I have only ever been a flower girl once.
I was six years old, wearing a white dress, before I started to feel that white dresses accused me of things, before the priest said that we wear white to show that we are free from sin.
I floated down the aisle feeling ghost like because my being had fled my body when it saw that everybody’s eyes were trained on me. But maybe also because the white dress knew only ghosts can be free from sin, knew I was lying. Only angels and ghosts and some people I have met are free from sin. That day I was the most beautiful that I have ever been.
I remember the bowl-sized straw basket that cradled my flowers. I remember that the flowers were red, with some green leaves. I do not remember if they were real. Oh yes, they were! I know because I kept them until they had died and then even after. My mother was so affected when she pronounced them dead that I wondered if I should feel bad too. They were roses.
Recently in Harlem, I was looking for a success-wishes card to send to my younger sister who will soon be taking her KCPE exams. Normally, I stay away from cards with flowers on them. But success cards are not easy to come by in America. I found none, not even the flowery ones, and chose instead a greetings card that had a butterfly made of glitter on the front and had no words inside it. I wondered what it would have been like to grow up in a place where hawkers did not take up street space in October, looking at everybody as if whether your person did well or not depended on whether you bought them a success card.
Our high school principal, sometimes keener to make us good wives than good students, proclaimed that we would learn a lot of life skills from tending our own individual flower gardens. Several punishments later, and with a flower garden that would not bloom, I learnt something alright– that I will never have a flower garden.
The first man I loved sent me a success card with a picture of large red roses at the front for my KCSE exams. The red flowers, spread out on the front of the card, looked like something that poured, something naked in the way that Eve was naked, without asking for it. The red unsettled me because it reminded me of muted riots and of what I imagined my heart to look like, and I was also convinced that image was what they meant when they said petals of blood. He signed it: “I **** you.” We were scared to say the word ‘miss’. I do not remember at what point the meaning of **** changed from miss to love. When we started dating, I set his caller ID picture on my Nokia flip phone to a picture of a red rose that he had bought me. It looked beautiful despite its double misfortune of a bad camera and a bad photographer. I liked that flower because unlike white dresses, it knew how to be perfect on its own, how not to drag its owner into the requirement of perfection just because it was.
Flowers scare me a little. They make me think of tidy worlds in which white dresses would not tell on me if I wore them.
If we could only caress flowers when we deserved to, we would have to wait until we loved somebody, actually loved them, stopped saying the words “if they left I would be fine” to ourselves in the morning. We would have to wait until we stopped trying to work around them when building dollhouses so that if they left and their pillars and walls fell we could blow the dust off and the rest of our house would still be standing. If we could only caress flowers when we deserved to, we would wait until we allowed ourselves to love, to love, to love so much that we stopped servicing insurances to be whole even if they left.