Here we have the first chapter of Monsoon, the first story in the Secret of Flowers Trilogy. South Asia has been traumatised by war and humanity has forgotten the Secret of Flowers. Meanwhile, a young girl dreams of her big sister, whom she’s certain is real and who is certain her feelings can reach as long as her breath reaches the sky. Abhu is about to meet Sunset, who brings with him answers and secrets alike.
She wishes, with everything her breath has to offer, her tiny, fragile breath that coloured the chilled air and spoke to the thousand crystal lights of a million colours, and the great, pink sun, kind enough to talk back. She wishes, with the deepest her breath had to offer, and that was why it rained, and why there were stars. Because she wished. That was why.
Because she wished. Her face would be wet with it, with its softness, with all the warmth of its cool, gentle softness. The rain would cradle her face and the deep, pink-blue smell of the air would kiss her on the nose, and cheeks and forehead. Whilst the sun, in all of its warmth would hold her tight and whisper stories into her hair. And as the sun set in the kind rain, the stars would chime all about her, she was sure that’s where they began, in the warmth of the orangey-pink sun, which made the still air so filled with tiny crystal lights tickle her, that’s where the greens, the blues, the flowers of a million colours would bloom and sing to the sky, to say hi to the moon, and that’s how the night came to be filled with stars of a million colours that smile back at her and talk to her. She’s sure they have names too, after all they sung, so they must have breath, just like her, so they must have wishes too, so they definitely had names, and she listened and sometimes, the stars in all their pinks, blues, greens and oranges would tell her their names, in the warm, amber night air. Her small hands would be full of it and she would take hold of it tight, in her tiny, soft palms, she would hold tight, to keep it near her, the warm, the cool and the smell. The smell of that hug she dreamed of more than anything else. So she wished, and she breathed and she held tight to a heart she was sure she could hear, she was sure was real, the heart she dreamed of, her breath, her smile, and her smell. So she breathed, and she nuzzled the warm, deep, crystal air below a million colours and did her best to smell all of them, because she was sure, that was what her sister smelled like.
So she breathed, and she nuzzled, and she held tight and smiled, to someone she knew somehow, because of the rain, the stars and the warm night, was real. So she breathed, and her breath sung, and that was her wish. I want to see you. I really, really want to see you. That was the ka-thump and chime of every heart beat.
She would be like the rain, she was sure, she would be like the rain, she would be honest and kind, and brave, just like the rain. She would smell nice like the morning, like the wet grass, like the great white sunshine that hugged her through the light drizzle and thin mist. She would be like night time, like the soft singing of the crickets and the warm sapphire starlight that bathed the cool, colourful world in all of its greens, pinks and deep oranges. That’s what her hugs would be like, she was sure, a little like the cool, honest rain, a little like the warm, nice smelling morning and bright, and nice, and kind, just like the stars and the night which tickled her tummy and made her smile. That’s what her big sister would be like, she was sure, she was so sure.
And that’s why, because she was so sure, she breathed deep in the morning, turning her face to the warm, everdeep sky that shone so bright on her small palms, wet from stroking the grass dew. That’s why she liked being out in the cool, honest rain, and because it was cool, kind and honest, she knew, it was true, her big sister was real, she was sure. Because the deep, deep night sky in all of its billion lights was real, because it hugged her in its blues, pinks, oranges and greens, she was sure, she was real, her big sister as deep as the sky, and as kind as the rain, would smell nice and have warm hugs, full of star-colour, she was real.
It was because there were such wonderful things, like mornings, and wet grass, like nights with singing crickets and deep skies of blue, pink, orange and green lights, because she could feel those things hug her and tickle her stomach, she knew, she really did, that her big sister was thinking of her too. Because things like mornings, sunshine, wet grass, warm nights and stars were real, she wasn’t alone, she knew it in the deepest chime and ka-thump of her small heart, she wasn’t alone, because her big sister who smelled nice was thinking of her too. She knew, it was in her very deepest, bravest breath.
