The Gardener: Competition - Part 1

31 Juli 2015 Pojok Cerita   |    Vania Cheryl Antono

It was a warm afternoon at Freya’s house when the mailman came. Freya was just kneeling near the newly grown pink roses, tending them with care.

Despite his cool uniform, the mailman looked as excited as a little kid. He waved at Freya when he passed the short white fences that circled her house. The mailman said excitedly, "Freya, I’ve got good news! The governor requested me to personally send you and your family this envelope."

‘What could the governor want from me and my family?’ Freya thought curiously. Freya smiled as she accepted the letter and went inside her house.

"Mom, can I talk to you for a second?" Freya called out as she placed the envelope carefully in the kitchen counter. Freya tapped her yellow painted fingernails against the kitchen counter.

After a moment, Freya’s mother, Mrs. Gardiniere came rushing in with a trowel in her right hand and a mini watering can in the other. Her glossy black hair was elegantly tied with a long red ribbon. Her cheeks still has dirt. She looked both beautiful and messy at the moment.

"Why? What’s wrong?" Mrs. Gardiniere asked worriedly as she wiped the dirt of her face when she saw her reflection on the surface of the hanging silver pans.

"Everything’s fine. It’s just that there’s a letter from the governor. It was addressed to all our family members." Freya explained calmly.

"Oh, so what does the envelope say?" Mrs. Gardiniere asked as she sat down on one of the kitchen stools. Freya quickly opened the envelope, revealing an officious looking paper with a big red stamp.

"To all Gardiniere gardeners, we would like to offer you a job contract with the government. Congratulations! If you are interested, come to our central office in Hawaii-" Freya read the letter aloud.

"Easy for them to say, I mean, who will pay for the tickets?" Mrs. Gardiniere interrupted.

"Mom, I’m not yet done reading it. The letter says to come to the central office in 2 more days, if we are interested, that is. The tickets of the plane and accommodation for the two of us are provided in the envelope." Freya continued to read aloud the letter.

"Alright, I admit that I’m interested in this offer. But you won’t be coming." Mrs. Gardiniere replied.

"But the letter says that there are 2 tickets which means they offered the job to you and me. So if you’re in, I’m in too." Freya argued reasonably.

"Fine, we’ll both go." Mrs. Gardiniere replied. Freya smiled happily and hugged her mom. ‘I’m finally starting my career as a gardener!’ Freya thought excitedly.

The next day, the two of them continued with their daily chores. After eating a warm breakfast, Freya went to the garden to check on the automatic sprinkler as well as to plant the carnations that has just arrived from the Mediterranean Regions, where the most variety of carnations is found. The sky was the colour of light blue and the glass walls of the greenhouse give a really easy access to sunlight.

The day went by so fast and before Freya knew it, it was night time already. Freya had accompanied Mrs. Gardiniere to the Gardiniere family’s flower shop which had a big sign in the front door that said ‘A beautiful garden to look at is all you need to make you smile’.

It was the phrase that all Gardiniere family members took to the heart. After all, the whole family is well-known gardeners spread across the world. Some were hired as private gardeners for celebrities and the rest opened popular shops. When they got home, they had a quick dinner and packed for tomorrow. After preparing, they took an early sleep as they would wake up very early tomorrow.

When morning came, Freya opened her eyes and jumped out of the bed excitedly. She raced to the bathroom and prepared for the big day. Then, Freya wore a daffodil yellow shirt, a light brown jeans and a wide-brimmed straw hat with a yellow ribbon.

Once she was done, she grabbed the white leather backpack that she had prepared last night and waited outside the house. The backpack contained gardening tools and a camera. When her mother came out, the taxi that would take them to the airport just arrived.

Once they were at the airport, they waited patiently for their plane. After 30 minutes, they boarded the plane and settled themselves in the comfy seat.

In what seemed like no time, they finally arrived in the airport in Hawaii.

"Let’s see, where’s the people that we’re supposed to meet again. They governor said that some guards would escort us along with other professional gardeners to the lab." Mrs. Gardiniere wondered aloud.

"Oh, look! Is that Aunt May with the guards? But who is the other group of people?" Freya exclaimed, surprised.

"Yes, it’s Aunt May! But why is she here? And who are they?" Mrs. Gardiniere replied curiously, wondering who the other group of people was. They both rushed to Aunt May to greet her.

"Sarah! It’s so nice to see you!" Aunt May addressed Mrs. Gardiniere.

