Lina's Garden*

The Trinitarians

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By Julie Rattey


Lina, 15, kicked off her sandals and knelt in the dirt next to her father. It was Saturday, which meant that homework was done and Lina could spend as much time as she wanted helping her father work in the garden, caring for the flowers and herbs and plants, many of which her mother used when cooking for the Religious community they lived with in Bangalore, India. Lina and her family lived with the Trinitarian Brothers because they could not afford a home of their own. The garden was the community’s, but Lina thought of it as hers, too.

The sun had only just risen, but the dirt was already warm beneath Lina’s feet. She curled her toes and bent at the waist, taking in the sights and scents of the plants. There were curry leaves, and ladylike damask roses, and dill plants, with their little clusters of yellow flowers shooting outward like fireworks from slender green stems. Spying a little fuzzball among the yellow clusters, Lina plucked the intruder gently from its perch and laid it on her palm.

“You again!” she said. The caterpillar, a fuzzy black jellybean with a thick band of orange, curled up in her palm as though ashamed of itself. Lina laughed, set the caterpillar on the ground, then stretched her arms and looked around her. She always felt surprised at the bigness of the world after she’d been staring hard at something small and defined. Sometimes the world seemed too big. There was so much to see, especially the things that were often overlooked. When Lina didn’t have her nose buried in a science book, she was usually squinting at some leaf or insect or other small thing. The first time she had looked into a microscope at school had been one of the best days of her life. There, she discovered a whole other universe contained within this one. Lina’s dream was to go to college next year, and then graduate school, in order to be a microbiologist. She wanted to spend her working hours living in that universe and learning all its secrets.

Lina sat back on her heels and turned her head to watch her father, his hands working deftly in the dirt. He and she could work for hours in the garden without saying the word, then feel like they’d just had the best conversation in the world. If Lina went to college, she would miss the time she spent with her appa in the garden. Lost in thought, Lina stared at her father’s hands until they stopped, suddenly, poised over a pungent spray of curry leaves.

“Is this what you call helping?”

Lina looked up to see a teasing smile on her father’s face.

“What are you thinking about?” he asked. He set to work snipping a few leaves off for his wife to use in the day’s meals.

“I was thinking about coll—” She caught herself before finishing the word “college,” feeling her face grow hot. She looked down at the dirt.

* based on the story of Lina V. Jose. Research for this story was conducted with the assistance of Fr. Bitaju Puthenpurackal, O.SS.T., provincial delegate of India for the Trinitarians.

“Ah.”

Her father’s hands worked more slowly, hesitantly. Lina watched as the familiar worry crease appeared in the center of his forehead. She hadn’t meant to mention college. Her parents and brother wanted very much to support her, but college wasn’t cheap. Moreover, St. Joseph’s College was far enough away that she would have to pay to stay at a hostel.

Lina’s father spoke at last. He did not look at her, but fixed his gaze on the curry plant he was clipping.

“This plant has grown so much,” he said. “Right under my very nose.”

Lina, 21, sat on her suitcase and took one last look around her room at the hostel. She had done it: She had graduated from college. Her parents had scrimped and saved to make it happen, and she had studied and worked her hardest. She ought to have been happy. She was going home.

Home. That was the problem. For the first time, Lina felt confused about what that word meant. During college Lina had always thought of the hostel as her temporary home, and the community in Bangalore as her real one. But now that it was time to leave, Lina felt a strange sense of uneasiness, and looking around the room, now bare and empty as the day she had moved in, saddened her. It was as though she had never been there at all.

It hadn’t always been easy living in the hostel, but to Lina it had represented her grown-up life. Going home seemed like taking a step backward, not forward. To get a job in microbiology, she needed to attend graduate school. However she knew her parents could not afford that. But then, what would be the point of all her studies and hard work up until now if she couldn’t take the next step?

Lina folded her hands and closed her eyes in prayer. The world and its challenges were big, but God was bigger.

As soon as Lina returned home, she joined her father in the garden. They greeted each other warmly, but quickly settled down to work in silence, as though Lina’s last visit had merely been hours ago instead of days.

“It’s good to have you home,” her father said after some time.

Lina smiled at him, then turned back to her pruning.

“I’ll be sorry to have you leave us again so soon,” he continued after a pause.

Lina looked at him in surprise, but he was intent on his work. “What do you mean?”

“Father Jose Narlaly from Rome visited the community not long ago.”

“The minister general?”

“Yes. While he was here, we got to talking about you. He told me that the Trinitarians are already helping a number of students pursue their studies. Your mother and I asked him about you.”

Lina’s hands trembled in anticipation.

“He was impressed with your academic background,” her father continued, “and says he is sure he can find a sponsor to help further your studies.”

Lina gave a cry of joy and threw herself into her father’s arms.

“Well, well,” said her father, patting her back. “Well, well.” They said no more, but sat quietly on the grass together, watching the garden grow. CD

Managing Editor Julie Rattey

Julie Rattey is a Boston-based writer and editor. She is the author of If I Grew Up in Nazareth, available from 23rdPublications.com.