Mang Selmo's Flowers

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Reposted from RB as requested by Allie

I can't exactly recall what drew me to the old man during those days I spent with him, but by the time he died, he had become somewhat a friend of mine. It was admittedly quite a rarity for me, a nurse who would rather find enemies among patients of the hospital than friends. I disliked getting too sociable with patients. It made work much more personal and experience taught me, when your work governs the thin line between recovering and passing on, personal can't possibly be good.

He was known to most of us by the patient number that appeared on his record, 3267. The newer nurses called him Mang Selmo but we hardly referred to him by his name. When he came in, you see, he was already bordering senility. A single look at Mang Selmo told you he had lived one season too many. Barely comprehensible, easily agitated, and just generally cranky most of the time, he was a challenge to talk to, and as with every similar case we've had, we quickly learned to ignore him as a person and treat him as more of a logistic.

My job was to administer him his medicine, a cocktail of pills that mellows him out for a few hours. And since nobody ever visited him, I often found myself lounging about his room - if only to avoid more duty at the nurse's station. Finding nothing better to do, I almost forced myself to make sense of what the old man mumbles on his bed. It was an act of futility anyway, since he oft spoke in tongues I've yet to discover.

And then one day as I was about to walk out of his room, he finally spoke in cushy, distinctive English. "How long do I have left?" he asked me. "Sorry sir, I wouldn't really know," I said. "How dreary it must be," he replied, "to not really know when end of one's journey." Hearing those words come out of him almost made me take back all preconceptions of the old man. He was yet lucid, at least to a certain extent. Looking back, it could have been the medication - or it could have been just his nature - sensible one moment and deranged after another.

"How long do you have left?" he asked me once more. I politely smiled, and laughed inside at the fact that it was the first time I had been asked about my lifespan by a patient and not the other way around. "Approximately an hour and a half," I replied. "After which my shift is over."

"Well now, I don't have long to live either, " Mang Selmo said, "We shouldn't be wasting each other's time like this." I looked at him, his eyes were filled with the light of life that's grown placid, far from the burning rages of youth I often see in younger patients. "Is there something we're supposed to be doing?" I asked.

The old man nodded. "Granted you are already here, you might as well listen to my story." At that moment, I'm not really sure what made me stay there. I suppose I've been around the old man for quite sometime already but have never gotten to know anything about him or what he did before he became patient 3267 - nobody in the hospital did. I never intended to get personal with him, I just wanted to know. I nodded, keeled by the hospital bed, and placed my ledger down by the foot table.

I listened.

"My name is Selominas," Mang Selmo politely introduced himself. "And I am a prince."

I would have to admit that Selmo is not a man I can say I know well outside his medical records, but his claims were far from believable. But I listened anyway, through the course of days, right after his medicines took effect until they wore off, he would talk about his life. It may not have been believable for me, but it was otherwise entertaining. The old man knew how to tell stories.

He told me he was a prince of Mabaga'ad, an elven country unknown to man. After the parents of Selominas were brutally murdered by his Uncle in an attempt to usurp the throne of the kingdom, he was forced to run into the realm of the humans. There he lived the life of a normal person, only assisted by very few of his countrymen who were able to follow him. It was by his introduction that he got me wondering, and unknowingly enchanted. Everyday he would recount a story or two about the country he had come from, with tales of magic and fairies and creatures I would only hear of in the bedside tales my grandmother used to tell me when I was younger. I was by the bedside again, listening to an aged voice, and the wonder that I had as a kid somewhat returned as I listened to Mang Selmo's tales.

After a while, I stopped reflecting on his stories too much. I learned to stop questioning whether or not he could have made it all up, or just borrowed it from some story book. I enjoyed listening to him the moments i could, and from the returning vigor in his eyes every time he recounted running into the woods while being chased by horsemen called Tikbalang, or having dinner with forest elves - I knew he appreciated the fact that somebody could listen to him.

There was a gradual change in Mang Selmo's personality many weeks after our first encounter. He no longer returned to his usual deranged crankiness that we had come to associate him with, even after his medication had lapsed. To me he felt years younger. His hallucinations were still a bit of concern for me, but being a mere nurse, I could only occasionally mention it to his overseeing doctor. In turn, I found myself looking forward to our casual meetings, listening to what he had to say. He had become my favorite storyteller without even realizing it.

