The Common Grounds

Submitted into Contest #45 in response to: Write a story about community.... view prompt

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General

Four communities lived independently of one another: Red, Green, Yellow and Blue. These were states all on their own, but each of these primary coloured nations were authorities over different things.


The Red community maintained and distributed the wealth.

The Blue community maintained and enforced law and order.

The Yellow community were responsible for peacekeeping.

The Green community, the youngest of all, were the labourers.


Though they lived side-by-side the people of each community never mixed. Instead, a council consisting of head representatives from each community met for assembly in a space known as the Common Grounds.


Everyone was permitted to visit the Common Grounds, but, as it had been for decades, people rarely left the confines of their communities.


One day the head representative of the youngest community, the Greens, decided to have his daughter accompany him to a council meeting with the other representatives. It was not entirely out of the ordinary, as head representatives were permitted to bring guests.


The council allowed it, for the young girl sat unobtrusively in the gallery and said nothing.


After the meeting was over, the Green Rep and his daughter, Eden, took a walk around the expansive gardens of the Common Grounds.


“Papa,” Eden began, as they walked along a flowered path. “Why did you ask me to come to the council meeting today?”


The Green Rep kneeled beside a small patch of green carnations.


He tapped the stem of a closed bloom. “Look at this flower, Eden,” he said. “It’s still a bud. But one day it will bloom into a beautiful carnation, just like the flowers around it. I want you to remember that you are this bud.”


Eden understood. They picked a few carnations and continued walking. Presently it began to rain.


“Ah! We should return,” the Green Rep said looking up. “Let's take a shortcut through the yellow patch.” Eden and her father walked through a path, along which a span of happy yellow daffodils grew.


Their brightness and beauty elated Eden. Impulsively, she reached down to pick one.


“Stop!” her father called loudly, over the patter of rain.


Eden froze. “I-I just wanted to pick one for Mama,” she said stammered. “They're so beautiful Papa!”


“They are, aren't they?” He said smiling. “But these flowers don’t belong to us, Eden. We can't take them.”

 

“Why not?” Eden asked confused. The slow drizzle began to grow heavier, thick drops of water began splattering down around them.


“It's a long story, child,” the Green Rep replied, wiping water from his brow. “I'll tell you about it one day. But come along now, we must get out of the wet.”


Eden stood and obeyed her father. Together they half jogged half walked out of the garden and back towards the council building.


Unbeknown to her, Eden had dropped a green carnation onto the soil in the patch of yellow flowers. The blossom lay face down in the earth soaking into the ground, embedding itself where it fell.


After Eden’s second visit to the council meeting, the Yellow Rep brought his son, Topaz, along with him.


“Come, child,” the Yellow Rep said after the meeting was over. “Let's take a walk through the gardens.”


As they set off towards the flowers of their nation, Topaz spoke quietly.


“Father,” he said hesitating. “Why do our communities live divided?”


“Well, you know why,” his father replied patiently. “We live this way so that our communities may thrive in peace. Mixing causes conflict.”


Topaz was silent in thought for a while. They were approaching the bright patch of daffodils.


“We should pick some for your mother, Topaz,” the Yellow Rep said waving. “She does so love daffodils.” Topaz nodded and knelt down.


The burst of yellow was golden under the warm afternoon sunshine.


Suddenly he paused. Between the stems and the fanned petals, a small, green carnation was visible. Topaz looked up and turned to the other nation’s flowers around him. He saw that the green carnations where in a separate section of the garden, where they always were.


How odd!

 

“Are you finished, son?” the Yellow Rep called suddenly. “We should be getting back.”


Topaz stood up and hesitated. “May- may we take a red rose, father?” he asked unexpectedly.


The Yellow Rep turned to his son, puzzled.


“No, we cannot,” he replied automatically, hesitating. “But look here Topaz, these are the flowers of our community. This will do,” he said pointing to the daffodils in his son’s hands.


