The day the world ended I was nine years old. A boy and girl from the fifth grade were getting married, and the whole fourth grade took to wedding preparations. I was tasked with purchasing flowers. On the way to practice I sat in the backseat, counting the orchids and tulips and roses ornamenting the bride’s long white veil; blooming in the gardens of the fairytale castle where they were to be joined in sacred union. Two purple tulips at her wrist. Three more in the lining of her satin gown. One white rose at her ankle and an orchid resting amid her golden locks. Cairo laughs out in croaky sandstorms and with my finger I trace a sunflower onto the dusty car window.
He pulls over and asks me to wait in the car while he buys a pack of cigarettes. I start changing into my training pants. A moment later the back door opens, uncalled for. I remember the wrinkled hands, the smoky breath in my mouth. I do not remember much else. It never does good to dwell on such memories. So I lean back into my seat, close my eyes; I count orchids and tulips and roses and wait for the world to end.
Eleven years later and a five hour flight; I drag the halves of my heart in two suitcases through Heathrow. I am in England and I have never much liked flowers, but the flower fields in England are vast and colorful, they bloom even through the scorching summer drought. When the girls and I go clubbing it is all about the boys. How many boys will offer you a drink, how many boys will you kiss tonight? The boys are accessory and the centerpiece is love. Karin loves us enough that she invites us to her dorm, offers us strawberries; we spend the rest of the night spilling secrets over wine and in the morning I do not go home. Instead, I ride my bike out to the fields and lay among the grass, hours before nature has woken from her slumber.
I think of Emily, who speaks fluent Mandarin and wants to become supreme court justice. Charlotte, on the plane from L.A. to Shanghai, Charlotte who dances like no one is watching. Karin, the Ivy League prodigee, who wants nothing more than to become a mother. I think of home and it is the porter’s laugh, when I stumble drunk into his lodge and ask for a spare key. My teacher, who grandly proclaims “le cinema est mort, long live the cinema”, and it is too hot to lecture and the rain is too loud, so we may well watch a film instead. The sunflowers slowly rise from their sleep, drops of water flow gracefully from their petals and onto my cheek. I begin to stand up, then lay back down; eyes open, I watch as the world begins.
Back in Cairo, my friends ask all the wrong questions: how many boys have offered you drinks? How many boys did you kiss in England? I laugh but do not tell them about the flower fields, how vast and colorful; how they bloom all year through snow and storm, pink petals blushing behind dusty white masks, how they bloom even through the scorching summer drought. Cairo smiles and I smile back, inhaling her dusty autumn winds. I toss my broken heart into the Nile, and a bright yellow sunflower grows in its place. No wrinkled hand will ever tow at my roots. No smoke ever dim the color in my cheeks. Like the flowers I will bloom, untamed and resilient.