Stories - Amsterdam Series

Amsterdam I: The Bloemenmarkt Cactus (A Story by Jan Decena)

Bloemenmarkt was colourful yet again with its tulips, its lilies, and its odd plants of all sorts. However, there was this little cactus, in this little spot, that Little Alma really wanted to buy. It got pretty pink flowers and was placed in a shiny pot with painted horses on them. Little Alma very much wanted to take it home with her, then it would become big – maybe as big as their house!

“But you will have to wait, Little Alma,” her mama had always said to her whenever they were wandering around the flower market.

Little Alma was impatient but she understood. Mama reasoned that the sun was still resting in this time of year, which baffled Little Alma because the sun was always out in the day.

“Of course the sun will always be out, my own little sunshine,” Mama told Little Alma. “The sun needed to provide light for us, after all. What I meant was that the sun just haven’t got the time to play with the plants. That is why trees are going to sleep in this time of year. Look at how the leaves made a blanket for the roots!”

And, so, Little Alma started scolding the sun at first thing in the morning for not being able to play with the flowers. Little Alma did not want to coop the little cactus in their house – their house was too small and the little cactus would be ever so lonely if he was not with the other plants. Their wonderful orange tulips with red spots were vain but they mean well in the end. Their yellow dahlias like to dance and prance – and they would make you dance as well! Their purple monkshood were stoic creatures who cover their eyes and speak in whispers, but they sing you gentle lullabies in the evening. And then, there were the white lilies which were Mama’s favourite flowers. They were just as beautiful as her, too!

When Little Alma decided that she had been waiting for too long, she again looked for the little cactus, in his little spot, as they strolled Bloemenmarkt. That was quite a challenge for Little Alma as she peered her head over the massive sunflowers with their brown faces and bright petals, screaming at her, “Pick me! Pick me!” Little Alma had long decided that they were quite the attention-seekers and she had not liked them very much. Her best friend, Fleur, really loved sunflowers, though. She was not able to plant any which was quite sad. Fleur was very ill and needed to stay in the hospital. So, Little Alma and Mama would always buy her sunflowers whenever they had to visit her. Little Alma really loved giving Fleur sunflowers. They always make her very happy – and that made Little Alma very happy too!

When she had successfully shoved the sunflowers out of the way, Little Alma smiled when she spotted the pink flowers of her cactus. She ran towards the little spot, waved hello at the kindly old owner, and gazed again at her cactus with a bright spark in her eye. Surely, she had waited long enough and, surely, she had scolded the sun enough. Thus, Little Alma called her Mama.

But her Mama was nowhere to be found. On no!

Little Alma, with a great deal of reluctance, moved away from her little cactus. She kept looking back, making sure that the little cactus was not going away. When the kindly owner winked at her and swore that he would look after her cactus, Little Alma was happy enough to leave the cactus in his hands and searched for her Mama. She looked at each and every shop. Most sell tulips and tulip bulbs which many could not get enough of for some strange reason that was lost to Little Alma. Some would sell these very tall flowers with wide leaves, and the petals would be a deep, dark red. They looked very intimidating but when Little Alma talked to them, they were rather lonely creatures with no one to talked to. From then on, Little Alma would always talk to them. It was just now was not the right time.  Then, Little Alma passed the very stall with very chatty painted sages. They were always armed with the latest hot topics. And, of course, Bloemenmarkt was not without their tourist stalls and cafes full of delicious crepes. Little Alma, unfortunately, did not have the time for delicious crepes as she pushed through to find her Mama.

Little Alma waded more through the crowd of flowers and people when, at last! Her Mama was finally found! Little Alma was about to run towards her Mama but she noticed that her Mama was with someone else. And, oh dear. Mama was about to be given roses. Little Alma know very much that Mama did not care much for roses, particularly red ones that the man was giving to her. Red roses were vainer than their orange tulips and they were rather mean too as they would spike with their thorns for fun. Little Alma was very glad that they did not have red roses in their garden.

But, oh boy, does Mama hate red roses. One time when Little Alma was singing the song she learned at school with her flowers, Mama was given red roses by Papa in the kitchen, Then, she bashed Papa on the head with them! Many times! Mama really did not like red roses at all. That was why Little Alma was very confused when Mama accepted the red roses with grace and even sniffed them. Well, for all their vanity and mean streak, they were very pleasantly fragrant – even Little Alma believed so.

When Mama’s company moved away, Little Alma ran to her Mama. Mama was very pleased when she was hugged and Little Alma was very happy as well when she was graced with a smile from Mama.

“Where have you been, Mama?” Little Alma asked.

“Where have YOU been?” Mama retaliated as she pat Little Alma’s head. “I have been looking all over for you.”

