The smell of fresh coffee tickles my nose as I sit across of a much younger me. I smile at her, watching her eat the orange slices I cut up for her. She looks curiously at the slice in her hand, watching how the juice is trickling down her small fingers. She lifts her head up to look at me, and meets me with the softest smile on her face. The cup feels warm in my hands on this cold sunny day – the first day of spring. How could anything feel lovelier than this moment right here? I am startled by Alina’s voice as she starts to speak. I keep forgetting that she’s growing up. Suddenly she’s four, forming full sentences and more curious than ever, when it feels like only yesterday when I saw her smile for the first time. I’d come to love that precious smile more than anything.
“What flower is that?” she asks pointing to the turquoise glass vase full of freshly cut flowers that stands on the kitchen table. “The colours are pretty.”
“They’re called tulips, honey.” I smile at her as she still looks curiously at me. The colours are indeed gorgeous. The pink and the purple ones were impossible to leave behind when I saw them in the store.
“Are they your favourite?” still looking at the flowers as if she’s analysing them petal by petal. I can’t help but feel my heart warming up instantly – little did she know what she had just sparked in me.
“I would say so, yes,” still grinning her way. She moves her gaze to me and nods her little head in satisfaction of my answer, and returns to fiddling around with the orange slices, making a mess for me to clean up later.
I look down at my coffee cup, the steam rising from it still, and the memories come flooding. Suddenly, I’m twenty-one years old, and standing in front of her door with the bouquet of pink grocery store tulips, beside my roommate Jade holding a bouquet of yellow ones.
She opened the door swiftly and an instant smile formed on her face as Jade, and I stood in front of her – the first of day of spring needed to be celebrated and Olivia had invited us for breakfast.
“Guuuys, you didn’t need to!” she exclaimed as she hugged us both in one motion and gestured us into her hallway. “We wanted to, as a thank you for having us over!” Jade looked at me with a smile and then back at Olivia as I nodded with her in agreement. She took our jackets and put them in the corner as we stepped out of our shoes, ready to warm up in the kitchen of her student housing, coming in from the sharp spring cold.
The sun poured into the room and veiled the table she had set for us in a golden hue. “I’m sorry for the tiny plate, I only had two big ones! I can sit there though, take my place.” Olivia said to me, while taking the kettle of hot water off and placing it in the broad windowsill. “I don’t mind really, it’s fine Liv!” I answered her. She scurried me away from the plate setting, guiding me to one of the other chairs. “No, I mean it Keerthi, you’re my guest so I’m taking the tiny plate!” I laughed with her, trying to insist but she didn’t let me. Jade fiddled around with the two tulip bouquets by the sink. “Liv, where do you want these?” she asked while she opened the cupboards above the sink to try and find a vase. “Shit, I should’ve brought mine for you to borrow, I forgot that you didn’t have one!” I said to Olivia while she moved around the table trying to make room for all the spreads, juice, and bread. “Give me a second, I saw this thing online a while ago. Let me try something.” She put the apple slices she was holding down on the table and ran into her room for a second and came out with a plastic soda bottle. She smiled at us like she had come up with the greatest idea in the world. It was always quite funny when she had that look on her face. You never knew what she could come up with.
She put the bottle down on the cutting board and with full force, she cut through the top of the bottle with the breadknife she had just used for the warm bread from the oven. “Look! Now I can use this as a vase,” she excitedly laughed as she grabbed the tulips that Jade had prepped for her and arranged them with a little water in the plastic soda bottle. We laughed with her, because this was so clever and so dumb, and it was often like that with us, it was the peak of being a student. “That’s pretty good actually, it works great” Jade agreed with her with a big grin on her face. I smiled at them as Olivia brought the bottle of tulips and placed it in the middle of the table. “Well, sit down then! Why are you standing there? Let’s eat!” she exclaimed at us. The steam from kettle danced vividly in the sun by her window, as we settled down by the table.
“This marmalade is so nice!” I hummed to Olivia in satisfaction. The butter and marmalade had mixed into this sweet and salty concoction on my slice of bread, and it tasted like a big bite of spring. “I know right? My dad is really proud of it,” she laughed. “He sent with me three jars of it when I met my family this weekend. You should’ve heard him talking about it.” She smiled; her eyes lost to memories past.
We chatted like that, reminiscing for a while. It was always like that with us. We would chat about small and bigger things for hours and hours. It could be the most ridiculous of topics sometimes, like which one of us could have survived The Hunger Games. “Keerthi would die during the first five minutes,” Jade jokingly said and bumped my shoulder lightly with her fist. I laughed in agreement with her – I wouldn’t even make it to the Games without dying first from a panic attack. We discussed what the name of our bar would be if we ever opened one, and we talked about love and death and which guys we were currently dating, and how the twenties are so stressful. How it’s painful to see our parents grow old, and how we have to spend more time with them. We talked about how we wanted to be at each other’s weddings someday, and how time is flying by way too fast. I think mostly, these chats were coloured by the inherent fear of growing up.
“Sometimes, it hits me that we aren’t going to live together after this summer,” I said filling in the silence. We had been thinking the same thought, I felt it in the room. It was a bittersweet moment, and the silence told the whole story. Jade looked up at me from playing with the cucumber slices in her hand. She nodded with me slowly. “I mean, it won’t be like this again ever, after this summer,” Olivia added to my sudden thought. The tulips in the bottle had already begun to open up. “When we’re like forty and have kids and big girl jobs and maybe a husband, I hope we still live close,” she continued. “Imagine if we could pick each other’s kids up from school, and go to cafés with our strollers like those cool moms who look great instantly after having given birth. We could totally be those moms!” she laughed with a hint of sadness in her voice. I licked the little speck of marmalade on my fingers, the tangy and sweet taste left me with a satisfied smile. We sat in silence for a little while longer, nibbling on apple slices and brown cheese, taking in the moment for what it was. I looked down into my cup of coffee and saw a bit of my own reflection in the small pool at the bottom of the cup, a twenty-one-year-old with little to no idea of what was going to happen after that summer.
“More coffee, Keerthi?” Olivia turned to me and started pouring before I managed to answer her. The tulips had opened a little more, beautifully in harmony with the gorgeous spring day. I admired them petal by petal, watching how they shone in the golden sunlight.
It tastes bittersweet on my tongue – the last sip of coffee. My train of thought is interrupted by the sound Alina’s voice talking again. “Take it mommy!” she cheerfully adds as she tries to hand me one of her orange slices over the table. It’s funny how this small child can’t fully reach over, and I find myself chuckling softly at her. I can’t help but smile at the innocence of the moment as I accept the fruit from her – feeling her tiny fingers against my hand, no matter how messy and mushy it looks, orange juice dripping down at the table as she hands me it. The tulips are glowing in the lovely spring sun, in pink and purple hues and immensely beautiful.
Every time I glance at the flowers, I wonder if they are in their own kitchens, having breakfast with their kids, and doing okay too.