A new flower

It was the first day of Spring (according to the Hindu calendar), but here in the Himalayas it still seemed mid-winter. A cold wind hummed and whistled through the pines, while dark rain clouds were swept along by the west wind only to be thrust back by the east wind.

I was climbing the steep road to my cottage at the top of the hill when I was overtaken by nine-year-old Usha hurrying back from school. She had tied a scarf round her head to keep her hair from blowing. Dark hair and eyes, and pink cheeks, were all accentuated by the patches of snow still lying on the hillside.

''Look,'' she said, pointing. ''A new flower!''

It was a single, butter-yellow blossom, and it stood out like a bright star against the drab winter grass. I hadn't seen anything like it before, and had no idea what its name might be. No doubt its existence was recorded in some botanical tome. But for me it was a new discovery.

''Shall I pick it for you?'' asked Usha.

''No, don't,'' I said. ''It may be the only one. If we break it, there may not be any more. Let's leave it there and see if it seeds.''

We scrambled up the slope and examined the flower more closely. It was very delicate and soft-petalled, looking as though it might fall at any moment.

''It will be finished if it rains,'' said Usha.

And it did rain that night - rain mingled with sleet and hail. It rattled and swished on the corrugated tin roof; but in the morning the sun came out.

I walked up the road without really expecting to see the flower again. And Usha had been right. The flower had disappeared in the storm. But two other buds , unnoticed by us the day before, had opened. It was as though two tiny stars had fallen to earth in the night.

I did not see Usha that day; but the following day, when we met on the road, I showed her the fresh blossoms. And they were still there, two days later, when I passed by; but so were two goats, grazing on the short grass and thorny thickets of the slope. I had no idea if they were partial to these particular flowers, but I did know that goats would eat almost anything and I was taking no chances.

Scrambling up the steep slope, I began to shoo them away. One goat retreated; but the other lowered his horns, gave me a baleful look, and refused to move. It reminded me a little of my grandfather's pet goat who had once pushed a visiting official into a bed of nasturtiums; so I allowed discretion to be the better part of valour, and backed away.

Just then Usha came along and, sizing up the situation, came to the rescue. She unfurled her pretty blue umbrella and advanced on the goat shouting at it in goat-language. (She had her own goats, at home.) The beast retreated, and the flowers (and my dignity) were saved.

As the days grew warmer, the flowers faded and finally disappeared. I forgot all about them, and so did Usha. There were lessons and exams for her to worry about, and rent and electricity bills to occupy a freelance writer's thoughts.

The months passed; summer and autumn came and went, with their own more showy blooms; and in no time at all winter returned with cold winds blowing from all directions.

One day I heard Usha calling to me from the hillside. I looked up and saw her standing behind a little cluster of golden star-shaped flowers - not, perhaps, as spectacular as Wordsworth's field of golden daffodils, but nevertheless an enchanting sight for one who had played a small part in perpetuating their existence.

Where there had been one flowering plant, there were now several. Usha and I speculated on the prospect of the entire hillside being covered with the flowers in a few years' time.

I still do not know the botanical name for the little flower. I cannot remember long Latin names, anyway, but Usha tells me that she has seen it growing near her father's village, on the next mountain, and that the hill people call it Basant, which means Spring.

Although I am just a little disappointed that we are not, after all, the discoverers of a new species, this is outweighed by our pleasure in knowing that the flower flourishes in adversity. May it multiply!

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