It was that deepest, bravest breath which she used, which she sung to the moon. Her very deepest, her very bravest breath, filled to the brim with a million colours, warmth, cool and wish. And so, she wished, with her deepest, bravest breath to the brightest light in the hope filled sky, to the mighty, gentle moon, who was always there, even if she was hard to see sometimes, she was always there, keeping it bright, but quiet. The moon didn’t talk as much as the stars, or the rain, or the air, or the dew on the grass, but she was always there, waiting, listening in all her great, mighty kindness, protecting her, the wish, her wish, always, until she found the courage to wish it in her deepest, bravest breath, to the brightest, most mighty light in the dream drenched, hope filled sky of the iridescent night, bursting in its wonder, in its promise, in her own song, in Wish.
Even then, as Abhu puckered her lips and lifted her quivering chest which protected her small, mighty heart which beat excitedly, she was still a little – just a little nervous, because it was the moon, who was so mighty, great and kind. She’d never spoken to the moon before, so it took her very deepest, bravest breath when she finally did. She practised, she practised with grass dew and cool air, as the white sun came to help her smile and practise with her, she practised into the infinite blue canvas above her as the sun turned bright yellow, and on that amber-blue, she painted, and she painted deep as she practised, she painted her big sister. The smell of the deep, sweet sunshine that cradled close her tummy and heart, and the kind, cool grass in its stroke-like play in her nose and sweetness in her throat. They reminded her of her sister, they helped her practice, talking to her of her sister’s smells and hugs, which she was sure were real; so she practised, through the bright brave day and pink dusk and the sun yawned and smiled, its sweetest, kindest smile, to welcome the million-colour stars, who brought with them their queen. And she finished practising what she wanted to say, all the different things she wanted to sing about her sister, about her wish, and she breathed it, her deepest, bravest, truest breath, to the moon.
Abhu wasn’t shy, or at least she tried not to be, because she was sure, her sister was brave like the rain and warm like the stars, but he would tell her, the man who smelt like the dusk, like its sweetness and its dusty orangey-brown, and whose funny, mischievous smile was like the yawning, pink sun, he would tell her she was shy and tiny, but that, that was what made her wishes great. The man who smelt like sunset would say things like “I’ll come visit your breadbox one day.”, or “Don’t- Bread crumb-Hey- Don’t run around so much- someone might step on you!”, or “Watch out for that dove, it might carry you away.”
“I’m not that small!” She’d protest, but would always end up laughing, how could she not? He was like the sunset after all, his tired, bronze eyes that shone with so much hope when he looked at her, tickled her stomach, just like the pink sun did. So she loved him, just as she loved the pink dusk sun that spoke back to her and smiled to her.
“There’s nothing wrong with being small.” He’d smile. And he’d hold out his hand to the deep, deep blue sky under which they would sit and eat samosa and khaja. And on his hand, sticky with chickna kho, sugar and batter crumbs, a small chota prantik perched. It was so small, Abhu hardly even noticed as it emerged from the sky, as though it were a part of it, and landed on Sunset’s hand, picking, pecking and chirping through the sugar and kho on the messy man’s palm. Abhu gasped cheerily, and held out her hands, hoping the tiny bird would choose her next. “A relative?” Sunset joked. Abhu wished, then maybe she could fly too. The tiny bird, it must have been so brave to soar and sprint so sweetly through the azure air like that. Sunset pulled his hands from the depths of the amber-blue and like magic, which she was sure he was, the peach-coloured bird hopped over onto her own sticky palm, its tiny, tiny legs, pricking and tickling at her tender skin which so loved the warmth of the sun, patter of the rain and kisses of grass dew. Then, the little chota began to chirup and peck at the sugar and crumbs on the tiny, ever-open palms. “That could be Lord Jagannath y’know.” Sunset said, wiping his hands on the wet, early-afternoon grass, the dew warm from the amber-blue.
“Hey, no fair! I’m busy feeding the bird, we’re supposed to wash our hands together!” Abhu yelped. And then, as though Lord Jagannath had really heard her, the tiny chota chirped an apology, a thanks, a hello and a bye, a namaste, an I wish for you and fluttered back into his kingdom in the ever-deep blue. And Abhu, maybe because she was Wish, that she couldn’t help but reach out with her ever-longing, tiny hands, and everdeep eyes of saffron-chestunt, bottomless, reflecting the amber-blue deeper, vaster than any other eyes could see, painting their own sky-warm, everdeep. She reached and longed out to the sky for a moment longer, but Jagannath’s singing, reassured her deep heart which she herself did not fully understand yet, and she smiled again. She breathed and simply stared out into the sky and the kind, heart-beat sun, the deep sky where the stars, songs and her everdeep wishes were; her sister was under that same sky- and then, she remembered that her sister wouldn’t forget her manners, so Abhu placed her palms together, and brought them right up to her nose so that her breath could warm them, and she wished the little chota, just as he had wished her- “Namaste.” She sung. And as she breathed that wish to that tiny god, kind enough to eat sugar and khaja crumbs from her hands, tickling her palms and making her laugh, she couldn’t help but- but burp.
Because that’s what khaja did, because it was sweet and tickled her tummy, so she would burp, if it didn’t make you burp that tiny burp that jiggled your sides, and tickled your throat and drummed playfully at your chest like the monsoon must have on the temple bells, then it wasn’t good for you. That’s what Sunset told her, and that’s how Abhu knew that the food she made with him was good, because it was bronze-hot and crisp-warm, toasty kind and salty-stick with her tears, just like the sunset, the sunset which was warm, and hit the cold hard, which hurt and made her cry sometimes.
And that’s how she knew. When she took the first toasty-brown, crispy-bright bite it was so warm and hit the cold so hard that it hurt and made her cry, so that’s how she knew. On that day when her tummy was tired and cheeks were cold, she knew right away that he was a good person, because she was sure that a bad person could never make sweet food that made you burp the way the torrent rain tickled the bells. But she did burp, and its tickle was so deep, so kind, that she cried and gurgle-cooed with boogers as salty-sweet as butter tea, and that’s how she knew too. Because a bad person could never remind her how kind boogers and tears were, that her heart cried and sniffled to tickle her face and keep her cheeks warm when her soul was sad. It was the biscuity, crumbly warm, chumble, and timble soft in her small mouth filled with sweet, saffron stars humming with their own heart beats, that made her face so warm, and her chest ache with hurt so kind that she was sure her tear drops turned to treacle.
Sticky, gooey, fruity, salty boogers, brown with dark toasted sugar and laughter filled honey, it was warm, kind and bronze-amber like the purple eyed sunset. It was just too nice, too cool and warm, too fun, too kind, it was just too kind, because she was getting cold, and her wish was too deep and she was so wet and weak that she was thinking she wanted to cry, but then there was a smell that was khaja, bronze, sweet and brown, and the sunset sat down in the rain with her and shared his sweets. And he taught her to wipe her hands in grass dew, because it tickled her tender palms, and she liked to try smear the wetness all over his face, and he told her that even though the big grey sky was scary and she was so small and shy- she was brave, because she was small and shy, she was strong, and brave, more than the stars of whom there were so many, more than the tiny, kind rain-drops who ran from the sky. No, only she was that brave, the sunset told her, her, that tiny beating heart, so small that looked on to the great sky, to whom the world was so big and scary, and wondrous, and lovely, that because she wondered and hoped deep still, she was brave, and she was strong, more than a star or a rain drop, she was wish, a real wish, a breathing, singing, smiling wish, Abhilasha. Wish.
And maybe that was why she loved the bells, because their laughter sounded like wishes. The way the bells laughed in the rain. She loved the way the rain played with the bells, she was sure those sounds, those chime-deep echoes was their laughter, their own cyan, pink and green giggles, the sound of the old and young bells playing with the kind, silver-song orange rain. Maybe that was why Abhu often liked coming out to talk to the bells too, they were just so much fun to listen to, and because they had such nice songs, she was sure that they were great listeners too. And they were. She loved when they were noisy. When they laughed, she couldn’t help but laugh with them, and smile as hard as she could when they were quiet; they were as good at being quiet as the stars were good at chirping and chatting, they were the kind of kind quiet that waited as eagerly for stories, to laugh with them, as they did laugh their own. So she loved them, she talked to them and laughed with them, and hugged them tightly on hot days, so she could feel their cool bodies and smell their coffee-coloured bronze. She’d never tried coffee before, but thought it probably tasted like the bells, tinny and tickley and gentle-rough on her tongue.
