by Danielle Chalker, photographs by Chinwe Edeani
Dandelion was lonely. So far as he knew, he had been the only puff of white seed-fluff to settle in this field and grow. As long as he could remember, he had been alone among the dry grass under the scorching summer sun. The white clouds drifted, the maple branches fluttered, and Dandelion waited, day after day. He wished he knew what he was waiting for.
The only other flower he could see was Rose. She lived in the back garden of a grand house made of bricks. She was the last blossom left on her plant. But Rose never seemed lonely: at least, not lonely enough to talk to a common weed like Dandelion. He often watched her unfolding petals on long, warm afternoons through the tall iron fence that separated the field from her garden. But Rose never spoke. If Dandelion tried to begin a friendly conversation, she only lifted her head higher and bent the other way.
Naturally, after this had gone on a long time, Dandelion stopped trying. Wouldn’t you? He just stood among the grasses, drooping in the heat, and wondering. He began to wonder why God made him. God was so talented at designing flowers—why couldn’t he have made an elegant iris or a glamorous lily or a dramatic jonquil instead? And why did God plant him here in this field all alone?
Then one morning, a swallowtail butterfly lighted on a tall stem of grass next to Dandelion to rest.
“Hello, Mr. Swallowtail,” said Dandelion.
The butterfly jumped. “I didn’t see you there. I startle so easily, you know,” he responded in a thin, piping voice. “How are you this fine day?”
Dandelion didn’t know what to answer. He had been taught it was polite to say you are very well thank you, no matter what, but perhaps this swallowtail could answer his questions. So he decided to be frank.
“Not very well, thank you. I was wondering something.”
Mr. Swallowtail turned his head and twitched his antennae. “Indeed? I didn’t know flowers wondered. I always thought that was only for butterflies. Well, ask away: what do you want to know? I know a great many things, having migrated more miles than you have petals in your head.”
“I want to know why God planted me here all alone. I mean, he could have blown me to a field brimming with friendly flowers.” Dandelion smiled at the thought. “Or he might just as easily have made me a red rose, or a flaming lily, or a jonquil, or anything more elegant than this little mop of yellow and these homely leaves. I have heard people on the other side of the fence praise the rose, and call me a weed.”
Mr. Swallowtail thought a moment. Dandelion could tell he was thinking because he fidgeted uncomfortably on the grass blade.
“I did not learn this in my migration from Mexico. I can tell you all about the geography of the United States, though,” he added hopefully.
“No thanks,” said Dandelion gloomily. You would be gloomy, too, if you had just asked a wise person an important question and they couldn’t answer it.
Mr. Swallowtail assured Dandelion that he would ask Wise Owl, who lived in a hollow tree on the opposite side of the meadow. But Wise Owl was a very late (or very early) riser and Dandelion would have to wait until the following morning for Mr. Swallowtail to return with an answer.
Dandelion quivered with curiosity all day. He could hardly sleep that night for wondering if Wise Owl would know. But in the morning, when Mr. Swallowtail returned, he shook his antennae apologetically and said:
“Well, little Dandelion. He did not know. Wise Owl said he could not understand why God would make a dandelion instead of something more important or more beautiful. And he could not understand why you are all alone.”
Mr. Swallowtail said he really had to go, he was dying for some nectar and there was a great big honeysuckle vine on the other side of the Little Forest. Dandelion turned his head and watched his butterfly friend flutter by. Then a great big tear rolled off his petals and splashed on one of his green leaves. You have never seen a flower cry? Maybe you thought it was only a drop of dew. Now you know.
Now Dandelion was getting older and older. He had only lived a few days, but for a flower that is a long time indeed. He fretted even more, wondering if he would spend his whole life in this field and never get the answer to his question. He tried to ask the wind, but you have to be a Very Good Listener to hear anything the wind says. The sun never bothers with dandelion questions. And the rain is too impatient to be on its way.
One evening, a few days after Swallowtail had asked Wise Owl (who did not know), Dandelion was watching the Rose, as he often did when he was bored. He felt the ground shiver lightly, as if soft footsteps were coming through the meadow. And he heard the grass rustle, as with brushing hands. So he spun around and saw a little girl coming through the meadow. She was looking all around her as she walked, searching. Her dress was torn and dirty, and her long dark hair was tangled as if it had never seen a comb. She came right up to the iron fence where the meadow met the garden, her bare foot almost touching Dandelion as she went by. Pressing her smudged face against the rusty railing, she stared in awe at the rose. Rose turned her head toward the child and whispered:
“You can’t have me, you dirty waif. I belong to the Manor House, and I am certainly not for the likes of you.”
The child’s face fell when she heard this. Her granny had taught her never to take anything that belonged to somebody else, and so she could not have picked the rose, even if she had been able to climb the fence. As she watched the beautiful rose flaunt her petals in the breeze, a tear began to slide down her cheek. At home, her granny was deathly sick. The shack where they lived had not a spot of beauty inside, and if only she could get a flower for her granny to look at… maybe the old woman would get well. Having surrendered her hopes, the little girl wiped her face with the back of her hand and turned around to go home. I don’t know if it was because of the tears in her eyes, or because she was looking the other way, but she still didn’t see Dandelion. Almost she didn’t.
But he was very sorry for the girl, and he wanted her to have a flower. He was small, it was true, but he was bright. Surely a dandelion was better than nothing.
“Little Girl!” he called.
She turned around. (She was only five or six, and still heard the soft voices of small things.)
Dandelion called again. “Little Girl! I am not a very big flower, and some people call me a weed, but I will come with you if you pick me. I do not belong to anybody, and I’d like to belong to someone like you.”
A big smile spread slowly across her face. Her eyes shone with delight as she knelt down in the damp grass and cupped her hands around Dandelion’s sunny face. “You are the perfect flower,” she whispered, and snap! she plucked his stem right out of the ground. He felt a little dizzy at first, but then he felt free.
Joyfully the girl’s bare feet flew along the trail up the mountain to her home. Dandelion watched in giddy amazement as trees and fences and the occasional mail box flew past in the opposite direction. In a short time, the girl stopped and ducked under some gunnysacks covering a doorway. Inside the shack it was very dark, dark as nighttime in the meadow. The child got a stool and stood on it to reach a shelf. She pulled down a rusted soup can, empty. After filling the can with water from a rain barrel outside, she dropped the flower in. He leaned comfortably against the rim of the can as she carried it across the room and set it down on an upside-down box next to a bed.
The old woman on the bed lifted herself up to see what her granddaughter had found. When she laid eyes on Dandelion, his brightness was reflected in her wondering expression.
“Now ain’t that something!” she exclaimed in a voice as creaky as old door hinges. “You brought me a flower!”
In the gloomy room, Dandelion was quite the flower. He felt a warm glow coming off his yellow petals. The old woman reached out and touched her granddaughter’s face with her wrinkled hand.
“This’ll do me a power of good,” she said.
It wasn’t until that night that Dandelion realized he had stopped wondering about his question. He was not alone any more, and he no longer felt like an ugly, useless weed. He began to think he had discovered something Mr. Swallowtail and Wise Owl did not know.
Through a crack in the roof, Dandelion could see the starry sky. The flower listened to the labored breathing of the old woman and the soft humming of her granddaughter. For the first time ever, Dandelion talked to God. What he had to say was not complicated. He was only a flower, after all. What he said was: