The mud road to the church was decorated for Monthi fest(Feast of Nativity). The children had dropped flowers throughout the road and it looked as if it had rained flowers. Flowers of every shape, size and color. There were yellow glass flowers, roses, jasmines, marygolds, variety of wild flowers that grew by the hill side. The little Joe’s imagination ran wild looking at all those colors and flowers.
The flowers somehow seemed to ring a familiar bell…associated with heaven, death and his dear departed mama. He watched with fascination the small children excitedly going to church with plates full of flowers. Some carried small baskets of flowers. He watched them with mixed feelings as they sang and threw flowers at the grotto of Mary.
His father was a protestant who quoted scripture after scripture to describe this ceremony as unscriptural. He tolerated no other name except the name of Jesus to be honored in his house. But little Joe fondly remembered his mama who was a catholic and loved this festival more than any other celebration.
The children were now singing “…Phalya biter bavtelin shivti abolin…Phulan ter kai meltelin Moryek favo zallin…” He particularly loved the line where they sang “…Korta apurbai mai moji, hya sobit phulanchi” He almost visualized his own mama holding a flower and smiling at him. When she was alive the monthi fest was celebrated with all its rituals. Though his dad hated the rituals, he still loved to eat the sweet smelling dishes of Sanna, Vorn, Dento-Baji, and several other types of vegetables. His mama also brought from the church the blessed new grain, ground it and mixed with milk and served to all with reverence. Tearfully she used to remember the dear departed who were missing.
Joe gently sobbed as he fondly remembered those good old days. How he longed and ached for his mama…Now he had to rush home and cook something before his dad returned…as usual dead drunk. It was amazing how at this small age of six he had shouldered the burden of house keeping due to cruel circumstances. The death of his mama had left a huge void in their life. It also hurt him to remember that it was not a natural death. His parents always fought. She was ill…in the usual domestic tension his Dad had totally neglected his ailing wife and one day it was too late. She just succumbed to her fever. Little Joe had clung to her body and sobbed till he had fallen asleep. The neighbors had taken care of him for a few days and his dad had started drinking heavily to hide his guilt, frustration and loneliness.
The days passed, but the grief and loneliness never left him. The routine at the school only increased his misery. The other day the teacher had worn the saree which looked almost the same color and design like the one that belonged to his mama. She had even used the same perfume which was his mama’s favorite. In his silent longing he had lingered around her the whole day till she gave him a resounding slap and the other children had giggled in delight. Feeling utterly miserable he had gone home and sobbed on his pillow. Then he reached under the pillow and took the wedding picture of his mama which she had preserved in her Bible. He stared at it with eyes filled with tears. The picture of his mama looked so lovely, full of affection…then the idea struck him like a flash!! His mother was in heaven and definitely with Mary. He somehow wanted to give his mama something…What to give and how ?
Probably there was nothing the dead liked better than the flowers. How else one could explain all those flowers in coffins, graves, altars, photographs? Why else all those children threw flowers at the statue of Mary ? The innocent mind of little Joe wondered if Mary could somehow help him reach his mother. May be he could make a small request to her without the knowledge of his Dad ?…Just a small request would not amount to a prayer or worship which was forbidden. But would it work? Was that beautiful statue coming alive at night to take all those flowers ? As the sun was setting a plan was taking shape in his mind.
The church bells tolled and recitations of rosary could be heard in distant houses.
The burning candles at the grotto of Mary were casting eerie shadows all around . Joe was grateful to the bed of flowers around the grotto which cushioned his feet and helped him walk without noise. He had never before approached anywhere near a catholic church and now his heart beat heavily at the horror of being caught by someone. It would be a terrible thing if his dad caught him near a statue! He just wanted to see that statue, it looked so real from a distance…so much loving and merciful like his own mama….If only he could succeed in sending just one lovely flower to his mama…could Mary take a flower from him to his mother?
…His mama stood there stretching her outstretched hands. He suddenly realized he had left behind the flower….
