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A Filipino Story by Jo Macklin
On a dull, grey day in May with the rain pouring down as usual, Lilly walked through the park near her house. The dark clouds in the sky reminded her of how much she wanted to leave England and go and live in another, more appealing country.
‘My parents are so selfish,’ she thought. ‘Why can’t they just do this one thing for me and move somewhere else. Anywhere other than this dull, wet country where there is nothing to do!’
Lilly looked around at the grey and miserable park and noticed that there were barely any flowers blooming even though it was springtime. ‘Even the flippin’ flowers don’t want to be here,’ she declared. ‘And I cannot believe that we are not even going on holiday this year!’
Suddenly, Lilly heard a swishing and clattering noise up ahead. She looked up and saw an old lady hurrying about between the trees making a fuss over something Lilly could not see.
Ever since her family had moved into the little house nearby, Lilly always came to the park to think. In fact, she considered it to be her very own private park and was quite put out by the appearance of the noisy old lady. It was for this reason that the young girl felt a tinge of anger towards the stranger who was disturbing her peace. Lilly held her head very high, and put on her most serious grownup voice as she walked over to the old lady.
‘Excuse me,’ she said. ‘I don’t know whether you are aware of this, but this happens to be my park and...’
But before she could finish, the lady turned and smiled at Lilly and the young girl was suddenly struck dumb. The old lady’s skin was so perfect that it seemed to glow, and she had long flowing hair that was made out of hundreds and hundreds of wild flowers!
Lilly stood staring at all of the different kinds of flowers spilling down from the top of the old lady’s head. There were some that she knew, like roses and tulips. But there were lots and lots of flowers that she had never even seen before in her whole life, especially not in dull old England. They were all the colours of the rainbow: purple, red, pink, blue, white, yellow, orange... every colour you could possibly imagine, all mixed together in a magnificent glistening mane. She wore a pink and white dress, long and flowing, and a cross around her neck made of silver.
‘Who…who are you?’ Lilly enquired, the wind quite taken from her sails by now.
‘There is no time for all that,’ the lady said hurriedly. ‘We have to go!’
And with that she grabbed Lilly’s hand and pulled so that the young girl had absolutely no choice but to follow.
After what seemed like an eternity of being dragged from one tree to another, stopping every so often while the strange lady touched a plant or examined a flower, Lilly eventually found herself in an area of the park that she could not remember ever visiting before.
‘Where exactly are we?’ Lilly asked, completely dazed.
This part of the park seemed to stretch for miles and miles and was covered here and there with pockets of tiny flowers. The old woman said:
‘This, my dear, is where it will be held!’ Then she skipped off between the flowers, touching them once in a while with a long stick with feathers on the end while Lilly followed close behind as best she could.
‘Are you dusting?’ she asked. ‘Are you dusting the flowers? That is very strange, isn’t it?’
‘Well of course I am dusting, my dear. How on earth am I going to get these flowers up to scratch in time for the festival if I do not dust them? We are not in the Philippines any more you know!’
‘Okay, strange lady person, could you please tell me what is going on?’
The old woman looked at Lilly as if she were a little simple in the head. ‘Santacruzan, my dear. It is only a day away now. But you know this surely. Have you prepared? You must prepare or your flowers will be seriously below standard!’
Lilly was, if it were at all possible, even more confused. ‘Who are you and what is Santacruzan?’
The woman beamed at Lilly. ‘I am Reyna Elena, or Queen Elena. But you can call me Elena. It’s shorter and we don’t have a lot of time! Would you like to introduce yourself?’
‘My name is Lilly. I’m not a Queen or anything as glamorous as that. Just plain old Lilly.’
Queen Elena seemed almost upset at the remark. ‘What a rude thing to say, young lady. Everybody knows that there is no such thing as a plain lily!’
Suddenly, Lilly heard a rumbling sound coming from the other side of the trees. She felt her ankles shudder and her legs shake as the noise got closer and closer. Queen Elena jumped up and down and clapped her hands together. ‘Eeek! Here they come, here they come! Now the festival preparations can really begin!’
Through the trees came a very large group of people all dressed up in colourful costumes. The women wore beautiful long dresses decorated with flowers and strange objects, and the men wore shorts and funny hats also covered in flowers.
‘Come, come,’ said Queen Elena, ‘now you can meet the group.’ Then she stepped forwards and addressed the assembled men and women who had gathered in the huge clearing. ‘My dear friends, the festival is but a day away and I am pleased to announce that Miss Lilly here has offered to help us during the celebrations!’
Those at the front of the group approached Lilly and shook her hand and patted her on the back and told her how welcome she was and how nice it was to meet her.
Lilly did her best to smile and shake all of the hands, but she was a little perturbed. ‘I’m confused,’ she told Queen Elena. ‘How will I be able to help you?’
‘Your name is Lilly, is it not? You own the name of the most influential and charismatic flower of them all, do you not?’
‘I suppose so,’ said Lilly, not really knowing what else to say.
‘Well then, you shall make the best host for the celebrations, I am sure. Now won’t you please let me continue.’ Elena turned once more and faced the group.
