The blooming sunflower

The blooming sunflower

A week-long trip to the islands to relieve stress proves a blessing. This story was written by Melody Lam Chi-yan, 16, from Heep Yunn School


This so-called “solution” was ridiculous. It’s no secret that my roots are buried deep in the concrete jungle, but my parents’ persistence forced me to pack my annoyance into a suitcase and head towards the port.

“A one-week trip to your grandparents’ house on the islands
to relieve stress” was how my mother phrased this unnecessary expedition, and I was in no position to protest against the woman who was the
main source of this stress in the first place.

Salty gusts chipped away at the exposed parts of my skin, testing my patience as I aimlessly trod along the quiet seashore. My grandfather should have picked me up an hour ago, yet I was still standing alone in the rain, looking like a complete fool.

I was having difficulty standing as a sore throat and exhausted muscles added to my impending headache. My lanky legs were about to admit defeat to the hectic winds.

There was a muffled buzzing deep in my pocket. I reached for my mobile phone and swiped to end the familiar vibration.

“What’s the matter?” I could barely contain the sigh threatening to spill out of my throat.

“Good morning!” It was my grandfather. “It’s raining and I’m having trouble moving my plants indoors, so I won’t be able to pick you up. You’ll have to walk here. Don’t worry, though, won’t take you more than 30 minutes. See you later!”

Grey waves lashed against the pale shores beside me while zephyrs of brine swept across the ocean and into my lungs. The downpour looked like it was never going to end, so I grudgingly trekked towards the other side of the island under my barely functioning umbrella.

I doubted this trip would actually be able to alleviate the stress running in my veins for the past year. How could months of accumulating,
back-breaking all-nighters vanish
in the space of a week?

The house was exactly how I remembered; the epitome of simplicity. My vision was slightly fuzzy due to the showers, but the familiar, peeling white-painted walls and shabby wooden front door were crystal clear. I ventured in with a forced smile tugging at the corners of my dry lips.

Grandmother was in the kitchen, preparing dinner to a tune that probably prevailed the radios 40 years ago.

“Oh, it’s so nice to see you again!” She enveloped me in a hug. “Put your things in the spare room first, then go greet your grandfather. He’s in the garage.”

After setting down my belongings in a room nobody had set foot in for at least a decade, I waddled down the stairs with my soaked clothes in one hand and my heavy heart in the other. I was instantly met by a flood of warmth radiating from the cackling fireplace.

I peeked into the garage with a tingling of uncertainty. “Gramps?”

He was wearing a worn-out tracksuit that complimented the fine lines on his forehead – a typical elderly man who spent most his days embracing modesty.

“Ah, here you are! My beautiful young lady!” Another hug.

“Care to help me reorganise my gardening tools?” he asked.

And that was how I spent my first day: somewhat aimless, somewhat productive.

The next day was much less unpleasant weather-wise. Clouds flecked with dark grey rolled over the once clear sky. The gloomy ensemble tucked Apollo and his chariot beneath its arms and flooded the halls of heaven.

I followed my grandparents to the island’s only grocery store.

There was an intangible sheet of grey covering the land and its people, dwindling the contours on my grandfather’s face and dulling the rosy flush on my grandmother’s cheeks. They continued to trot down the sullen path with their fingers interlocking.

I tried to avoid the awkwardness of third-wheeling by looking around the petrichor-emanating land.

There was no artificial pavement, just a sandstone path, smoothened over the years by the footprints of my ancestors. Rays of sunshine leaked through the clouds, decorating the seashore with patches of watery gold.

The sound of crashing waves against the rustling of autumn leaves became my temporary lullaby, and was surprisingly pleasant for the soul.

The weight – which I had no idea existed beforehand – lifted from my shoulders as I skipped ahead of my grandparents.

Grandfather brought me to his garden that afternoon. There was a thick pair of scissors in his wrinkled hands. “In order for these sunflowers to bloom gorgeously, we’ll have to chip off some of the buds and stems.”

My eyebrow shot up in scepticism.

“Are you sure this would work? Snipping parts of the plant off so it could bloom?”

The perennial sunflower is truly one of the most magnificent gifts to humanity. The one in my grandfather’s garden was blooming blissfully, buds fully formed and orange petals ready to untangle themselves.

