I cut the roses by their throats when the clock strikes exactly eleventh time at midnight, when the moonlight sloughs off its hazy, white-grey gossamer of the evening and emanates shimmering translucence in its nakedness. It is of crucial importance that I cut the flowers at the right moment, because the beauty which they dearly hold is tantalizingly elusive that harvesting so subtle of a blossom should be done precisely when the flowers smile. Although they are preyed upon by their own beauty, the rosebuds are nevertheless viciously possessive over their grace that they can never be forcefully robbed of it. The quiet murder can only be a coaxed one; the buds are to be flattered as they are pleasantly bathed in the cascades of moonlight that splash and crash against the very thin tips of their petals and break into million pieces of diamonds– like the ones that are often found in pencil leads, wet asphalt roads, and even sunlit oil spills.
These roses, they are too vivid to be a fantasy but too wholesome and beautiful to be real; if I were to tell myself they are real, I believe them to be real and if I tell myself that they are woven by fantasy, I am equally willing to dream the flowery dream. Mumbling the words of real or fantasy like the way one slowly breaks into a wide smile, I realize that life breathes in bits and pieces– in the blending tints of pink and orange that pale down into white at the base of a rose petal, in the faintly blue silk ebbing and flowing of twilight, in oceans of summer breezes that leave strangely brilliant trails behind. If wizardly simplicity and innocent transcendance of life can ever be grasped, it would be in these bits and pieces that are more starry, more elastic, more immortal.
A stray, surreal moment like this always hooks me. Out of rose petals, out of thin air, I find myself wallowing in the fairytale moments of life. Memories come and visit me– they linger in between my nostrils and tap on my eyebrows. They come and go, like seasons, and one by one they find a home in my heart. I think of the things I loved: the fake green grass made out of tires that brushed against the black and white soccer ball which everyone chased about and was happy with; the lingering taste of fried chicken sauteed with midnight laughters, confessions, and teardrops in remote dorm rooms; the rainbow of loveful letters that never failed to remind me of how much I have received and how much I am to give; days whose happiness could be measured in the number of words to be written, pages to be read, and the thrill of learning. I met my soul in these things, things that are common. And common things are dreamy.
Surely the flowers are dead, but why do they remind me of life? They remind me of the breathtaking particularities that seem both real and fantastical. They remind me of the beauties which I have witnessed and am ever indebted by them. I still owe my dream so much time and effort; the people around me so much love, sincerity, and faith; the world so much fortitude and wisdom. The negative films of fond memories have fine-grain details that are filled with light that I cannot make out anything but the whiteness. They are so white, so blindingly white that I could make paper cranes out of them and sail away all the sad days. With such whiteness, I could even make pinwheels and give them good night kisses to make them spin. To be alive is such an endearing miracle that if anyone were to tell me that my life is just a delusional ecstasy, I would believe it right away. Sometimes I wonder if I may truly be the happiest person alive as I am simply at awe of the terrifying magnitude of life, infinitely humbled and forever mindblown by the avalanche of wonder that I had encountered.
I sneak a rose petal into my mouth. It tastes like love. The love of love, the love of life. I believe in miracles, the truth that sounds insane but is true nonetheless.
* * *
Once the roses are cut and collected, they must be frozen immediately to preserve their vitality and beauty as much as possible. I put the flowers in small, empty milk glass bottles because the sight of them cuddling up somehow reassures me. I reach out for those bottles that look quaintly pristine with their smooth, transparent surfaces that glisten like so many teardrops in the sky and let in all the sunlight to the flower petals inside where there is supposed to be milk. I never knew flowers could replace milk but apparently they do, and it is such a pleasant, happy surprise. Life is so loveable because sometimes random things make so much sense. I put the flowers in milk bottles to freeze them and it just feels right to do so.
The flower stems are strewn inside the glass bottles and when I look at them from the sides, they cut the world into pieces as if each fragment were only a peek into a whole different universe. Sometimes there are seven slices of seven worlds and other times there can be seventeen slices of seventeen different worlds that I will never get to know. Still, I like to daydream about those seven, seventeen, and even seventy worlds, all in that one milk bottle with flowers in it. I am content with the simple realization that there are other worlds somewhere out there; all I desire is to stare into the glass bottle, just to the extent that I can afford to do so and know– truly know– that there is always much more than what meets the eye. There is no need for a clearer view or greater intimacy; I do not wish to be somewhere else other than this place, and so everything is perfect the way it is. The sky is blue, the clouds are white, and the grass is definitely green everywhere but the grass of this place is greener than the grass of any other place because my feet exude love and bursting happiness. The grass is never really greener on the other side because I am here.
I used to believe that the world was one. But then I saw too much of the world. When I was eleven I saw my parents wearing wet clothes and sitting in the suffocating heat of a tropical night, waiting for electricity. I saw my birthday cakes that never had my name written on them but instead were covered with dust and poverty. I saw Burmese children younger than me leaving their families in the countryside and coming to the city to serve as domestic servants, never to be educated, never to be loved. Everyday, the world’s poorest people lined up outside my high school– the only international school in the country– to beg for money. There were mothers, grandmothers, sons, and even fathers, kneeling before rich kids who were of their children’s and grandchildren’s age. For every car that glided out the campus, a cloud of destitute crowd would gather around just as a crumb of sugar attracts an enormous army of hungry ants. I saw that inside our school, people needed smartphones. Students were considered to be in absolute need of drivers, swimming pools, the Internet, chandeliers, and maids. On campus, I thought I was in need of headphones to listen to my music. Just outside the walls of our school, I saw that it was a luxury to have a clean bathroom with running water. Everyone thought that if you could prevent your children from starving several days, things were good. And if you could afford to send your children to school, things were terrific. The local school cost less than $10 per term. The tuition fee of our school for one month was equivalent to the saving of a local’s wage for ten years. The umbrella that my friends at school used on rainy days were more expensive than the monthly wages of their maids, although strictly speaking, they never needed umbrellas; they had several cars and planes to shield them from harmless raindrops. I was eleven when I found myself dazed in the ridiculous multiplicities of the worlds. The world was not one.
