© Beth Silver
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I tried this story on You Write On a good while back and got valuable feedback. Now I have revised it and would very much like to know what you good people out these think, before I begin the long task of illustrating it, which I ultimately want to do.
Long ago there lived a gardener, famed across all India. Through his skill and care he was able to grow all kinds of beautiful things. The palace gardens that he tended were a wonder to all who saw them. Those who walked there with open eyes and were filled with joy. Those who walked there with open hearts were filled with peace and love.
The gardener had a daughter. Her name was Selma.
Right from the time of her first steps, her father taught Selma how to make things grow so that her whole life was filled with the sights and scents of growing things.
Year by year the palace garden blossomed and flourished. Year by year, too, the girl grew within the garden, just as the garden grew within the girl. She learned her father’s secret, which was no secret at all. Love made things grow, and there was joy in the growing.
Then, one autumn morning, Selma’s father died. Although she was sad, for she loved her father deeply, Selma knew that she must look after her father’s garden. The thought made her less sad. She also knew that her father had left her a gift. She kept it safe until the time should come to open it.
‘This is for you,’ he had said, just before he died. ‘Keep the box safe until it is the right time. You will know when that is. And when you open it, think of me.
Each day Selma eyed the box that had been her father’s last gift. But she waited with patience as her father had asked. She never so much as lifted the lid until she felt the time was right.
But when the first rays of morning light dawned on the first day of spring she knew the time had come. She took her father’s box and sat with it in the garden under her favourite tree.
Selma looked up at the wonderful neem tree growing above her.
‘I was with my father when he planted this tree,’ thought Selma. ‘Now it is here and he is not. When it’s his birthday I will eat its sour berries with jaggery sugar. His loss is bitter, but his life was sweet.’
This spirit of the gardener looked down on his daughter.
‘Soon she will become as skilful a gardener as I was,’ he thought. ‘But those who know her well will value her more for her gentle kindness than for her skill. And those who see most clear of all will know that the one comes from the other.’
Selma carefully took the lid off the box. Inside was a simple, hessian bag. Its neck was tied with an old piece of garden twine. On the string was a label.
‘GROW THESE FOR ME.’
When she felt the bag she could tell easily what was inside. It was a bag of seeds.
‘My father has given me seeds,’ thought Selma. ‘They were his last present to me. He must have thought they were important. They must be very special seeds. I wonder what they will grow into. I’m longing to know.
I want to grow my father’s seeds more than anything, but I mustn’t spoil things by rushing. I will get everything ready. I will find a really good pot. I will gather the softest earth and water it well. Then I will plant just one seed first to see how well it grows. Everything has to be just right.’
At that moment Selma looked up and noticed Radmish the young prince who lived in the palace. He often walked and played in the garden. Whenever she met him Selma tried her best to be friendly – but it was not easy.
Radmish was arrogant and cruel. He was often rude to Selma, but she always said nothing and tried not to mind too much. ‘It’s not Radmish’s fault,’ she thought. ‘It’s just the way he’s been brought up. Who am I to tell a prince how he should behave?’
Radmish often pulled the heads off the flowers as he passed and then just threw them down onto the path. That made Selma very sad indeed. But she didn’t give up on him. ‘Perhaps if I am kind to him,’ she thought, ‘then one day he will learn to be kind to the flowers.’
But today Radmish rushed off without even speaking to her. For once Selma didn’t mind. Her thoughts were all on her father’s seeds.
Patiently she collected all the things she needed. With great care she chose the most beautiful pot she could find. She filled it with fine, sifted earth – rich and black and soft. Then she watered the soil well with pure rainwater. Finally she untied her father’s bag and emptied some of the seeds gently onto her open palm.
Which seed should she choose to grow? She took a few out of the bag and laid them on the palm of her open palm. They looked brown and dull and lifeless. But then that was the way with seeds. She chose one and carefully returned the rest to the bag.
Gently she pushed the seed into the soil. At the same time she thought of her father and her heart filled with a warm glow. Then she sat back and looked at the pot. ‘It will be quite a few day before anything happens,’ she thought, ‘maybe even weeks.’
Just then a bird began to sing its morning song from a nearby tree. She looked up and listened with great pleasure. But her pleasure was not as great as her surprise when she looked back at the pot. She saw that the seed had already pushed a tiny green shoot out of the soil.
