Still vaguely disturbed by the idea of dressing in such expensive clothes to do some gardening, I quickly left the room.
I got out through the sunroom and began to make my way across the rolling landscape of lawns covered in pristine snow. I had always lived in the city and I had never had the privilege of walking on such pristine ground where there were only my own footsteps in the ground and such silence.
Although I was inside a winter wonderland, I did not feel the chill. The air was crisp and exhilarating and I wished I could bring Dad here. Away from that house that smelt of medicine and poverty. Maybe, before I left, I could get Luca to agree to such a visit. It would do my father good to be here in this beautiful part of the world, that much I knew for sure.
I crossed over a narrow bridge underneath of which was a stream. I was tempted to follow the running water, just to see where it would end, but I pushed away the distracting course and focused on following the instructions that Mary Jane had given to me.
Soon the steel frames and glass panels of the greenhouse came into view and my heart jumped with excitement. All my life I had loved plants and growing my own stuff. When I was young I did try to grow tomatoes and chilies in the back garden, but for some weird reason they would never do well. They would be doing really well, and then for no reason at all they would become brown, shrivel up and die. I could never understand it and after many tries I finally gave up and stopped trying to grow my own vegetable garden.
I saw the man I supposed must be John, since Mary Jane told me he was the only one working in the greenhouse that day, pushing a wheelbarrow full of soil into the glass encased space. She also told me he was jealous about his space, so I did not immediately enter the greenhouse, but stood outside and called out politely. From where I stood I could see big healthy looking cabbages and all kinds of plants that you would only get in summer growing abundantly.
I knew I could be happy here.
The man with very bushy gray eyebrows and leather skin appeared from behind a row of tomato plants. He was holding a trowel in his gloved hand and scowling at me as though I had intruded on his sacred space.
“What do you want?” he asked. His voice was as hostile as his face and stance. If he thought he could get rid of me by this show of unfriendliness, he could think again. I was used to my father being grumpy and knew there was no real harm behind it.
“I’m staying at the house for a month,” I explained politely, “and I was hoping I could potter around here for a little bit. I want to pick up some skills about gardening and if possible plant some flowers.”
I looked around as I spoke, and noted there weren’t any flower plants. It was all vegetables and herbs and it filled the green house with a clean and earthy scent.
“No,” was his immediate and seemingly incontestable response. Without waiting for a reply from me, he ducked back behind the tomato plants.
I smiled. Now I knew for sure he was no big bad wolf. He was actually hiding from me! I walked towards him and found him behind the plants. He was filling little pots with healthy black soil.
“Why not?” I asked.
He didn’t look at me. “We don’t plant flowers in the greenhouse. You’ll spoil your fine clothes.”
“Alright, I’ll plant some vegetables instead, and I don’t care if I spoil my fine clothes.”
“You can’t grow anything in a month,” he muttered.
“I know, but I still want to start the process.”
“It’s hard work and you’ll break your nails.”
I held out my hands. “My nails are already all broken and I love hard work.”
He turned then and looked at me from under his bushy eyebrows. “Why do you want to work here?”
“Because I love gardening. I used to try to grow things in my father’s backyard when I was a child, but they always died and I just want to know what I did wrong.”
Something flickered in his eyes. A professional’s desire to help me understand my mistakes, but he blanked it. “You’ll have to ask Don Messana’s permission first.”
“Okay, I will,” I said and smiled at him.
He grunted and went back to his work.
I then wandered in the snow for a long time. It was beautiful to be so alone in such beauty. A robin landed on a branch close by. He was so near I could actually look into his eyes. He was so beautiful I wanted to reach out and stroke him. In the distance, I saw a small herd of deer, but I didn’t try to approach them. My hands and feet were frozen, but I felt totally at peace with myself.