Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Garden of Joy~ Short Story by Nataleigh Robinson

There is a moment in every young person’s life when they decide this is who I’m going to be.  Some get to make the decision themselves, choosing who they want to be and what they want to do with their lives without people’s expectations to hold them down.  I always envied them, for I was never given that choice.

My father always told me what I was going to be and I knew better than to ask questions.  But when he left to be with another woman his expectations left with him and new ones came to take their place.  My mother’s expectations were for me to help in keeping the house and taking care of my younger sister while my two older sisters did their best to make money.  But even with my help we still had to move to the poorer part of town and to a cheaper school.

Even my new friends had expectations for me.  They expected me to drink and smoke and fool around.  But at least these expectations were better than my mothers and so I fulfilled them. I don’t remember the exact moment I became a criminal but before long I was a regular vandal.  But I do remember clearly the night of my first arrest, and even more than that I remember my sentence.  Forty hours of community service for Mrs. Hunter, the old women whose house my friends and I had tagged and egged two weeks before. 

We had spent so much time making fun of the poor old women.  We knew that she was too weak to clean up the egg shells herself; in fact, she was barely even strong enough to take care of her garden on her own.  We laughed whenever we saw her son scrubbing the walls of her house from the old yoke.  How were we supposed to know her son was a cop?

I remember those days so clearly, though I dreaded the very thought of working for Mrs. Hunter.  I thought I would be like working for the devil in hell itself.  Maury said she probably smelled because she was too weak to take a bath, and Theo thought she was probably a bitter old women who would work me to death.  Needless to say, I quickly decided that I would much rather be scraping gum off of the lunchroom table then working for this woman. 

But I quickly realized just how wrong they both were.  In fact Mrs. Hunter was much more fit than we realized.  She spent hours working in the garden.  She had a muscle condition that kept her from being able to lift her hands above her head, or to stand for long periods of time, which was why she needed help cleaning the egg off of her porch ceiling.  Still she helped with as much as she could.  But there was one day that will always be engraved in my memory for all eternity, a day that changed my life forever.

It was toward the end of my sentence, we were working together in the garden because most of her other odd jobs had been finished.  Suddenly, she turned to me and said, “Do you know why I enjoy gardening, dear?”

I was surprised; I was used to her jabbering on and on about the old days, but this was the first time that she had ever asked me a direct question.  I shook my head unsure how else to answer.  She stopped her work and smiled at me, “It’s because flowers are some of the weakest creatures on the face of this planet.  A chill wind can blow them over, a sudden frost can kill them…an ignorant child can crush them with one misplaced foot.”

I looked away and turned my concentration back on pulling weeds knowing that she was referring to me and my friend’s destruction of her garden 3 weeks before.  But Mrs. Hunter continued, “Flowers are much like people in that way, a misplaced word or a thoughtless deed can crush the life right out of them.”  She motioned toward the handful of weeds in my hands, “weeds sneak in and attempt to strangle them, but with the right nurturing hand, these flowers can grow stronger than ever.”

She paused and watched me for a moment as I struggled with a stubborn weed then said, “Dear, I know you’ve been hurt, I don’t how or by who, but if you keep letting the weeds choke out your growth, if you let the frost kill your joyful spirit and you allow the ignorant people in your life to stomp out your love for life, then you will be no better than the weeds.”

I swallowed past the lump in my throat then forced myself to speak as bitterly as possible not wishing for the tremor in my voice to peek through, “If we’re like the flowers then what does it matter, when winter comes I’ll be dead anyway.”

Mrs. Hunter shook her head, “That’s someone else’s words you’re speaking, someone in your life has told you you’re worthless and you’ve believed them.”  She stood up then and brushed the dirt off her hands, “Come with me I have to show you something.”

She led me around to the back yard where there was a large tree that I had seen many times before.  The tree stood in the center of the yard with pink and purple flowers on it. Tiny white flowers climbed up it trunk and wrapped around it’s branches and curled them all the way to the top making it look like they were sprouting flowers out of the side.  Along its base hundreds of tiny forget-me-nots bloomed.  

Mrs. Hunter picked one of the forget-me-nots from the base of the tree.  She gave it to me and I frowned not understanding what was so special about this simple flower.  “Forget-me-nots are perennials. Do you know what that means?” I heard the term before but had never bothered to learn what it meant, so didn’t answer, she continued.

“Like all flowers, perennial flowers die in the winter, they feel all the harsh winds that the others feel and are crushed by the same driving snows, but unlike the weaker annual flowers, perennials return each year when spring comes.”  She picked one of the white flowers from its place on the tree and handed it to me as well.  The petals were twisted into the shape of a star and I was awed at the simple beauty of these flowers

“These are moonflowers.”  Carol explained, “Moonflowers are also perennials and they are also climbing plants; they need another stronger plant, or a wall to cling to in order to be healthy.  That’s why I planted them so close to my fuschia tree.”

