Story Of a Girl From No Land

By Azra Syed

It was a sunny morning in July. The rain had built a bridge of vibrant colours across the blue skies with the help of sunshine in the hope of joining two rather mysterious worlds far over the Lavender fields. The moist Everything looked washed and fresh. During our routine morning walk, passing through the efflorescence of Lavender fields, my father and I were unaware that the next few minutes of our walk would have a tremendous impact not only on our lives but the lives of every single person that lived on the Lavender Farm in Sutton, England.

Ideally, it should have been one like many other mornings since my birth. My father and I always had long calming walks through these aromatic lavender fields; splendid with glorious views of the sun rising over the vibrant purple fields under the pale gold skies, the hues of nature creating a mysterious painting on the horizon like an artist's canvas. Everything looked the same with the familiar, vivid colours of summer, but somehow the world felt different. Perhaps, the rainy night had washed the stifling air away. Butterflies collected and delivered bundles of love from whorl to whorl, as always. The hypnotic bees were still mesmerising the corollas by hoovering and buzzing over them, then stealing their nectar. Grandma was plucking purple and white spikes of Larkspur from her botanic garden for her Meiji Satsuma vase, one of her thirty-five hand-painted, glazed ceramic vases, which were precious gifts, mostly from my grandfather, who was a big admirer of art and craft, especially pottery. The world looked perfectly alright; until Father suspected something was amiss in the fields.

He stopped, holding me back, and signed to be quiet. He spied something unusual. He placed his right hand above his eyes, to avoid the sunshine which was getting stronger.

‘Jack! Go home.’ My father’s voice swayed. ‘Go home… Now,' he whispered. Then without turning his face, he softly pressed my shoulder. ‘Jack go now. Do not look behind you.’

I felt a cold surge running through my blood. My father's voice indicated something was not normal; ordinarily, he would never have persuaded me to go back. He was the one who never let me skip the walk even during extreme cold and storms. My grandma told me, ‘Skipping morning walk, in your father’s presence? Forget it. The sun can skip a day but Thomas… never. He started taking you for walks when you were just a week old. That’s the way his father raised his son, and the father of his father too.’

I remember how my father usually carried me on that trajectory trail which opened into a woodland of beautiful lakes full of Carp and Roach. Once, when a nearby river overflowed into the local canal and that canal flooded into our lake, my father caught a Bullhead. I loved fishing. It’s great fun. Father and I also went horse riding through the woodland. Now the woodland has been taken over by the Woodland Trust, but we still have a portion of the lake where we go fishing and boating in summer. Sometimes my parents invite their friends for a lakeside BBQ party.

The last time when we had a BBQ party there, some police officers came looking for a group of refugees who were on the run. The police presumed they were hidden somewhere near the lake or in the Wood. They spoke about deserted tents and empty food tins they had found. Police and border agencies had been busy posting pamphlets and contacting local community groups asking for more support. Gaining community vigilance was important if the authorities wanted to tackle crime and illegal immigrants.

Since I was just twelve, I have understood and not be bothered by minor threats, but father didn’t want me to stay with him. My heartbeat raced but my curiosity forced me to stay with him. What it could be, I wanted to know. What was my father worried about? Why did he want me to go away without him? Why not him too?

I didn’t go. I hid behind my father and tried to follow his line of vision. I could not see anything beyond a yogic scarecrow who appeared to have been vandalized. Its clothes were ripped off. It was bent to one side like someone had tried to pull it down. But that wasn’t something my father was worried about. What was it? The urge to see what he was looking at got stronger. I held my breath; my heart was racing faster than a racing horse. I tiptoed to get to Father’s 6.4’ level. It was the first time I felt covetous about his stature; tall and strong like an avenger. I felt proud and protected. I held onto his shoulder and jumped up, which enabled me to catch a glimpse of the far end of the fields near the roadside. Approximately 100 yards away from us it looked like someone was shaking the lavender shrubs in turmoil. Then we heard compressed screams. It sounded like someone was being slaughtered.

I was very worried. Then, I don’t know, how, a wasp appeared from nowhere and started buzzing right in front of my eyes. I could not hold back my scream.

‘Are you okay, Jack?!’ Father pulled me closer.

