“I’m sorry I’m late.”
Noah is busy adjusting the lens of his camera. His back is facing Karen, who has arrived fifteen minutes late. Karen is upset. It’s not usual for her to be late, especially for business appointments. And who can blame her? Her boss just asked her to drive all the way from the city to his rest house practically located in the middle of a forest.
Now, she’s standing here in her boss’ safe haven surrounded by trees approximately fifty feet tall. She watches him take pictures of leaves and flowers and insects and so much more. The trees scare her a little. But the forest is peaceful, very peaceful, and she likes it.
Noah turns around to face her. “Do you have it?” he asks.
“Yes,” she answers, showing him a white folder.
Noah covers his camera lens, packs it in his bag and says, “Come with me.” He immediately makes his way through the thick forest.
Are you serious? Karen grumbles to herself. Is there any living person on earth who would actually sign a document in a place like this?
Nevertheless, she follows Noah. As she makes her first step into the forest, she finds herself entering a different world. The tall trees still scare her but she tries her best not to be bothered by them. She can smell the fresh scent of nature and the only sound that she can hear is the music made by the serene voices of the trees. It gets cooler as they continue to make their way into the forest. They step on moist ground where wild grasses grow. They step
on dry leaves, on twigs, on small stones. Karen is just glad that she’s wearing flats today.
“Are you okay?” Noah asks.
“Yes, I am.”
After a few minutes of walking inside the forest, Karen feels better. She realizes that she needs that particular moment, that moment of peace.
“Okay,” Karen replies.
It’s funny how two people who used to be friends suddenly feel cold about each other. Or perhaps pretend to be cold, for some reason.
This time, Karen can see a colorful lawn ahead of them. She’s excited to see what it is. A few more steps and they reach the place.
“We’re here,” Noah says.
Karen is speechless. She is now looking at a small circular meadow surrounded by trees. She can see roses of different colors. She has never seen such gorgeous roses like these, right at the heart of the forest.
“You grew all of them?” she asks.
Noah smiles and nods.
Of course, she tells herself. Noah was good in growing different kinds of roses.
“I’ll show you something,” Noah says.
Noah leads her closer to the roses and shows her the only white rose planted in the middle of the other colored roses.
“Why, she’s alone,” Karen says.
“She’s the only survivor among the other white roses that I planted. I never thought growing white roses would be that difficult.”
“She must be special to you.”
Suddenly, there is silence. Both of them are looking at the only white rose in that garden. They both know how Karen loves white roses so much. She could place dozens of white roses in her flower vase if only she could spend a fortune for them every day. And Noah used to give her white roses too, not just once but many, many times.
* * *
Karen was sixteen. She was walking on the streets of Liliw, Laguna holding a basket of white roses. It was her birthday. She was wearing her favorite yellow dress and white shoes. She was so happy that she bought all the white roses available at Adelina’s flower shop at a discounted price. She was excited to go home and place the white roses in her vase.
She was peacefully walking until a group of young college boys appeared. They were enjoying themselves in a bicycle race. She knew some of them. They were her neighbors. She stepped toward the side of the street to be safe. Unfortunately, one of the boys lost his balance and accidentally crashed into her. Karen lost her balance too and dropped her basket of white roses. Karen found her dress soiled and her white roses ruined.
She stood angrily and shouted at the boy wearing faded blue jeans and white t-shirt.
“Look what you’ve just done!”
“I’m sorry miss… it was my fault,” the boy.
“Of course! Who else’s is it?” Karen was seriously irritated.
“I will buy you another bunch of roses…” The boy looked concerned.
“I’ve bought all the white roses in the market today, just to let you know!”
She was close to tears. Before teardrops could flow down her cheeks, she ran away leaving her basket and her ruined white roses.
The other boys were just smiling, feeling like they were watching a scene in a movie of some kind.
“Who is she?” the boy asked.
His friends replied: “Karen.”
* * *
It was already four in the afternoon. Karen was sitting on a rocking chair on their veranda holding Paolo, her favorite teddy bear. Her eyes were still sore after hours of crying and weeping. She couldn’t forget her white roses. Everybody was busy preparing a hearty dinner for her birthday. But she had lost all excitement since that boy on the street murdered her lovely roses. Then she noticed the boy waving his hand behind their wooden gate. It was the boy who crashed his bicycle into her on the street that morning. She opened the gate and snarled, “What are you doing here?”
