She was walking towards me like a soldier. So upright with two greatly wrapped packages of flowers clasped within her right arm tightly, an orange Hermès scarf (the signature colour of the maison) hung in loose folds, perfectly aligned to shroud her cashmere kissed neck.
"Bonjour," I began with a friendly head tilt...Already she was surprised, ready to stride by this unknown person but she glanced at my Sonia Rykiel bag, a totem from another time and so allowed my gaze as such to settle while I continued in my most carefully articulated French, "Excuse me, but where did you buy those flowers?"
You see, I was in need of such flowers because I was in need of Spring. Hungry for it actually and nothing that I had in my current pharmacy - no music, no spices added to eggs, no charming flirtation would do.
She again eyed the clues of my outwardly presentation to see what what would do as an introductory phrase. "Well. There is a man who sells these. I think that he as already left his usual spot. On the Place des Corps Saints..."
"Oh, the kind man with the cart?" I exhaled with a bit of a relief. She looked again at my handbag once more.
"Yes." Pause. "But he must be gone from there by now. If you are lucky you might find him in front of the Rue de la République. Perhaps in front of Sephora."
I found that latter bit of information a bit dubious or worse, an insult. Something of a worm on a line to an American fish in warm water. But, after a quick merci, I followed the bait to the store (with a gaggle of sparkly face masked adolescents waiting in front due to COVID) but he was not there. Without success and yet curiosity lifted, I continued on towards his usual address. I am not often wrong with my instinctual GPS.
And yet, no. But yet, yes? For out of the corner of my eye (quite literally), I spied a swirl of colour, floral through and through in a side street two steps beyond.
Think of his cart as if it were a very large dining room table, one punctuated with iron vases holding nothing but the most glorious flowers. He is a known figure in Avignon. As he does not have the expense of renting a shop, he can offer so much beauty at a lesser price, all while reeling it around, charming the passerby.
Surprisingly, his cart was pushed up entirely against the entry of a Creole takeaway shop. Reggae was pulsing beyond the counter. He was chatting busily with two other customers, both female, already clutching bouquets. Each were sipping out of tiny plastic cups.
I took a turn around the cart, sizing up the options that were available in equation with my desire. I am a white flower woman usually as they bring me much needed peace but on this day his light pink roses gave me the bisous that I needed them to.
"Can you forgive me for interrupting your coffee break long enough so that I might buy this bouquet?" I offered. I know very well in France, even after all these years, that I might well be met with a very hard refusal. A "non."
"You could but as I am not drinking coffee that would be complicated." He offered this calmly but his two other clients began to giggle.
"It is Ti-punch. Do you you know it?" he asked. Indeed I did, having tasted it in Cayenne in the French Amazon. It brings quite a hit, that spiced rhum. And true, sometimes we need this particular heat now, in some form or the other. A swift kick of feeling to remember and not to forget.
While I declined his offer, I held within me that gesture of kindness as I headed home, roses tucked down-facing under my arm. So big as to be superfluous and slightly preposterous. "These are Liza Minelli roses," I thought. "End of a long show hardness...yet still here." Then I hummed a bit from "Cabaret." It might have been, "Maybe this time."
The paper rustled, the thorns pricked. There was a barely perceptible waft of the petaled perfume.
Once in the door, I cut the package open and it felt like I was doing the same to my heart. These flowers like warriors, coaxing me forward. Not yet towards hope but just on to the next day when that might seem a little less of an insult to the current state of affairs. A stern statement of pink propaganda propped in an antique vase.
Each morning upon waking I glance over to their shadowy forms in the half dark to see if their heavy heads have fallen. Not yet, not yet, not yet. And so I pull myself up from under the covers to make my coffee. To start the day and so doing, begin again.
You can hear an audio recording of the above post: here.
This seems such an incredibly odd moment as we accept that we have been through an entire year of COVID and that we are the very lucky ones to have survived. For many of us, we are only really beginning to understand the heft of that now. Plus all that we have lost - or no - otherwise.
There are no simple words that can make anything right again save our intentions which may drive us.
Please, I ask of me and of us all...may we find our way to believe. In such small moments, we strengthen an undeniable truth that there is still good to be found. May we try.
Soon to come, gently, maybe or not...we can ask what we might have gained.