But although she watched it carefully, it didn’t appear to grow any more. After a while she glanced up at the sky to see what sort of a day it was going to be. She sat back happily in the warm light. Her expression changed to amazement when she looked back at the plant. It was now twice the height it had been previously.
An idea suddenly struck her. She deliberately looked away from the plant and then back. Her idea had been right. The plant had more than doubled its height again.
She looked away and back several more times. Each time she looked back the plant had grown larger and even more beautiful. The next time she looked back at the plant a large bud had appeared. Next time it had begin to open. Selma could hardly contain her sense of pure wonder.
‘Beautiful You ARE beautiful.’
Now the flower unfolded before her eyes. It was an enormous sunflower. As it spread its petals seemed to give off a soft, golden light. It was the most beautiful flower Selma had ever seen. It seemed to stretch its petals towards her in welcome and Selma reached herself out towards the flower in return.
‘Thank you, father. This is the most wonderful gift I have ever been given’
She sat perfectly still and just looked at the flower for what seemed like hours. Then she looked up again at the neem tree her father had planted. She could almost see him smiling at her from amongst its branches.
When she looked back at the pot, it was empty.
‘Oh. It’s gone. My beautiful flower has disappeared,’ gasped Selma. She almost cried, but then she stopped herself.
‘That would be selfish and ungrateful,’ she thought, ‘after all I have just seen the most beautiful thing in the world. I must think about what I have gained, not what I have lost. And anyway there are lots more seeds left in my father’s bag. Next time I grow one I must share it with someone, and not just keep it to myself.’
A picture of Radmish flashed into her mind.
‘I must tell Radmish about my father’s seeds,’ she thought.
So Selma waited all morning for the prince to appear again in the garden. ‘Everything is so very beautiful,’ she mused. ‘The marigolds like bursts of golden light; the jasmine filling the air with its heady scent; the ancient banyan tree with all it’s trunks, trying to be a forest all on its own. Yet none of them are as beautiful as the flower that grew from my father’s seed. None of them.’
In time Radmish did indeed reappear. He too mused as he walked through the garden. But he just didn’t see it in the way that Selma saw it.
‘It’s such a dull place to be,’ he thought. ‘Nothing ever happens here – and there is nothing at all to do. I wish I had somewhere better to go. Dull, dull, dull. My life is so dull. What has this Selma girl got to be so happy about all the time? That’s what I want to know.’
As soon as she saw the prince, Selma rushed to tell the news to her friend – for she did think of him as a friend, even though he was often so rude and unkind. She told him all about her father’s present and the message on the bag: ‘Grow these for me’.
Radmish was scornful. ‘A dirty little bag of seeds? What sort of a present is that? Not much of one if you ask me.’
‘It was the very last thing my father gave me. He must have thought it was very special,’ replied Selma.
‘Well it’s not my idea of special. I get lots of presents and they’re all much better than that. I’d throw a present like that right back at whoever tried to give it me.’
‘On no. It is the most wonderful gift I have ever had, Radmish.’
‘GROW THESE FOR ME.’ Couldn’t the old codger manage to grow them himself? Well he’s too late now. He’s missed them!’ Radmish laughed cruelly.
Selma was almost upset, but she thought things through instead. She talked to her father inside her head; it was something she often did. ‘Don’t let him upset you father. I shan’t let him upset me. Deep down it’s because he’s unhappy, I’m sure it is. He doesn’t know what it’s like to have a father like you. I’ll try to teach him, father. I promise you I will.’
She showed him the seeds and told him how she had tried growing just one as an experiment. She told him how carefully she had chosen the pot and sifted the soil, how gently she had pushed in the seed and watered it. The she tried to explain how beautiful the flower had been once it had grown. She found that bit rather difficult. Words didn’t really explain how absolutely wonderful it had been.
‘I don’t believe you. Are you telling me the seeds are magic?’ scoffed Radmish.
‘No. . . well yes. . . in a way.’
‘Don’t you know?’
‘Well they’re not magic. . but they are quite magical.’
‘You’re talking nonsense – as usual.’
‘Oh Radmish. I’m not talking nonsense. I’m trying to explain.’
‘Well I don’t understand.’
‘But I do so want you to understand.’
