I found myself empty handed at London Bridge tube station. It was my first year in college and I was visiting Aunty. Empty handed.
It isn’t done. Not in my family. Travelling from one relative to the other gifts would be exchanged and produce from their farms and gardens would fill your car trunk for distribution with other relatives further down your journey. Scallions, tomatoes, oranges, juice, bammy, johnycakes, the first bunch of grapes for the season, flowers.
On this day, annoyed with myself for not having thought of it earlier, I popped into the flower stall and bought the first orchid. Holding it to my chest I ran for the train. It was a dendrobium.
That night Aunty would tell me off for spending my money on her, scold me for buying an orchid that she would never be able to keep alive, and smile brightly at the shocking pink sprig of blooms. On my way back to college she would stick a fifty pound note into my jacket pocket that I would find half-way to Scotland and long after I could object.
Before going to bed that night I would sit in the kitchen with Aunty as the kettle sang and wait for the hot water bottle she insisted I needed. And the cup of tea. It was always in this kitchen that I would learn the secrets of the family, and most of all my grandmother. She died when Daddy Bushlings was two years old and he struggles with the few cherished memories. He too has sat on this old wooden stool in the kitchen and peppered Aunty with questions of who he is and who she was. But on this night Aunty would share the secret of the sisters.
There were six of them and they were widely spaced in age as they are now in geography. As they filled our car trunk when we would travel through Jamaica with gifts for each other, there were always flowers. Lilies, birds of paradise, orchids, hibiscus. The colours of their secret language of sisterly love. My grandma, the first to leave the sisterhood, always brought orchids.
This morning I found four flower stalks on my own dendrobiums. They hang outside my porch in a little tree where they catch the rain and are guarded from the sun. Excited to see new life and the promise of living colour, my thoughts turn to Aunty and her speedy recovery.
From that night, what had started by accident became a tradition. Every trip I made to Aunty, as long as I could squeeze it into the student budget, I went with an orchid in hand. Now, long distance, I still go through London Bridge and make the treck to her by train carrying a phalaenopsis, dendrobium, odontoglossum or a slipper orchid. They arrive, get fussed over, I get told off for spending on her, and then they are put on the mantlepiece to be smothered to death by Aunty’s love. With each purchase I think of my grandmother long gone and the love of her sisters. And how fortunate I am to be loved by my Aunty.