The Gardening Club
Exotic flowers, tropical birds and a paradise island
Today, the cobalt-blue sky makes my heart sing and I notice a pair of Scarlet Macaws sitting in a tree at the end of our garden. They look as though they are talking to each other. I smile and then shift my gaze to the ocean beyond. I love the way the waves keep gently rolling in, day after day, and the timelessness of the view mesmerizes me each time I see it. I have good days and not-so-good days.
I used to be a truck driver, before the accident. I loved the open roads and enjoyed meeting all kinds of folk from all walks of life. It was a fine job. My wife, Alyssa, is a teacher in a private preparatory school and I get to spend more time with her than if she worked in an office or did shift work at the local hospital. Since my accident, she is talking about getting a second job but I am not happy about it.
We had only been married for a few weeks when I lost the use of my legs after a runaway car rolled back and crushed me against a wall. That’s a bitter pill for any spouse to swallow, but for a newly married one, it was devastating. She was and still is, amazing. She makes sure I have something prepared for lunch, even though I assure her that I can manage to feed myself. Sometimes, I try to help out by doing some of the lighter household chores, like hanging the washing out or emptying the garbage, but I find it tiring and I know Alyssa will only scold me when she gets home. I always know when I'm in trouble because she wags her finger at me.
My favorite thing to do is make my way down to the garden, along the shingle path (which can be difficult to navigate in a wheelchair) and cut her a bunch of beautiful, brightly colored flowers. Strelitzias are her favorite – she calls them birds of paradise because they look like exotic birds from afar. I think lilies are exquisite. Alyssa says lilies are for funerals but I disagree. Orchids are my favorites. I sometimes sit and study them in the garden; I love the cheetah-spotted throats of some of the varieties and if you look closely, what looks like a tiny bird’s head with a beak peaks out from the soft, velvety cerise-pink, white and baby-pink petals. Most people would be surprised by my choice of flower – it’s delicate and serene. I love beautiful things. That’s why I love Alyssa so much – she is the most beautiful and serene woman I have ever set my eyes upon.
We met in London. I was visiting my parents who emigrated there some years ago and Alyssa was on holiday with a friend of hers, Tamika. I’ll never forget the first time I saw her. She was laughing and her whole face lit up. She has a very open and honest face and the most amazing smile. She and Tamika were sitting on a floating restaurant on The Thames and I was walking along The Embankment. I stopped in my tracks and looked across to where they were sitting. I was drawn, like a magnet, across the narrow wooden bridge to the converted barge and ordered a coffee on that beautiful sunny day. As soon as Tamika got up to go to the bathroom, I struck up a conversation with the pretty lady left alone at the table. We bonded the moment we knew we were from the same island.
Since the accident, I feel as though I have let Alyssa down. We had so much going for us but now, I worry that I'm not enough for her. Today, I am not having a good day. I am sitting on the porch of our modest home staring out at the ocean and wondering why I bother to stay alive. After all, I can’t walk, run, fetch groceries or provide for my beautiful lady. And I know that Alyssa is desperate to have a baby. I can’t do that either. Father a child.
The black clouds roll in from the horizon threatening to engulf me and I don’t even hear Alyssa calling out to me in her beautiful sing-song voice. She came home early that day. She wasn’t supposed to find me. I had planned it so that Rodney, the guy we hire to help keep the garden tidy, was supposed to show up, but he was late. The next thing I remember is waking up in hospital and Alyssa squeezing my hand and crying. The doctor was cross with me, I could tell. As if I didn’t have enough problems to deal with as a result of my accident, I had apparently done irretrievable damage to my kidneys, he'd said. I wish the tablets had done their job; I couldn’t even get that right.
I was ashamed of myself when I saw how upset Alyssa was. She told me she couldn’t care less about anything other than having me around. We talked for hours, sitting out on the porch in the warm, sticky air, thick with the scent of jasmin, night after night. Gradually, I regained some of my self-worth and realized what a fool I had been. The love of a good woman should never be taken for granted and I begged my wife for her forgiveness.
Family and friends rallied round and we made it through a rough patch, not made any easier by me feeling sorry for myself the whole time, but I just couldn't help it. Alyssa was now working two jobs and I was sitting on my butt all day; I had no choice. Surely there was something that I could do? I read a lot of books and thought about writing one but soon dismissed that idea. I wanted to do something for my wife, something special, something that would bring us closer together. And then everything fell into place. In my head, at least. Whether I could pull it off was another matter.
I started the island’s first Gardening Club. I kept it a secret from Alyssa at first, but word spread so quickly, it was hard to keep a lid on it. Aunties, uncles, nephews, nieces, and friends from all over the island came to lend a hand and help out in the beginning, sharing their knowledge and expertise. Together, we have performed minor miracles, tidied up rough patches, pruned, staked, trimmed and cropped, taken cuttings, swapped ideas and made such a difference to so many people's lives and I even took a Garden Design course. I co-ordinate it all on my laptop and with so many folks coming in and out of my life, physically, on the telephone and communicating with me by email, I hardly get time to sit on my porch and gaze out at the ocean for a moment, let alone for hours on end like I used to, all those years ago. It was never my intention (or even my dream) to make money from it, but as time passed, islanders were keen to promote the company that Alyssa talked me into setting up and now it is a thriving business. At long last, I can provide for my wife and my beautiful daughter.
“Daddy, what are those birds called, the ones up in the tree?”
“Scarlet Macaws”, I tell Shereen, who we adopted two years ago. It’s her 5th birthday today and our garden is full of people milling around, eating, drinking and socializing - family, friends, and lots of children. My parents have flown across from London especially. There is a lot of laughter and everybody looks relaxed and happy; a small jazz band are tucked in a corner of the garden playing some wonderful tunes. Alyssa is amongst them all, wearing a big, floaty, floral cotton dress and playing the perfect hostess. She smiles up at us on the porch and waves. I can see that she is happy.
Shereen is sitting on my lap in the wheelchair and we wave back and talk about the Macaws and I tell her all about how, when the birds meet a partner, they stay together for the rest of their lives.
“Just like Mommy and Daddy,” she smiles up at me and my heart melts.
“I love you, Daddy,” she whispers and snuggles into me.
I squeeze my little girl gently in my arms and gaze out at the serene turquoise-green ocean lapping gently against the shore, then shift my gaze to the wonderful scene below in our lovely garden. Today is such a beautiful day and I thank God for giving me a second chance.