Flowers of Tesu

Submitted into Contest #86 in response to: Set your story at a park during a spring festival.... view prompt


Friendship Kids Fiction

The weather in spring has always capricious. The sun would shine warmly above and yet chilly wind blows below. Playing Holi on a spring day was being drenched from head to toe in cold coloured water and then afterwards slowly drying yourself under the sun before going back home. 

The neighbourhood park was bustling with people dressed in old clothes and pleasant smiles. Three stalls were set up in a small area for sweets, drinks and abir ( dry colour powder ). Colourful paper frills were hung, swaying with wind, all over the shops and the entrance giving the park a cheerful look. 

Nishi had laboured over making those paper frills with her friends for over a month. Watching them she could point out which were made by Kamal, her best friend who was lousy at art and craft. But Nishi felt like something was missing.

They were supposed to meet by the sweets stall at 10:30, as decided the time and place. To play Holi she had donned an old faded black t-shirt and purple pajamas which had now almost invisible printed silver stars on it. Her hair was oiled properly with coconut oil by her mother early in the morning and braided in two plaits. Her exposed face, neck and arms were also giving a shine after oiling in the spring sun. Everyone coated their bodies with oil liberally to prevent the dyeing of the skin after playing with colours.

While she was oiling her hair her mother had grumbled to her father, "It's inappropriate for her to go. It's just one year, why can't she stay at home?"

"She's a child. All of her friends are going. This year they all worked hard to make the decorations by hand. Why can't she go and enjoy the fruits of her labour?" Her father had calmly replied, who was reading the newspaper. The paper rustled against his white kurta.

"I still feel she shouldn't go. People will talk. Her friends would understand if she doesn't go." She put the rubber band around her finished plait and patted her shoulder silenly indicating for her to get up as she finished talking. 

"Mom-," she had started to whine a little but her mother just had to narrow her eyes and gave a glaring glance at her, so she could only finish with a sullen, "It's okay I won't go anymore. I don't feel well." 

"You'll go. Don't listen to your mother. Go on if you're ready." Having his final say he concentrated back on the editorial page of the English newspaper.

It brought her to now. Standing alone in the shadow of the peepal tree, clutching tightly a plastic pouch of red abir and staring at the happy faces greeting each other by smearing abir at each other's faces. It was a little crowded. The middle aged ladies were chatting while savouring the taste of sweet deep-fried dumplings and the men were near the beverage stall drinking almond milk. Surprisingly there were no children. Nishi was bewildered as she tried to recall if she heard the meeting time wrong. 

She heard a call of her name, bringing her out of reverie. It was a group of ladies. They were all her mother's friends so Nishi walked to them. After she called them "aunties" sweetly she received her share of being gently smeared with colour. Her face now resembling a canvas painted by a toddler. Red, green, purple, orange and yellow were spread on her face in an uneven distribution.

She felt awkward. Her own mother wasn't there and she didn't know what to say. One of them asked her kindly, "Are you alright? Don't stand there in the corner. Stay here with us. All your friends will arrive in a short time. Quickly grab a sweet before that rowdy gang of your friends finish it." It was true. The sweet stall would end up looking like a burgled bank with nothing left behind after her friends are done with it. The group of her friends were notoriously known for getting up to no good. Ringing the bell and running away, sneaking out the pet dog of the grumpy old man of the neighbourhood to feed snacks to it, after every power cut giving up on the homework to run out at the street to play until it got fixed were some of the things they were known for. 

Nodding to the aunt's request she started to walk in the direction of the sweets when he heard one of them ask another where her mother was. Someone informed her in a whisper where she gasped in reaction. Nishi felt herself stiffened. She suddenly felt cold under the warm sun, her mind dizzy with guilt and sadness. The only thought on her mind being she shouldn't have come. 

At the beginning of March when people were still using quilts at night to keep warm, in the morning of the third day, Nishi woke up at 3 a.m. The light in the room was on which was the reason she woke up. Her parents were not in bed with her. She wanted to get up to look for them but then she heard low sobs coming from her grandma's room. She had instinctively known something bad had happened to grandma. 

Her body felt paralysed as she started crying, accompanying her mother's sobs from far. 

