The envelope arrived last month; a patch of cream perfection in our dilapidated old apartment block. No one ever wrote to me and I knew straight away what it was. I tucked it into my shirt and ran down to the diner. “Mom!” I pulled her aside as her boss glared at me. “I got a letter from the radio station!”
“Did you win?”
“I came to open it with you.” I slit the envelope open and we read together. “Dear Maria, Congratulations on being the winner of our make-a-wish competition …”
We high-fived before the boss moved towards us and Mom gave me a little push. “You must go and tell Vanessa.”
The air outside the diner was thick with stale grease and rancid fish and chips. Exhaust fumes hung in sooty layers and the sweat of jostling crowds mingled with the odour of cheap plastic merchandise. I hated the city with its stinking streets and roaring trucks; the stench of its sewers and sour vomit trickling in alleys.
“Vanessa! Vanessa!” I burst into the tiny florist shop on the street corner. “I won! My wish is going to come true!” She swung me around and we danced a little jig between fragrant roses and carnations.
“I’m so happy for you.” she laughed. “You’ll have to tell me all about it.”
The radio station sent a limousine to fetch me on the day and the announcer interviewed me on the way out of the city. “So how do you feel about winning the competition, Maria?”
“I’m very excited.”
“Your wish was one of the most unusual ones we received. Can you tell us more about it?”
“My wish was to spend a day in a country garden full of flowers. I know there are parks in the city but the plants don’t grow well and the flowers are stunted.”
“And I believe you have a part-time job at a florist?”
“Yes, I help out after school twice a week.”
“Well we’ve found the best country garden around, Maria, so sit back and relax.”
She was right about that. The garden was an organised jumble of colour, laced with the scent of damp soil and cut grass. Threads of fragrance mingled as I breathed in sweet roses and the lemony tang of magnolias. Creamy lilies added a twist of freshness and jasmine hung heavy like incense. My senses were almost drunk with life as sprays of water tumbled over rocks, sending fine mists into the air.
“I never want this to end.” I whispered, closing my eyes and breathing deeply. “It’s like a little piece of heaven. If only Mom and I could live in a house with a garden.”
It wasn’t a great explosion but rather a gentle thought that swelled and grew. “Why shouldn’t we?” I asked myself. “We both hate the city. The air is putrid and our apartment dreadful. Why shouldn’t we work towards moving to the country? Mom could still waitress and I could find a part-time job. If we don’t try we’ll never know …”
The radio announcer presented me with an armful of flowers as I stepped out of the limousine. “Go well, Maria. I hope you’ve had a great day.”
“The best!” I answered.
Holding the flowers close, I headed down the street towards the diner. News was bursting out of me and I couldn’t wait to see Mom. I wanted to tell her about the garden … and the flowers … and the limousine … and my idea … And then I stopped short as I realised I couldn’t smell the city.
The bouquet in my arms was a like a breath of fresh air; a pocket of purity that overwhelmed squalor and filth. I breathed deeply and the fragrance permeated my soul, expanding life and bringing joy. It was the scent of purest hope.
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