"Hi, May! But who are those people?" Mrs. Gardiniere asked.

"Oh, they’re here for the job too. They’re gardeners, just like us. All of them are related and they come from the Fleur family." Aunt May explained.

Before Mrs. Gardiniere could ask more, a high-pitched voice pierced the three gardener’s ear, "Aunt May!? Aunt Sarah!? Freya!? What are you 3 doing here?"

Standing in front of the 3 gardeners was the unmistakably stylish Petra Gardiniere. She was the one who did the high-pitched screams.

"Petra? Well, we’re here on the invitation of the governor to join the newly recruited team of expert gardeners." Freya explained sharply.

"What a coincidence! I’m joining the team too. How lovely!"Petra replied without a hint of warmth.

The only reason Freya is still a gardener-in-training is because Petra and Rosella took her invitation to go to a prestigious gardening academy. But even after taking the invitation both of them still couldn’t enter the academy because the academy was only interested in Freya. And seeing the attitude of Freya’s cousin, they’ve lost interest in giving Freya the opportunity to attend the academy too. After that incident, the 3 cousins never talked with one another again.

Remembering the past, Freya racked her brains for sharp retort. But before she could get far, footsteps were heard from behind the group as Rosella approached them.

"Hello people! The queen of gardening is here!" A cheerful sound erupted from Rosella who was nearing them from behind. Petra and Freya both groaned. They knew that their cousin Rosella was always an attention-seeker and number 1 drama queen of the family. And because of Rosella’s loud voice, all heads turned their way.

‘How embarrassing!’ Freya thought.

"Freya, it would really help if you try to make up with Petra and Rosella. After the fight you three had last year, you never talked to each other anymore. And it’s best if you don’t fight with your family because I’ve been through it before and it feels bad. So please, just give it a try." Mrs. Gardiniere whispered to Freya quietly.

Freya nodded along and thought ‘How am I even supposed to be tolerant when both Petra and Roselle crushed my chance of going to the academy?’

"Ladies, please follow us to the transportation." One of the guards finally said to the groups of gardeners. They went outside the airport to a blue mini bus.

After placing the entire luggage carefully on the bus, the passengers entered and settled themselves in. As everyone sat down comfortably, the three cousins got stuck sitting on the back together.

Freya thought about her mother’s advice earlier and decided to give it a try. She took a deep breath to calm herself and asked, "So, Petra and Rosella, what have you been doing recently?"

Freya had to bite her tongue from adding ‘after you both stole my invitation to the academy’.

"Well, I created a blog in the internet about how to cultivate perfect blooms and as expected, it went viral. Afterwards, I began selling plant seeds in the internet and business is going well." Petra replied proudly.

"Thank you for asking." Petra added sincerely. And with that, Petra and Freya shared a smile.

Feeling ignored, Rosella announced loudly, "Well I’m currently working part-time as the head gardener of a rich landlord. And I’ve published a 300 paged book about the art of gardening."

"How nice." Petra replied exaggeratedly. Based on the angry stares Petra was receiving from Rosella, Freya could feel a fierce argument heating up.

"Wait a minute! We aren’t supposed to be fighting. Let’s just try to be friends, okay? At least, for now." Freya said calmly, hoping to put a stop to an argument heating up.

"We’re here!" Aunt May announced in her gentle voice as the mini bus halted to a stop. The 3 cousins looked to the right and standing before them was a large building. It had solar panels and satellite dishes everywhere and the windows were made of all shapes and sizes. But the most impressive thing was in the middle of the building. There was a huge glass dome instead of the usual tiled rooftop.

"Welcome to the central office of the governor’s nature protection department!" A man greeted the groups of gardeners.

"We are so far away from home..." Freya said to herself. Hearing her daughter’s words, Mrs. Gardiniere hugged Freya.

Seeing the hug, 3 other gardeners named Clarissa, Rachel and Lylia who was about the same age as Freya started whispering furiously to one another. And with Freya’s sensitive ears, she caught the words Freya...hug...embarrassing.

Filled with annoyance, Freya shot the 3 girls a death squint, making one of the girls nearly stumble.

‘How dare they talk such things about me?’ Freya thought angrily. With her arms folded, Freya stalked off to join her cousins.

"Petra, what do you think about the 3 girls from the Fleur family?" Freya asked curiously.

"Well, I for one think that they’re nice. I mean, look at their amazing fashion sense. There’s no doubt that their attitude is nice." Rosella butted in after hearing Freya’s question.