And when she hugged those bells deep, in all their cool kindness in her small arms and tiny, warm chest, it was her way of talking when no other way seemed to work, when her wish was too heavy, and she couldn’t breathe, so no words would come out. So she’d hug them, she’d hug the bells to tell them before the heaviness in her became too much, to tell them about her sister, about her wish, because that’s what Abhu’s hugs were, they were her prayers and dreams and her hopes, her hugs, her press, it was her dreaming of her sister’s kind warm and cool hugs, it was her wish. And then she could breathe again, she’d hold tight, and hug them hard to tell them her wish, so that she could breathe again, because they were cool, and kind and listened with echoes as bright as their laughter.
And then, she would gasp, because of the laughter of her friends. And she would look over at them, and her breath would sigh and soar, because all the heaviness that was still there would lift completely and flutter and sing, because, when she heard their laughter which echoed like the sky under which somewhere her sister wandered, it would remind her, she wasn’t alone. That’s why, her own breath sung and turned into a laugh that chimed deeper than the sky’s ever blue, and she was sure, her sister could hear her smile.
When Abhu’s friends asked her what she was doing, she’d say she was talking to the bells. They asked her if she hugged them so they could hear her better, she said that a hug was the only way she really knew how to say what she wished sometimes, they only way to breathe. “Besides, when you hug someone, they can feel your heart beat, so if you hug them extra tight, then maybe you’ll understand each other better.” That’s why she always thought the people from Kathmandu and the people with the pretty red cloths wouldn’t have to fight any more if they hugged, maybe they were just cold. But Abhu wouldn’t say things like that any more, some of her friends would get scary when she did. But that was okay, Abhu was sure, that if anyone was ever scary, it was because their breath was getting a little heavy, and it was getting hard and it hurt, that’s why hugs were important, because they helped people breathe, like a namaste, like an I wish for you, like the rain and warm brown pastries passed to you with a khana khanu bhayo. Maybe that was it, maybe everyone was just hungry, maybe they were just waiting for someone to ask them, to say khana khanu bhayo, maybe that would help them breathe, then they could talk and sing, and chime and laugh, just like the bells which Abhu held so tightly, so much so that the blush of her cheeks would brighten and her small glittery eyes would shine as though they were filled with singing sugar droplets, so her friends were sure hugging bells was a-lot of fun.
So they would join in, and it would quickly turn into a game, they’d all huddle around the five great bells at the temple entrance, which were three times their size, each big enough for about six of their tiny arms and chests to huddle around and grasp. So they’d all huddle around them and hug their cool and smell their bronze until a monk would show up and they’d all skip away, but not right away, they’d all wait and giggle for a second just to be an inconvenience and see what the monks might say, usually they’d just be confused. Abhu thought that confused monks were cute, they reminded her of owls. Some of the girls would then say that owls weren’t cute, that the noises they made at night were scary, but Abhu thought it wasn’t owls that were scary, they were sweet. Their hoots, filled with wonder and curiosity, noises she was sure they made because of how big their eyes were. With such big eyes, they must be able to see so much more of the world; to them the world must seem even bigger than it did to her, they could probably see parts of the sky curve over in shades of blue, tones of white, silver-sapphire, scarlet-gold-black and green that she’d never seen, see so many stars at once that to them, the world must have never looked dark or heavy; catch every rain-drop and experience the brightness of the sun just a little more, the blueness-white of the air just a little bit more and so be filled with hope, just that little bit more, breathe just that little bit more. Yeah, with all that wonder their breath must have been that little bit heavier, but it must have made them happy to see so many wonderful things at once, Abhu was sure, that was why they hooted, how they breathed; because they were full of wonder and hope, it was their, ‘ooh’, their ‘hoot’, ‘kahooh’, it was their breath.