With that she looked up and pulled down one of the smaller of the large flowers from the tree. “I planted this tree nearly twenty years ago now.  It was just a tiny sapling at the time I had to tie it down to keep the wind from pushing it over.  It’s become so big and strong since that time. Sure it still has to deal with the winters, and it even looses its flowers, but they always return more beautiful than the year before.”  She looked at me with a look that said I should understand her point but I was still confused. 

“Darling, people are going to get you down in life and it’s true sometimes it’s hard to forget what people have done to you.  You may feel like life as you know it is over, but like a perennial you have to get back up and try again.  You’re going to have to rely on people sometimes to help get you through, but you need to rely on people who can support your weight.  Think of what would happen if one of these moonflowers tried to attach itself to a forget-me-not.  Both would collapse.  But by clinging to a strong tree it’s able so survive.”

I thought about she was saying and then said, “You’re saying I’m like a moonflower and my friends are like forget-me-nots.”

She nodded. 

“So what does that make you? The Tree?” I said knowing I couldn’t hide the bitterness of my tone.

Carol smiled, “Maybe, maybe not.  I can be if you want me to be.  I’m old; I’ve seen and experienced a lot of things.  I can’t say that what you’re going through is exactly new to me.”

I shrugged and looked away, “Well you’ve only seen the surface stuff.”

“That’s true, but I know how to use my eyes to see what you allow on the surface, and I analyze these things through my hearts eye which can see far more.”  I turned back to face her, and I’m sure my confusion was obvious.  “For example,” she continued, “I can tell just by looking at you that you are from Middle Eastern descent and by your slight accent I would assume first generation, your parents probably speak your native tongue at home.”

I nodded slightly speechless at first and then finding my voice, “They did, until my father left a couple of years ago, my mother hasn’t spoken much since then.  We moved here from India when I was born.”

A knowing look came into her eyes then and she moved toward the house, “I think the rest of this conversation should be finished over a plate of cookies and tall glasses of milk.”  We moved into the house and soon were settled in the living room, each of us a glass of milk and a plate of cookies between us.  As soon as we were comfortable Mrs. Hunter said, “If you were born in India I imagine it’s safe to say that whatever name you have told your friends is not your real name.”

I gulped afraid of where this conversation was now headed she continued, “Am I right in believing that you were born with the name of Nakusha?”

I nodded tears springing into my eyes and I blinked them away and tried placing the firm look back on my face not wanting her to see that she had struck a cord, “It’s a common name for girls in India, why shouldn’t my parents call me Nakusha?”

“Because it tells of what your parents think of you and how they treat you.  They treat you as if you were Nakusha…unwanted.  Let me tell you something, dear, I do not see you as a Nakusha I see you as” She paused for a moment thinking of a more fitting name before saying, “a Sada…a pearl.  And I know God thinks of you like that too.”

I scoffed, “What does it matter, a name does not make you who you are, I did that myself.  I chose this life.  I’m a criminal.”

Mrs. Hunter placed a hand gently on my shoulder and looked deep into my eyes, “No, it doesn’t,  but it says a lot about the person who named you, and if that person named you unwanted then I can only imagine what your home life must be like.  You don’t have to become what they expect you to be.  You can become what you want to be.  Tell me, what is the name that your friends call you?”

I smirked, “They call me Creo, it’s Latin for artist or creator.  My friend Theo is a big word nerd.”

“Is this a name that you like?”

I shrug, “It fits me well enough.  I spend enough time with my art.  But…”  I paused debating whether or not I should continue.  “I’ve always liked the name Sarah.”

“Ahh, a good name, it means Princess.  And it was the name that God gave to the wife of Abraham.  She was the mother of his chosen people.  She was a woman who would never be called Unwanted by her God.  And I would be honored if you would allow me to call you Sarah…Princess.”

Tears were flowing freely down my face by this time as I said, “I would like that a lot Mrs. Hunter.”

Mrs. Hunter smiled and said, “Well I’ll only call you Sarah if you call me by chosen name.”

“And what’s that?”

“Carol, a Song of Joy and for 30 years now I have been planting seeds of that joy in the garden of girls hearts…Nakusha’s just like you.  Because you see long ago when I was growing up in India a women did it for me.”

Did you know that in India women who only give birth to daughters are considered a disgrace to their families and will spend time in mourning after giving birth to a daughter?  Hundreds of girls have been named Unwanted and are treated more like property than family.  The only way that many of these girls can restore honor to themselves is by marrying a man who can a pay a good dowry.  Today in India, authorities are working to stop the practice by holding renaming ceremonies to help these girls regain the self-esteem that was stolen from them before they were even a minute old.  One day Nataleigh’s own sister hopes to work with young girls who have been raised in this setting.

Did you know that Nataleigh owns over a dozen hats?!


  1. Excellent story, Nataleigh! You brought a tear to my eye reading it. Where'd you learn all the gardening info? Did you research specifically for this story?

  2. Yep I did a lot of research for this one :)

  3. Awesome job Nataleigh :)