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The Pilot and The Rose Garden by Maria Christina Mata

Not too long ago, in the Valley of Sunshine, a crop duster on his daily wheat-farm run veered twenty miles east from his normal flight path. He saw an old brick cottage house half covered in ivy that sat next to a well. Beside the house was a rose garden shaped like a vortex. As he flew past it appeared to be in motion, whirling with the wind. Yellow roses were in the inner circle and pink roses on the outer. The concentric circles had orange, red orange and flaming red roses. From above, they looked like geoglyphs, or crop circles. He was extremely delighted with his find and called it “The eye of the storm”.

Flying over the garden one morning, he saw a woman leaning by the well. She was drying her long black hair with the wind, and running her fingers through it. Her sunburned shoulders and arms were proof of long hours spent in the sun. She picked up a watering can and filled it up with water from the well. Bothered by the sound of the engine, she looked up, shielding her eyes from the sun’s glare. The pilot waved and shouted “Hello”. She smiled and waved back.

The pilot thought she was beautiful. Her radiant smile bounced back a million rays of sunlight to his silver Cessna, temporarily blinding him, immobilizing his movement and his thoughts. When he got a grip of his senses, he realized that he had flown thirty miles off his course and had to return. When he reached the garden, he searched for her but she was no longer there.

In the days that followed, he would find himself flying over the garden every morning, as if driven by a strange force. She was there every morning like clockwork, watering her roses. He would wave at her and she would smile and wave back.

One morning he tied a rose bush to a small parachute and dropped it down to the garden. She ran to the bush and picked it up, then looked up at him and smiled. She put her hands together, as if in prayer, and said “thank you”.

The next morning, the pilot flew over the cottage and noticed that the woman had planted the rose bush in another plot. He thought that his rose bush needed more company, so he dropped a dozen more and a dozen more, every day for the next five days. The woman, filled with excitement, began to cultivate the plot. When it was finished, she waited for him to fly by and flashed a cardboard sign that read “Thanks a lot. Please come by for tea.”

The pilot was nervous and excited all at once. He bought a box of fancy chocolates, a bottle of sparkling cider, some cheese, French bread, smoked salami, grapes and strawberries. He neatly arranged them in a basket and adorned it with the widest and the brightest red bow he could find.

He drove twenty miles to the woman’s cottage, in good spirits, whistling and tapping the steering wheel. When he arrived she was waiting for him at the door. The pilot opened the van and his golden retriever Sol leaped out, barked, and ran toward the woman. With outstretched hands she called out, “Come here boy!” Sol allowed her to pet him and as he generously slobbered her hand and face.

The pilot lowered himself from the van, inching his wheelchair slowly forward in a tentative manner. He was embarrassed. He felt helpless and ugly with a useless body strapped into a metal chair for mobility. The woman motioned for him to come closer. With one hand on the dog and the other reaching out to him, she said “Welcome”.

He held her hand and she asked, “How are you?” to which he replied, “I’m pretty good.”

Her hand touched his head, her fingers tracing the outline of his face, his nose, his eyebrows, his lips, and his wheelchair. He looked into her eyes. She had a blank stare, but he saw a vision of his past on her mirror-like irises. Fragments of a car’s windshield on the road, the ambulance, the hospital tubes and monitors – images from a memory he’d tried to bury. He was distressed by the sudden invasion of his privacy and wheeled away from her. She sensed his defiance and pushed his wheelchair to the rose garden.

The new plot was bordered with white rocks and shaped like two giant footprints running, as if being chased by the wind. “You have good hands, marvelous hands. This is so beautiful.” The pilot expressed his heartfelt appreciation but she became uncomfortable with the compliment, acknowledged it with a smile and a downcast glance.

The woman sat down on a wicker chair facing the garden and continued to caress Sol. Sol was short for solace, the reassuring feeling the dog gave the pilot after the accident. The pilot gazed at the woman and the garden in awe. The woman begun to sing and Sol sang with her, barking at the end of each line. He found their duet both amusing and uncanny. She was singing acapella, but he could hear a full accompaniment behind her: violins, harp, and a flute. Her voice was angelic and whimsical. The melody transported him to a world beyond his wheelchair.

