Everyone had recurring dreams, and Adem was no exception. His were of gardens, filled with crimson roses. Thousands and thousands, millions maybe, and a fountain in the middle. Adem knew, in his dream, that if he could only get to that fountain, drink the water, everything would be okay, here, now, forever. No more worrying about bills or girlfriends, or political unrest back home; just one sip would bring eternal peace of mind.
In all his years of having this dream, he’d never made it to the fountain. Sometimes he could take a few steps towards it; sometimes he was stuck at the edge of the garden. But Adem didn’t mind. Most nights just being in the garden was enough.
Last night Adem had dreamed of the garden again. Only this time, first time in over twenty years, he wasn’t alone. He couldn’t see whoever it was, but he could sense him. Her. It. Someone or something with the same purpose as him, he knew it.
He thought about the dream, about the change, as he waited for the bus that afternoon. Standing next to the crowded bus shelter, briefcase in hand, he studied the faces around him. Some were familiar, the same commuters every day. Some were new, tourists probably, heading from the lakeside museums and stadiums and shopping districts to the train station, to connections to the suburbs and beyond.
A man moved among the crowd, scruffy, unwashed, selling flowers from a bucket. Normally Adem ignored street vendors, but today the color of the flowers caught his eye. Mixed in with white daisies and pink carnations were crimson roses. The exact shade as in his dream.
Adem reached out and touched the man’s sleeve as he walked past. “How much for a rose?”
“Two bucks,” he answered, blinking rapidly. “Two bucks.”
Adem pulled out his wallet. “Got change for a five?”
“No, I’ll make ya a deal and give ya two, okay?”
“That’s not a deal.”
“You want the flowers or not?” The man continued blinking. “Great for your lady friend.”
“I don’t have a lady friend.”
“Hey man, nothing wrong with that.” Blink, blink. “It’s how God made you, right?” Adem opened his mouth to respond, but the man continued. “So, you want these flowers or not?”
Adem was about to say no when he realized that yes, he did want those flowers, for the same reason he wanted to drink out of the fountain in his dream — because it just felt right. “Yeah, I’ll take two red roses. And keep the change.”
The peddler handed him two flowers and grinned. “I was planning on it.”
Adem held the flowers to his nose and inhaled deeply. The scent was the same as in his dream. He closed his eyes and could picture it clearly, as clearly as if he were currently standing there. A gentle breeze creating ripples on the surface of the fountain’s water, and that person was back. He could sense her, just on the other side. If he could just reach her….
He opened his eyes, back to the city and the bus stop, when his bus pulled up. He could still sense her as he loaded in with the rest of the passengers. He found a seat next to a window and sat down, careful to hold the flowers in front of him so they wouldn’t jostle.
As the bus merged into traffic, Adem studied the roses. Up close, the petals weren’t as perfect as the ones in his dreams, the edges slightly torn and beginning to brown. But the smell was exactly like in his dream. He hadn’t even been aware of the scent of the garden, of its sweet promising perfection, until now, when the roses he held triggered it.
He held them in front of him and inhaled deeply. He closed his eyes and was again in the garden. He took a step toward the fountain as the person on the other side of the fountain did the same. And another step. Closer and closer, surrounded by the heady fragrance of the flowers on the bus mixing with those in the garden. He could nearly touch the fountain now. He reached out, the cool water inches from his fingertips.
“Is this seat taken?”
Adem’s eyes sprung open. A woman stood next to him, gesturing at the empty seat beside him.
“Excuse me. Is this seat open?”
He smiled at her. He didn’t know why, but any annoyance he’d felt at being interrupted so close to his goal was fading away. He nodded.
She sat down, clutching her purse and staring straight ahead, like a good woman on a big city bus sitting next to a strange man. Adem focused on the roses, but he was acutely aware of the woman. Jennifer, he decided her name was. She worked as a paralegal, but she’d quit when their kids were born. They’d have three kids, live in the suburbs probably, have a yard with roses exactly like the ones he held. At night, after the kids were in bed, they’d sit on the couch to watch the news, and she’d lean her head on his shoulder and he’d gently brush her hair away from her eyes. He’d take her home to Damascus, to see the gardens of the National Museum even though they’d probably been destroyed in the latest fighting. And every day he would bring her a rose, like the one he held now.
“Those flowers are beautiful,” she said, breaking his revery.
“And the smell — it reminds me of something I can’t put my finger on.” She smiled. “But that’s okay.”
“Yeah.” He smiled back, held out a rose for her to smell.
They sat like that, the flowers between them, until the bus stopped at Union Station; Adem’s stop. Jennifer stood too. As they disembarked, Adem realized he would never see her again. No kids, no trips, no couches. No rose gardens.
Jennifer moved inside the station, leaving Adem behind on the sidewalk. The scent of roses was gone, just the smells of the city left behind: exhaust and too many people too close together, an Indian restaurant and a Subway. Jennifer, he realized, had taken the roses’ fragrance with her.
He pushed past the people exiting the building, looking for her. There, heading towards the train terminal. He raced through the crowd, ignoring the glares and exclamations. Finally he reached Jennifer and tapped her on the shoulder.
She looked over at him, turning slightly. “Yes?”
“This is going to sound weird, but I got these for you.” He held out the roses, held his breath. Would she take them or would she scream, slap him, call the cops.
She smiled, her brow furrowed. “For me?”
“Yeah.” He realized it, as he said it. He’d bought the flowers in the hopes he’d meet her.
“Thank you.” She took them from him. “They’re not as perfect as they should be, but I don’t think any roses can be as perfect as the ones I dream about.”
“The smell is just right though.”
She nodded, her confused look replaced by a solemn one. “Yeah. But someday I’ll have a garden full of them, just as perfect as they should be, with a fountain in the middle.”
“The fountain’s the most important part.”
She nodded again. They stood, thinking about roses and fountains, until she said, “I need to catch my train.”
“Have a good day.”
Another nod, as she moved towards the terminal and out of his life.
That night, as Adem slept, he and Jennifer were back in the garden. And when they finally reached the fountain, they reached it together.
E.D. Martin is a writer with a knack for finding new jobs in new places. Born and raised in Illinois, her past incarnations have included bookstore barista in Indiana, college student in southern France, statistician in North Carolina, economic development analyst in North Dakota, and high school teacher in Iowa. She draws on her experiences to tell the stories of those around her, with a generous heaping of “what if” thrown in.
She currently lives in Illinois where she job hops while attending grad school and working on her novels. Read more of her stories at her website.