I buried my head in his chest and muttered, ‘Sorry, Father. A wasp...’

‘It’s okay. Daddy is here, sweetheart…’ He kissed my forehead.

I could not control my emotions. My father was my world, my companion, my mentor and my protector. I would not leave him alone. Noticing my nervousness, Father held me in his arms and looked in my eyes, pressing and massaging my shoulders in reassurance. He was there to protect me. He said nothing but smiled, calming me.

Then he turned to investigate the screams which completely freaked me out because I knew they came to the place where my grandfather disappeared. Grandma had been leaving flowers and wreaths there for years. My mother never missed a day, standing silent and paying tribute, many times, wanting me to be silent with her for a minute and light candle.

I held my father’s hand tight and tried to prevent him from leaving. I begged him. ‘No! Father, please don’t go there, you know about Grandpa.’

‘There is nothing wrong Jack! There is nothing to worry about, my son. It’s our land and I must go to find out what was going on out there. I’ll be back soon.'

‘What if you...? Like Granddad...?’ My throat felt dry and my words broke into my chest.

‘There is no need to worry, Jack, you are a brave young man. Go now.’ Father kissed my forehead. Then he held me at arm's length and looked me in the eyes before turning me around and politely pushing my back. ‘Go home Jack.’

‘No… Father please, I can’t leave you here…’ I pleaded.

'Okay, Jack, then stay.’ He turned toward the roadside, but his face clouded with concern. He turned to me and said, ‘No, just go back and find your grandma and stay with her. She might still be in her garden. Today is Sunday and she must be making a special floral arrangement for Dad. Go there and stop her from going into the fields.’ But it was too late. Before I could go to stop her, we saw Grandma coming towards us, holding a beautiful arrangement of Larkspur spikes and white lilies.

Grandma was a botanist, she had an MSc in Botany from the Botany School, Cambridge, where she had met Phillip Andrew James - my granddad. They married after completing their university degrees. My grandma had a very special eye for art and horticulture. She spent most of her time researching plants and floral arrangements and her fine collection of vases. Her vases carried memories of my grandfather and she filled them with his favourite flowers. Each of Grandma’s vases, whether glazed Drip Mottled, hand-painted Heinrich, or Amphora style, was special to her. These were presents from Grandfather, mostly on their wedding anniversary.

When I was young, I was not allowed to play near Grandma’s precious collection of vases. One vase, which Grandma only showed to select people, was a Meiji period Japanese ceramic Satsuma vase, a very expensive piece of art. It was also my granddad’s favourite one. He bought it in an antique auction from Japan. He spent most of his free time sitting next to that vase, on a rocking chair, reading his favourite books on Floriculture, Anthology of plants and antiques. The room was always filled with misty musky smells of freshly picked flowers.

My granddad, being a single child, inherited two thousand acres of land and the house we lived in. He started the cultivation of Lavender in 1920 when he finished his MSc degree in Botany. In Botany School, he met Gwyn Davies and both fell in love with each other. ‘Obviously, Love at first sight,’ as Rita Beatie Bray, a university colleague of my grandparents and a childhood friend of my grandmother, mentioned on her seventy-fifth birthday celebration. Everybody laughed and my grandma was blushing for the first time since I was born.

My parents never talked about my granddad in front of Grandma. The evening of her party, after dinner, she was very quiet and stayed in her room most of the evening. It made me sad and I went to her room. She was busy looking at her old photos. I had never seen my granddad and had always been told he went on a long journey, two days after my birth.

‘What was really happened to Granddad?’ I asked, hoping for the truth.

My grandma avoided my question. ‘I want to rest now… why don't you go and play with your toys, Jack?’

‘Didn’t he love me? Why did he leave? Where is he?’ I wanted to know everything about my grandfather, but the more I insisted, the more Gran looked exhausted.

‘Don’t think like that,’ she said in a frail tone. ‘Phil, your granddad, was very excited. You don’t know how happy he was when your father told him about your mother expecting. I remember the day you were born, he did nothing, but look at you for hours. He gave you his own father’s name. He wanted to see you grow.’