In his mind’s eye he could see the woman laughing, caressing his face, holding his hand while they ran in the wheat fields with two boys. Sol was following them, barking and running excitedly. He desperately wished the boys were really his. He saw them as if they were right in front of him, carefree and laughing with the wind on their freckled faces.

They ran like athletes on a 100 meter dash with an imaginary finish line until they all dropped in exhaustion. The boys jumped on top of the pilot, giggling, “We won, we won!” The pilot tickled them and they fought to tickle him back. Sol jumped on him and licked his face. The boys wanted to run away, but he hugged them tight. The woman came and hugged the boys with so much tenderness and affection that, for the first time, he felt a sense of belonging and completeness. When he opened his eyes, he felt good for the first time since his accident.

At sunset, the pilot bid his goodbye. He never wanted to look back for fear that she could see his heart and read his thoughts.

In the days that followed, the woman sat by the rose garden patiently waiting for the pilot to fly by. She wondered why he had not come for several days. Her thoughts ran from “Maybe he was ill,” to “Maybe he does not want to bother anymore.” At the slightest vibration in the cottage house, she would run outside, only to hear an engine of a commercial plane on its way to the next state. She knew that the harvest season had come and the nearby farm would be busy with threshers and millers. There would be no need for the pilot, his fertilizer and his plane for now.

Soon, she grew weary, worried and restless. She never slept and could not eat. The little energy that she had left was devoted to tending her rose garden. One day she woke up with stiffness all over her body. Her once agile body could no longer move. Unable to get up, she became ill and the garden that was her sole reason for living became a burden. The roses wilted, lost their beauty, and died.

The following season the pilot resumed his duties and once again flew over the rose garden. He found that the rose garden had been abandoned. In the corner of his eye, he saw the cardboard sign with visible letters Com_ for  t_ _. The rest of the letters were blocked by the weeds that took hold in the arid ground.

He landed and entered the cottage. He found the woman frail and in bed, barely able to move. She managed to smile as tears welled up in her eyes. The pilot held her hands and said “You need help.”

He propped her up and gave her water to sip, but it spilled down her chest. Her body tensed and convulsed. Her smooth brown skin became rough and blotchy. Her body took the form of a tree trunk and her arms became branches stretching skyward with tiny green leaves darting from her fingertips. Her feet expanded like roots and took hold of the ground beside the bed. The woman was perplexed but immobile. Her arms and legs grew thorns.

She looked at him and spoke with difficulty, “Take me to the rose garden.” The pilot tied a rope around her body with the other end to his wheelchair and dragged her.

Once outside, she knew that the sun would make everything all right. Her roots plunged into the soil and she stood upright.  She looked at him and said “I love you,” and looked skyward. He pushed himself up from the wheelchair, kissed her lips and said “I love you too. I’ll take care of you”. A million volts of electricity darted from his toes to his head. Her roots gripped his legs and her supple lips sucked the life force from his body, stripping away the years of negativity and pain. When she let go, he could still feel the tingling on his legs as he stood strong and steady.

She had fulfilled her purpose, and closed her eyes in a quiet surrender. Her face blurred and receded on a bed of beautiful stigma, covered with orange stamens. Her long hair became red petals that formed into a giant rose. Her neck sprouted dark green sepals elegantly cradling and displaying her petals.

Season after season he kept his promise in the Valley of Sunshine. As the pilot unleashed water and fertilizer from above, he could see her “eye” looking at him as his giant footprints ran to the wheat fields – chasing the wind. In spring, he saw little pink rosebuds jutting from her sides. They reminded him of the color of the woman’s lips and the color of his skin.

Maria Cristina Mata wrote for the Children’s Television Workshop (Sesame Street – Filipino neighborhood version and later, for Batibot’s memorable character, Kiko Matsing – The brown monkey version of Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch) in the 80’s.