Romance Fiction posted July 15, 2021

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A Happy Love Story.

Sunflower Serendipity.

by Seshadri_Sreenivasan

Serendipity Contest Winner 

On April 11, Alice Williams found out that she was pregnant. The first signs of pregnancy did not occur right away. And over the last week, she noticed a missed period. That was a reliable sign of pregnancy for her. She knew it intuitively too.

It was time for her husband Varun to come home. She called him and broke the good news. She didn’t start dinner. Instead stood at the balcony and stared at the milling crowd on the streets twenty floors below. She wondered what life had in store for her.
As always, Varun Reddy, her husband, came home at 6 pm. Alice heard him opening the front door and gently call her name. Then she walked up to him and hugged him without saying a word.
“Varun, I don’t think I am  ready for motherhood. I am scared.”
Varun sighed and delicately kissed her forehead.
“Everything will be fine. Don’t be scared.”
Her arms tightened against her husband’s shoulder.
“The joint family system is a peculiar characteristic of the Indian social life”, Varun explained to Alice in the plane en route to Hyderabad from New York..” A son, after marriage, does not usually separate himself from the parents but continues to stay with them under the same roof. You see, the family in India is created on patrilineal descent.”
So when Varun, the only son of the well to do family of the Reddys, brought home Alice belonging to a different race, not to speak of religion and culture and declared that he would be marrying her, all hell broke loose at home.
“Look, son” The father Venkat Reddy dragged him to the adjoining room for an earful. “Marriages ties-up relationships between two different families; that’s why it is imperative to marry in a similar caste. I never thought you would do this to me and bring the family to disrepute” He was seething with anger.
His mother Lakshmi joined him and started pleading with him. “Think again, son”, she said tearfully. “You deserve a better match, and your girlfriend’s race and culture will not match ours. We don’t know her family, her background. She appears to have abandoned her family and eloped with you.”
No amount of coaxing, threats would budge Varun from his avowed decision to marry Alice. They had studied together at the prestigious Harward University. Alice was intelligent, good looking and above all, had a kind and lovable disposition. Both passed out of the University in flying colours.
Their relationship was like one of those affairs you see in movies. Boy meets girl. It’s love at first sight. They get married. But in this case, they were living together for the last two years. After graduation, they decided to get married in India.
“If you are not agreeable to this wedding, I am walking out of the house. I’ll find a new lifestyle, new religious belief, and a new family cult”  Varun was curt and adamant. So, Varun walked out of the house. Varun’s family was heartbroken.
He had a heart-to-heart chat with Alice. He narrated the drama at home. They talked for hours about planning their futures, about their dreams and ambitions. Varun became a junior partner in an investment company and shifted base to Mumbai lock stock and barrel. Alice started preparing for her PhD. They soon opted for a court marriage as per the Indian laws between an Indian male and a female regardless of their caste, religion, or creed. They started to lead a life in bliss.
“Why are you trying to calm me down? Did you read yesterday’s email from your Dad?”
“Of course I did.”
“So what do you have to say about it? How can you take such abuses lying down? Your parents have denounced us as sinners”.
“Of course not. Dear. You are overreacting. My parents are just upset. Sooner or later, they will come around. I know my parents. They love me” Varun was trying to calm her down. 
Alice turned away from him. Her eyes fell on the flowerpots on the balcony. She was happy to see the sunflower on the window sill.