‘The doctors thought you should stay in under observation because you caught pneumonia. When we came back from the hospital, he kept talking about you. He was so worried. Then he went into his library and spent three hours writing his feelings about you and his hopes and dreams for your life in his diary. He even amended his will.’

‘Then what happened?’

‘You will find out one day.’

‘Please, tell me everything. Please, please Grandma.’

‘The next morning, he woke up early, restless. He wanted to go somewhere. He went for his morning walk and asked me to join him since your father couldn't because he was in the hospital with you and your mother. It was cold and foggy. I should have gone with him, but I refused. He was whistling loudly the last time I saw him. Then his whistle went quiet forever. Without your granddad the whole world changed, everything became incomplete.’

‘After he went missing, I called your father and we all looked for him. The Police searched everywhere.’ Grandma sobbed in her handkerchief. She was tired and sad.

‘I am sorry grandma, please don’t cry, I will never ask again.’

Grandma turned her face away and pretended as she fell asleep.

The next day was Sunday. After plucking flowers, and visiting Granddad's monument, my grandma, after having her special Sunday breakfast cookies which she baked earlier for me, asked me to carry her flower basket to Granddad's library. I got excited because I have never been to his library before. No one was allowed there, just Grandma and sometimes my father when he required a reference from a special book. My mother could go there but she never did.

I carried her flower basket to the cellar, where my granddad's bedroom and the library was; it looked like an art gallery where the world’s most precious masterpieces were on display. Our whole house looked like an abbey, from pure silk carpets to furniture all fine examples of art and craftsmanship. But our entire house was nowhere near as grand as Granddad's room.

Grandma asked me to sit near an oil painting. I sat quietly. My eyes wandered around the room before focussing on a painting. It looked gloomy in the painting.

‘This painting is by Pyotr Nikolayevich Gruzinsky, a prince of the Georgian royal family, and therefore a member of the Russian imperial aristocracy, in the mid-nineteenth century.' Grandma broke the silence when she noticed my interest.

‘It's a sympathetic depiction of Muslim refugees being forced out of the Caucasus in the decades when Russia’s grip on the mountains were consolidated.’

My grandma arranged flowers in a red Meiji Satsuma Vase. The strong aroma of lavender with sweet, musky smells of freshly picked Gardenias, Dahlias, Calla, and Peruvian lilies, filled the room with strange nostalgic feelings. I admired the fragrance and vibrant colours of the flowers. I wanted to sit there forever.

My grandma smiled, ‘Phil loved these summer flowers.’

Then she stopped. She sat in front of me, holding my right hand, rubbing it with affection, looking into my eyes and said, ‘Jack, I want you to know this room is very special, your grandfather’s room, his library. I know he dreamed he could spend time with you in here, but his dreams were snatched by a bunch of devils. Phil was a kind, gentle and soft-hearted human, like your father, Thomas. I want you to be like them. Like a whorl of lavender which even aromatises the pair of scissors which cut the lavender apart.’

My grandma was a fast runner, she won marathons every year. My father and I stood watching as she came closer and closer. We didn't know how to get her to stop. Then we saw my mother, walking very slow. She called father’s name and stopped, holding her big tummy and blowing her breath, in and out. It looked like she was struggling to breathe properly.

‘Is she asphyxiated?’ My father murmured.

I responded, ‘Lavender can trigger seizures. It is written in one of granddad's books which I was reading yesterday.’

‘No, no. It's nothing like that Jack. Kate's never had epilepsy,’ Father corrected me.

Grandma heard my mother calling and rushed back to be with her. Father and I hurried to help. When we joined them, Mother was sitting on the ground, holding and rubbing her belly, breathing deeply.

My mother whispered something to my father. I only overheard ‘Hospital.’

‘Mum, Jack… please go home and stay in.’ Father kept looking behind. Far in the fields, which looked peaceful now, compared to before.

That day, when my father and mother went to the hospital, Grandma took me to Granddad's monument. I was scared, afraid because of the turmoil Father and I had witnessed earlier, but all was calm. We saw that many lavender bushes had been destroyed and the scarecrow’s stolen shirt was ripped in pieces. There were some bloodstains on the ground.