‘Everything in this garden is magical – don’t you see. It’s magical because of what it is, and it’s more magical because of my father. The seeds are just the most magical things of all. They’re not magic – they’re . . . . . special. Very special.’
‘What language are you speaking, girl?’ Radmish complained. ‘It’s NOT mine I can tell you.’
Selma almost said, ‘Perhaps you just haven’t learned it yet,’ but she didn’t.
‘I’ve been waiting all morning for the prince to come back into the garden,’ she thought. ‘I so much wanted to tell him about my marvellous seeds. I’ve been longing to share them with him. And now he’s just being horrible. He doesn’t seem interested at all. In the middle of so many happy things, Radmish makes me sad – and I wish it wasn’t so.’
‘I expect you’re exaggerating,’ Radmish continued. ‘You always did have a very colourful imagination. Anyway, I want to see one for myself. If they’re so wonderful, grow one now while I’m here to watch.
‘Oh Radmish, yes. I’d love to share one with you. We’ll grow it together.’
‘Go on then Do it now, Straight away.’
‘Of course,’ said Selma.
Despite his scoffing, Radmish watched carefully as Selma took out a seed and prepared a pot. If this was a trick he didn’t want to miss it. Selma was a little unsure too. She hoped the seed would grow the same way as the last one. But she hoped it more for Radmish’s sake than for her own.
‘You have to look away and then back,’ Selma reminded Radmish. ‘That’s the way it works.’
But Selma need not have worried. As she looked away from the pot and back towards it, this plant bounded through its stages of growth just as wonderfully as the last one had done. Selma was so absorbed she scarcely noticed the prince’s frightened expression.
With each bound of growth it became clear to Selma that, although just as strange and wonderful, this plant was not exactly the same as the one before. It grew into a small tree and its thin branches seem to reach out in a delicate pattern across the sky above them. When it got to its budding stage Selma glanced away again. She thought of her father and her heart was filled with love. When she glanced back at the little tree what she saw quite took her breath away. Spanning its branches were hundreds of glistening rainbows, patterning the sky with delicate colour. She could scarcely tear her eyes away from the beauty of it.
At last she looked away. When her eyes returned to the pot, it was empty, as she knew it would be. But so was the space where Radmish had been. All she saw was his back as he ran stumbling off across the garden.
‘That seed grew into something different,’ thought Selma. ‘It was just as beautiful though. I thought all the seeds would grow the same. But perhaps each seed grows into something different. Each one beautiful and special - but different. I wish Radmish had enjoyed seeing it grow just as much as I did. Why did he run off so suddenly?’
Selma had another of her conversations with her father inside her own head.
‘Thank you, father,’ she said quietly to him. ‘I don’t need to tell you how wonderful the seeds are, do I?’
‘That’s why I gave them to you, Selma,’ she heard him reply. ‘They were the only things I could leave you.’
‘They were the best things you could leave me, father.’
‘Yes. . . I’m glad you understand.’
Happy though she was, there was a shadow across Selma’s day. ‘I would be so happy here in my father’s garden,’ she thought. ‘I would be so happy growing the seeds he left me – if only it weren’t for Radmish. Why does Radmish make me so sad? Why did he run off? Can’t he see how wonderful the seeds are? Why did he not feel the joy I felt in watching one grow? I must find a way of sharing that joy with him. I must.’
Radmish was skulking and sulking somewhere across the garden. ‘I suppose that was all right,’ he thought meanly. ‘Not as good as I expected though. It didn’t grow into what she said it would either. And it certainly didn’t last very long. No sooner had it grown than it disappeared. What good is that? Not worth all that bother in growing it if you ask me. Trees? Plants? Flowers? Who needs them?
Why should that Selma get a special gift like that? I’m the prince – she’s only a gardener’s daughter. I should be the one who gets the special gifts. She’s got something I haven’t. And that makes me angry – so very angry. Selma? Uggh! What kind of a friend is she?’
There was a shadow across Radmish’s life. ‘Selma always looks so happy,’ he thought. ‘I suppose it’s because she really feels happy inside. . . . Why don’t I?’
Then he had an idea and rushed back to Selma. Without any apology he blurted out, ‘I want to grow one. Give me one to grow. If you can do it I don’t see why I can’t. I watched everything you did. It wasn’t much anyway. Give me a seed and get me a pot ready.’