A week ago, while she was browsing in the local market, she felt a tap on her shoulder. Startled by the suddenness, she turned and was even more startled to find an old Hijra smiling at her with an outstretched palm.
Alice noticed that she was dressed in a yellow saree and had a big red dot on her forehead. She had heard about these transgender people in the Indian subcontinent. Varun had told her about their tragic life, their castration rituals. “Be careful”, he cautioned, “many of these transgender people collude with the underworld for some nefarious activities.”
“Madam, don’t trust these people. They swarm around white people and steal their bags” The shopkeeper shouted at the Hijra and asked her to move away. Alice stopped him and turned to the Hijda who was still standing there with a smile on her face and strangely clapping her hand as only Hijdas do.
Alice took pity on her, and her heart melted at the sight of her pathetic presence. She dipped into her bag and gave her a handful of currency notes. The Hijda burst into tears. She took out a paper packet full of flower seeds and asked Alice to take it from her hands. “God bless you,” she said wholeheartedly.” Plant them at home. You will soon get a lovely new addition to the family. It will be a boy” She gave her a toothless smile.
Alice didn’t understand what she was saying. The Hijda watched her puzzled expression and gently put her hand on Alice’s stomach, then folded her hands like she was holding a baby and ran her fingers on her upper lip as if she had a moustache. Alice found the act very amusing. She thanked her and started to leave.
After taking a few steps shaking her head as if in wonderment, she looked back. The Hijda was not to be seen. Alice stood there surprised, shrugged and started her way back with the bag full of seeds. She noticed a handwritten message on the packet “Sunflower seeds for use at home.’ She went to the market and bought a few pots for planting the seeds. That was two weeks ago. She didn’t tell Varun about the incident, and upset him.
Alice went to the balcony and touched the sunflower plant. It looked healthy and growing. The seed had sprouted a couple of days ago, and a young plant had begun to emerge.
“Varun ?” she raised her voice. “What are you thinking? Come here and see my wonderful sunflower plant. It is sitting proudly on the window sill.”
Sunset was a perfect conclusion to their thoughts. Its silky, smooth multicoloured bursts of warm colours gradually melted into the calm of night. Twilight flattened the city into an uneven colourful plane. The sky, squeezed between the city and the concrete jungle, quickly grew dark, filling up with smog. 
Alice was saying, “There is something about the sunsets that fascinates me. No matter what I go through, I feel the warmth of the colours which act as a booster to my faith and hope” Varun stood next to her quietly watching the sundown time. He put her hand around her shoulder gently. The darker it became, the sharper and clearer their silhouettes stood out against the sky.
Varun noticed with wonder how Alice’s sunflower plant seemed to light up against the background of the deepening darkness. He was waiting for it to flower. Alice had also kept some daisy, chrysanthemum, and zinnia next to it. He thought she, along with the flowers, made his home look beautiful. He wondered what his parents would say if they visited him now.
Ten years ago, that evening on the same day, April 11, his family celebrated his father’s birthday at their farmhouse on the outskirts of Hyderabad. Celebrating family members’ birthdays was an ancient tradition in his community, followed by a visit to the temple the next day. The family farmhouse was an ideal location for merrymaking and offered privacy from prying eyes. 
His mother was proudly showing the fine-looking garden they had cultivated to the visitors. They had to move the chairs around the bonfire and make a place for them to dance around the fire. Varun remembered turning off the lights, listening to the rustic voice of his father belting out some folk songs and dancing around the fire. He remembered how they drank beer and liquor and took turns dancing to the guests’ clapping and whistling. Well, that was long ago. Things were different now. He let out a huge sigh.
Eight months passed. Alice was tendering to the potted plants with love and care. She had strictly told Gavya her Nepali house-help to keep an eye on them. That morning Alice woke up suddenly as if someone had gently stroked her forehead. She was wide awake and looked at Varun, who was sound asleep. A gentle fragrance of flowers drifted through the door. She wondered where it was coming from as the windows were closed and the air-conditioning was on. She was in the sixth month of pregnancy, and the baby bump was very much visible. She carefully got up and slowly walked her way out of the room.
Alice noticed that the fragrance was a bit stronger near the balcony. Alice heard some sounds in the kitchen. She went into the kitchen and found Gavya preparing breakfast. . “Good Morning, M’am”, Gavya said softly, “would you like some green tea now”. Alice didn’t answer her. But asked her with a puzzled expression, “Do you smell the fragrance of wildflowers, Gavya”. “No, Ma’m. Maybe the smell of breakfast has overpowered it. Let me go outside and check. She quickly went outside, leaving the kettle on the stove. Alice followed her. Gavya shook her head. “I don’t smell anything at all”. Then she rushed back to the kitchen as the kettle started whistling. Alice opened the balcony!
Alice face glowed, and she almost shrieked when she saw an unexpected sunflower had sprouted in the corner of her balcony. She felt happy that all the care she had taken in watering and tending to the plant had yielded beautiful results. It was a dwarf variety that fitted perfectly in the corner. It had grown rather quickly. Varun had warned that sunflower plants would grow to a height of 10 to 12 feet, and they might have to give it away. Besides the sunflower has no scent. But Alice had put her foot down. “You dare not do it”, she warned. “He is my baby, and I will take care of him.” She wondered where the scent of the flowers were emanating firm.
The bud had just opened; the bloom was just glorious. It looked large for the size of the plant. It looked happy and cheerful. And it looked like a replica of the sun one sees in the art and crafts stores. Alice gazed at the flower for a minute and slowly moved towards it. She briefly and gently touched it. She thought it was glowing and smiling at the sun. It was a glorious sight. Then suddenly, she felt a kick inside her stomach. The baby was moving. Alice thought she was both the receiver and giver of life.