Then we looked closely. It seemed someone was hiding behind the monument. My granddad's engraved name stone began talking to me, revealing the truth I had not been told before. I looked at my grandma. She seemed very brave and I wanted to tell her how much I loved her. Grandma cuddled me, kissed my forehead, wiped her eyes with her hankie and then hid me behind her back.

‘Whoever is hiding there, come out,’ she ordered.

Silence. The bright sun was high over our heads. Despite grandma’s big summer hat, her cheeks were getting red. She stood up and called again but nothing happened. We waited a few minutes, then Grandma set her flowers down. In the silence that followed we heard a baby crying. The cries came from behind a nearby four feet high and six feet long rectangle wall made of black marble with silver writing. My grandma told me to stay where I was as she walked around the other side. I couldn't contain my curiosity and followed close behind.

That day, I became the big brother of two sweet sisters: Mum and Dad came home with Daisy and Granddad gave us Lavender. I named her Lavender because we found her in the Lavender fields. She was wrapped in purple and green and looked like a bunch of lavender the heat had turned her bluish red. My father informed the police about what had happened. We asked around and everyone we knew, but no one knew anything about Lavender.

Time got wings and two years went by. Daisy started walking all over the place. She never wasted even a single moment being quiet. Lavender never said even a word. She was diagnosed with Autism. My parents and Grandma loved all three of us. Because of Lavender’s condition, my parents arranged a nanny for Daisy so my mother could spend more time with Lavender. That made Daisy envious despite her young age. Being the youngest child, Daisy was spoiled, and she did not like Lavender. Lavender was not allowed to touch Daisy’s dolls. Daisy never shared her toys. Lavender wanted to play with Daisy, but she pushed her away.

Her favourite phrase was, ‘Lavender cannot do it, only Daisy can.’

That was the reason whenever we tried to teach things to Lavender, even walking, she always refused — ‘Lavenderrrr caaaan nnnnnnot doit.’

Mother would say,' Lavender walk,' while standing a step away from her, holding her favourite doll.

‘No nonono no Lavender can not do.’ She refused.

Father bought her favourite pink dress, holding it to his knees. ‘Come on Lavender, get it. Lavender can do it.’

‘Lavender can do it?’ She repeated.

Everyone said, 'Yes, Lavender can do it.' She looked at Father. She looked at the dress. She put forward her hand to get the dress, but she never moved from her place.

‘Lavender can not do it.’ She touched her shoulder with her head.

Then one day Lavender did it. It was a Sunday afternoon. I was sitting reading a book. Lavender crawled to me, she held my legs and stood up. She wanted the book I was reading. I noticed Lavender really liked reading. Many times, she tried to read her storybooks. Grandma was observing Lavender and she looked at me, persuading me to encourage Lavender to walk.

I looked at Lavender, she was still trying to reach my book. I stood up, picked her up, took three big steps away from her, and stopped. I said, ‘If Lavender want this book, Lavender has to walk.’

She ran to me... It was amazing, I screamed, ‘Yes! Lavender did it.’

‘Lavender did it. Yes, Lavender did it!’ She screamed.

Since then she never sat down. Father and I had another morning walk companion.

In July 1999, Lavender and Daisy turned ten. Daisy had wanted to be a ballerina since she was two, all those years, literally dancing everywhere with Lavender following her steps. Mother had arranged a ballet teacher to teach Daisy in our annexe. Lavender wanted to watch, but Daisy made fun of her calling, ‘Geese never do ballet, only swans do.’

Everyone knew Daisy meant a lot to Lavender, who would do anything to save Daisy from trouble. Once Daisy smashed one of Grandma’s vases and blamed Lavender. Still Lavender did not say anything about it. Grandma knew that who broke it though.

In August 2005, I was away for a week on a business trip when my mother called me. She was very happy. Daisy had won the Critics Circle National Dance Awards and Mother was very proud of her talented daughter.

‘Daisy is invited by the International Dance Association, to participate in Benois de la Danse, one of the most prestigious ballet competitions, it will take place next year in Moscow.’ Mother was very excited.

The Swan Lake company then invited Daisy to perform at one of their international Ballet competitions in London. Father booked tickets for everyone but Daisy did not want Lavender there.

