by q Khevin Barnes

One day, many years ago, I decided I wanted to visit China.  And so my aim as a solo traveler in search of a new and memorable experience landed me aboard a gigantic 747 aircraft somewhere over the East China Sea and on my way to exotic Hong Kong.

Through the oval of my airplane window, I could just make out the sliver of runway far below that ran like the rip in a silk stocking through the emerald green island.

From the moment I stepped out into the Hong Kong streets, the garlic and spice that the city breathed became a permanent memory for me.

For two weeks I walked.  I covered nearly every inch of the city, down back alleyways and through fish markets, up and down hills, past gardens, and parks, temples, and shrines.

I was often drawn to explore “Cat Street,” the famous antique center of Hong Kong’s old town.  I could spend long hours in the shops, pouring through ancient manuscripts and admiring the countless pieces of precious carved Buddha’s, incense burners and figurines.capture

It was in just such a shop that I met a remarkable man by the name of Mr. Chen.

“Perhaps I can help you find that which you are seeking?” were the first words he spoke to me.

My heart skipped a beat as I looked into his eyes and noticed a serenity that was unknown to me in my world.

“I’m just looking for now,” I replied.

“Please,” he said, gesturing toward the shelves and walls that were tastefully filled with fantastic Chinese artwork “enjoy the search.”

I wandered through the little shop, finding wonderful carved jade pieces and soapstone vases that were available for sale.

My eyes were drawn to a tiny porcelain bowl that sat on a shelf near the window.  In it was a round object that looked like it had once been a piece of fruit of some kind, but now had withered and shrunk in the sunshine that streamed through the thick glass window.

“What is this, Mr. Chen?” I asked, pointing toward the cup.

Without looking up from his work he answered, “It’s a seed.”

“What is its puqwrpose?” I inquired.

Mr. Chen looked at me for a moment, and then his eyes slowly turned toward the seed in the cup.

“Let me answer that by asking you, what is your purpose?”

I was startled by his question.

“I don’t really know the answer to that.  I’ve never been asked that before.  I suppose my purpose is to be a good person and live a life that’s beneficial to the world, and to leave something behind.  Something useful…..”

Mr. Chen smiled and let all of his polished white teeth reflect the joy that seemed to melt from his very soul.

“Like a seed, perhaps?”

I wondered why he seemed so playful and figured it must have something to do with this sort of riddle that he was creating around the seed in the cup.   I lifted the tiny cup up and into the light to get a better look at its contents.  The little seed was star shaped with lots of tentacles all around it.  I smelled it.   It smelled of lilac:  and vanilla; and shellac. In fact, each time I lifted the cup to my nose the seed smelled differently.  Now it was like licorice.  And then it had the fragrance of quality leather.

How does it do that?” I asked Mr. Chen.

“Perhaps it searches for its true essence,” he said.  “Just like us.”

He poured some tea and we shared stories of America and China and then it was time for me to go. I purchased an exquisite soapstone vase, and he carefully wrapped it in heavy paper for my flight home.

A week later, after arriving back in the States, I unwrapped my treasure.  As I removed the vase from its paper packing, I was startled to see an object roll out of its mouth and onto the table.

It was small and hard and brown, with tiny tentacles.  It was star shaped.

It was the seed. And I knew what to do.

I placed my lovely vase on the mantel and the seed was dropped into it along with some moist soil from my garden.  The morning sun found it, and some weeks later the seed gave birth to a lush green plant.  It grew and sprouted tiny fragrant flowers that smelled of lilac; and vanilla; and shellac.  And like licorice and fine leather.

I thought of Mr. Chen every time I watered that plant and today, so many years later, I still think of him from time to time. For I understand now the simple message he had to share with me.

After many years of waiting for my life to sprout and flourish and find the sun that streams through my own window, I finally know why I am here.

My purpose—is to grow.

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Lucretia Free