Roses with Thorns
Fatima flicked the switch with her thumb, summoning a tiny flame dancing on top of the lighter. The flame burned briefly before she removed her finger, extinguishing on her whim. She had switched the lighter on and off repeatedly for nearly half-an hour, contemplating whether or not she should cremate the roses. She had brought the flame to one flower’s fleshy bloom once before withdrawing and cursed herself and Samir’s letter for her vexing hesitation.
She directed her vexation to the letter instead which laid open on the table before her. With hands intent on committing murder, she took the letter and scrutinized the words, only to be met with the same feeling of perplexity that overwhelmed her just as powerfully as it did when he presented her the roses just a half-hour before. She could hear Samir’s playful banter in her head.
By the time you are reading this, there’s a good chance you are contemplating on how you will destroy my precious roses. I’m right, aren’t I?
“Hmph. Lucky guess.” Fatima admitted. She read on.
As I was writing this letter, I ran through countless scenarios in my head. One of which involved you burning the roses with a lighter. In another, I saw you plucking each flower of its petals, one by one, only to obliterate them in a paper shredder. I believe there was also a scenario where you accepted my flowers, although begrudgingly so. No matter which scenario actually plays out, know that I smiled at each and every one of them because you were always in them.
“He can’t be serious!” Wrinkles folded on her forehead when she scowled.
I AM serious, the letter said as if in reply to Fatima’s reaction. I’m serious about you, about us. I’m going to marry you, Fatima. I already asked your father for permission. All I need is for you to say ‘yes.’ Because when I look far into my future, you’re the only person I could imagine myself arguing with. You fascinate me in ways I never expected. If I’m a star, you’re my night sky. I don’t belong anywhere without you.
Overwhelmed by the pure sweetness of his letter, Fatima through the note against the wall. But like fate intended, the note landed face-up, taunting her to finish reading it.
If you want proof of how much I love you, look at your roses. Really look at them. Notice how they don’t have a price tag? How all the stems are equal in length? Why all the roses are completely bereft of their thorns, all except for one? I left my house right after fajr and drove to my uncle’s house in Redwood where he gardens. That man can grow the garden of Eden if he wanted to, but his tiny backyard only allowed one rose bush. I paid him for the flowers and cut them myself. The flowers are beautiful aren’t they? But I would argue that the most beautiful flower of them all is the one with its thorns intact.
You see, Fatima: Humans are so greedy. I can’t imagine how many times I’ve witnessed a child pluck a dandelion in the fields to scatter its fluffy seeds with a single breath only to toss the empty stem aside once its beauty was lost like a dead corpse. But why should that surprise you? Pretty things end up being possessed. I’d like to think the roses grew thorns to protect themselves as if a mutation was enough to deter the greedy hands that sought to pluck them. But they still ended up being sold in cheap grocery stores. Their colorful corpses brought life to funerals. Their withering petals scattered across nightstands like tombstones long forgotten.
You understand where I’m going with this metaphor, don’t you Fatima? You’re not the only rose with thorns. There’s roses all around you; it’s just that some thorns are harder to spot than others, including mine. Maybe when I’m sure that you love me back, I’ll show them to you.
When she finished reading the letter, Fatima looked back at her bouquet of roses and saw them with eyes brand new. Their fleshy petals resembled raw meat. Their stems were stiff and lifeless. And their roots were nowhere to be found, similar to a freshly gutted fish. The flowers were hideous in a grotesque way, and it sickened her to touch them. It occurred to her now that the bouquet was not so much as a grand romantic gesture but rather a strategic tactic to prove a point.
Samir loved her.
It was a fact that Fatima still refused to believe. Him loving her meant that all her attempts to dissuade and intimidate were all in vain. She had seduced when she had meant to disturb. Made herself available when she was intent on closing herself off. But her worst sin of all? She had blindly lost her heart when she knew that she could not afford to give it away.
Fatima was, indeed, wretched in the most terrible state of utter despair. In a fit of madness, she ripped the roses of their petals, violently scattering them along the floor. She shredded the roses until there was nothing left of them but their yellow seeds. The roses were mutilated beyond recognition, all except one.
When reaching to grab the rose that had its thorns intact, Fatima cut herself. The sharp sensation made her draw her hand back, and she examined the liquid crimson seeping from her wound. The pain, although small, made her realize the extent of her irrationality and her cruelty. Fatima became cold with remorse and wept from the sight of her own ugliness. And with tears in her eyes, she left her room to search for a small vase in the kitchen cabinet. The thorned rose was displayed near the window of her bedside, and she finished the job by sweeping away the dead petals littering her floor.
Samir came into his house with the air of a man in love. He stood straighter, his eyes were glazed over with a rosey sheen, and his legs seemed to lose half their structure, causing him to glide through the door instead of walk. Men in love were quite a humorous sight; they always seemed to lose half their firmness and their wits; they smiled constantly like fools. Even the air they expired smelled sweeter. One can always tell if a man was in love; Samir was no exception.
Ms. Mustafic and Tremondre were eating lunch at the dinner table when Samir floated into the room. Both of them picked up on the change instantly; however, they had much different reactions. Ms. Mustafic only smiled to herself and gave Tremondre an all-knowing look that confirmed his suspicions. Tremondre, on the other hand, couldn’t help but downturn his lips into a repugnant frown.