"We can’t judge a person’s attitude or character by their looks, Rosella. But as far as I can see, those 3 are rude." Petra responded after seeing the 3 Fleur girls made someone trip purposely.

That afternoon, all the gardeners-both from the Gardiniere and Fleur family-were ushered into a room for a meeting with the governor. Much to Freya’s dismay, she got stuck sitting with Clarissa and Rachel on either side of her, who seemed to be gossiping again.

Luckily, the governor of the nature protection department decided to begin the meeting immediately.

"Good afternoon, everyone! My name is Mr. Thom and I am the governor of the nature protection department. I was going to choose the best gardeners to be on the team but since the best gardeners come from both of your family and there can only be one team, I am going to hold a competition to determine the gardeners that will receive the job." Mr. Thom, the governor, explained.

After more explaining about the payment of the job and the rules for the competitions, the meeting ended and everyone was dismissed. It was settled that the two families of gardeners would each get a part of the forest that they will tend and decorate, and the winner is the family that made the most exquisite forest will win the first round out of three rounds in the competition. The first round will take place tomorrow and they would have 5 days to finish tending the forest.

After a quick dinner, everyone went to bed. They had a big day tomorrow, after all. When morning came, Freya woke up and prepared for the competition.

The Fleur family was going to be a hard competitor as they have a reputation for being exceptionally good gardeners. Freya quickly shook her head to get that thought out. She didn’t want to be distracted on the competition.

When everyone was all ready to go, Freya as well as the others boarded two jeeps and they travelled to the forest. When they arrived, Freya’s eyes nearly pooped out.

Because all around her, were a hundred acres of woodlands. Big tall trees stood firm to the ground as squirrels and other critters watched their every move from the tree branches. Birds of all sizes and colours flew majestically in the sky. It was such a wonderful view.

"All right everyone. Let’s get to work!" Mrs. Gardiniere told the Gardiniere gardeners as soon as the Fleur gardeners started to walk away to the Eastern part of the forest.

The Western part of the forest was under populated. There were lots of non-flowering plants and shrubs growing wildly. The only trees that were firm to the ground were about 10 banyan trees and 20 Floripondio trees (meaning: trees with flowers).

"There sure is a lot of work to do. Freya, Petra and Rosella, why don’t you go plant some of the flower seeds kept in the back of the jeep while Mrs. Gardiniere and I go relocate the places for the shrubs." Aunt May ordered politely.

Freya, Petra and Rosella nodded and walked to the back of the jeep. Petra handed over 3 small sacks of flower seeds to Rosella. Those 3 sacks contained morning glory seeds, hibiscus seeds and protea seeds which are all native Hawaii flowers.

Freya grabbed a large watering can and started to water the seeds of the flowers that Rosella had dropped into the holes that Petra had made. Once they were done, they added fertilizers to the soil to support the plant’s growth.

After doing so, they went back to help Aunt May and Mrs. Gardiniere who were busy relocating the shrubs.

"Mom, can we help?" Freya asked Mrs. Gardiniere.

"Sure. Can you find the cobblestones that I had prepared earlier today in the jeep?" Mrs. Gardiniere replied. With enthusiasm, Freya and Petra went to the jeep together without Rosella as she was too tired.

When they arrived at the jeep, however, the cobblestones were gone. They opened plastic bags and boxes at the jeep but it was nowhere to be seen.

Suddenly, Petra exclaimed, "Freya, look! There’s a trail over there!"

"You’re right! And it looks like somebody had dragged something heavy earlier. Could it be the missing cobblestones?" Freya replied curiously.

"It could be, let’s follow where the trail leads too." Petra announced, wide-eyed. Without hesitation, the girls walked beside the trail only to find that there were 3 Fleur girls that were dragging it to the Eastern part of the forest.

As quick as possible, Freya and Petra both hid behind a tree.

"Do you think we should confront them?" Freya whispered quietly.

"No, we need proof first. Let’s photo them then confront them. Did you bring your cell phone?" Petra suggested.

"Yes, it’s in my pocket!" Freya answered to Petra quickly as she reached into her pockets and pulled out her phone. Freya handed it to Petra quickly. With a swift move of her hand, Petra was able to get a clear photo of the 3 Fleur girls dragging the cobblestones.

"I got it!" Petra mouthed excitedly. After peeking out to see if the 3 Fleur girls were still there (which they were), Freya and Petra walked quietly, catching up with them.