‘What a lovely idea,’ Selma responded at once. ‘Of course you can grow one. I’d love to see what you grow.’ She tipped a few of the seeds onto her hand and held them out to him. ‘Which one would you like to grow?’
Radmish grabbed a seed. Selma prepared a pot of earth with the same tender care she had before. But Radmish snatched the pot off her and pushed the seed roughly into the soil. He slammed the pot down between them and for a moment nothing happened. Then Selma watched her friend as he glanced hurriedly away and then back at the pot.
The plant bounded up as usual, although the shoot was far darker green than the other plants. There was a rather desperate glee in Radmish’s eyes. He looked away and then back. The plant did not gain much in height but it produced a mass of twisted, dark stems. Away and back. The plant was almost a jungle of twining creepers. Now Radmish looked less happy and more than a little afraid. Away and back. Sticky, black buds appeared. The prince was close to tears but he managed to look away and back one more time. He wished he hadn’t. The buds had opened to reveal a mass of hideous, black snakes, squirming and hissing.
‘Look away quickly,’ called Selma. Furiously, Radmish did and the plant disappeared.
‘Ugh! Snakes! Horrid snakes!’ screeched Radmish. ‘I hate you. I hate you and your nasty snakes. You tricked me.’
‘No,’ said Selma quietly. ‘I didn’t want it to make snakes. You just grew it that way. Both the seeds before grew into beautiful things.’
‘You gave me a bad seed then.’
‘But you chose it.’
‘You tricked me, somehow,’ Radmish wailed. ‘But you won’t do it again. I want some more. But I’m not going to grow them with you watching. I want some to take back with me.’
And without asking, Radmish helped himself to a handful of seeds and ran off towards the palace.
Days passed and for all of them Selma felt radiantly happy.
One day she was standing in the garden looking at her father’s lotus pond. She watched as gentle sunlight washed across the water and the floating lotus flowers opened their petals to greet it. ‘The Ganges itself is not more beautiful,’ she thought, ‘when it floats with petals and lights.’
She remembered Radmish and, for a moment, a shadow of sadness flitted across her face. But then she remembered too the wonderful plants that grew from her father’s seeds, and she could not feel sad for very long.
Since she last saw Radmish, Selma had planted just one more seed. This time it had grown a huge but delicate tree with branches as velvet as the night. From these hung a whole sky full of glittering stars. It was breathtaking – and even though this plant disappeared as quickly as the others Selma locked the memory away in her heart, where that sky full of stars would glitter forever.
Since he last saw Selma, Radmish had tried to grow quite a few of the seeds he had snatched from her. But one after another grew into the same ugly mass of writing snakes. Radmish became more and more upset. He tried everything he could think of to make the seeds grow better. He tried scoring them with knives; he tried soaking them in boiling water; he tried treading on them to crack their skins. Nothing made the slightest difference. Every one grew snakes.
‘I’m not going to let her get the better of me,’ he thought. ‘Next time I see her I’ll tell her that my seeds grew into wonderful things. Much better than hers. That will teach her that a prince is better than a gardener’s girl.’
Once again he found himself wandering in the garden. As soon as she saw him Selma rushed up to him.
‘Namaste, Radmish,’ she greeted him warmly. ‘I just have to tell you. I grew one more seed. And it was just as beautiful as the others – but different again. This one grew a whole sky full of stars. What about you? Did you grow your seeds?
‘I certainly did,’ Radmish boasted. ‘I planted all the seeds you gave me and they all grew wonderful things. One of them grew shining gold coins. One grew diamonds and jewels. One of them grew hundreds and hundreds of tiny mirrors – and I could see my face in every one of them. Radmish reflected over and over again.’
‘Poor Radmish,’ said Selma. ‘You grew them into snakes again, didn’t you? I can see it in your eyes, whatever your lips say.
‘It’s not fair,’ he blurted then. ‘You cheated me somehow. It’s you. You know which are the good seeds and which are the bad ones. You keep giving me the snake seeds. I’d just love to see you grow snakes. Yes. That’s what I’d like. I want to see you grow snakes. . . . I know. I’ll choose a seed for you to grow. I’ll pick you the most rotten seed in the whole bag.’
With this he grabbed Selma’s bag and started rooting through it. He delved right to the bottom until he had the most shrivelled of the seeds he could find.
