He gently laid the dried petals into the potpourri vase and swirled through them slightly. As the faint fragrance rose and wafted through the air, his mind drifted back to beloved memories of his childhood. He remembered his parents and how every week his father would bring a bouquet of fresh flowers for his mother. With a smile reserved only for his father, she would gingerly accept them and place them into her favorite vase atop the dining table. For the next week or so, the ornate vase and its encased flowers would serve as the centerpiece of all activity at home. On quiet mornings, he occasionally found his mother seated there, stroking the delicate petals, lost in her reverie.
Ever so often, she would take stems from the vase and place them in other vases and glass cups throughout the house. She would take petals and tie them into her long, flowing hair, use them as ingredients for afternoon tea, and place them secretly into his father’s favorite books and forgotten bills. If any waned in color or life, she would weave those petals into decorations or dry them to make scented potpourri. In the evenings, she would blush when his father came home and cupped her hands with his flower-held ones, entreating her for a leisurely stroll with him through the back garden.
His father loved to surprise his mother with new assortments of flowers from other countries and seasons. Despite her halfhearted protests, he always shared sweet nothings and silly couplets with the family along with the gifted posy, likening a quality he admired in her with the particular flower he brought. On special occasions, his father would pin a boutonnière to his suit, and unbeknownst to anyone outside the family, his mother would wear a matching corsage under her jilbab sleeve after having crafted it the night before.
Flowers truly served an integral part of his family’s life, he reflected, as he closed the lid of the potpourri vase and stepped away. Regrettably, those flowers had not bloomed in his own life and marriage in the same way. It wasn’t that his wife didn’t love flowers; on the contrary, that’s what had brought him and her – the florist’s daughter – together in the first place. No, it was that he found that flowers held a different place in her heart than it did in his. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it though he felt as if the flower served not as an expression of love for her, but life itself.
He didn’t quite notice it in the beginning while the flowers carried them through their wedding and early-married life. During the ceremonies, they were gifted with garlands of gardenias, fountains rung with rows of rosemaries, a honeymoon suite peppered with petals of periwinkles, and a ride home in an auto veiled within vines of violets. When they got around to discussing children names, they went through many glossaries of flowery names. They finally agreed on ‘Zahr’ for a boy and ‘Zahrah’ for a girl as both names meant ‘flower’ in Arabic at their root level.
As the days matured into new seasons, flowers continued to scent their lives throughout. He too matured, beginning to notice that they both carried their own floral perspective. His wife was raised in a background where flowers were not just a nice afterthought but the business of the day. He knew that over the years she helped out at her father’s boutique, her knowledge of flowers had really blossomed. By the time they were married, she was already well versed in flowers’ varieties, their scientific names and compositions, their arrangements and complements, and much more in the lore of flora. After marriage, she continued to work part-time at the boutique due to her sustained passion for these flowers.
As a result of all this, he soon realized that her relationship with flowers was far more transactional and commonplace than it had ever been for him. This led to repeated, heated rows between them and a disregard for each other’s floriated gifts. It was a low point in their marriage as both were regularly left feeling hurt and anguished. She’d end up in tears, and he’d end up in exasperation. Both often questioned if they made the right choice in marrying the other.
For her, she knew no world devoid of flowers. For him, flowers filled the void of his world.
As the wintery seasons cycled into warmer times, their showers of grief subsided and eventually brought forth flowers of love and mercy. The change began for him soon after he ceased comparing his parents’ relationship to his own. He recognized that their lives and situations were different from that of his and his wife’s, and thus attempted to instead appreciate his wife for who she was and what she went through. He delved into botany, assisted his wife and father-in-law at the boutique, and even contrived his own trademark arrangements. Likewise, she endeavored to better understand him and his experiences, and soon discovered his penchant for subtlety. And so, at times when he’d least expect it, she’d trace a flower into the palm of his hands, wake him to the aroma of vivid flowers, pack hand-written messages on petals into his lunch, and even serve him eggs flower side up. In this way, she deftly weaved flowers into their time together that conveyed her love for him over anything material.
Years later, he smiled as he swirled and reminisced over another set of petals in a potpourri vase, but this time in a resort at the Valley of Flowers in India. He had just gifted his wife an arrangement of the most exotic flowers he could gather in the Himalayas, and in return, she had granted him a smile reserved only for him. After all of their years together, her smile still disarmed him and caused him to just stand there, momentarily dazed. She giggled at his reaction and gave him an exaggerated parting wave as she stepped out of the room to ready their baby twins, Zahr and Zahrah, for the trip home. Having recovered slightly, he began to clean up and pack their belongings, still beaming from ear to ear.
He paused when he came upon his final item to pack. He held his mother’s ornate vase in his hands for some time, recalling how she had gifted this to him in the past year. The memory was fresh in his mind. They were at her house for a visit, and after she amused her grandchildren with all sorts of flowered contrivances and tucked them into her bed for a nap, she called him to the dining table. When he arrived, she simply handed the vase to him without saying a word and gingerly clasped his hands with her own flower-held ones. He hugged her tightly, his eyes filling with tears as he realized what this meant.
He softly closed the vase’s lid and stared reflectively at the flower vase, quietly thanking Allah, the Most Beautiful, for having blessed him with remarkable parents and for creating such beauty in the world – from his parents to his wife, and from his children to every flower. He then wrapped the vase in earthy-brown paper and tucked it away in the folds of his wife’s clothes. With the scent of resolve strong in the air, he stepped out of the room, rejoined his family, and soon flew out of the Valley of Flowers.