At first, it didn’t bother me a lot when he started to mix some flowers in his meals. It wasn’t an unusual thing. Many cultural societies in this world practiced that habit. But when he eventually decided to eat flowers as his main food, I became rather worried.
What a silly thing to do, eating raw flowers.
“What are you saying? You want to consume flowers as part of your daily diet? Are you out of your mind?” I said in shock.
He nodded firmly.
“It’s okay if you want to be a vegetarian, but eating raw flowers just like that… Oh please! You aren’t an herbivore, are you? You’re a human being.”
“That’s just it. Because I am a human being,” he smiled.
“You know, God allows us to eat everything but evil. It depends on us to choose our own food properly. Most flowers are good for our health, so why don’t we eat them? I believe that hibiscus is really good. It contains a lot of fiber. And it grows easily in this country.”
I huffed. “I know that most flowers are good, but not as your main food. You’ll get malnutrition. We aren’t so poor that we can’t provide for a proper meal, are we? I don’t want you getting sick and then having to be hospitalized — it’ll empty our savings account,” I argued.
Seeing his unresponsive expression, I tried another track. “Besides, you know how meticulous your mother is. You’re her only son. I don’t want her pestering me with questions if you do this.”
Again he smiled, showing his cute dimples. “I’ll be fine. Let me give you an example. Water buffaloes only eat grass, but it has a strong body that can reach five hundred kilos in weight.”
“But it’s a dumb animal. It can’t even think.”
“Are you going to say that horses are dumb too? They’re as clever as dogs. They also eat grass. Horses are your favorite animal, aren’t they, honey?” he said. “Besides, have you ever heard about this Russian woman who loves to eat dirt? She eats dirt almost every day. At first her family was so worried about her health. But a medical exam found her to be in perfect condition.”
I fell silent. I had known him for years. Once he made a decision, nobody could change his mind except himself.
“And don’t worry about Mother. I promise she won’t bother you,” he continued.
I looked at him helplessy as he put some flowers into his mouth and chewed them ravenously, as if they were the most delicious food in the world.
So that was it. He had chosen the hibiscus — or the shoeflower, as it is also known — as his main food, and he ate it every day. He preferred it raw and fresh.
His favorite was the hibiscus rosa-sinensis, or the Chinese hibiscus, especially those of a pink shade.
I really didn’t know why this pink hibiscus had attracted him. Maybe a hidden feminine side had urged it subconsciously.
Soon, we had planted as many hibiscus trees as our small yard could hold. We also planted them in pots.
So now I had a new job every morning and late afternoon, just before sunset: flower picking. Whenever he saw me picking the flowers, he smiled.
“My lady the flower picker,” he said.
Day by day, he ate more and more shoeflowers and reduced the other foods, especially meat. It was no use trying to force him to add meat to his diet.
As he began losing weight and his skin began to pale considerably, I watched his transformation with worried eyes. Still, he refused my suggestion to see the doctor.
Instead, he continued practicing wushu martial arts, his favorite sport — which, in my opinion, required a lot of energy.
“I’m fine, honey. I will always be. Don’t worry,” he said with one eye winking at me. Again, I was speechless.
That morning I was picking the flowers when a car stopped in front of our house. A beautiful woman stepped out with a bucket full of hibiscus flowers in one hand.
“Good morning, Mbak Tia. How are you?” she greeted with a smile that exposed her perfect teeth as she reached the gate.
It was Ibu Sulianti, the richest person in our neighborhood.
“Um, I’m fine, thank you. Please come in, Ibu Sulianti,” I said as I opened the gate and invited her into the house.
I was surprised at her sudden visit. It was strange — I didn’t know her personally.
“Oh, no, thank you. Please don’t bother, I just stopped by to deliver this.” She handed me the bucket full of purple hibiscus.
I received it with big question in my head, but before I could open my mouth, she continued, “Last morning I met your husband while I was jogging. I was really surprised when he told me about his daily diet of hibiscus. Though it’s odd, I think it’s wonderful too. Maybe that’s why he looks so fresh and healthy. I noticed that his skin glows with fair pinkish tone. Beautiful, isn’t it?” she spoke in a cheerful voice.
“…So, here they are. I hope your husband will like them.”
I smelled a pleasant fragrance. It wasn’t coming from the flowers, it was coming from her. Nice perfume, I thought. Must have cost the moon.
“Thank you very much, Ibu Sulianti. My husband will appreciate this,” I replied politely. She smiled.
“Please give my regards to him. Well, Mbak Tia, I have to be going.”
I nodded, smiling back at her. As she left, I looked at those purple flowers. I didn’t know why I felt uneasy.
Since that visit, my husband became popular among our neighbors, especially the housewives. The Hibiscus Man, they said with eyes that sparkled in an adoring gaze.
I felt my heart turning green when one Sunday morning while finishing my morning run, I came upon our house and saw him, encircled by our female neighbors.
My husband looked like a flower attracting bees.
“Oh, Mbak Tia, how lucky you are to have such a beautiful husband like him,” said one of them.
“But Mbak Tia, we still worry about his health since he eats only flowers. You must look after him carefully, or … well, if not, we’d gladly volunteer to take care of him…” continued another, her voice laden with a flirtatious tone.
This kind of attention made my heart even greener.
I spent more and more time watching over my husband — but secretly.
Yes, those women were right. My husband seemed more beautiful every day. His skin glowed. His face had become younger and more handsome than ever.
I hardly believed my own eyes. Did those flowers truly have the power to make him look like that? I didn’t like him becoming beautiful. It irritated me. I didn’t like him becoming popular among the neighborhood women. It disturbed me, even though I told myself it was silly.
But the uneasy feeling kept growing.
That afternoon, my husband rang me from his office.
“Hi, honey! I have great news for you,” he said.
“What is it?” I asked, smiling at his excitement.
“This morning, a guy from an advertising firm came to meet me. He said that he’s looking for a male model for his ads, and he believes I’m the right one. He wants me,” he said proudly.
“What?” My face fell. Him? A model?
Oh, no… I didn’t want him become a celebrity encircled by females fans all the time.
“What did you say to him?” I asked, panic in my voice.
“Well, I agreed. The pay is good, honey. Really good for a newcomer like me…”
I couldn’t hear his voice anymore. Everything was drowned with a buzzing sound, like the drone of thousands of bees flying around him, my Hibiscus Man.
— Jakarta, October 2005
Penulis : Octaviana Dina
Dimuat dalam The Jakarta Post Sunday edition, 15 Januari 2006