Oversized jackets, jumbled chargers, weird wall decor and half melted candles clutter my roommates’ and I’s already small apartment. A high-rise building stands tall outside our large living room window, blocking off any daylight from flooding the apartment. Sitting among the clutter and the gloom is an orange-tinted vase. Growing out of the vase are soft, bright petals flowing from the stems of a set of pink carnations. The floral aroma fills the tiny living room it sits in, but in a subtle way. It is not strong enough to smell when you walk in, but noticeable as soon as you sit down on the old, dark couch right across from it. When you don’t directly look at them, the flowers easily blend into the clutter, but once you do, they catch your eye. They brighten the entire dark apartment, bringing in that touch of brightness the living room desperately needs every morning and afternoon. They add a layer of freshness that our dry, closed-off apartment can’t bring in since the windows are sealed shut. The freshness hits our faces when we come back from class later in the day, comforting us.
Growing up, I never cared for flowers. If anything, I disliked them. I disliked how expensive bouquets from the florists were. I disliked the bees that came with them. I disliked how much effort people put into growing them, and I disliked how mad they’d get when my ball rolled into their flower patch. I disliked their names, since I could never pronounce them. I disliked how much work maintaining them was. But the biggest of all, I disliked how they’d always die so soon. My mother would always say they were a waste of money because of how quickly they would fall. When my family would buy her flowers, she’d get mad, telling us not to waste money. She’d only let us buy flowers to use when doing poojas as offerings to God. But for the personal decoration aspect, she would refuse to buy them. Instead, she brought up the idea of artificial flowers. She’d say they were just as pretty, and they last forever. So now our home is filled with tall glass vases holding fake roses and fake tulips and fake hydrangeas and fake peonies, every fake flower the local craft stores had on sale.
As I got older, I started disagreeing more with my mother, especially with her stance on flowers. I always kept my opinion to myself because I understood costs add up. The only times I got to pick out real flowers were for our poojas. We would rush to Nino’s on our way to the Bharatiya Temple, and I would follow quickly behind my mother into the store, since we were already late to the scheduled pooja. We’d speed to the flower section. They always had a variety of beautiful flowers, every color that you could think of. They’d sometimes have roses, jasmine, sunflowers, lilies and mums, but they always had carnations, usually the pink ones. Carnations were our staple — the flower we would get almost every pooja. They were always the cheapest ones at the store and the most readily available. My brother and I would sit there in the car, cutting them off of their stems in preparation for pooja. If we did the pooja at home instead of the temple, we would sit at the dining table taking turns cutting them. I’d do the first half, and he’d do the second. Once pooja began, we would pick each petal off and offer it to god. I would sneak one of the flowers in my pocket or put it under my leg until after pooja. After coming home or leaving our pooja room, I’d keep it in my room until it almost completely disintegrated, because I didn’t know how to properly preserve them (and still don’t), or until it got lost.
Eventually, my father took up gardening during quarantine. He’d buy packets and packets of seeds and plant them under a grow light, then transfer them outside once it got warm. He’d take me to Bordine’s, the nearest flower and plant shop, and let me help pick out the flower plants I liked. He never bought the ones I picked, but he let me give my input on the colors of the flowers he liked. We’d get hydrangeas, hibiscus, zinnias and three different colors of roses. No carnations.
Moving out of the house, I was given real flowers for the first time instead of the fake ones my mother loved, for my apartment. I came home all excited to put them in our vase. An instant smile grew wide on my face from how pretty the flowers were. Coincidently, they were pink carnations, my favorite. They reminded me of when I was younger and would sneak a few flowers from the bunch to keep in my room. The flowers did everything artificial ones could never do. They brought in a calming aroma into the room, a feeling of fresh life, a splash of subtle color, brightening the room in every way fake ones couldn’t. But within two weeks or so, they died.
Day by day, another flower would droop over to the side. A petal would fall, laying next to the vase on the black table. The feeling of freshness left the room along with any life left in those pretty flowers. They wilted and were done for. But I’d leave them in the vase, because I can never get myself to throw them out. To throw out something so beautiful and selfless felt wrong. The tiniest amount of life left in them still brightened the room, at least in my eyes. And thinking about it, there was something equally beautiful in the pile of fallen petals and drooping stems. How they still shine even with a pale hue that takes over each petal. How the pretty flower smell would remain even though it was so subtle. How they still caught everyone’s eyes once they saw the vase, but in a are they saving dead flowers way. There was something beautiful in the way they’d fall after holding on for so long once they were cut from their plant, how they selflessly held on for so long just to make our lives more beautiful. How each flower would fall after giving every bit of life it had left, until it couldn’t hold on or give any more any longer.
The wilted flowers added some things to my life that the fresh ones couldn’t. It dropped petals for me to keep as a pretty collection. It made my roommates laugh a little every time they’d see it, filling our room with laughter which, in turn, brightened up the room. It was an incentive to go buy more flowers. And it was a reminder to appreciate the things in our life in the moment because eventually, they will wilt. And it was a message that the end itself is just as beautiful as the flowers first blooming still on the plant.
MiC Columnist Roshni Mohan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.