‘As I said, Miss Lilly will be helping us with the festival this year as she has very particular talents that we do not possess. She is from this land and knows it well.’ Queen Elena turned to Lilly. ‘Miss Lilly, we have all come over here from the Philippines, a wonderful place full of warmth, love, celebrations and freshness in the air! May is a magical time in the Philippines. After the long season of scorching hot sun, May is the time that the glistening dew drops finally begin to fall and we are graced with the delicate fragrances from the flowers that bloom in our country.’
‘You mean it starts to rain,’ Lilly said, a touch of disappointment in her voice. After all, she had had enough rain to last a lifetime.
‘You say it like it is a bad thing, my dear. We savour the rain where we come from. It is a wonderfully fresh and glittering blessing. It is life!’
Seeing that the young girl was quite confused, a few of the elders at the front of the group took her by the hand and offered her a seat on a nearby tree stump. Then Queen Elena cleared her throat and began the story of the festival:
‘I am the mother of the most courageous boy in the whole world! My son Constantine and I have had many great adventures! And now, every year at exactly this time, we organise a historical Filipino festival to celebrate such adventures! Our festival, the Santacruzan, is just one of the glorious Flores de Mayo: a whole month of celebrations, festivals, parades and pageants, all during the wonderful season of our beautiful flowers.’
‘That sounds lovely,’ Lilly agreed, ‘but what are you doing here if this festival of yours is in the Philippines tomorrow?’
‘Ahh!’ said Queen Elena, ‘That is the interesting bit. You see, there are so many beautiful families from the Philippines that have moved over here to your land, this place you call the United Kingdom, and we must make sure that they do not miss out on the celebrations, of course. We are here to bring Santacruzan to all of those who have settled in your land.’
Lilly had to agree that it was a very good idea indeed, but she was still puzzled ‘You want to have a flower festival... here? But there are not many flowers here, especially not in May. And the ones that do come out are all sad looking.’
That was when Queen Elena stretched out her arms in an expansive manner and smiled that radiant smile of hers. ‘Look around you, my dear. I think we will manage just fine.’
Lilly followed Queen Elena’s outstretched arms and realised that all of the old woman’s dusting must have paid off. There were millions upon millions of beautiful flowers for as far as the eye could see. They were perfect in every sense, not a single petal out of place. And the smell that carried on the breeze was enough to make the young girl quite dizzy.
Lilly said: ‘I never knew that flowers could look so fantastic!’
‘This is not my first time you know, dear. I am really rather good when it comes to flowers. So, will you help us with Santacruzan? We will need all the help we can get.’
Lilly looked around at the large group of people in their colourful clothes, all awaiting her decision. How could she say no! She nodded her head and Queen Elena quickly clapped her hands. The whole group jumped about clapping and then, quite suddenly, formed a very straight line so that Queen Elena could introduce each of them to Lilly and explain what their role was going to be during the festival.
‘Now, my son Constantine you already know about. He will be by my side throughout the parade. And this lovely gentleman here is Methuselah,’ said Queen Elena as she helped along a very old man pulling a cart with what looked like a frying pan on top of it. ‘He will be on his cart with…’ she turned and whispered to Methuselah. ‘Did you remember your sand this year?’
The old man held up a small bag of sand and winked. ‘He will be on his cart with his sand...’
And so it continued, Queen Elena introducing and Lilly smiling, right the way through the whole crowd. Then, right at the end, eight ladies came forwards all wearing long white dresses with wings on their backs. They were all holding something different in their hands.
‘Ah yes, how could I forget. These are my gorgeous Ave Maria ladies. They all represent something beautiful in the world. Reyna de las Estrellas, for example, is the Queen of Stars, representing the beauty that sparkles in the night sky. These ladies are the real attraction of the festival... apart from me, of course.’
Lilly was most taken with everybody, but when she looked at her watch she suddenly realised that she was in real trouble. She turned to Queen Elena. ‘I’m really sorry but I have to go. My mum will be wondering where I am. I will be back in the morning to help with the festival, you can count on that! It really was lovely to meet you all.’
Queen Elena smiled and nodded. ‘Quite right, quite right,’ she said. ‘Not fair to make your mother worry. You have a safe journey home and we shall see you in the morning.’
Lilly waved to the crowd and thanked Queen Elena for a lovely day. Then she turned and ran home as quickly as she could – through the gap in the trees and out into the familiar grey park where it was still raining. She ran out of the park and along the street and up her garden path and straight through the front door to her house as quickly as her legs could carry her.
‘And where have you been?’ her mother asked as soon as Lilly stumbled breathlessly into the kitchen. ‘We’ve been worried sick!’
‘I’m so sorry, mum. I lost track of time. It’s been a very, very strange day.’
Lilly’s mother looked concerned as she ruffled her daughter’s hair. ‘I know you don’t much like life in England right now, or living here in London, but things always get better, dear, I promise. Maybe next year we will go on holiday in the summer, hey.’
Lilly smiled at her mum. ‘I don’t know,’ she said, ‘I decided today that England isn’t so bad after all. There are lots of people from all over the world here, even from as far away as the Philippines. And who knows, I might even grow to like the rain.’
A Filipino Story by Jo Macklin
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