The psychiatrist looked solemnly at Mary while she sat up on the divan in his surgery. She opened her eyes and looked at Dr. Bringwell.

“Terrible nightmares, hey Mary?” he asked.

“Yes. Dr. Bringwell. I hear whispers too, tell me to be good, not to get angry, to eat, to sleep, to pray.”

Looking at the notes, he said, “What you have described just now were your nightmares, hallucinations, and psychotic episodes. But we’re only at the tip of the iceberg. We’ll have to work at it. For now, I’ll give you a prescription. Take one tablet every day with food.”

“Am I ever going to get better? My nightmares are so real. I see the same baby. His face is always the same. People disappear into walls. I wake up every night feeling dizzy, sweaty, and panicky that I might have the same fate one day and just vanish into thin walls. What’s on the other side, though? You do believe me, yeah?”

“Of course I believe you. It’s awful. But you’ll be fine. We’ll make sure that you are,” he said. “I’ll see you in three weeks. In the meantime, feel free to call us if you need to.”

“Okay. See you then.”

Dr. Bringwell wrote a prescription and handed it to her from across the desk. She took it.

Mary stepped out of the surgery unit onto the crowded street, which was full of slush from the melted snow. She walked down the narrow alley and over to the other side, playing hopscotch on the pavement. She stopped at the corner store to buy a pack of cigarettes. Sliding her smooth, unmarked fingers into her long, black coat pocket, she took a cigarette out of a box along with the lighter. She pressed the butt between her teeth and lit it. Walking briskly towards the adjacent bus stop, she stood under a lamppost.

Under the lamppost, she crossed her arms over her chest. She bent down to do up the laces of her boots. Her glance moved to the right corner of her eyes; she saw a pair of pointy, black, shiny shoes. She liked them. Mary continued to look at the shoes until she stood tall abreast to the person.  It was a middle-aged gentleman waiting for the bus just like her.

“The bus is late,” she said looking at him.

“I’m new here,” he said. “Do you know if buses come this late?”

“They usually don’t. I wonder what’s wrong.”

“Well, why don’t we sit down on that bench while we wait for it?”

“Sure, why not?”

“Do you smoke?” Mary asked.

“No. Not much.”

“Would you like one?”

“Hmm, okay, I’ll have one today,” the man agreed. “What do you do?”

“Who, me?”

“Who else?”

“Yeah, I sell flowers.”

“Oh, that’s nice? Do you have a flower shop?”

“I work in a flower shop.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Although I do believe that one day it could be mine.”

“How so? What do you mean?”

”I mean the flower shop. There is a possibility that I could own it, or partially at least.”

Mary did not say much after that, but looked up at the grey sky on the eastern corner. It was a harsh Canadian winter that was drawing towards an end. Her face looked somber as she parted her pink, thin lips slightly in anticipation of something. She thought for a while. Her rosy, chiseled cheeks dimpled and her lips curved into a slight smile. The man looked at her childlike expressions and into her almond-shaped, greyish blue eyes. His gaze travelled over her small face and it fixed on the black, round mole right under her nose. Mary felt a little self-conscious. She tried to look away from the intensity of his gaze and even blushed a little.

“I don’t think any bus is coming this way today.”

“Maybe not,” he said as he continued to look at her mole.

Mary averted his gaze and added, “There’s a storm coming on. I’ve got to go.”

“How?” he asked, puzzled. “I mean, do you mean to call a cab?”

“Not sure. I think I’ll walk. My shop is not far. A good 15-minute walk should get me there. Besides, cabs are expensive in Halifax, you know.”

“Expensive, really? But the storm should be starting by then. Shouldn’t it?”

“Maybe, but what else is there to do?”

”Hey, don’t leave me in the storm.”

“I’m not your keeper. I fly, like a free albatross. Don’t hold me back. I’ll tell you all about the shop one day, if we meet again.”

She laughed as her lithe body moved like a tender twig of spring.

“I wouldn’t know where to find you.”

“Oh, find me at the flower shop on the corner of Barrington Street.”


A few days had passed since the storm.

The man sat at the desk editing his book, contemplating a recent rejection from a publisher. He looked out of the window. The broken branches lay across the road with loose electric wires  wrapped around from the storm. He wondered how the girl fared in the storm; he wondered if she was still alive. Had she been hurt by any flying debris? The unnamed girl aroused sympathy in his soul. He wanted to see her again. She did mention that she worked at a flower shop over at the corner of Barrington Street. He decided to go.

