Call Me:

He brought me up, that flower-man. I have a vague memory of him holding me on a hot afternoon when all I wanted to do was go back to playing with my dolls. I now know it was the bright June day on which my parents and my sisters died in a car accident on the GT Road. I always remember us walking away together, the flower-man and I. My view of the world was the shape of his shoulder, the bony arc where I would place my chin and watch the universe recede from us as we walked away. That slow, comforting bounce of his body as I clung fiercely on.
As a child I was easily scared of things. The creatures in the grass, in the sky, the loud engines of cars, even school bells would make me jump. He indulged me to no end, recognizing the cowardice in me. He would pick me up every time I cried, or yelled or jumped, and he would walk away from the fear. Perhaps he was a coward too as a child, I sometimes think. That can be the only explanation for his kindness.
He loved flowers. He was the Maali; the flower-man, tending to the gardens of our old colonial house in Model Town. Endlessly, he would work on the flower beds. Seeding. Weeding. Planting. Sometimes he would speak to the flowers, and sometimes we would speak to them together, crouched like cats in the grass whispering to a few seeds about the happenings around town. He always had dirt beneath his nails, and inspired by this, I often dug my fingers into the soil. They smelled of him then. They smelled of his work and his cold skin. The flowers were his pride and joy; each season they would bloom, and almost every morning he would create a magnificent bouquet for my bedroom. It was an odd, opulent addition each day to the pastels and frills of a little girl’s pink room. Even the flowers terrified me, with their big dark faces looming ominously like shadows when night fell. But I did not want to break his heart, and so I never told him I was scared of his colorful creation. In the kitchen however, he would place a small white bowl full of jasmine buds. They were my favourite. Often I would slip a few into my pocket. They were small and did not scare me.
When I grew older I left home and moved abroad. I have only returned to Lahore now, a fortnight before I am to be married. I have sought him out, the flower-man. He is now old and wonderful looking. His nails are still black from the soil and he works at a nursery for plants on the outskirts of Lahore. I invited him to my wedding and he touched his forehead as though suddenly remembering that I too would grow older. As though all these years he had forgotten that time would touch me. As it did him. Both of us had tears in our eyes when we met. I wished I could hug him, and watch the universe recede from us once more. But there is no moving backwards when you are grown up. There are few shoulders to bury chins inside of. So I handed him my wedding card, and I tried to make him promise he would come. He refused. He did not have the clothes, he did not have the time. He did not have the patience for weddings, he said. I begged him, but he was adamant. I understood it caused him a deep discomfort, and now as adults, I could recognize the cowardice in him too. I could see he was easily scared of people and unfamiliar situations. So I left, promising to visit him before I left the country once more.
Two nights ago, during my Mayoun, I received a wonderful surprise. Amidst the giant gladiolas (dyed all sorts of ridiculous, neon colours), the loud rose jewellery, the daisy bracelets, a small dignified wreath of jasmine arrived belatedly in a bowl. That was how I knew my flower-man had come. My fellow coward, my old friend.

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