“Same!” Little Alma exclaimed.

“No matter, let’s go home now,” Mama said as she held onto Little Alma’s hand. “I need to put these pretty flowers in our pretty vase soon.”

Little Alma cocked her head in confusion. She really thought Mama did not like red roses and now, she loved them enough to put them in the pretty vase? There was only one explanation; adults were such odd things.

However, Little Alma was not ready to go home yet. Oh, no siree! It was time for her to bring home her little cactus! Thus, she pulled her Mama back into the crowd of flowers and people. Little Alma was about to get her little cactus and no one could stop her now! The chatty painted sages tried to reel her in; the red flowers wanted to give her a hug; Little Alma refused them all and only had her little cactus with pretty pink flowers in mind. When she again shoved the attention-seeking sunflowers out of her way, Little Alma got her biggest smile yet and was ready to greet the little cactus.

Only to see an empty space.

“Oh dear,” her Mama mused beside her. “It looked like someone had taken him home already, sweetheart.”

Little Alma was given no consolation from her Mama’s warm hug and sweet kiss. The kindly old owner was also very sad and Little Alma could only speculate that he felt very sorry for giving her little cactus away from someone else. Little Alma huffed and continued to look at the empty space. She wanted to stomp her feet and cry but, really, what good was that going to do?

“How about the purple one instead?” Mama suggested, “Or that wonderful blue one? Oh! There was another cactus with larger pink flowers? Isn’t that a beauty?”

No, Little Alma did not think so. Her cactus might have smaller pink flowers but she was certain that they were the very best in the whole wide world. Little Alma refused them all and was led home hand in hand by her Mama.

“Don’t worry, darling,” her Mama said again. “Someday, you will find something else that will cheer you up again.”

Little Alma’s heavy heart never abated however. It was even there for about a week and that was a really long time for Little Alma. It was made even worse when she spoke of her little cactus to her other flower friends. The dahlias were sad that they would not have someone new to play with. The nightshades were melancholic that their lullabies would not be heard by another plant. The orange tulips were annoyed that no one else could gaze upon their beauty. And, then, the white lilies were just like Little Alma’s Mama, offering hugs and kissed that she knew would never wash away the sadness.

Three weeks later and it was now Little Alma’s birthday and birthdays should be a very happy thing. Little Alma got a huge cake with pastel frosting and white rosette, topped with seven red and white little candles. Then, she had the best birthday hat in the room – all gold-coloured with a wispy white tail, just like what princesses wore in Little Alma’s favourite books. And, of course, Little Alma was wearing her best lavender dress with a poofy skirt and a poofy sleeves. Oh my, Little Alma was the princess in the ball and all eyes were on her! Even better, Fleur was out of the hospital for a while so she and Little Alma could get to play all day long.

But Little Alma still thought of her friend that she never got to play with. Little Alma still thought of his spikes, his odd shape, and his very pretty pink flowers. When she told Fleur of her little cactus, it was all very lonely and Little Alma was about to cry.

“Oh don’t you worry, Alma,” Fleur whispered to Alma. “I have always thought about you and your odd things and even before, I could see you rejecting a thousand velvet roses for a small cactus with a small pink flower.”

Little Alma sniffed.

“Which was why,” Fleur continued, “I have a little surprise for you!”

At that, Little Alma stopped sniffing and peered curiously at her best friend. Fleur just giggled and smiled like her sunflowers and led Little Alma out of her room and into the living room. There, on the coffee table, sat a white box with a thin pink ribbon. Little Alma was even more confused because Fleur already gave her a gift – a purse with painted tulips on it. But Fleur insisted that Little Alma was to open the box, and so she walked closer to the box. Then, she grabbed hold of the lid. And just with a little bit of apprehension, Little Alma lifted.

She could not believe it. Inside was her little cactus!

With gentle hands, Little Alma lifted her special friend and brought it near her face. She greeted it hello and gave it her brightest smile yet.

“Hello,” the little cactus greeted back to her.

The heaviness in Little Alma’s heart was finally abated and, she and her little cactus could at last introduce him to the other flowers in her garden.

Well, isn’t this rushed…

Welcome anyway to the first of the Amsterdam series, featuring my mother’s favourite place there – the Bloemenmarkt. I swear, if she could, she will take the whole damn place with her back home.

This story is probably the shortest that I have written in a long while! I am also trying out something new with this story and gave it a more appropriate atmosphere (is that the right word?) for a children’s tale. I quite like the idea of writing children’s books at some point but I also like writing children themselves and make them more aware of their surroundings than what us adults make them out to be. I just like to think that whilst they can be a pain, we should give their perception a little more credit.

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