Time flew by without even me realizing it. Time passed so fast, winter came unannounced that year.

One day as I came into his room, Mang Selmo had this somber expression. He was staring at a flower vase placed on the drawer by his bedside. It had a somewhat lonesome sunflower placed on it. I looked at it while preparing his medicine and drinking water. "Had a visitor this morning?" I asked.

Mang Selmo nodded and looked at me, his expression serene and his breathing very calm. "This flower is me," he said. "Disconnected from its roots, it can only follow one path for what little remains in its life." I did not say anything back, and handed him his medicine. Mang Selmo obediently drank the cocktail and I took the glass back. Mang Selmo then leaned back to his raised bed and resumed staring at the flower. "I've had my share of this life's adventure, and there's nothing that I can possibly regret."

Figuring that it'd be somewhat rude to stay silent for too long, I finally replied. "That's very good for you." I had nothing more to say, but Mang Selmo looked like he did. The old man then turned to me and asked, "What do you dream of doing?" I found myself smiling, recalling my dreams. For some reason the old man had me turning into a child again, first listening to his stories and then me sharing my dreams that I don't even tell my closest of confidants.

"I've always wanted to visit Africa," I replied and breathed a sigh, "maybe on a medical mission or for some other purpose, but I've made it a life goal to go there." I went closer to the flowers. They were a rare kind of sunflowers, perfectly cut, and assumingly fresh."I've always loved looking at flowers, even as a kid. Africa has flowers I've only seen in books. It would be a dream for me to go there and see them personally." Reality sunk in after a while, and I found myself heaving a sigh. "It's quite far though, so I'm not getting my hopes up."

The old man nodded diligently. "Yes, we should try visiting that place sometime soon. I'm getting the feeling your life's adventure will be waiting for you there."

"And what make's you say that?" I said, while staring at the old man who looks more excited than me.

Mang Selmo shrugged. "I'm an elven prince - and we elves have this way of seeing the fate of somebody long before he sees it himself." There he goes again, I thought. Always with the wild imagination. "You said we," I said to the old man, "I thought I heard you said we." The old man laughed, the first time I've heard him do so heartily in quite a while. "You're right. I did say 'we'. But it looks like I won't be traveling with you, will I?"

Silence flooded the room. I found myself looking at the sunflower. Severed from its roots, it runs on very limited time. "Maybe," the old man smiled, "I'll go on ahead. See if you can follow me. It's not like I have a place to return to so I might as well get going," I looked at the old man, in all his grandeur and frailty. His face had already changed. He was once more pale, flaccid, and drained of his seasons.

I forced a smile, trying to keep inside that familiar feeling I thought I've been jaded from all this years. I was going to miss the old man, and I knew it deep inside my heart. I bit my lip and nodded. "Just don't take so long, okay?" The old man smiled and nodded.

I promptly exited the room.

Winter came unannounced that year.

And that was the very last conversation I've had with the old man. He died that very night, of natural causes as the doctors told me. It was like all of a sudden he just lost all will to live on. The sunflower wilted with him, albeit too fast. And I could not bear look underneath the covers of his deathbed.

The pangs of isolation bore down on my flesh. This was the real reason I didn't want to associate with the patients. Time stood frozen inside that hospital that day. No, perhaps it was inside of me that time stood frozen. I did my rounds, expression empty. I didn't even have a thought. How dreary life in the hospital has become, now that the old man was gone.

I heard from a friend at the hospital morgue that somebody had finally come in to claim Mang Selmo's body. For some reason I was glad that even though it was just in the end, there was really somebody who looked after him. Where will he take his body I wonder? To his kingdom? I smiled, but panged with discontent - the kingdom couldn't exist, and his body will never be able to follow his imaginations.

Call it instinct, but that moment I found myself walking towards his room - or at least where his room once was. Soon it will be used by another patient, without his mark left anywhere but in my memory. I decided I should take as much memories of our short acquaintanceship while it lasted.

I opened the door and found a lady with auburn hair. She was sitting by the bed and looking at the half-open blinds of the room's sole window. I knocked at the door, despite having already opened it. She turned to me and I saw her face, surrounded by the corona of the morning rays. I barely made out her face.

"Excuse me; were you the one who claimed Mr. Selominas's body?"

