very top.
Her husband took out his knife and carefully dug up the plant. Wrapping it in the dusty cape, he handed it to his wife, and she cradled it gently to her chest.
They carried the tiny flower home to their small apartment in the city, and there the women planted it in a simple clay pot. Every day she would water and tend to the plant, moving it about from window to window to make sure it had just the right amount of sunshine. She had always wanted a small flower garden of her own, where she and her husband could sit together in the morning as the sun rose and watch the stars twinkling at night, but living in the crowded, busy city gave them no room and little time for such a place. Still the woman had dreamed and wished and hoped, and now she was filled with happiness at the thought of even one small flower. She sang and laughed as she took care of the plant, and waited patiently for the beautiful flower she knew would emerge one day. And then one day the plant started to grow.
The vines of the plant were green, strong and thick, and each flower that bloomed was bright red, and shaped like a perfect heart. As each blossom opened the sweetest perfume burst forth filling the tiny apartment with a lovely fragrance.
The vines grew quickly, racing up the walls, and in and out of the curtains, covering the apartment from top to bottom in beautiful petals. Finally, when there was no place left to go inside, the plant began to climb out the window. It stretched outside, trailing down to the ground encasing the sides of the grey cement high-rise with a thick blanket of rich red. The vines then ran back up to the roof, winding around and around an old abandoned trellis and creating an amazing flowery canopy. Almost overnight the once empty city rooftop was transformed into a magical garden, full of life, color, and sweet perfume, where the couple could sit together in the early morning and watch the stars shining at night.
Soon word of the splendid roof garden spread all across the land and people came to see the beautiful, red heart-shaped flowers. Suddenly there were wonderful children’s parties in the roof garden; splendid weddings, and magical dances with jeweled ladies in glimmering silk gowns and handsome men in colorful robes. Musicians would come to play their instruments under the hanging flowers, the mystical beat of the drums and flickering chimes of their tambourines mixing with the heavenly fragrance of the many blossoms. The sounds and scents drifted away, over the shiny minarets and past the golden domes of the city to the broken countryside, and into the window of one small cottage.
The roof garden was such a busy place full of life and love, and the husband and wife’s hearts were filled with joy, but sometimes, after the guests had all left and it was just the two of them, they would sit and talk, and wonder about the people who first planted the flower and saved it from certain ruin.
One morning as the city was first waking, the woman and her husband stood in their flower filled kitchen preparing their morning tea, when something caught their eye. A young couple was standing together under the flowers. It was too early in the day for a wedding or a celebration of any kind, and the woman wondered what they were doing there. Her husband watched them through the window for a bit, and then he slowly turned. Opening a cupboard, he took down the old, dusty cape he had stored away a long time ago. He rubbed his hand slowly along the soft cloth until the gold thread began to shine through.
“It is time,” he said, gently taking his wife’s hand.
The couple in the garden turned as they approached and the woman saw the man’s face for the first time. It was strong and handsome with the deepest, greenest eyes she had ever seen. The young maiden by his side had her hair covered with a modest cloth, but it could not hide the lovely heart-shaped face or the beautiful red lips, the same color as the many flowers that now hung over her head.
“Excuse us,” said the farmer, bowing his head just a bit. “We have travelled far. We heard the music at night… it floated in our windows, filling our ears with the sounds of love, and the beautiful aroma of the flowers filled our dreams so we couldn’t sleep. We had to come.”
The woman’s legs shook with fear and her heart raced. She sank down on a nearby bench as terror flooded her heart; she knew it was them. They had come to take her precious flower away.
And then the young maiden began to cry.
“It is so beautiful,” she said. “So much more than I ever dreamed…”
She sat down on the bench next to the woman. A tear fell from her eye and slipped to the hard concrete floor of the rooftop, and then another and another.
“There was no time. No time,” she sobbed, holding her head in her hands.
The woman leaned over and gently took the young maiden in her arms.
“The dream began with you,” she said, “ Without you, there would be no flower garden here. No music, no magical parties with laughing children and grand dances. It would be just another empty city roof top.”
Their tears fell together.
The husband took the faded cape from his arms and held it out to the farmer.
“I believe this is yours,” he said.
The farmer swallowed hard and nodded, “Yes, I thought it might…”
The husband smiled and nodded, “It worked,” he said. “You saved it, see?”
He gestured towards the glorious garden and as he did the most wondrous thing began to happen. A small vine began to push itself up from the harsh concrete where the women’s tears had fallen. It grew quickly, stretching upwards, wrapped around the bench, and slowly twisted and turned, gently enveloping the two women in its branches, stopping only as a single red flower started to bloom. The beautiful flower slowly unfurled to reveal inside a very small bird.
The bird’s feathers were a shiny deep black mixed with bright red streaks, and a single thread of gold ran straight through the center of each majestic plume. The tiny creature looked at the couples with large, green eyes, and although small her eyes reflected a great inner strength. The bird raised her gracious head into the air, puffed up her chest, and opening her beak sang out a breathtaking melody. A beautiful song without words that told a story of hardship and strength, sorrow and love. Then spreading her magnificent wings, she flew away into the sky.
The two couples stayed for many days and nights surrounded by their magical flower garden. Together they watched the gentle sunrise and later the pink sunset, and always the marvelous, magical bird was there soaring over the dusty rooftops, and among the brilliant stars, singing her song for the whole city to hear… and there was plenty of time. Plenty of time.