Like a frightened animal he carefully crept closer and closer staring at those eyes of the statue as if hypnotized. The light of the flickering candles reflected in the eyes of the statue. The eyes of that marble statue were looking frighteningly real. As he crawled closer and closer, suddenly a hand grabbed him at the collar and a stinging blow brought him back to the reality. It was the ‘Mirniam’, the sacristian who was spying on him. Like a cat dragging a mouse the ‘sadist’ gleefully dragged the little boy to the parish priest.
“Well well!!! now we know how the money disappears from the donation box at the grotto!” the sacristian announced with sarcasm. The priest stroked his beard thoughtfully as he looked at the frightened miserable figure of the little boy. The recent ecumenical document from Pope had clearly urged the clergy to do all in their power to remove hatred and distrust between the ‘seperated bretheren’ and catholics.
After a short homily which neither the boy nor the sacristian could understand the priest let the boy go home. The pain and humiliation of being caught as a thief hurt even more and the night was gloomy as ever. The pillow and the photo of mama became drenched in the tears whole night. Along with the frustration came a new determination to somehow do what he had already schemed.
On his way back from school the next day he had spotted a strange wildflower in the nearby hill. It was a beautiful rare wild flower, with a mixture of violet and yellow color. He had never seen such beautiful large flower. But it was out of his reach. The tree was surrounded with thick bush and it could take him an hour to climb that tree to pluck that flower. He rushed home to finish his household chores before his Dad arrived. It would be really dark by the time his dad would fall asleep. But there was no other option. He was determined to take that flower and before dawn would keep it at the feet of Mary so that she could give it to his mama.
The evening was spent in eager anticipation. Dad was unusually upset and in a foul mood. Probably the festive atmosphere of ‘monthi fest’ had stirred his emotions too. After the usual grumbling, grunting and drinking he slowly went to sleep. Joe was only pretending to sleep but his mind was working like a machine. He had schemed everything in detail. With a torch light in one hand and a wooden stick for courage he quietly stepped out of the house careful not to awaken his snoring Dad.
It was pitch dark. The dogs barked as he ran towards the hill. The tree was much difficult to climb in the dark and the surrounding forest looked terrifying. Jackals were howling at a distance and crickets and night creatures made strange noises that frightened him. But the thoughts of sending that beautiful flower to mama somehow outweighed his terror. The thorns bruised his tender skin as he climbed, and with his heart racing he at last plucked that beautiful flower. Even the angels could envy the rare smile that appeared on that small angelic face. But as he jumped over the bush he had directly jumped over the black slithering cobra which retorted with a deadly strike. In his jubilation it just felt like a mosquito bite, and Joe hardly felt it. His thoughts were concentrated on just one single thing. He had to send this flower to his mama before the day break…before the cruel world would again try to deprive him of his sweet pleasure.
As he ran home the blood was carrying the deadly poison in his veins. The feeling of victory was drowned by a terrible feeling of fatigue.. As he sat on his bed the sleep was already forcing his eyes shut. But No… he could not sleep just like that. His loving mama had taught him one more beautiful thing… a beautiful song. ” Hamv nidon damptas dole, Kai pun vign yet gi pole….” ( as I sleep and close my eyes watch over me for any dangers….) he sleepily uttered.
He had to go before dawn…As he leaned on his bed he desperately tried to keep his eyes open. He could not just fall asleep and lose this chance….the dawn was near…the silver light over the hill looked brighter and brighter. It was as if in a dream….he was running towards the statue of the grotto. But it was strange that the statue was not there. His mama stood there stretching her outstretched hands. He suddenly realized he had left behind the flower…it was too trivial now…nothing compared to the blissful embrace of his mama..!
They found the withered flower and the photo of his mama in his outstretched lifeless hand the next day. The catholic and protestant relatives argued over the body for the right kind of burial. A life had indeed withered like a wild flower, but a spirit had blossomed in the bosom of his beloved mama in heaven.
Author: Richard D Souza- Qatar