The girl nodded. "I'm a close family friend. Unfortunately he does not have any more direct family members, so I had to take care of him for them. It was their will and his," she replied with a formal, somber tone. A barb of guilt touched my heart; I felt that I should have acquainted with the old man who had been so lonely sooner. But it was all too late now. I clenched my fist.

"And you're his friend who visited him regularly, yes?" she asked me. I noticed that she had some accent of sorts - though unfamiliar. "I bet he told you lot's of beautiful stories too."

Those words made me recall. "Yes indeed, they were beautiful," I replied, "He made me feel like I was a child again." Then a thought occurred to me. Shyness took over at first, but I took a breath and decided there were things I just had to find out for myself before the opportunity passed me by.

"There's something I have to ask," I told the lady, "He kept telling me stories about him being a prince of some country. Would you happen to know if this was uhm,"

I stuttered, I didn't know how to exactly say it.

"If this was?" the girl asked, as if leading me on to give out the rest of the question.

"If some of that was true. I mean - he was so consistent about things. There has to be a basis of sorts to his stories, right?"

The lady got up from the bed and lifted a paperbag from the floor. I had not noticed it was there when I came in. Her face was removed from the rays of the sun and I could clearly see her features. She looked like a Caucasian lady, mestiza and with strong western accentures.

She took out a bundle of some flowers that looked familiar to me and placed it on the emptied vase on the table of Mang Selmo's room. "He's an elven prince," she said, "and I am a unicorn."

My heart skipped a beat. "Really?"

The lady plopped the flowers with her slender fingers and laughed generously. "Are nurses here really this gullible? I was just kidding. Count my legs? Four?" She laughed more.

I laughed too, half nervously, half embarrassingly. "O-of course, of course. What was I thinking anyway, huh?" Trying to escape the awkwardness, I looked at the flowers. Wait, I thought. Flowers?

She had been arranging the flowers on the vase busily when I decided to stop watching like an idiot and just ask her. "Excuse, me," said I. "About those flowers -"

The lady stopped arranging the flowers and turned to me. "What about them? Aren't they nice?"

"Why would you need to place them here, when Mr. Selomi - no Mang Selmo has already passed on?"

"Oh, these? These aren't for him," she said. "Actually I came here to give these to you."

"Me?" I asked.

"Yes," the lady replied, "I brought it here on instruction. Think of it as his gift to you. What would you think of it?" She was smiling. In her eyes there was a look of daring, as if challenging me to solve a mystery.

I looked at the flowers again. They really looked familiar - and it was then I realized what it all had meant. I approached the flowers and caught its scent. "You know," I said confidently, "I never really told anybody else about my dream. And I'm quite certain Mang Selmo did not have any visitors shortly before his passing on."


"These flowers are not grown in this country. They are Tamiki wild flowers that can only be found in the Congo Republic - Africa. How is it possible that he could tell you in advance what kinds of flowers I wanted?"

The lady was smiling still. She took out from her purple hewn purse a red cellphone. "The wonders of technology, Sir Nurse?" I shook my head. "I'll settle for that answer," I said, smiling. Prince Selominas eh? He was a mysterious man. He is a mysterious man.

"So that solves that," I said. "By the way, can I escort you on your way back?"

She nodded and smiled. "I'm not sure I get what you're trying to say," she said in a polite voice. I'm sure she did, she just wanted to drag it on a bit longer for amusement.

Maybe that was the reason Selominas had come into my life. Maybe some dreams just need a bit of waking for them to come true. Maybe other dreams need a bit of more dreaming for them to come true. Mine was a little bit of both.

"I think I got his message," I smiled, "and I know the truth about him."

"Because of a bundle of flowers?" she asked me.

I nodded my head and turned to the flowers. "It's not that he was able to ask you which flowers to get for me," I said. I lifted one flower until its stem showed up. "It's that these flowers were obviously picked out less than an hour ago. I can tell that much of a difference compared to other flowers."

Her arms crossed, but she retained her acknowledging smile. "I picked them out myself."

I crossed my arms as well and smiled back. "Now, are you ready to tell me more about yourself and Prince Selominas on the way to where he is right now?"

She began walking towards the door, passing me as I turned to face her. She was lovelier close up. She'd just as I'd imagine her if Mang Selmo was there to tell her in a story.

"I don't know," she said to me, and turning with double-daring eyes,

"If I told you, would you find it in you to believe what I'll say?"

The end.

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