What seemed like a cold mid-morning turned out to be quite mild now that the days were changing. What a long winter it had been. He walked toward the bus stop. The bus arrived. He hailed it and asked the driver if he went to Barrington Street. The driver nodded in affirmation.

His chest distended at the thought of the girl. The more he thought, the more restless he became. There was something about her, something which pulled him towards her in spite of their age difference.

He got off at the corner of Barrington Street and looked for the flower shop. There were several shops lined up on that street. He walked to the first one, but realised that they never really introduced themselves to each other. He did not know how to find her. His grip on the briefcase tightened and his jaw muscles clamped. He entered the shop. There were several girls working here. They gathered garlands and bouquets of scarlet, crimson, and russet into brilliantly vibrant arrays. He went up to one of the girls.

“May I help you, sir?” she asked.

“Well, I am looking for a girl with a mole right under her nose,” he said

“She works in the next shop.”

He proceeded next door. At the entrance, he found the girl, arranging a huge bouquet. She looked at him briefly. Over the multicoloured flowers, she smiled at him and put the bouquet down behind her on a stool. She turned around to give him her full attention.


“Hi,” he said awkwardly. “I, umm, came by to see if you were hurt in that storm.”

“No, I wasn’t. I got in just in time,” she said simply, her eyes dancing. “But it’s awfully nice of you to check on me. I can’t seem to remember anyone who might have done it.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“That’s okay. Is there anything you wanted?”

“Yeah, I was thinking that maybe,” he paused then added, “could we have a private chat somewhere?”

“About what?”

“Oh, just to get to know you a little better. That’s all.”

“That’s a strange request.”

“It is a bit strange, but not entirely unheard of.”

“No, it’s not. I agree that a lot of great friendships started like this.”

“That’s right.”

“Look, I’m on my lunch break now. Could we perhaps go to that café across the road?” she suggested.

“That would be lovely.”

“Can you give me a minute? I need to finish this task at hand.”

“Certainly, I’ll wait for you outside.”


A man named Mark Shanks owned the shop where Mary worked. He was also dating Mary. Mary worked in his shop five days a week, kept his bed warm at night, and in return, she got the minimum wage, which came with the promise that one day she could own a share of the shop.

She washed her hands and wiped them clean before opening the glass door.

“Sorry to keep you waiting. I got held up in the back room there.”

“That’s fine. Which way do we go? You lead the way.”

“There’s a crossing at the lights on our left. Why not cross the road there?”


They walked together towards the lights to get across the street. The lights turned to walk. The man and the girl stepped out in unison. The café was just around the corner of North Street and they both entered without much fanfare. The girl was in the lead. A waiter took them to a nice table where they could sit down in some privacy. Mary only had about half an hour in hand. She sat down opposite to the man in the dimly-lit room across the tiny round table. She saw quite a few grey hairs and a receding forehead.

‘What could this man possibly want from me?’ she wondered.

“What are we ordering?” he asked as he placed the briefcase on the empty chair next to him.

“What’s your name?” she asked

“Anthony. Anthony Chang. But people call me Tony.”

“What’s yours?”


“Just Mary?”


“No surname?”


“How come?”

“I don’t know who my parents are.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” she said politely. “I was raised in a church.”

“Oh, for how long?”

“About 18 years?”

“18 years?”

“Yes. after my 18th, I decided to leave. I was lucky to have found work here at the flower shop.”

Tony did not say anything for a while. The girl was pretty thin. Did they not feed her?

He asked, “What’s the name of the church? May I ask?”

“Why do you want to know?” Mary asked.

“Just curious, that’s all.”

Mary was reluctant to give out so much information to a perfect stranger. She said she was inclined to leave because her lunchtime was over.

“Maybe I’ll see you again. Life’s full of surprises. Isn’t it?”

“It is. Maybe.”


The next day, Tony sat down and wrote a new story:

The boat suddenly found itself in the middle of a raging storm. The ocean rocked it in violent trepidation. A young man woke up and looked for his wife beside him. Along with ten dozen other refugees on the boat, they were destined for Canada. It was a long voyage from the Orient, and they were on this boat for days with people starving, vomiting, leering, and in the end stages of death. Not everyone died: some survived. Those who did, survived through the hottest days, the hungriest hours, and most perilous of times.

Tonight, he could not find her. The young man went outside and looked for her. As he stood on the deck, a cry came from behind. He looked back and found his wife struggling to crawl back towards him, clinging to the boat’s railing. She kept receding. The boat swayed and tipped sideways; the tempest was tumultuous. He hurried towards her and hoped to save her from this approaching danger. Before he could do so, the strong winds swept her away to the rear of the boat. But the man did not give up. He went after her and grabbed her arms.