No, the things that came out in the night weren’t scary, not to Abhu; not the owl’s hoots so filled with wonder, not the snow leopards who were strong and brave, because she was sure even they were scared, and she she was sure they were as white as the snow because they were just as gentle, just as kind, and that their eyes were such pretty colours because it was at night that the world was its prettiest, deepest colours, because they prowled so bravely, because they were explorers, their eyes drank in the night in all of its saffron shades and emerald glimmer; the fireflies which she loved because she was sure they were once stars, or the ghosts which she thought she could be best friends with, after all they must be coming back to the world because it was so wonderful, full of song-sights, and colour-sounds, of tasty food, sweets, rain, stars, hugs, laughs and people, because they wanted to fill up and be heavy again, and then to breathe. Isn’t that what life was for? It was Sunset who would let her know that it really was okay to believe that, that it was true, when he told her it was okay to be sad, that people felt sad because they were heavy, but being heavy wasn’t bad, it was because everything would be full, of feelings, colours, songs, touches and breath, that it became a little hard and all someone had to do was breathe, all someone needed was a little light, like a candle, like a hug, or a sweet, or warmth, then they could breathe, sing all the things that they had collected.
That was why, she loved the night, because it was when the world was at its deepest, when it was at its fullest, when everything was most clear, when you could feel the world’s heart-beat, it was that loud, that deep, that warm and that cold, that kind and that cruel. She could hear it, smell it especially; the night smelt of all the stars which were like fire, snow, water, brown sugar and ash, the deep smells of the sweet dew and foot-step drenched soil covered in stories, the air, filled with songs and breath throughout the day. The night, filled to the brim with dreams, in all of its rich, ever-deep glimmer of colours and sounds, that’s why it was dark, that’s what darkness was, and Sunset would promise her, he would make it okay for her to be sure, that the dark was just dark because it was full, hope-black, the deepest, richest, heaviest of colours- no, more than that. It was all colours. That was night. That was why, Abhu who was Wish was sure, that was why it was at night that the owls hooted, the leopards explored and the ghosts came back to love the world, that was why they chose night. But maybe at the same time, even if it was so pretty and so full of lights and hope, maybe that was why the ever-deep night, the ever-bright darkness could be scary sometimes, because it was heavy, and because it was heavy, it hurt, but that was okay. And yet, there isn’t always someone around to say that, to say that it’s okay, and so, facing the dream-drenched, hope-filled night could hurt, because it was heavy so, especially if you were alone. Because someone else’s voice, someone else’s warmth, really did make it easier to breathe and that’s why, no matter what they could ever do or say, Abhu held her friends so dear.
And that was why, she could never hate anyone, after all, wasn’t that why the people with red cloths did scary things sometimes at night, because they were scared too, because it was so heavy, like the big pot that blocked the Ganga. And yet, they cared, they really did care, that’s why they came out at night, even they could feel everyone, their wishes, their soul-beats, spirit echoes and sighs. And yet, the night was so heavy, and hard, with all the billion-fold fireflies born of our dreams which fluttered into the sky which Abhu was sure was the heart of the world and grass filled with kind and sorrowful rain. But then, the sweet rusty sunrise would stir, casting cool sugary shadows and sneezing in all her pinks and yawning warm the world in her shy saffron-blush, and people could breathe again, and the world again became white feather-light, weightless and bright; through that exhale, people breathed again, into the deep bright sky, and again felt weightless, and throughout the day, the sky, the heart of the world which we all shared, would again be filled with our feelings, with our breath until we saturated it and filled it with so many dreams that it would turn the richest, and most wondrous dark, wish-strewn and full of love and sorrow, heavy and full of breath. Our heart, in its truest, most honest form. The night sky.
