The mist hung in the air like silence. Cold, grey stones waited for the sun to melt away the crusty layers of frost on them. I sat there, twiddling thumbs, the shadows of the trees looming over me.
The distant song of a morning bird ferried the first rays of dawn. Impervious to the soft light that spread slowly through the sky, I continued to stare at the lonely, inconspicuous, nameless tombstone before me.
The letters engraved on it could vaguely be read. It had weathered and withered with time. Patches of moss grew here and there on it, as if to cover the bare nakedness of the unknown sorrow buried underneath it. It was the only one not laid with blossoms in loving memory. But not for long, I knew.
As the first church bell sounded, I retired into a shadowy crevice where eyes didn’t breach. The iron gates creaked and opened to let in a sweet looking, toddling old lady. A regular visitor. She was kind. With her, she always brought a bouquet of the prettiest and the most fragrant of flowers. Red roses, she reserved for the white marble of her husband. The rest were a dainty assortment of tulips, lilies, buttercups… oh, the coquettish carnations, the dahlias and daisies, and occasionally a bunch of peonies and pansies. These she would place on the lonely, nameless grave with a quiet smile and walk away.
This habit of hers was a precedent of one of mine. Flowers were my weakness. Their vibrant shades and tantalising fragrances beckoned me to commit the sin… I would creep up and take those flowers away with me…Away from a grave that no one noticed.
Today, she laid a sweet bunch of daffodils and honeysuckles. That lady, she sure had a good taste. Once she was away, I picked them pretty things up, one by one, caressing them with my gaze. On the way back to my little shack, I was so riveted in their exquisite shades that I hardly noticed a pair of eyes following me all the way. They belonged to a young boy, about seventeen or so. I hesitated, but as I saw that his eyes were more curious than condemning towards my act, I walked on.
Two blocks away, that afternoon, a teenage boy smiled with mischief. His one finger was on a number in the Yellow Pages, and his thoughts were probably jiggling with merriment, “Stealing flowers from a grave? A man that old? A small prank here and there would cheer up the boredom in this new place. Oh some fun, finally!”
The next day, as I was arranging the fresh, fragrant beauties together, the phone rang. 9:00 AM. As I picked it up, a spider’s web hung to the receiver.
“I know what you did, “said the voice… beep… beep… and hung up.
So the lad was a prankster, the little devil. I never liked little bumbling kids anyway; they pluck and trample over flowers.
I was deciding whether to clip the dahlias a little or not, and yet again the phone rang. 9:00 AM. I knew who it was.
“I know what you did. “
I flung the receiver away, exasperated by the cheek of this loutish, impertinent thing of a boy. How dare he interrupt me while I was engaged with my flowers! I had kept up with it for three weeks now, and it was enough. The insolence was getting on me.
Two blocks away, the adolescent cried tears of mirth, throwing himself laughing on the couch. He was really enjoying this new place now.
It was five minutes for the church bells to ring. It was Sunday. The lady would be bringing carnations… my favorite.
But I had other plans. I walked straight past the churchyard, towards the second block from home.
8:55 AM. He still had a mug of coffee in his hands. It was a nice sunny Sunday, so he woke up leisurely, reluctant to follow the old man. Nevertheless, he would religiously make the call.
He set down his mug and fetched his phone. A glint of frolic sparked momentarily, but his fingers stopped in mid-air above the dial pad and his smile drooped to a frown. Below the mug lay a small stack of old, yellowing papers.
They weren’t there before.
He picked them up. They seemed to be newspaper clippings.
“23rd May 1939, Charleston
RESIDENTS REPORT SUSPICIOUS HAPPENINGS
Hearsay in Charleston in that, the old shack been abandoned for ten years now, has a new set of freshly arranged flowers each day. Puzzled residents report…”
The air seemed to stiffen.
“4th September 1929, Charleston
MURDER IN DAYLIGHT
An old florist was brutally murdered in his house on 3rd September, 9:00 AM. The body was retrieved within three hours after the crime took place. Investigation does not reveal the guilty or the reasons, however…”
He looked at his phone. It was 9:00AM. The doorbell rang. A second later, he found his voice to ask, “Who’s there?”
The other side of the door made a gruff reply, “Flowerman.”