David never understood plants. He liked flowers. He liked fruits. He liked trees and shrubs. But no matter how much he tried, they all died.
Some people kept a graveyard for beloved family pets on their backyard. David had his private cemetery of shame for his failed botanical attempts. It was there that Lily found him that afternoon; she was just one of those neighborhood kids, who just happened to visit Kristine the next-door-girl (literally), and chanced upon him burying his next victim from the kingdom of Flora as she happened to look out the neighbor’s window.
“Was that a pet?”
“No, just another flower.”
And just like that, he dismissed her; part of him wanted to give up, yet another side of him wondered what specie he should try growing (or murdering) next. And just like that, Lily had grown accustomed to seeing the boy, watching him proudly water his seedlings, only to dig a new grave for them a few days later.
“What plant is it this time?” Lily asked.
“Some herbs. Mom likes to use them in her recipes, so maybe I can grow some for her instead of buying them all the time.” David said with much confidence.
Those poor ingredients never made it to the family meal.
“You know, you could be considered a serial plant killer.” Lily said. Despite her consistent criticisms and jeering, David had taken a liking to her, even if he did try his best to hide it. He frowned, or at least pretended to be, in response to her observation. “Only if I intentionally killed those plants, which I didn’t.” he retorted, as he gently placed another corpse on the ground. It was cactus this time.
“Maybe you’re cursed, or something. Or you have germs that makes you dangerous to plants.”
“Hah, one of these days, I’ll make you regret your jokes. I’ll grow something really good, and you’ll be jealous of it!”
“Well, it better be vegetables. I like vegetables.”
“Yeah, unless it’s okra. Or ampalaya.”
Lily grimaced. “Ugh. I hate ampalaya, too.”
“Do you have plants at your house?” David asked.
“We don’t have a backyard, but my dad used to have orchids.”
“Oh.” David vaguely remembered his own orchids. He tried to forget how he clearly lost them. As if to change the topic, David asked something he had been wondering about for a long while. “Do you think plants have souls, too?”
“Why?” Lily automatically responded.
“Huh? Why do you ask why?”
Lily simply shrugged, staring at his burial mound. “I don’t know. If plants did have souls— what would you do, then?”
David was quiet. “I don’t know. But I— I just wish they can talk. So I can ask them how I can take better care of them.”
It was Lily’s turn to be silent. The sun was beginning to set over the trees, branches and leaves scattering golden light on the ground around them. David wiped his hands on his shorts. He looked at her, and smiled. “There’s this book that Mom bought for me. The Little Prince. He had a pet flower, a rose.”
Lily raised her eyebrows. “Is it a good book?”
David shrugged. “I guess. Mom only read a few pages to me for several days. I really liked the part about the rose, so I thought I should grow my own rose.”
Lily casted a sidelong glance at the yard. “I don’t see any rose.”
“Yeah, it’s buried somewhere around there.” David wrinkled his nose and shyly scratched it. “I guess I wasn’t meant to have my own rose. So I tried other flowers. And plants.”
Lily crossed her arms on her chest. “Maybe you simply were not meant to grow plants. Have you ever considered that?”
Before David could reply, they heard Lily’s big sister call her name. It was time for her to go. She left without waiting for David’s defense, who stayed outside until the evening star was no longer alone in the sky.
* * *
It’s been years since David’s home was inhabited. Lily sometimes missed him, whenever she visited Kristine’s house. Occasionally, she’d overhear some adults gossip: some said the family left for abroad, or in the provinces. Others said the family got broken, or had financial problems. A few wondered why the house and lot remained unsold.
The old yard was now overgrown with weeds, hiding the trash that other people irresponsibly littered on the property. But there were colors that were out of place in that abandoned plot. Colors that, when the angle of the sun is right and when the clouds were kind enough, danced and played with the wind. Colors that somehow gave life to such a lifeless place.
Heh, look at that— something actually nice grew from your cemetery, David, she smirked in her thoughts.
And she daydreamt of a boy, who fantasized after a rose, while another flower patiently waited for him. And slowly, ever-gently and slowly, as most loves do, his memory grew on her and took root— not as he was, but as she wished to remember him.
Maybe someday, they’ll meet again, and he’ll come knocking at her door— holding a familiar white flower on his hands, and she’d laugh and say, “Did you finally grow that?” and he’d smile and say, “No, I just bought it.”
Maybe someday, she’ll accidentally bump into him: on some school, at some office, in a crowded bus or train— and he’ll recognize her, remember her, fall in love with her.
Maybe someday, he will come back here, at their old home. She’ll find him cleaning up the old yard again, burying dead plants like he always used to.
“Mom, do plants have souls?” Lily asked after dinner. She was washing the dishes, while her mom was clearing the leftovers.