Tony sat down by the calm firelight. He stared at the fire burning brightly and watched the logs crackle, the debris flying everywhere within its hearth. However, there was another fire, a fire within him, which he was now in a mêlée to tame.

Thinking of the mole under her nose, he thought of her appearance, her simplicity. He thought until his thoughts could go on no longer. He went back to his desk and took out the briefcase from under his table. A bunch of keys were lying in it. His hand shook as he fiddled with the bunch. He managed to pick out the one key for the briefcase.

It contained papers. He opened it with trembling fingers. There were many odd papers and books, but it also held passports. He took two passports out and opened them, one after the other. He could not stop his fingers from shaking. The pictures on the passport were those of a young man and a woman. Not a spitting image as such, but the woman had a mole exactly in the same place and just the right size as this girl he met; they even had the same eyes. Tony sat down on the high-backed chair at the writing desk.

“Oh, my God! Can this be true? True indeed?”


In the meantime, Mary was at the flower shop early in the morning. She had not realised that Mark came in and stood behind her.

“Mary, what’s wrong?” he asked.

“Nothing,” she said.

“Something’s missing.”

“Like what?”

“How should I know? You tell me.”

“I’m fine! Leave me alone!”

“You weren’t the same last night. You were distracted and that was quite obvious.”

“What do you want from me? Go away!”

“Are you asking me to go away?” he sneered.

Mary kept quiet. She wanted to tell him that she felt like pouring hot oil over him while she cooked. She felt like telling him that she wanted to block such thoughts, such harmful thoughts, and get them out of her mind. It was awful that she could not. However, she would not tell him any of this, for she was afraid that he would want to get out of the relationship, leaving her out in the cold. No way. Mark must never know that she had mental illness and she had been to a psychiatrist.

She felt a sudden boost in her heart when she went in to check Mark’s diary for the day. He was free at lunchtime. But as she closed the diary, there was a strange noise coming from the back room. Stumbling on the door’s threshold, she fell down. There was a shadow on the floor. She looked up. A man stood there in the dark. It was not Mark and it frightened her.

Mark suddenly appeared out of nowhere, startling her again.

“Why don’t we have lunch today?” she asked.

‘Yeah. We’ll leave in half an hour.”


When Mark didn’t turn up for a while, Mary went to the back room and looked for him, but he was not there. It was now 15 minutes after. Did he get held up somewhere? This was most unlikely. It meant that she would have to go on her own and postpone the discussion, or bring up the matter at night, which was going to be difficult. He would be in no mood to talk business at home. Her mobile suddenly rang and Mark was calling her. He said that he would not be able to make it today; something had come up. She would have to go on her own. This news and Mark’s tone upset Mary. Mark stood her up. She thought about what she could do for lunch and decided to hop on the next bus to take off for the next hour.

“Hi there.”

“Hi,” she looked around to find Tony on the bus.

“I suppose you’re interested in that jerk.”

“How do you know? You don’t know that. On the contrary, he loves me.”

“Some kind of a puppy love, maybe, but it’s not real, I can assure you.”

“Look, I don’t want to talk to you or need your assistance,” she said, pulling the chain.

The bus stopped. She got off. Tony watched her go haplessly. He looked at her through the double-glazed window of the bus. It fogged up in no time from his heavy breathing. She looked back at him from the street. It was bittersweet that they parted in this manner. However, an inkling of a thought entered her mind. The same inkling entered him as well. The bus rolled on and they lost each other.


After dinner that evening, Tony sat down at his writing desk. He wrote:

The young man pulled his wife back into the cabin of the boat. By now, the leaky boat had gone adrift and it was leaking even more. People jumped into the high seas from the boat. Poseidon’s wrath surged and the ocean darkened to a terrifying menace, the absolute mayhem of dunking heads of men, women, and children on the waves. They gurgled and screamed in petrified desperation. There were no lifeboats to be lowered; only a few life vests. Luckily, there was another boat nearby, a bigger one that came to people’s rescue.

People cried to stay afloat on the ghastly big waves. The screams carried through the tempestuous gale of the night, surrendered to the soul, seizing sirens, who responded unequivocally until they became a mélange of cries in the darkness. They appeared from nowhere and took what they had desired. Before they plummeted, they performed a light-footed ritual of synchronised summersaults. Then they swiftly disappeared into the depths of the blue seas. No Mariner’s vision could be compared to this, no rime was sung, although, all the boards did shrink.

