flower trade

for George

Once there was a girl who had some flowers to trade. There were all kinds of flowers in her bunch: some cultivated and common, some exotic and wild. Mixed in with the more attractive and desirable of these blooms was a handful of weeds, thick-stemmed and sticky.

She bound up the bundle with paper and string, but loosely, so that all the blossoms could be easily seen: the hot pink petals of the peonies, the milky white hoods of the calla lilies, the vibrant violet trumpets of the foxgloves. She tried to make sure nothing was hidden from view - not even the weeds, ugly and plain as they were.

The girl took her flowers to the town square, where she waited patiently, feeling the breeze dance with her hair. It wasn't long before she spied someone in the distance, walking towards her. He approached slowly, and straight on. When he got close, she realized he was smiling at her. She had no choice but to smile back. They looked at one another for a long moment before either spoke.

"Hello there," he said.

"Hello," she replied.

He nodded toward the flowers she cradled in her arms. "I see you're here to trade."

"Yes," the girl said, and held up her bouquet so that he could examine it. But the boy only grinned harder. The girl couldn't remember the last time anyone had seemed so happy to see her. His smile was like sunlight on her skin.

"Oh, I don't need to look," he said. "I already know I want them. Let's trade." And from behind his back, as if by magic, the boy drew a massive bundle of his own flowers, wrapped in newsprint and red satin ribbon. The girl laughed, charmed by the surprise, and stepped closer to see what he held.

"Do you like them?" he asked. But before she could answer, he continued: "I'm afraid they're only weeds."

The girl frowned and looked at him curiously. "Surely not," she murmured, and with the tip of her finger, pushed down an edge of the bundled-up newspaper. She saw a flash of brilliant color, and she knew he was wrong - very wrong.

"Oh yes," he insisted. "Every last one." But the girl wasn't listening to him. The vivid blues and reds and yellows of the bouquet he held had captivated her, and she was peering deeply in, drinking in the riotous colors and intoxicating scents. She looked back at him, puzzled.

"But...these aren't weeds. These are glorious! Some of them I've never even seen before! Like this one..." The girl pointed at a long, elegant stalk topped with a delicate, cup-shaped bud. The outside of the bloom was a shocking electric blue, but the inside was smoky and pale. The flower reminded her of a summer storm: lightning, thunder, and soft rain afterward. "What is it called?" she asked. "How do you grow it?"

The boy never took his eyes off her face. He was still smiling, but his tone was serious. "I told you," he said. "It's a weed. They all are." And the quiet way in which he said it made the girl realize: he truly believed this to be so. He moved away from her slightly, pulling his blossoms from her greedy gaze. "So? Shall we trade?"

The girl sighed. She didn't understand. She knew the boy's flowers were rare and beautiful, and that he could make a very good trade on them. She didn't want to trick him into giving them up for less than they were worth. But he didn't seem to realize what she was offering in return - or he didn't seem to care.

And she wanted his bouquet, badly. She wanted to pull out each of those startling blue stems and inhale its sweet perfume. She wondered what else was mixed up with them, that she hadn't even seen yet.

All she could do was take what he was offering, which was far more precious than he realized. All she could do was to be grateful, and enjoy what he gave her for as long as it lasted.

But she hoped that the next time he was ready to trade, he recognized the value of what he had to share.