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Flower woman

She runs a 24-hour flower shop in Montreal. It is 2am and the light from her shop creates a luminous section of pavement. We passed it earlier tonight and Nik poked his head in to see if she was there. I saw bent shoulders and a broom. That’s her daughter, he said. She not here now, but we’ll bring you back to meet her. She’s a bit of a legend around here. Her shop burnt down last year and the neighbours raised money to rebuild it. That’s how much she means to us.

Now the birdcages glow, reminding me of quaint shops in England. There is another pair of shoulders in there; they look the same to me, but Nik says that this is her. Hair is cropped short, face young—she must 40 years old at the most. Not old enough to have 14 children. Her eyes are troubled and roving. She talks for a while: people are complaining about her flowers on the pavement. The complaints wear heavy on her. Then I am introduced as the friend from India and she peers at me between Nik and his friend. I smile, say hello, and tell her I have heard much about her.

She tells me, in her broken English, that I must make my mother proud; work hard, maybe find a job in Montreal, but never forget all that she’s done for me and where I come from. Then she guides me in, a short leading twitch of her fingers, and pulls out a small beaten red box. This is for you, she says. I open it. It’s a small twisted Chinese dragon. It bring strength and luck, she says. Use.

I offer money, but she smiles and shakes her head. Money like toilet paper. You need, but too much – what you do? You throw away. On the way out, she pulls out two tigerlillies and hands them to me, also for free. They are remarkably resilient and last for a week after. She tells me to come back and I say: I will, I am here for two weeks. No, she says abruptly, working her way around her limited English. Not now. You come back a year later. You go be stronger. Better. Beautiful. Go find yourself.

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