‘Daisy, Sweetheart, Lavender is your sister, you should be kind to her,’ Mother tried to convince her.

‘Please, mother, how on the earth is she my sister? What you are trying to say, a swan and a goose are siblings? This never happens in real life. She is not my twin. I checked my birth records. I was the only child born under my family record so what makes her my sister?

'My friends laugh at me. They call me names. They ask me who my father slept with to make Lavender my sister. Is she from some South Asian or Middle Eastern parents? Daisies even never bloom with lavender. This does not make any sense. I don’t want to be embarrassed in front of my friends, Mother. It’s final. Lavender will not come with us or else I shall leave the house forever.’

‘Daisy! Have you lost your mind? Do you realise what allegations you are making against your own father?’ Mother stopped her.

‘Okay Mrs Katherine Andrew James, if she is your daughter, then who am I? Where is my mother? If you like goosing around, why do I have to face it?’

‘That’s enough Daisy! Leave me alone or you will be grounded.’ Mother admonished her daughter before she burst into tears.

But Daisy continued, oblivious to her mother’s hurt.

‘What Mother? How many years have I remained quiet? I was minded by a nanny in my own home. You have no time for me but all the time in the world for that ugly Lavender who you loved her more than me. Everyone loves her! You all love ugly goose, and no one loves me. A swan is dumped by her own family who is in love with a goose!’ She broke down and began crying hysterically.

Mother could not believe her daughter was blaming her. She went to her room while Daisy fell on the couch crying and sobbing.

‘Lavender loves Daisy. Daisy is beautiful. Daisy dances like a swan. Lavender will not go to see Daisy,’ Lavender said, standing next to Daisy, trying to make peace.

Daisy turned her face away.

Lavender left the house to head to the fields.

Grandma had been sitting in Grandfather’s library. When she came out to get something to drink, she heard Daisy and mother. She didn’t want to intervene, so she quietly went down again.

When she came out it was evening and Daisy was still sitting in a corner. Grandma sat next to her and held her hand, rubbing it gently, while she told her about Lavender’s story. She also told her how granddad was stabbed in the fields.

‘Life is to short my child; your grandfather and I wasted much time in arguing and misunderstanding each other’s love.’

‘I’m so sorry, Grandma!’

‘That day, when your grandfather went for a walk, he wanted me to go with him. I refused, and he never came back. My whole life I regret. Why didn’t I go? If I was with him, I might have stopped it from happening. All-day we searched for your grandfather, and in the evening his dog Tammy found him injured and unconscious underneath the lavender bushes near the roadside.’ Grandma was sobbing.

She also told her how Grandma and I found Lavender when my mother and father were in the hospital and Daisy was being born.

‘I heard what you said to your mother. It’s not true. Your mother was not even aware of Lavender. She was in labour, giving birth to you. Lavender had just been born when I saw her. Jack and I picked up her from your grandfather’s monument where someone had dumped her. She was wrapped in a blanket without anything but a silver amulet around her neck. Your brother and I took her to the same hospital where you were born. Her condition was critical, but doctors were hopeful and determined so she survived.’

‘O’ Grandma, I made the biggest mistake ever! I hurt my mother.’

‘After a long stay in the hospital, she came home. She wasn’t a normal baby. She was diagnosed with multiple conditions affecting her physical and mental growth. This made her vulnerable and needing more care. Your parents arranged a nanny for you because they didn’t want you to be neglected. Your mother was always around. She looked after both of you. Yes, she had a Nanny to assist her but not to ignore you. Do you remember a time when you needed your mother and she was not there? I am sure you can’t recall any such thing.’

Daisy told Grandma that Lavender had left the house to make her happy. Grandma called my father, Grandma, Mother and Daisy went searching. It was getting dark. When I reached home, I saw my father going towards the lake. Police were already there. We couldn’t find Lavender. The police assured Father they would find her. They wanted us to go home. When we reached home, Father stopped and signalled for us to be quiet. There was something in the far end of the fields, near the roadside. Now I could see. It was like someone walking through the Lavender fields. Father hushed. I followed him; it was Lavender. She smiled and held out her arms. We all ran to her to bring her home. Daisy got there first.

The End

36 views0 comments