Sunset was the first person she’d met who saw the world as she did, he made her feel that she wasn’t alone, so after she met him, it became so much easier to breathe. Even though she would still long and dream and cry and wish for her sister, she was braver with him, because he helped her breathe. But he would tell her she was wrong, that she was the bravest person he’d ever met. From the billion lights of New York City to the land of colours in south east in the place where Delhi was, to Kathmandu and scarlet Tibet, she was the bravest of all living things, he swore it, with all his breath, to the everdeep sky on that rainy day when her cheeks were tired and her eyes cried to try and breathe for her because her breath was becoming too heavy, on that day, when Sunset would meet her, the girl so full of wish, Abhilasha; Abhu. His bronze-brown sugar and amber kindness, just like the soft sunset, his smell, if the sky were full of sad pastries, something like that, like warm grass dew, just like the sunset, which yawned and was kind, and promised to come back, always, Sunset, who reminded her how kind her tears which breathed for her and tickled her with salty boogers really were. Sunset.
Because the sky had gone silver that day, because people’s feelings had been so vast, their breath so deep that the sky, our heart had to go silver, and cry, even before we had finished exhaling to usher the night. That was a hard day, or maybe it was building up for a long time. Maybe that’s the way rain worked, that it was the breath the world could never quite exhale when the sun rose, so it built up over time. It was the fluffy white clouds which were the giggles that came after sadness and the green streams in the blue that were the sighs of wonder, the white haze of excitement in the face of sorrow, the ever-deep blue of longing, and over-time, it must have built up until even the day-sky was too heavy, so it rained, the sky, our heart which we all shared breathed and cried. That was why it rained.
And yet, that was why Abhu loved being out in the rain, because it was a part of her, it was a part of the feelings she breathed out into the sky, it was filled with her own wish, her own deepest, bravest wish, that her sister who was brave and kind, like this rain, gentle like the grass dew and warm like the sun, full of star-light was real, and that she could hear her, and feel her, and that she was real, and that she wasn’t killed by the red cloth people or the people from Kathmandu the way everyone said – she had to still be there, somewhere, under the same sky, touched by the same rain, she had to be, she had to be, she had to be- she was real, and kind and brave, so I’ll be brave too- please, She didn’t understand, she was gasping, why was she breathing like this- Please – And she fell. I’m scared – And it rained still. It kept raining, but she was full, she was full, but it was still raining- it was too heavy- it was too much – she was full – so she cried too, but her eyes could not empty her heart fast enough, because the rain kept falling- she couldn’t breathe- please… I can’t breathe… And she cried and begged, but still. It was still too heavy and she couldn’t breathe. And it grew heavier still. It were as though this small girl’s wishes, her breath, was too heavy even for moon, the stars, the sky, the bells and Lord Jagannath and they cried, it was as though, even for the heart of the world itself, her wish was too much and so it cried on to her. I’m sorry- I’m sorry- It were as though the heart of the world itself had rejected her, hated her, would no longer listen to her wishes. Relentless, the weight, her heart, it was just too heavy, she couldn’t, she-I can’t, please stop- please, I promise I won’t wish any more- I just wanted to see my sister- I just wanted to see her – I- PLEASE- Please- Stop- STOP- Toasty-brown. Amber-bronze. The sunset.
“Namaste.” I wish for you. “Breathe, it’s okay. Khana Khanu Bhayo?” Have you eaten? “Breathe.” And sunset handed her the brown-crumble and bronze chumble khaja pastry, the food of Lord Jagannath the bird who listened to wishes, who the bells rang for in the temple, the sound which the sky would catch and carry to the moon.
“The world doesn’t hate you, it loves you. You, who is the bravest of all things, never stop wishing, no matter what. Never stop. No matter what, wish.” Sunset said.
And Abhu brought her tiny hands for holding and hugging and reaching to her mouth and bit into the tiny, sugary pastry with her quivering, salty face, eyes of star-light for hoping and cheeks plump for smiling and she overflowed and yelled from where the warmth swelled in her stomach and she cried, and hugged and pulled and tugged and she hugged and she hugged. And the stranger hugged back and promised, the promise of dreams, of hope, of life.
“I promise. It’ll be okay. Breathe and wish. Breathe and wish.” Said the Sunset to the Wish.