‘There you are,’ he scoffed. ‘That looks like a really bad one. Now grow me a sky full of stars!’
‘All right,’ said Selma gently. ‘If that’s what you want.’
Selma took the seed the prince offered her. It did indeed look a rather poor one, but she planted it with her usual love and care. Then they both sat back to watch. As usual nothing happened for a few seconds. And then the plant sprouted a delicate golden-yellow shoot.
Away. Look. The plant was giving off a strange, bright light. Away. Look. The light was stronger and even brighter. Away look. It was now a huge plant, glowing with the brightest, most beautiful light Radmish had ever seen. Away. Look. The light from the plant reflected on Selma’s face. It was now so bright that Radmish could hardly bear to look at it. Selma did not seem to mind, though. She smiled happily into the light. Both the plant and Selma glowed so intensely that Radmish could not properly tell where one ended and the other began. The light became too much to bear, and he screwed up his eyes.
When he opened them again the plant AND SELMA had gone completely.
That would be the end of the story except that from then on Radmish could think of nothing but Selma and the seeds. Day after day he roamed the garden angry and aimless. Night after night he lay awake for hours, hot and restless, with thoughts of the gardener’s daughter tossing around in his head.
‘I hate Selma,’ he thought miserably. ‘She had something I hadn’t. She knew something I didn’t. She knew the secret of growing the seeds. And now she’s gone and I shall never find out. Selma was the most annoying person I ever knew. She was so smug and sugary. . . . . . But she was my only friend.
The garden isn’t the same. The flowers, the trees look the same. The jasmine scent still gets up my nose and makes me sneeze. The lotus flowers still tangle my arms if I try to swim in the pond. The grass still stains my clothes. But there’s a hole in the air where Selma should be.
I hate her. And I hate her father more. I wish he’d never given her those seeds. I wish she’d never grown them. I wish I’d never grown them. What was so special about her? Every seed she planted grew into something special. Every seed I grew . . . .
She had a secret. How can I find it? How? If only I knew her secret I could be like her. I could grow the seeds into wonderful things. I could be famous through all India.
Where did she go? That’s what I want to know. Girls can’t just disappear. It doesn’t happen. She had no right to go. She had no right to leave me – to leave without telling me her secret.
I hate her for knowing. I hate her for going. I’m so angry I’m a mass of writing, hissing snakes.’
And when at last he did sleep, memories of the gift seeds haunted his dreams. Again and again he saw Selma growing the seeds. He saw himself growing them too, and that turned his dreams to nightmares.
Radmish jolted awake.
‘Snakes,’ he thought, ‘always snakes. Always snakes and always the same. Every seed she planted grew into something different – wonderful, beautiful and different. My seeds always grew the same. I wouldn’t care if they’d grown red snakes, or yellow ones, or blue ones. But they were always ugly, black snakes.’
Radmish slept again, and this time Selma herself drifted in and out of his dream.
He tried to call her. ‘Selma. Is that you? Are you really here?’ and in his dream she seemed to rush over to him, just as she had in the garden.
‘Selma, why did you leave me? Speak to me Selma. Please speak to me. Where did you go?’
‘That’s hard to say, Radmish,’ replied the dream Selma in her usual quiet voice.
‘Why won’t you tell me? I hate you. I hate you for leaving me.’
‘It’s not that I won’t tell you,’ she tried to explain. ‘It’s hard. There are some things that words can’t say.’
‘Try, Selma. Try. Tell me. Just tell me.’
‘Think of me as being with my father, Radmish. It’s wonderful. Quite wonderful.’
But Radmish was desperate. ‘Selma, you left without telling me the secret. You knew the secret and you didn’t tell me.’
‘Secret? I had no secret.’
‘You did. You did. You knew the secret of growing the seeds. Tell me. Tell me Selma. I need to know more than anything in the world.’
‘Poor Radmish. You don’t need to make such a fuss. I will gladly tell you my secret because it is no secret at all.’
‘Tell me. Tell me now.’
‘To grow the seeds into wonderful plants you need only do one thing. And that is the easiest thing in the world – although it is also the most difficult.’
‘You’re talking in riddles. Say it straight out. I don’t understand you.’
‘Why, Radmish,’ said Selma, ‘all you have to do is love them.’