“We nip off the buds hidden under the leaves, and the stems beside the largest buds, to make sure the nutrients are supplied to the ones we are keeping,” he said.

I felt it was an act of cruelty that most likely wouldn’t work. I recalled a story about sunflowers we had studied in school.

It was the story of a water nymph by the name of Clytie, who had fallen in love with Helios, the god of the sun. To put it briefly, Clytie became a sunflower after many days of gazing at the sun and longing for affection.

Grandfather had already begun trimming the stems and I had no idea how to help poor Clytie. I just stared in protesting silence. There were faint strips of salmon pink on each petal, complimenting the light caressing the young buds.

After the snapping of a spine, a bud fell onto a bed of discarded stems; it was a child who had yet to experience the joy of blossoming; a damsel who had withered before it bloomed.

Overcome with helplessness, I tore my gaze away. But I kept my protests to myself.

On the fifth morning, I woke early and headed straight to the garden.

The garden was a totally different sight, and the weather was the best it had been all week.

The flora basked in the warm sunlight, and every wall of our humble little cottage was illuminated by a gentle glow. Wisteria fell from the skies, waltzing slowly to the wind.

Blue flowers caressed my hair as I dusted the soft strands out of my face and headed towards the sunflowers.

Even from a distance, you could see they were in their full state, standing tall and proud underneath the sun.

I approached wearily. The sunshine kissed my skin, casting long shadows of my eyelashes onto my cheeks. I observed her beauty as she perfumed the air with oxygen.

I thought I had remembered wrongly because there were no signs of the flowers being forcefully trimmed a few days ago. They stood confidently in all their glory, boasting to the sun, as if aware that they outshone any surrounding flowers.

There was a shuffling noise behind me as Grandfather approached, and I was reminded of the guilt from earlier.

“Sunflowers bloom best after trimming excessive buds and stems.”

“I do not doubt that,” I replied timidly.

“You did at first,” Grandfather whispered.

I wondered if life was just a journey of realising how much of a fool you were.

“I mean, I didn’t expect that to work.” I shifted my gaze to the floor. “But it did, in the end.”

A long silence. There was a cliff on the west of the island, too steep for my grandparents, so I paid it a visit on my own at sunset.

It was not too tall, but tall enough to be the highest point of the island. It was the perfect location to witness the sun’s departure.

It gave a lustrous beam of apricot orange. Distant island silhouettes sat peacefully by the mauve and mulberry waves.

I stood up, feeling as weightless as a seagull gliding through the air, with the wind beneath my wings and complete freedom.

I jumped off the cliff and dived into the magical water.

“I guess you had fun.”

I must have looked ridiculous, dripping from head to toe and grinning like a madman. But my grandmother did not look surprised.

Beads of water clung to my damp clothes. I creaked up the wooden staircase and into the bathroom.

There was another girl there, also soaking wet.

In her eyes was delight in its purest form – not a trace of the fatigue that had amassed from many years of emotional suppression. It was hard to tell whether she was a five- or 19-year-old. A child’s enthusiasm through a teenager’s eyes is often a strange sight, but during the exchanging of glances, nothing looked out of place.

I blinked and dried up.

I never enjoyed barbecues, nor appreciated the heat from the fire. It did nothing to melt away my cold insides. Yet, I found myself going along with my grandmother’s suggestion to spend my last night having a rooftop barbecue.

There wasn’t much conversation, but we felt more comfortable than ever, as our shoulders brushed against each other’s for a better look at the stars.

Eventually, Grandmother spoke.

“Did you enjoy your time here?” she asked.

A butterfly landed on my knees, temporarily resting its wings.

“Of course,” I replied.

“Your mother told me you were reluctant to leave the city.”

There was a puddle of water showing our reflections. We looked quite young.

“I didn’t see the possibility.”

Midnight approached, blanketing the Earth in a captivating darkness. Grains of starlight softly dispersed in the sky. The butterfly took off, and I silently wished it goodbye.

“But do you see it now?”

I glanced at the glowing flame.

“I guess I do.”

Edited by Andrew McNicol

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
The blooming sunflower


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