“Did I miss something?”
Tremondre wasn’t exactly sure who he was asking. He watched with caution as Samir opened the fridge to take out a carton of orange juice and proceeded to pour it into a small glass. Samir poured the juice with a rough hand, causing the contents to surpass the brim. Juice splattered all over the floor to his dismay. When he realized what he had done, he sluggishly moved to clean the spill with an old rag. However, the silly smile on his face remained unmoved.
“He’s so out of it,” Tremondre whispered to Ms. Mustafic.
Ms. Mustafic took a bite of her rice and scooped up a chunk of beef with it. She smirked right before speaking. “I know. I don’t think he even knows we’re here.”
Tremondre widened his eyes in horror. “Are you serious?”
Ms. Mustafic remained perfectly calm. “Of course. He’s in love.”
“With who?” Tremondre practically hissed.
Ms. Mustafic straightened her back and gave him a look of pleasant surprise. “He hasn’t told you about Fatima?”
“I mean...he’s mentioned her a couple of times.”
“This morning he left to visit Mr. Syed to ask for Fatima’s hand in marriage. Judging by his stupid behavior, I think it went very well.”
The revelation left Tremondre totally dumbfounded. In an instant, he lost all desire to eat and could only stare at his friend helplessly. It couldn’t be, he thought. Sure, he didn’t become intimate friends with Samir until two years ago but ever since then they had become close. He thought he knew Samir. Samir was known to act rashly sometimes but marriage? To Fatima Syed? He had to be out of his mind. Insane, even. Because he had seen Fatima work her magic before, and he could not allow his friend to be so much as near her. But if he did...there was no telling what he would find out. It was a risk Tremondre simply couldn’t afford.
His own name bounced off his ears. Samir chuckled to himself, recollecting a recent fond memory, and took another lazy sip of his orange juice. Tremondre called him again.
Tremondre rolled his eyes before shouting, “SAMIR!”
Samir jolted, causing orange juice to slosh down his wrist. “WHAT?”
“Oh my god. So it’s true then. You’re really going to marry her.”
“Yeah,” Samir fell into a joy drunken daze again.
“That makes no sense. She doesn’t even like you!”
“Of course she does,” Samir argued, unfazed by his friend’s objection.
Tremondre raised a suspicious brow. “Oh really? Did she say she liked you?”
Samir shrugged. “Well...no.”
“Then she don’t like you!”
“Sure Mr. I’ve-never-been-in-love. You’re a real expert on stuff like that.”
Tremondre shook his head. “You’re going to get hurt.”
When Samir saw the grave look in his friend’s countenance, Samir began to sober up from his lovely daze. He saw Tremondre wear that look before and each time he did, he never said anything good.
“You can’t marry Fatima Syed.”
Tremondre began to sweat profusely. The dried scab on his elbow itched and his face turned hot like he was breaking out into another bout of fever.
“Trust me, man. She’s no good.”
Samir’s bashful expression completely fell apart. “Why would you say that? You don’t even know her.”
“She’s not the person you think she is.” Tremondre said weakly. This time Ms. Mustafic focused on him with an intense fixating gaze. It made him sweat more. “Please. I need you to trust me on this one. She’s not the kind of person you want to chain yourself with for the rest of your life. She will find your greatest weaknesses and turn them against you. Anything you’ve ever tried to hide, she’ll know.”
Samir thought about this and swirled the juice in his glass ominously. A dark gloom took over him, clouding the entire kitchen in dusk. Tremondre felt his throat close up. His heart raced rapidly in his chest.
“You met her.”
“Yes,” Tremondre confessed.
Tremondre succumbed to silence.
“When?” Samir said with a tightening firmness.
“It doesn’t matter,” Tremondre mumbled.
“IT MATTERS TO ME! It matters why you felt the need to go behind my back and meet her, why now you’re suddenly afraid of her, why you kept this a secret until now.” Samir recognized his crescendoing volume and took a moment to calm down. He lowered his voice to a more suitable level and took a deep breath before he continued.
“What did you say to her?”
Tremondre froze. The recollection of Fatima Syed revealing his most shameful secret replayed in his head. It wrung his guts into knots. His chest tightened. He couldn’t breathe.
“What did she say to you?”
It was another question left unanswered.
“What are you so afraid of?”
“I’m sorry,” Tremondre said with a gasp. “I can’t––”
Ms. Mustafic noticed Tremondre’s poor condition and took it as her cue to step in between them, using her body as a shield to separate him and her son.
“Tremondre’s sick. Let’s put this subject to rest until he gets better.”
Tremondre staggered backward towards the direction of the front door. Ms. Mustafic felt his desire for escape in her bones and kept her gaze locked on him as if that was enough to hold him back.
“I’m fine. Really. I think I should go. Thanks for taking care of me. You’re so kind.”
There was a brief flicker of tenderness that flashed in Tremondre’s face. Softness morphed the hardness in his friend’s features, the hardness he was so accustomed to. It was a look that blurred the bond of familiarity between them, as if he was seeing a different part of his friend for the very first time. But that softness wasn’t directed towards Samir. No. That softness was directed at none other than his own mother.
Before Samir had any idea of what to make of this strange reaction, Tremondre bolted out the door, deaf to the cries that called for him. He hopped in his truck and drove off.