While sipping her tea, Alice felt that every one of her friends and relatives deserved to share its beauty and joy! Why should they not? Then she got up on an impulse, brought out her latest iPhone and clicked many pictures of the flower. “The whole world must see it and feel good like me and think that life is good everywhere”, she told herself.
Varun came out of the bedroom sleepy-eyed and headed for the kitchen to get his first coffee for the day. It was the traditional South Indian filter coffee. Hot, strong and syrupy. He carried his coffee in a traditional stainless steel tumbler and sat opposite Alice.
“Good Morning Honey” Varun wished her and didn’t get any response. Alice was staring at the balcony with a smile on her lips. He repeated a bit loudly. Alice looked at him, got up, walked up to him slowly and hugged him. Puzzled, he looked at the balcony. It was then that he noticed the sunflower. He was stunned by its glowing beauty.
 “Wow, your baby has arrived” He gave Alice a tight squeeze. “Yes,” Alice whispered and took his hand and kept it on her  baby bump. The baby has started moving.”
“This sunflower is so bright like a little son looking up at this mother, yearning for her attention and being rewarded with the warm smile she gives him. Alice started talking excitedly “I think I’ll go blind staring at it for so long. Get ready to go to work. I have much work to do today. She pushed him away and started planning for the day.
At last, Alice settled on her best idea. She posted the picture of the cheerful-looking sunflower on her Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp, Facebook and email accounts with a tag line “Spread Sunshine. Spread Happiness.” She asked them not to break the chain and pass it on to their contacts. Her friends would pass it on to their friends and so on. 
“So this should reach half the world in a short time thanks to the technology”, she smiled to herself. “Every person on earth, she thought, deserved the feeling of happiness and should feel that life is good and worth living” Her mind was full of positive thoughts.
“Why not?” she assured herself. This magical flower will make that happen”. The baby in her tummy kicked again as though in agreement.
 “Why not?”  Varun’s mother Janaki, was snapping at  her husband. “Why not we step down from our pedestal and welcome Alice to our family. I hate to admit that despite all that brouhaha about  social progress and development, we are an utter casteist society."
Reddy lowered the newspaper and glared at her above the reading glass. This conversation had become a daily routine for the last few months.
“You know Janaki why I am opposed to this alliance. Because firstly we have heard many cases of divorces in our society after love marriage and I think that these marriages will not work!”
Janaki shook her head vigorously, “Marriages do not only tie-up male and female but they tie-up relationships between two different families. All of us have to work hard to make it happen”.
Reddy didn’t reply. Deep down in his heart, he knew that his wife was right and his son’s happiness was of primary importance. Varun was his only son. To change the orthodox society’s mentality would be a challenging task. It really would never matter after marriage if the two are happy. His will not lose status in the community. 
Reddy went outside to pace up and down with his face down while battling his conflicting thoughts. He realized that the main reason for his opposition was a fear- psychosis, a superiority/inferiority complex, an identity crisis. On the positive side, like his wife, he believed that marriage was holy and predestined.
Then suddenly, he looked up. It was then that he saw the sunflower glowing in the sun in the corner of his home. He stopped in his tracks and shouted for his wife to come out. Janaki rushed out, fearing something terrible must have happened to her husband. There she saw her husband gazing open-mouthed and pointing his finger at the sunflower.
Janaki, too stood there mesmerized by its beauty and gaze. She couldn’t recall who had planted it there. The sunflower had risen from finished compost. “You see, it is trying to convey something to us, Can’t you see that sunflower derives its name from the Sun God? Sunflowers are said to mean good luck and lasting happiness,” Janaki gushed.
There was a gentle breeze and the sunflower bowed as if in agreement.
I am sure Varun and Alice have some excellent news for us.’ Janaki continued. “Let’s go inside and call them.”
At that time, the telephone rang. It was Varun.
Alice lay in the well-equipped state-of-the-art private hospital. The excruciating pain she had the previous  night had subsided considerably. She looked tired and was holding on to Varun’s hand, who was sitting next to her.. She opened her eyes and queried,” Are you wearing a new cologne”?
 “No! In fact, I am not wearing any cologne. Why do you ask?”
“I smell a wonderful fragrance of flowers” Can’t you smell?”
 Varun sniffed and shook his head.
Alice was smiling from ear to ear. “I feel something good is going to happen now”. Whenever I smell a fragrance, I have experienced bliss.”
Just them Varun’s parents walked in. Alice was pleasantly surprised at the unexpected visit.  Janaki was holding a surprise behind her back. In a dramatic gesture, Janaki  presented the sunflower, like sunshine, in a tall, new vase.
“Can you believe it?” she was talking excitedly. “Out of the blue, I saw this in our garden yesterday.. Isn’t it amazing? I’m supposed to give this flower to someone we love. I would like you to have this.”
 “Thank you very much” Alice said with tears in her eyes.” The baby is arriving anytime now” 
“We know” Janaki smiled, “Varun called us yesterday morning and broke the wonderful news. “So?” she intoned. “What is it going to be? Boy or girl?”
“I have no idea” Alice looked her in the eye.
“We are going to call the baby Sunny.”



Contest Winner

A Happy Love story set in India. (word count 2960.

"Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow. It's what sunflowers do."
--- Helen Keller

Sunflowers are one of my favourite flowers simply because they are "happy" flowers. Their faces are always smiling and they never fail to cheer me up whenever I see them.

*The term �??????�?????�????�???�??�?�¢??hijra,�??????�?????�????�???�??�?�¢?? in India, is used to refer to transgender women. The country has an estimated 1 million hijras, with communities recorded back more than 4,000 years. They've had a sanctioned place in Indian society and culture throughout time.
According to the judgement, hijras are biological males who reject their masculine identity and identify either as women, or �??????�?????�????�???�??�?�¢??not-men�??????�?????�????�???�??�?�¢??, or �??????�?????�????�???�??�?�¢??in-between man and woman�??????�?????�????�???�??�?�¢?? or �??????�?????�????�???�??�?�¢??neither man nor woman�??????�?????�????�???�??�?�¢??. ... They identify themselves as women trapped in male bodies
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