Everybody’s life gets transformed by a flower, mine was transformed by an entire shop of them.
I’d strolled straight past that place every day for the best part of a miserable year. I still don’t know what made me stop by that morning. Sometimes you just get drawn to things without knowing why I guess.
It’s name, Libertas, barely visible in faded, gilded lettering against its peeling green paint. The only thing that signified it was a flower shop were the huge blooms of lilacs and tiger lilies that smiled and winked at me that morning as I waited at the crossing. Before I knew it I was entering the door.
A chimpanzee posed on the serving counter like some hairy version of Rodin’s Thinker wearing a polka dot tie and glasses. Moss covered logs and rocks strewn the floor, birds bothered the branches, and an alligator splashed into the river as the door closed behind me.
‘Good morning! Welcome to the jungle!’ said the chimp jumping and laughing on the counter. ‘My name’s Gerald. How can I help you?’
‘Erm…I’m sorry. I thought this was a flower shop?’
‘It’s whatever you want it to be.’
Above me was a canopy of leaves through which the sun struggled to break.
‘I’m sorry. I need to get to work. I’m not supposed to be here,’ I said.
‘Of course you are,’ said Gerald. ‘Everybody’s meant to come here. They just don’t know it yet. Isn’t that right Kevin?’
A black panther jumped down from a branch, nodded and dashed between the trees.
‘Now what would you like to be?’ said Gerald. He adjusted his glasses, grabbed a vine and swung across a line of trees before landing back on the counter with a coconut under his arms.
‘Sorry?’ I said.
‘What would you like to be? What kind of animal are you?’ Gerald raised the coconut and smashed it repeatedly against the till.
‘Animal? I’m no animal.’
‘Sure you are. You just don’t know it yet.’ Gerald drained the coconut, threw the shell over his shoulder and grinned at me.
‘There’s been a mistake. I need to go.’ But as I turn around I could no longer see the door or window, just tall trees and dense undergrowth in all directions.
Heat rose and became invasive like a second skin. I was thirsty and felt drawn to the river, but as I started walking my back began to ache. I bent down and crawled on all fours over the broken, moss-covered logs and rocks of the jungle floor.
When I reached the river I arched my neck to drink. And I as drank I saw myself reflected back.
I’m a giraffe, I thought. I’m a giraffe.
I smiled — as much as a giraffe could smile.
The strangest thing was, I’d always been short. They made fun of my height at school and as I grew older I often dreamed of escaping somewhere where I could tower over everyone. And as I stood up and stretched out through the branches, I felt the fresh air on my neck and looked out across the tops of trees that met the clear blue skies.
Gerald swung up onto the treetops. ‘You know. Before I got here I was a workaholic on the verge of suicide, fourteen hour days, six days a week in corporate finance, and going through my third divorce. Then I came here one day without knowing why. I’ve never laughed so much in my life. Here, you can be what you’ve always wanted to be!’ Gerald grinned and jumped up and down on the branch.
Just then a bickering couple in matching waterproofs entered from the soaking streets.
‘Excuse me,’ said Gerald. ‘Make yourself at home. The plains are that way. See you around.’
Gerald swung down to meet them. ‘Good morning! Welcome to the jungle!’
A lorikeet named Susan alighted on my neck and we looked back together as the bickering couple shook their wet clothes until their clothes become beautiful blue and red feathers and they transformed into a pair of scarlet macaws. They soared and squawked past me into the distant sun just as the plains came into sight.