The Forgotten City

by Vincent C. Sales

Chapter Five

Since the drought, there have been no flowers. She sighs.

She was not born in this city. As a young bride, she followed her husband, the enterprising son of a successful merchant, to this place. He had promised her wealth and fame and the moon, and she had believed him. Since then, she has received only the moon.

She comes from a land of rain. Every year, the typhoons visit that land from the sea and destroy everything. With wind and rain, the typhoons carry away their houses, ruin the crops. And every year, they would rebuild everything.

Her husband took her away from all that. She went with him because she dreamt of being someone in a big city. Now all she wants is for her husband to return. Sometimes she dreams of even less.

She longs for him. It is a physical ache she feels in her gut all the way down to her sex. She longs to hold him and nuzzle the corner of his neck and shoulder, the place where he said she “fits.” She wants to breathe in his smells, the smell of his skin, the smell of his hair, the smell of his sweat, and the musk smell where the beast dwells. She wants to feel his stubble in the palm of her hand, wants to rest in the warmth of his armpit. She always marvels at how warm it is there and how comforting. Eyes closed, imagining breathing his scent in, her fingertips travel over her breasts, the back of her arms, her tight stomach, the insides of her thighs.

She shakes her head to remove the memory of him from her brain. Again, she sighs. Then she dresses up as if she is in a hurry and goes outside to walk. She remembers how he courted her when they were still in that land of rain. Every day he would visit her with a bouquet of flowers — in the course of their courtship, he had given her every conceivable kind of flower. When he would go away on business trips, the flowers would still appear on her doorstep everyday without fail.

She walks aimlessly through the market, past the alms-barkers, past the meat vendors, the poultry vendors, the fish vendors. They all shout the price of their goods to her. She walks on.

The vegetable dealers have little to sell and their prices are outrageously high. The crops have been poor and what little they have comes from far away, brought in by the great ships of the Merchant Kings. She walks on.

She passes the empty lane in the market where the flower vendors are meant to be. She remembers how the market used to look like during the festival of flowers. The place was transformed into a blossoming garden. All manner of cut flowers could be bought there just for that day: blood red roses, violets, lilies, white roses as big as your fist, orchids, jasmine, belladonna, sunflowers, gumamela, garlands of sampaguita. Now the lane is empty. She walks on.

She passes the place in the market where they sell all manner of things. They sell kitchenware and placemats, pottery, porcelain, books, guitars and sitars, sundials, perfumes and oils, knives, mirrors. An old woman calls out to her, “Dreams.” She stops.

The old woman looks to her like a wilted flower: black, gray and purple with a heart full of maggots. “Dreams,” the old woman says, offering her an assortment of glass trinkets, “dreams in bottles. For you, twenty silver pieces.”

“What kind of dreams?” she asks.

“Anything,” the old woman replies. “That’s why they are dreams.”

She smiles to herself and tells the old woman, “Flowers. I would like flowers.” Like the ones he would give before.

The old woman rummages in her stall and produces a simple glass vase, elegant, fragile.

“Fill it with water, and the next morning your dream will come true.”

She doesn’t believe the old woman, but she buys the vase anyway. She goes home and fills the vase with water just like the old woman told her and goes to bed early.

The next morning she wakes up alone. She sighs. She goes about her morning tasks, prepares her breakfast, and as she passes by the table she left the vase on, she drops the plate she is holding and it shatters on the floor, for there is something there that should not be. There, in the vase in front of her, are a dozen of the reddest roses she has ever seen.

Her heart quivers. She holds her breath. She takes a step towards the flowers, feeling the pieces of the broken plate under her bare feet. They are so beautiful, she thinks. She touches the petals of one of the roses still wet with morning dew. She bends over the flower and breathes in its fragrance. She thinks of the past, of how love came and withered, of how alone she is. She weeps because she is so happy.

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