In the morning, she saw her being carried away by four strange men on a wooden bed, draped in a white sheet with a garland of marigold around her neck. Her father led the procession, holding a clay pot in one hand and the men of the neighbourhood followed him. 

Then days passed by. One day to one week, one week to one month today. She felt her absence but couldn't bring herself to think of it as if it was a taboo. Her mother cried for days before busying herself in household chores and her father just stayed silent when people visited their home to say a few words of consolation. 

The silent dinner table, the forced solemness in speech and the bland food became a part of their days.

Before she got out of the house today, when her father told her he bought her the red abir she liked, she had stupidly blurted out, "But I like the red colour made from tesu-," A look of grief had passed by his face and it had made her want to dig all the pebble in the garden and stuff it inside her mouth. 

Every year on Holi her grandmother used to soak the flowers of tesu overnight. The soft saffron tesu would turn the water red by morning, giving a faint sweet smell. 

Grandma was allergic to artificially produced dry color powder and made her own colours for Nishi to play with. 

One day she was asked to choose the most fragrant flowers to soak. After carefully smelling each one, Nishi couldn't decide. All felt fragrant to her. Petting her head her grandma had laughed at her confused expression. She told her, "You know, some flowers here are rotten already whereas some are in full bloom. Flowers are the most delicate yet resilient part of nature. They exude the most alluring and potent fragrance when they are at full bloom or near rot. Their magnificence lies in spreading their sweetness from full bloom until rotten. A person should be like a flower. Resilient, generous and charming. Understood, my little squirrel?"  

She didn't want to be here anymore. The cheerful smiles, the painted faces and the concerned looks that passed by made her want to run back home. 

Her mother was right. She was supposed to be in mourning along with her family today and abstain from celebrating but she defied and selfishly came to play with her friends.

Separating from the crowd, she walked to the palash tree bearing the flowers of tesu . The ground underneath the tree was covered with fallen flowers. Bending a little she picked up the flower nearest to her foot and leaned against the trunk. The tesu flowers have the shade of the fiercest red which has earned it the name of Flame-of-the-Forest. 

Her grandma used to say that the blossoming of the tesu flowers is an indication of the arrival of spring.  When the deciduous tree is in its full bloom it sheds all its leaves and the fiery red flowers on it makes it appear as if the tree is on fire.

She lightly fiddled with the petals of the flower. Bringing it up to her face she gave a sniff but the smell wasn't strong. Wasn't sweet enough as Grandma's.

Suddenly closing her fist around it she crushed the flower. Flower juice flowed out coating her palms in red liquid. The intense sweet smell of tesu pervaded her senses bringing relief and sadness simultaneously.

She knew what was missing when she first entered the park. Her Grandma. Her boisterous laugh as she talked to people. A huge tub containing tesu dyed water will be placed in a corner for everyone to play. The fragrance of spring was missing.

A thought came to her mind. What if she picks up all the flowers and carry them home to make colours?

Her head jerked up involuntary at this thought only to see a boy standing in front of her. Kamal. The suppressed indignation wanting to flare up and questioning him of his late arrival made her take a step in his direction, only to come to a shocking halt when buckets of water were splashed on her body from every direction.

"What-," she spluttered in rage looking at her friends holding their bellies and laughing to the points of tears squeezed out of their eyes.

She looked at her hands. Red. The sweet fragrance in her hair, on her body. "Tesu...," she whispered.

Her salty tears now mixed with the sweet dyed water were falling from her face as she stared at the blurred image of Kamal.

"Little fool. Your Grandma gave us the gift of tesu too. Without her and without tesu there's no joy of celebrating Holi. The only thing we could do was prepare your favourite red colour. Happy?"


The sun shone brightly behind the seemingly burning palash tree, under which the delightful laughter of children was echoing.

March 27, 2021 03:07

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Palak Shah
10:10 Apr 15, 2021

Great story. I love the description and how you ended the story. Well done !!! Could you please read my latest story . Thanks :)) ~Palak Shah


Arya ...
14:34 Apr 15, 2021

Thank you. ❤


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Ryan LmColli
19:56 Apr 08, 2021

What a lovly story meaningful and intense!!! Follow and like mine Lump the trump! Follow me pls


Arya ...
09:30 Apr 09, 2021

Thanks 💛 and sure. 😄


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