Topaz nodded slowly. They turned and began walking back towards the council building. As they neared the end of the path, Topaz knelt down to tie his shoelace. He glanced up quickly: his father was strolling along ahead, not looking back.


Topaz broke a yellow flower of its stem and hastily pushed it into the soil in the nearest patch of flowers, the red roses. He stood up quickly and ran to catch up to his father.


By now all the Head Representatives were bringing their children to council meetings.


The Red Rep’s daughter, Rosa, and the Blue Rep’s son, Sapphire, had joined Eden and Topaz in the gallery, in separate sections of course.


They always sat apart, above the members of their respective communities. They never talked but glanced at one another shyly, sometimes nodding politely in greeting.


When Rosa saw the stalk of a daffodil among the dark red roses in the gardens, she was curious. Her father walked towards her and she stood up quickly, walking away from the extraordinary sight. The Red Rep handed his daughter some broken blooms.


“These are damaged, Rosa. Most likely by the storm,” he said. “We should dispose of them.”


“May I keep them, father?” Rosa asked suddenly sprouting an idea.


“Whatever for dear?” her father asked in surprise.


“I'd - I'd like to press the petals,” she replied thinking quickly. Her father paused for a minute then shrugged. She broke the stems carefully and pocketed the blooms.


As they walked along the path, Rosa looked out at the yellow daffodils. She knelt down to smell them and saw, to her delight, a green carnation hiding quietly in their midst.


How extraordinary!


“Father,” she began excitedly. “May we pick some carnations or daffodils or-”


“I'm afraid not dear,” her father interrupted automatically. “But why would you want those graceless stalks anyway? Our red roses are truly the most elegant of the garden.”


Rosa was disappointed. “Perhaps then, I could smell them?” she asked quietly.


“As you wish dear,” he replied shaking his head in bemusement.


Rosa paused, then hurried to the patch of blue violets, and discreetly pulled out a rose bloom from her pocket. She made a small hole in the soil and placed the petals of the rose inside. Then she covered it quickly and hurried back to her father, smiling to herself.


Now, Sapphire was surprised to find a rose growing in the sea of violets before him. He paced up and down and took a walk around to the other flower patches. He was quite alone – his  father had no interest in such things as gardens.


He squinted and saw two green carnations in the daffodil patch, and he exclaimed in surprise. He ran to the roses and, sure enough, found a daffodil in their midst. He pulled out some deep blue violets and hurried to the carnation patch. He buried them in the soil carefully and stood up dusting his hands, happily admiring his work.


If only I could speak to the others, he thought, for he had a feeling that they were all somehow connected by this remarkable occurrence.


***

A new season came, the season of sprouts. One afternoon, the Reps exited the building with their children in tow, all prepared for a walk in the gardens.


“What's this?” the Yellow Rep said stopping. The great big doors that led to the gardens were shut.


“Looks like it's closed,” the Green Rep replied, frowning.


“How unusual!” the Red Rep exclaimed.


“I say sir,” the Blue Rep called to a worker of the Common Grounds. “Why have you closed the gardens?”


“Maintenance, sir,” the worker replied monotonously.


“Maintenance! In Spring?” the Green Rep asked laughing. The others joined, amused. The children meanwhile, exchanged nervous glances.


“There was a mix up sirs,” the worker said stoically. “All the flowers are sprouting together. Daffodils with roses, roses with violets, violets with carnations. We closed up to replant them all, sirs.”


The Head Reps were stunned into silence. They turned to look at their children, who shifted around awkwardly, avoiding eye contact.


“You may go,” the Blue Rep said, dismissing the worker. The children felt their parents’ eyes on them, their hearts pounded as one.

 

Finally, the Yellow Rep spoke. “Topaz,” he said slowly. “Do you know of this?”


Topaz nodded slowly. The Reps looked around in surprise.


“Well who planted the flowers?” The Blue Rep demanded. “Sapphire?” he asked, pointing at his son.


“I planted the violets in the green patch, sir,” Sapphire confessed, somewhat boldly.


The council members murmured in shock.


