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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Sunday, 11 March 2007


Caption: a sunflower

The Yellow Flower Lady

by Susan Abraham

Once, I followed Jill to a
Sunday market to buy flowers. It featured a bustling crowd.

Those who tried to park cars cursed and sweared with all their might. Pedestrians who fancied themselves, the crossing guard
man, ruled the open-air markets in Malaysia with illegal hand signs and expert snail-crawls. Cars honked at the unperturbed strollers.

A few stalls did brisk business, selling rainbow-coloured chrysanthemums. What a splash of colour!

The busy flower market in this part of town were ruled by South Indians. Young girls wearing nose rings and long greasy plaits, strung garlands together, which would later be used for temple ceremonies. They watched for prospective customers and gossiped with friends. They giggled loudly. They made sly eyes at boys. They sungs snippets of the latest Tamil love songs.

Their less fortunate brothers were tasked with balancing the heavy, broken parasols.

I pointed to a stall a distance away and begged Jill to go there. Look at that couple all by themselves, I said. Let's help them out."

Jill sighed. We trooped over. It really was a distance.

The middle-aged lady eyed us suspiciously. She wore a heavy bun with stick-out hairpins that still had traces of her saliva on them as she had tried to fasten the lot on, earlier that morning. Her strange bun also spotted a wilted rose. Her smooth ebony skin glinted in the sun. Her face was pancaked with talc. She had on a bright saree. I was dazzled by all that pink. She wore horn-rimmed spectacles and jingled gold bangles. She jingled them ever so loudly. She wore no smile. She displayed so many yellow flowers, even the sun would have been jealous.

The yellow flower lady's husband looked like he needed a shave and a bath. His T-sheet could have done with an iron press. His job was to balance a formidable parasol. He grinned secretly from behind his wife's back. He had no teeth.

Jill picked her yellow chrysanthemums with care, gently lifting them from the wet pails. "Give me these," she said in Malay. Obviously, the lady spoke no English. "And cut the leaves please and cut the stems too," said Jill. The yellow flower lady stared at Jill rudely. She mumbled something to her husband.
"Tolong potong, potong," stressed my friend, mimicking with her fingers what took the dim shape of scissors.

The yellow flower lady scolded my friend. "What do you think my husband is?", she hissed. She swung her head from left to right violently. Her bun screamed murder. The wilted rose twisted up a wriggly bellydance. Her pointed finger threatened a jab like a nasty snake's tongue.

"Do you think my husband is your servant? He is king and god of the house.
"Saya punya suami rajalah," she went on. "Tak boleh potong sendiri kah," She muttered, demanding to know why Jill couldn't trim the leaves herself. Of course, the yellow flower lady was just being hoity-toity.

The yellow flower lady considered it beneath her, to cut the leaves and stems. There was royalty to watch out for. Jill explained in Malay that she had an awkward vase.

The yellow flower lady now grumbled under her breath. She whispered endearments to her husband and looked around for betel-nut to chew. She spat something out. Suddenly, she appeared to have a change of heart.

"You fool, you idiot," the yellow flower lady yelled at the toothless man. "You think that newspaper simply can use... I'M READING IT!" She stood in a wrestler pose, lifting her saree folds to dangerous heights and swearing profusely. She glared at her king and god in a sinister fashion.

The husband had attempted to wrap Jill's flowers in a Madras-imported glossy that was filled to the hilt, with pictures of buxomy film stars and sleazy gossip. He carried on with his toothless grin.

Suddenly, it looked like a thunderstorm was approaching.

"What will you do," I asked the yellow flower lady, anxiously.
"Apa kita mau buat," she replied. "Kita larilah, lari sama itu meja, itu baldi, payung, bunga, semua, kit angkat, kita cepat lari, itu kedai sana."

"What do you expect us to do," replied the yellow flower lady, scornfully. "We run very fast with the umbrella, pails, flowers, tables, we don't care, we take everything, we run to the shop over there."

I looked horrified.

The yellow flower lady spoke passionately.

"Oh, you think ONLY rich people are all different from us. You think, the rain cares, who is rich who is poor. " The yellow flower lady went on dramatically, using hand gestures to survey the wide and beyond.

"In the thunder, all of us are running, ok..poor people running..rich people running You can tell who is poor and who is rich? Her finger targetted me menacingly. "All running like mad people...all getting wet. No high class, no low class." She smiled knowingly. "The rain is like God of the house, King of the house. In the thunder, all of us are ONE.".

The last line was met with such a rapid snooty swing of the head, I shuddered for a moment to think the pancaked-face would make a daring tumble and be forever removed from its shaky neck.

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