When they were right behind the 3 Fleur girls, Petra coughed loudly. The 3 Fleur girls jumped and looked back, surprised that they’ve been caught.

"W-we were just-" Lylia began to mumble but Clarissa cut her off.

"Give me a heart attack will you?" Clarissa exclaimed angrily but Freya and Petra both knew that she acted angry to cover her embarrassment.

"I believe you have something that belongs to us!" Freya said, pointing to the bag of cobblestones.

"You stole it from us, you thieves! I’m going to tell everyone." Petra shouted.

"Even if we stole it from you, you have no proof. The others won’t believe you." Rachel replied to Petra, satisfied that she had an advantage.

Petra smiled smugly, "Freya, the proof please..."

Freya took out her cell phone and showed the girls the clear picture of them stealing the cobblestones. As Rachel opened her mouth speechlessly, Petra’s smile widened.

"Fine, here are the cobblestones. Just don’t tell anyone about this, please!" Clarissa begged, eyes brimming with tears.

"We won’t, but why did you do it?" Freya asked gently.

"We never wanted to steal or cheat but the other Fleur family members told us to. They said that if we didn’t want to do it, then we shouldn’t be gardeners or part of the Fleur family." Lylia explained.

"When we accepted this job from the governor, we were excited. But once we heard that we’ll have to compete with the Gardiniere gardeners, the Fleur family was scared. They knew that they didn’t stand a chance, even if they had won many trophies and awards from gardening competitions." Clarissa added.

"So when we heard that you were using the cobblestones and stuff, they told us to steal the supplies so that you will lose. Sorry for that." Rachel apologized sadly.

Upon hearing Rachel’s apology, Petra’s smirk disappeared and she said comfortingly, "It’s okay. I understand how you feel. It’s not your fault."

"So, do you forgive us?" Lylia asked, biting her bottom lip nervously. As Freya and Petra nodded, the 3 Fleur girls said thank you and bid farewell.

When Freya and Petra headed back carrying the cobblestones, it was already lunch time. Mrs. Gardiniere was already waiting for them by the time they got back, tapping her foot impatiently to the ground.

"Where have you been? I’ve asked you to simply get the cobblestones but you haven’t been back for 2 hours!" Mrs. Gardiniere scolded as she saw Freya and Petra.

"The cobblestones were sto-" Petra began to explain but recalling their promise to keep it a secret, Petra shut her mouth in mid-sentence.

"What she means to say is when we brought the cobblestones back, we got lost. Sorry for the delay." Freya interrupted, covering up for Petra.

"Okay." Mrs. Gardiniere replied although she didn’t seem too convinced, "Besides we still have 4 days to get it all ready. Now, who’s hungry? Let’s eat lunch."

Once they were done, they did more work, inserting the cobblestones carefully and planning the places on where they would put the white mini fences.

The next 4 days went by quickly. They had placed the cobblestones to form a steady and smooth path in the forest, relocated all the shrubs neatly, cleaned the fallen rotten leaves on the ground and watered and fertilized the plants daily.

Now, the flowers have started to grow, forming a rainbow of colours. There were yellow, pink, white, red and orange hibiscuses, purple, pink, white and blue morning glories and white, pink and red protea flowers.

The birdhouses that Aunt May had set up in the tall trees were swarmed with colourful birds. The cobblestones were smooth and well-placed and the white mini-fences that Mrs. Gardiniere and Rosella had made were put along the cobblestone road. Freya and Petra even had time to decorate ferns along the side of the trees.

When the judges came, they took a long time to go through every inch of the Gardiniere and Fleur’s forest. However, the group of gardeners that won the first round of the competition was the Gardiniere family.

As the judges congratulated the Gardiniere gardeners, the Fleur gardeners scowled and stared angrily. Clarissa, Rachel and Lylia, however, had to hide their smiles.

Later that night when they returned to the central office, Freya asked Lylia, "Aren’t you at least a bit disappointed that you lost in the first round?"

"Not at all, because the important thing about the competition is enjoying in gardening, good sportsmanship and playing fair. Today, I saw that this is the best I could do and I’m really happy. Besides, there’s still two other rounds of the competition." Lylia explained.

Freya nodded and went to bed. She couldn’t wait for the next round of the competition. Freya really enjoyed gardening and she had made new friends as well as improved her friendship with Petra and Rosella.

‘Things couldn’t get any better than this!’ Freya thought to herself.

(To be Continued)