“Why would you do that?” the Blue Rep asked in complete bewilderment.


“Because,” he paused, glancing sideways at his peers. “I-I saw a red rose in our violet patch. It was beautiful.”


The council members turned their eyes to Rosa, who flushed.


“I put it there,” she said without reserve. “I saw a daffodil growing among the roses and I thought it was beautiful too,” she turned to Topaz, apologetically.


“I found the green carnations in our garden,” Topaz said quietly. “At first it was just one, but then more appeared. I thought – I think they’re lovely!” he exclaimed looking at Eden.


The young girl of the Green community nodded enthusiastically. “Yes! I saw the violets and the other flowers too!” she exclaimed.


The council members were dumbfounded.


“Here now,” the Red Rep said at last. “Roses and violets and daffodils together? That will never do! We cannot have the elegance and grace of a rose be surrounded by – by-”


“-By what?” the Yellow Rep asked pointedly. “Daffodils are perfectly lovely on their own and do not seek attention as roses do. They also do not sprout as wildly as carnations!”


“Wild?” the Green Rep interrupted in retort. “At least they have purpose. The violets are truly the invaders of the flowers!”


“I beg your pardon sir,” the Blue Rep replied angrily. “We invaders also protect other flowers!”


“That makes no sense!” The council members exploded.


A shouting match ensued, as they all spoke over one another – spouting prejudices and throwing accusations of ‘mixing’ around.


The children were shocked to see their fathers behaving so. Sapphire quietly motioned for the others to follow him, and they escaped into the garden through the service door on the side.


“I don't understand the fuss,” Rosa said in confusion. “So what if we've planted a few flowers?”


“It's not about the flowers,” Topaz said.


They stared at the beautiful chaos of the garden. In a few short months, it had turned into a multicoloured bouquet.


“Topaz is right,” Eden said suddenly. “They don't want us to mix and I can't understand why.”


“Well,” Sapphire started, puzzled. “My father said it’s because the Blues follow the rules.”


“And we don't?” Rosa asked raising her eyebrows.


“I'm just telling you what my father says!” Sapphire cried defensively. “He says Reds like expensive things and will always bend the rules to get what they want.”


Rosa flushed. Topaz laughed loudly.


“That's rich!” he exclaimed derisively. They all turned on him in surprise.


He blushed. “It’s just - my father always told me that Blues always use force to get what they want,” Topaz replied shrugging.


“What!”


Rosa and Eden nodded.


Sapphire stared at them. “You- you all hear that from your fathers?”


“Yes,” Eden replied quickly. “And I always hear that us Greens were made to do as they’re told.”


“Well we all know that!” Rosa replied in a patronising tone. “You’re behind, as usual.”


Eden blushed angrily. “What's that supposed to mean?”


“It means,” Sapphire said stepping towards her forcefully. “That you're inexperienced, Eden.”


Eden stepped towards him and Topaz wedged himself between them.


“Hey now!” he cried holding out his arms. “Look we sound just like our fathers! Why are we like this?”


They were all silent for a minute.


“The flowers should be together,” Eden said at length, staring into the garden.


“Yeah,” the others murmured in agreement. They laughed.


“Well at least that's one thing we can agree on,” Rosa said.


“We can agree on plenty of other things,” Topaz replied quietly.


“Or disagree,” Eden said. They looked at her.


“I mean of course we're going to disagree on some things!” she explained, flushing. “But we're all different and that means we'll fight.”


Sapphire smiled. “You’re right,” he said. “But isn’t that why we have Reps? To have these council meetings to talk about how to live together?”


“Sounds to me like they meet to talk about how to live apart,” Rosa scoffed. “Reds hold the wealth, Yellows keep the peace, Blues maintain the force and the Greens, well, they work because they’re the youth.”


“The future, actually,” Eden replied. “But yes, that's the idea.”


They looked at one another.


“If we didn't plant the flowers we would have never been able to talk to each other like this,” Topaz mused.


“What if we changed things?”


