The Flower Garden
As Paulo crested the hill outside of town, he encountered an old man heading back toward Maricopa. Paulo grabbed him by the arm and said, "Where are you going, old man?"
"You don't understand," he said. "I have to go back."
"Are you crazy?" asked Paulo. "The whole town has been evacuated. The rebels are almost here."
As if to punctuate his point, machine gun fire chattered on the other side of town. It was much closer than it had been just ten minutes ago.
The old man turned and stared at him. There was something fierce in his eyes that Paulo didn't recognize. "Esmeralda’s flowers. Who will take care of Esmeralda's flowers?"
"Who cares? The rebels will probably burn them and the rest of the town. Come on. We must get going. Now."
The old man jerked his arm free and shuffled back toward town. Paulo set down his pack and ran after the old man. He again grabbed the old man by the arm and said, "We must hurry. The rebels are almost here."
The old man struggled to free himself from Paulo's grasp. "Let me go. Let me go. I must attend to Esmeralda's flowers."
Paulo let go of the old man's arms and waved his hands dismissively. "Go on, old man."
He climbed back up the hill and picked up his pack and put it on. He turned around and watched the old man enter Maricopa. Paulo pitied the old man.
Tired and sweaty, Paulo entered the town of Curzon hours later. Curzon was one of the first towns razed during the uprising and now served as a resting place for refugees traveling along El Rastro de Lágrimas. Just inside the town walls, there was a burned out building which had no roof. Paulo entered it and found a place along the wall to rest for the night. The room was full of other refugees from Maricopa
Paulo leaned his pack against the wall and sat down. He removed his shoes and his feet felt better. A filthy man with a thick black beard approached him. "Water? Do you have any clean water? I will trade you an orange for a drink of fresh water."
Paulo nodded. "I haven't eaten all day and I have an extra canteen which is half full. For two oranges, you may sit with me and drink as much as you want."
"Thank you, sir. Thank you."
The bearded man sat down next to Paulo and gave him two medium sized oranges. Paulo handed the canteen to the bearded man and peeled his first orange. The bearded man asked, "Have you come from Maricopa?"
Paulo nodded. "Yes. I was one of the last to leave and something very strange happened outside of town. I ran into an old man who was coming back into town."
"Why didn't you convince him to come with you? Surely the rebels have him by now."
"I tried," Paulo said. "He kept saying something about Esmeralda’s flowers. The old man was obviously crazy."
The bearded man put the canteen down. "What did this old man look like?"
Paulo shrugged. "He was very old. He had a bald head and shuffled as he walked. He didn't look very well."
The bearded man said, "I know this man. His wife grew the most beautiful flowers. She always won first place in the competition at the town fairs. They were very much in love, but had no children of their own. She died several months ago, shortly after the uprising started. The flower garden must be all he has left to remind him of her."
The bearded man stood and handed the canteen back to Paulo. "Thank you for the drink."
Paulo looked west and stared at the red glow in the horizon that must be Maricopa burning. He now understood that fierce look in the old man's eyes. Paulo pitied himself.