“Mmm, I don’t think so.” Her mom said. Her mind was too preoccupied with adult concerns; even if she had a better answer, it didn’t matter to her or her family.
“But, what if they really do have souls?” Lily insisted.
“Then you’d have to pray a lot, because the souls from the kalabasa and sitaw dish you just ate will be haunting you tonight.” Her mom intoned ominously. Lily paused. Then her mom laughed. Lily didn’t bring the topic up again that night, or in any other nights. At least, not to her family.
* * *
“Hey man, you coming?” Andrei asked. David was still staring at his computer; he half-heard the question, but the other half simply dismissed into that oblivion where things get forgotten while multitasking. Andrei waited for a full minute, then shrugged impatiently before abandoning his coworker.
“You were saying…?” David responded a few seconds too late, just in time for his reply to be cut off by the loud click of the main office door locking itself. He felt too tired to be annoyed, to be sad, or to even just sigh. Nights like this, he wasn’t in any hurry to go home. Nobody’s there, anyway. Not a family, not a friend, not even a pet. Well, there’s that half-shrivelled plant I was about to give up on soon, he sneered at his thought.
An hour later, David entered his studio apartment. The sudden brightness as he flipped the light switch caused his unwanted roommates scurrying back to their hiding places. Drat, I knew I forgot to buy something. He had been holding off on getting a new canister of bug spray; the thought of those crawlies sneaking up while he sleeps nagged at him. After a brief one-sided internal argument, David decided to go out again; besides, he needed to buy dinner. On his way out, he was about to bring the trash bag with him when he recalled his companion.
To his surprise, it was actually alive. Sure, it only had two healthy leaves left (a third one seemed to be half-dead, so that’s not counted)— but it was better than he expected after neglecting to take care of it for almost a week. In a random burst of joy, David remembered something important— and took a glass of water for the plant.
And in a random burst of impatience, David found himself growing irritated as the convenience store clerk appeared nervous while frantically trying to scan his items. The machine kept beeping on the bug spray, a bad sign. He was about to tell the girl to just remove it from his basket, when her superior came to the girl’s rescue. She spoke quickly to her staff, beamed a tired smile at David, and hurriedly punched some keys on the machine.
“Sorry for that, sir. She’s new here.” The store manager said apologetically. David noticed her nameplate. Lily Monteverde. David forced himself to smile at her, as Lily helped the teller in packing his purchases. As she carefully handed the paper bag to David, something clicked inside his head. “Are you… by any chance, from Laguna?”
Lily stared at him, confused. Before she could say anything, David laughed and waved her off. “Nevermind, I just thought you looked familiar.” He hurriedly left, as if in fear that he might have blushed. David wasn’t sure if it was his imagination, but he seemed to overhear the younger girl naively whisper aloud, “Ma’am Lily, was that a pickup line…?
Outside, David stole one last long glance at the manager. And shrugged. Even if she was that girl, he thought, she probably has a boyfriend now. And that was it.
Back at the apartment, David absent-mindedly walked towards his plant.
* * *
“Oy, focus on your work,” Lily mildly scolded the girl. But how did he know? The guy seemed familiar…
“Cute naman, ma’am, eh.” The young girl insisted.
Lily pinched the girl lightly, as her older sister usually would. The staff stifled her scream of surprise, and soon forgot as the next customers arrived.
Should I have asked his name? Lily ruefully thought. She tried hard to recall his face— tried to compare with all her friends both remembered and forgotten. No, she would have known if it was anyone from college, or even high school. But she couldn’t shake the feeling…
* * *
“… that I know her,” said David. For a moment, he wondered if talking to a plant counted as a prayer— if that’s so, does that mean he’s praying to a plant? Is that idolatry? He wasn’t altogether religious; the only time he actually prayed was when David was pressured with important deadlines. But for some reason, he felt a need to connect— even if it meant boring a half-dead plant to death.
For no tangible reason, David reached out and affectionately stroked the leaves on his plant. And stopped. He accidentally snapped one of the three remaining leaves.
David sighed, carrying the small token of his shame and guilt towards the trash bin. He saw his unopened bag from the convenience store, and smacked his forehead.
He forgot to buy food.
* * *
“Ma’am, he’s back…!” the girl nudged Lily.
Lily scowled at the girl, but her heart skipped. She wanted to play it cool, but she also was dying to confirm her own suspicions, no matter how farfetched it was. Should I ask for his name?
She couldn’t even remember that boy’s name…
* * *
David had already decided what to buy, but he lingered a bit longer. I’m just here for the food, he kept telling himself. Even if she is that girl… then what…?
* * *
If he is that boy, then what…?
* * *
Meanwhile, a breeze crept inside David’s room, and gently rustled the two remaining leaves of his plant. And this time, somehow, they simply shrugged and stayed.