***


Ten years later, the flowers still remained, side by side, sprouting around each other. But in the council hall, a new set of Reps sat apart doing the jobs their fathers once did.


Their last few council meetings had been tense: the Red community still controlled the wealth and its distribution. The Blue community were enforcing the law but were being met with resistance. The Green community were ignorant and were not given access to the knowledge and learnings of the other communities. The Yellow peacemakers were having little success – the people of all communities were being oppressed.


“There will be a war soon,” Sapphire said warily, as the foursome walked in the gardens.


“War? Are you threatening an attack?” Rosa demanded.


“It's simply a warning,” Sapphire replied defensively.


“He's right you know,” Eden said. “My people are tired. They do not understand why they cannot be educated, and I have no valid answer for them.”


“My people ask why we maintain peace when the other communities won’t,” Topaz said staring up at the sky. “Sometimes I wonder the same thing myself.”


Rosa stopped walking and turned on them. “Have you all gone completely mad? Are you inciting war?”


“Of course not, Rosa,” Topaz replied calmly. “We're simply stating facts. This is how things are!”


“It's up to you to control your people,” Rosa replied heatedly.


“Do you control yours when they steal from the coffers, taking coin that could be going to the Greens,” Sapphire retorted.


Rosa flushed angrily.


“That's enough,” Eden said loudly.


They stood in silence for a moment


Rosa turned away. “I know about the corruption, but why should my people suffer? We have always been in charge of the wealth.”


“Maybe that's the problem,” Eden said quietly.


Rosa spun around. Eden held up her hands. “Maybe we should all consult on how the coin is distributed.”


“Red must share the wealth evenly,” Topaz agreed. “And your people will not suffer they will merely have to accept that all our communities wish for the same opportunities.”


Rosa remained silent. “Alright,” she said at length. “We will open up consultation to all communities, but,” she said looking around at Sapphire. “We want to consult on those who enforce too.”


“What is there to consult? We protect the people,” Sapphire replied promptly.


“You also punish the people,” Eden replied. “I agree with Rosa.”


“And what of the peacekeepers?” Topaz asked smiling. “What becomes of them?”


A pause.


“Perhaps they can convert to the education of all our people,” Sapphire said, thinking aloud. “Perhaps they can educate and inform all our communities.”


“If that happens, and we are given our fair share of wealth,” Eden replied hurriedly. “Then the Green Community may finally be able to contribute to the rest of society.”


They all turned to stare at her.


“You mean-”


“You want us-”


“To- to mix?”


Eden nodded. She pointed to the field, full of flowers. “This is what we are working for, my fellow council. But we are not flowers.”


“We are a community. And community can only exist when all are educated, when wealth, health and prosperity is given evenly and when it holds each other accountable.”


They stood staring into the field they grew.


“And- and what if it doesn't work?” Rosa asked.


“Then we work to resolve it,” Eden replied simply.


“And what of the dissenters, the ones who refuse to mix?” Sapphire questioned.


”We educate, rehabilitate and normalise,” Eden said slowly.


“There are long-standing prejudices – systems that may take decades to dismantle!” Topaz cried in realisation.


“And there may be conflict! War!” Rosa exclaimed.


“How do we ask our people to build a new world? They’ve never known anything but this!” Sapphire said.


Eden smiled at her peers. “First, we tell them that its possible, because we’ve done it before.” She gestured to the flowers.


“Second, we propose the vision and educate them on it. And third, we allow them to be part of the process. Because ultimately,” she took a deep breath. “This is only going to work if we are all given these rights.”


“Make sure everyone gets a fair chance,” Rosa mused.


“Hold each other accountable,” Sapphire agreed.


“And,” Topaz said, pausing. “Stop living in isolation.”


They nodded.


“So, we agree then?” Eden asked her peers hopefully. “We have a contract. We fight to achieve it, and when conflict comes, and when it breaks down, we fight some more until it works. All in favour?”


“Aye.”


“Aye.”


“Aye.”


June 11, 2020 14:02

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