“I came to give you these roses in exchange for the ones I ruined this morning,” he said in a humble voice.
Karen’s eyes brightened. The white roses in front of her looked beautiful…very beautiful and they looked fresh too, fresher than what she had bought that morning. She took them from his hand without any hesitation.
“Thank you… Where did you get them?” she asked, unable to hide her fascination.
“I grow them in our backyard…”
The boy gave a sweet smile and extended his hand, “I’m Noah,” he said.
She took his hand.
* * *
Noah was twenty one. He was new in the neighborhood. He just lost both of his parents in an accident so he was left under his grandmother’s care. Noah and Karen became friends. They went out with their other friends and they rode bicycles together. Noah even taught Karen how to grow roses but she always failed, and when she finally decided to give up, she ended up receiving roses from Noah every time.
“Would you like me to take a picture of you with the roses?”
“No, thanks. It’s okay…”
“I wouldn’t mind,” Noah insists.
* * *
They were so young then. Her parents didn’t approve and he couldn’t blame them. All parents feel responsible for the future of their children. Yes, she loved him. It has always been him. But she was scared – of love and of the future. He left and she thought she would never see him ever again.
* * *
He walked back into her life many years later, the new IT department head. But they were never the same again. The friendship that they had was long lost, forgotten and left behind. Ten years had passed, ten long years, and it was as if the long waiting, and pain, and regrets, and sorrow had swallowed everything that was left for them to be together.
* * *
“Oh, before I forget…” Karen hands him the folder in her hand.
“Let’s sit over there…”
They sit on a rock shaped like a perfect seat. Karen gives Noah a pen and he starts signing.
Has he brought her here too? Karen asks herself.
* * *
The first time she saw Marie, Noah’s fiancée, at the office, she felt her heart crushed by a thousand boulders. She couldn’t breathe. She wanted to shout. She wanted to tell Noah he was making a big mistake. That it was they who belonged together. That they should be together. She cried long nights, but she forced herself to understand and realize that the love between her and Noah died after he left ten years ago.
* * *
Noah signs the last page and hands over the folder to Karen.
“Thank you,” she says, “I need to go.”
Karen quickly stands up wanting to run away from Noah, from the roses, from everything.
“Sit down,” Noah says in an authoritative voice.
Karen obeys. He is her boss.
“What’s wrong?” Noah asks looking at the woman beside him.
“Nothing…” Her eyes are on her lap.
“I saw you at church last Sunday.”
“Really?” Karen’s eyes are still on her lap. Her fingers are playing with the pen.
“I haven’t got the chance to thank you for bringing me to church ten years ago,” he says. “That day really turned my life around.”
“I’m so glad you’ve finally reached your dreams…”
“Thanks…it wasn’t easy but it’s worth it.”
“How’s your Nanay Nita?”
“She died last year…”
Karen knows how Noah loved his grandmother so much.
“I know she’s proud of what you’ve become…”
Noah smiles as a reply and then there is silence again.
“Your roses really look good, you know… I mean, fabulous.”
He smiles again.
“Does she like roses too… Marie?” she asks.
“Hmmm… not really… but she appreciates them. She likes pets more than flowers.”
Karen gives a slight nod.
“So how is it going between you and Michael?” Noah asks.
“What?” Karen is surprised and a little confused with his question.
“You think Michael and I are together, don’t you?”
“Michael and I are friends. We have been since college. He’s getting married this year.”
“I should be the one asking… how is it going between you and Marie?” Karen forces a smile.
“She broke off the engagement.”
Karen looks at him in astonishment.
“It’s okay… she deeply believes I’m in love with someone else.”
“Oh… so, is it true?”
“I wouldn’t have faced that reality until she slapped it to my face.”
Karen keeps silent.
Noah stands up and makes his way to the roses. Then he comes back holding a white rose.
“You just picked the only white rose out there,” Karen says. “I thought she is special?”
“She is…but her worth won’t mean a thing if she’s not offered to someone who is more special than her…”
The rays of the sun beam on the quiet meadow illuminating everything that it touches. The trees sing their songs, the roses dance with joy and heaven looks down and smiles at the woman in a yellow dress and the man wearing faded blue jeans and white t-shirt.
Princess Martin was born in Butuan City. She finished her degree in International Studies major in Asian Studies at Ateneo de Davao University.