They were taken on board. The young man and his wife were amongst the lucky survivors who made it to the new boat. The others were not so lucky. Luck began to dwindle for this young couple too. The pregnant wife went into early labor the moment they were taken aboard. The turbulent waves were relentless and people threw up everywhere on the swelling seas.

The wife howled in pain, but no one paid attention. The young husband sat by her and the birth of a beautiful baby girl soon followed. The umbilical cord was cut with the Swiss army knife that he had in his zippered shirt pocket. The wife smiled and fed the baby. Later that evening, still afloat, a terrible infection and a high fever ravaged the wife. The pain and desperation were far too much to bear. She died, leaving the young man to take care of this new addition. On the boat, the wretched travellers gaped at them. The storm went down and the ocean quieted. The serenity was restored just as the boat reached the shores of Halifax in Nova Scotia.


Mary slept alone in her bed that evening. Mark had not called her to say that he was travelling interstate on business. She woke up the next morning and got dressed to go to work. Last night’s nightmare, the recurring dreams, kept her awake. She heard voices and saw thousands of crawling spiders on the ceiling space above. Shop or no shop, she could not wait for Mark to return. She was a prisoner of her own shortcomings, the diligent caterpillar weaving its own cocoon, waiting for the day she would become a butterfly. She hoped to be free from drudgery, voices, and shadows one day. Then she saw Tony downstairs. He said he was coming up.

“What do you want from me?”

“Which church took you in?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“I’ll tell you later.”

“Why won’t you tell me now? I’ll have to tell Mark about you.”

“You think that he can protect you? You’re just a flower girl in a flower shop, eating him out of house and home. That’s all you are to him?”


“Yeah, now tell me, quick.”

“Protestant Orphan’s Home on North Park Street.”


Mary could not concentrate at work that morning. She wondered where Mark had gone. She looked at the road and saw a beautifully dressed lady step out of the driver’s seat of a BMW. She was dressed in an emerald silk skirt and a floral green matching top. The air thickened with her expensive perfume as she walked through. It reeked of an unpleasant odour when mingled with the fragrance of the flowers around.

“Good morning,” she said. “I’m Margaret. Margaret Deshong. I’m the new owner of this shop. I have come to introduce myself. Mark won’t be your manager anymore.”

Mark was the manager? Not the owner? Mary felt dizzy. She sat down on the pavement under the awning and suddenly felt sick.

She left without a word. She went back to her apartment, Unsure of what to do, she turned on the television for news. She was impatient. The news started. The first footage was on arms smuggling. Then in a bit, there was Mark’s picture on television. She saw that he was in handcuffs with two other people. They were caught red-handed in the morning and charged with smuggling arms to terrorists. The police were onto them for quite some time.

The news did not make much sense. It was complete gibberish, composed of words, words, words. She failed to understand that the flower shop was nothing other than a front. She sat awkwardly on the sofa with her legs joined together and arms crossed over her chest. Her shallow breathing and twitchy movements began. She slouched and fidgeted with her clothes. She looked at her feet until she began to shake uncontrollably, followed by tapping her feet. She lay down on the sofa. She had nowhere to go, no place at all.


Tony went to the church and tried to speak to the clerk. He asked him about a baby girl who should be nineteen years old now. They told him they would get back to him soon. He could go for now.

Back in his apartment, he jotted something down with pen on paper:

As soon as the rescue mission ensued, their boat arrived on the shore; the refugees were processed. The young man had nothing on him except for the baby in his arms. He stood in the queue with the others even though he needed emergency help for the baby. Famished and dehydrated, the baby had become quietly lethargic by now. She continued to cry from hunger and exhaustion. Soon, a nurse came and took them out of the queue.

The nurse wrote down his name on a form she was filling out.

“What do you intend to do with the baby?”

“I want to give her up for adoption.”

He winced in pain and his face became distorted.

“Okay,” said the nurse. “I’ll ask the sisters at the church to take her away.”

“Also could I give you this as a keepsake? The one thing in o’ the world I have to bequeath,” he paused. “Please let her have it when she comes of age.”


There was an ambulance parked on the street in front of Mary’s apartment building. A body, covered in white from head to toe, was carried into the ambulance on a stretcher trolley. The police found her this morning when they broke into the apartment with a search warrant. The church authorities finally wrote Tony an official letter with a little parcel attached to it. The parcel contained the Swiss army knife he had given the nurse for safekeeping.