I was twenty when I witnessed teenagers sleeping less than five hours per day as they were driven with fear, anxiety, and desperation to study. They were haunted by the fiercest competitions that killed them from the inside out and that is why my country had the world’s highest suicide rate. People were blue, and they drowned in their blue blood. They choked on their own hallucinations and it suffocated them to see their fears realized. There were plenty of clean bathrooms, headphones, and chandeliers but people were still starving. J told me that living was not too much of a fun to her and that she would not mind quitting life tomorrow. A believed that everyone was fundamentally lonely and suffered such profound loneliness himself. C was trying to hold back her tears when she confessed that she wanted to love herself but could not. F said there were very few things that he was not cynical about. V concluded that being alive was the biggest problem and wished to disappear into the thin air. The world was not one. It never was.
It is a painful process, really, to see so many beauties fall and fall at one’s own hands. It seems unfair and unreasonable that flowers so young and beautiful should be so exhausted, so frozen and bereaved of their lives. I hold the roses to my ears and wonder whether the stories of these flowers had ever been heard by anyone before. Their insecurities and vulnerabilities that ought to be heard, consoled, and believed– what happens to all these stories that wither away without ever being told? Is there a purgatory for stories? I wonder if the roses have a story of a forlorn friend who went crazy after being bullied by her college friends. Or one about an empty shell of a boy who could never carry out his promises and worshipped profound loneliness. Perhaps there may be a story with an unexpected confession of seeing oneself in the mirror and finding a devil in it. When I listen carefully, I can hear the wills of the dead roses: their insistent, desperate wills on remembering all those ungodly hours that a grandfather had spent in his bed while battling with cancer, on demanding justice in the way 250 teenagers were deceived into staying in a sinking ferry and meekly drowned in the deadly coldness of the April sea.
I am terrified. Like everything else in life, these flowers are attained not without a cost as I snip them with the sharp metallic closing ends of scissors and freeze them, instantaneously and rather penitently. I pay for the fallen smiling buds with the heartache of truth, with the particular sadness that heaves my heart with both the burden and the bliss of existence. I put one of the frozen roses into my mouth. The color of flame melts away from the petals and explode like fireworks in my mouth and I can taste it. It tastes like blood.
* * *
The last step for making a concentrated perfume essence involves immersing the frozen roses into oil. This process sucks out all the beauty, scent, and elegance that the roses have hitherto held onto, and so the flowers constantly grieve as they drown in the oozy yellow liquid. They grieve thoroughly and throughout, they grieve a grief that is entangled with resignation, unavoidable and perhaps insatiable thirst for revenge, and overbearing hint of victimized weakness. Roses, as do people, live, and they never do so beyond the time and space into which they are thrown. But their grief remains tangible and vivid in the concentrated essence to the extent that they surpass the finiteness of history and entices me to reach the conclusion that some things do live beyond the time and space that they occupy. The grief so viscous seems to possess an intrinsic quality of eternity that renders every flower equal; a fragrant, thick grief is democratic and fair as it never discriminates its subjects based on their rank or wealth or beauty. It never bypasses anyone for anything. It strikes and strikes them all. The raw wounds of being human is what unites all the worlds.
I wait. All I can do is wait while the flowers silently sink to the bottom of the vial. And despite such overpowering presence of grief, it is surely a wonderful thing to wait because it is both a means and an end. There is a purpose to waiting, which renders it steadfast dedication and hard work. At the same time, it simply is and nothing more; there is no pretension, no pride, and not even self-awareness in waiting. Only a sense of acceptance and bubbly anticipation pervades– a peaceful contemplation on what lies ahead that completely surrenders itself without compromising any of its essence– and I rest in this purest state of mind, a state of being that is quite intensely faithful to being itself that it calms everything there is to be calmed. It is in this truthful conscience and staid quietness that a full force of sincerity and appreciation lunges forward and make itself acutely felt. While I wait, I become aware not only of the grief and the tragedies of the flowers but also of my love for the grieving flowers, the worlds that do not make sense. I am terrified by life and yet I feel such thirst for it, a thirst that is not one of those parched, mean kind but a motherly one, a gentle nudge in my body that both comforts and prompts me to action. A need can be a sorely beautiful thing– so beautiful that I want to keep on thirsting, thirsting for the thirst. Dead, frozen flowers immersed in oil make me thirst for life.
In these things I put my hope and faith: brokenness, wonder, life. Fallen petals, unanswered prayers, dreaming eyes that are truthful and young. And above all, love: the reverie of love that everyone longs for, some write down, and a few share. I believe in grief stoppered in a vial that joins, covers, and resurrects. The scented grief in the vial shimmers like nothing else because it rises above everything else as radiant hope that shines like suns– so many suns, suns, suns. The suns momentarily frozen and their diaphanous pastel yellow lights that intricately weave into each other remain inviolable. Close your eyes and sniff into the hovering sea of hope. Open your eyes to find the world alighted a few shades brighter than before. The dead flowers sink to the bottom but they are astonishingly beautiful because they resurrect, just like the suns do every morning.
A vaguely magical scent slowly fills the air.