Sunshine burned the gray walls of the marketplace. Long ago, its architecture was built with grace and beauty, but now garbage was strewn everywhere and dust blew in circles around brown grass. When Katie and I entered the vast arched gates of the market, our eyes went ablaze with color. We had entered the flower market!
Black stone columns stretched much higher than the small shops. Brilliant color of flowers took away all memory of dirt. There was the familiar smell of roses and new exotic fragrances. Chain after chain of mums, roses, angelonia, and other flowers I did not know lit the darkness like colored lanterns. Here…here was the beauty of India.
“Flower for you?”
“Oh, thank you!”
“Rynn and Katie.”
“Pretty! So pretty…”
“Have good day!”
I smelled my roses. The scent was spicy rather than sweet. Pressing the pink petals to my face I inhaled again. For the last several weeks, I usually smelled exhaust and garbage. Cooking spices and sewage. Gas and sweat. But this…
“This is how India truly smells. Roses and spice.”
“Just follow,” Nirmal, one of our translators ordered.
With quiet smiles at each other, Katie and I “just followed.” We did not walk far, however, before our translators became caught up in deep conversation with one of the flower weavers.
“She’s having financial trouble,” Prabhu told us. “She’s a believer, helping many people here. A few years ago she took in a young crippled girl, teaching her how to tie the flower chains.” I stared in awe at how rapidly her chain of white, orange, and purple flowers grew. Katie tried to take a picture, but the woman’s fingers were always a blur of motion.
“A couple weeks ago the girl ran away, taking all of the money.”
“How much?” I did not expect the answer.
“One hundred fifty thousand rupees.” ($3,000 U.S.) In India, this is a fortune. Katie and I blinked at each other in shock.
The lady began to cry again. Awkwardly, I looked away. What do you say to something like that? Nirmal told us that the money was for her house payments, and loans for her children to pay their bills. If the situation didn’t change somehow, her family may end up without a home at all.
“Can we pray for her…what’s her name?”
“Her name is Maggie-May. Yes, please pray.” Katie and I moved closer to her and began to pray. Katie prayed as well, and as Maggie-May heard our words I saw a peace flooding her face. I was reminded of the verse “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
“Would you like to learn how to tie the chains?” she asked us, through our translator.
With utmost delight, Katie and I cried yes we very much would. She seemed surprised by our eagerness, and responded with huge smiles. She placed a pile of flowers in front of me and handed me a string.
Katie and I fumbled for a while, but suddenly it seemed to click. Our chains became even and tight and we all exclaimed over our progress with loud laughter.
“We must go now,” Nirmal suddenly announced.
“Can we buy some flowers from her? I want to make more!” I was unwilling to give up this newfound art. When Nirmal asked, she took a little bag and filled it with white flowers and two rolls of string. Pressing it into our hands, she placed her hands together and bowed.
“She does not want you to pay her. It is a gift.”
“No,” I insisted. “Nirmal, she has no money! I WANT to pay her! I want to be overcharged, even.”
“No,” Nirmal insisted just as strongly, “No, it is a gift from her. Take it.”
Katie and I look at each other, at the bag, and finally at Maggie-May. She smiled, her eyes still wet from her tears and nodded. Finally, Katie and I walked away.
“You know, there are a lot of things about India that I will never be able to forget,” I commented as we walked back through the sea of flowers. I glanced quickly over my shoulder. “That’s one of them.”