Prologue of "Splintered"
The Flower Girl
She stands smiling shyly, proffering a single blood-red rose on a thorny stem, wrapped in cellophane. I smile back tentatively, uncertain what to do. She speaks first, in a timid whisper punctuated by breathy giggles.
“Una flor para el caballero?”
I glance at her more closely. About eight years old, she’s out in the dark side streets of Quito at nine o’clock at night selling flowers. Her clothes are mismatched and grimy; her face an image of purity.
“What does she want?” asks Christian impatiently, glancing around the dimly lit street.
“She wants me to buy a flower, I think.” I check my pockets: I have no change at all following my dinner with Christian. I smile at her apologetically, shaking my head.
“Lo siento niña, no tengo dinero.”
Disappointment flits momentarily across her big brown eyes then evaporates into a pensive smile. She urges the rose more insistently into my hands and speaks rapidly in Spanish before she turns and runs away into the darkness.
Christian shrugs. “What was that all about?”
I stand still, staring after her, my heart shattering into crazy paving, tears pushing into my eyes. I answer without looking at Christian, in a voice tinged with wistfulness.
“She said that someone so special must have a beautiful girl to give such a beautiful flower to.”
Christian snorts with laughter. “How hyperbolic. They’re probably planning to rob us on the next street corner.”
I exhale slowly. She’s given me the flower anyway. She’s thrown caution to the wind, forgetting that she will be punished like the chicle boy on the bus, and given me the rose without the meagre payment she might otherwise have got. She has so little, yet she’s so generous. Seized by a sudden longing to do something, to find the girl and pay her for her generosity of spirit, I glance up and down the street.
“We have to find a cash point. I want to find her. She can’t go giving away her livelihood.”
Christian rolls his eyes. “Matt, it’s late, it’s dark, we don’t have a clue where we are and you want to go chasing around looking for one little girl because you feel guilty about one rose, which – if I may say so – is far from fresh!”
I stroll off determinedly. Christian catches up with me. “Okay, if you’re so determined: I’ve still got some sucres from earlier.”
We stroll up and down the long empty street and round the block several times. She isn’t there. It’s as if she’s vanished completely. Christian touches my arm gently.
“I think it’s time to call it a night, Matty. She’s not here, she must have gone somewhere else now.”
I gaze into the darkness, then look down at the rose in my hand. The petals are starting to fall off now; one lies on the pavement at my feet, illuminated in the greenish glow of the streetlights. It isn’t that I don’t want the rose or appreciate its beauty, I know that’s not the case as I bend and place it gently on the old Spanish church steps; it’s just that I know I’m not worthy of such absolute generosity.