Written by 
Cai Xiaoqing, Yinjia Township Central Primary School, Sichuan Province, China 
Date: Oct, 2016

Growing up is a passionate, romantic flower; like the imagined ‘red dandelion’ that rests and rises in my soul.   —— foreword  Impassioned youth takes flight

Two compellingly colored bicycles tear down a winding down a narrow, granite roadway; their tires seemingly turning fast enough to lift the bikes off the ground and toward the bright sky above. The breakneck speed belies the bike’s warmly congenial color scheme. Every once in a while, the two would even come into precarious contact, showing clearly that the two riders had turned a pleasant afternoon outing into a no-holds-barred drag race. Such derring-do … such lack of reasoned restraint. The riders must be kids beyond the pale of good manners and control.

It may surprise you then to learn that both Ai and I were girls through and through. 

That’s right! The ‘beatniks’ on those bicycles were two girls – me and my best friend, Ai. While we both are unapologetic tomboys, make no mistake - we’re still girls. Like most girls, we love bright colors. But the color Ai and I like the best is burgundy red. This is the color that best reflect our ‘devil-may-care’ personalities. So, when we went shopping for our bikes, we visited shop after shop before finally finding a pair in the perfect color.

Ai and I careened forward until we emerged at our goal – Dandelion Garden. This was Ai and my secret getaway, a place to which we would both retreat whenever we felt moody or troubled in order to let off steam and clear our heads. A strong enough puff disperses one globe’s worth of seeds to the winds, where some end up landing on my long nose and Ai’s jet-black hair as well as finding fertile soil in my heart.

After filling our baskets with handful after handful of dandelions, we take off again on our bikes, enjoying fully the freedom of youth. With our face to the wind, the dandelions release their countless seeds in a dandelion-seed shower that blows on and across our faces as we cycle onward. The wind fills the air around our bicycles with a flurry of dainty white seeds, which flit to and fro to the whim of each wayward gust.

The branches break, the flowers fall

Giddy fun ends when the school day begins. I was surprised at the downpour we got that Monday morning. It had quickly waterlogged the flowers along the road. I wondered how our dandelions in the park were faring this sudden squall …

By the time I got to school, the rains had abated some. It was warmer in the classroom, but I seemed unable to shake a slight chill.

Suffering the rapid-fire, droll cadence of our teacher in English class, I realized that it was nearly time for my favorite class – art. Well, let me correct that a bit. Art was Ai and my favorite class.

That’s right, Ai and I shared the rare chemistry of true friendship.

The art teacher stepped into the classroom with her usual sketchbooks just as the class bell announced the start of class. That devilishly enchanting bell was like music to Ai and my ears because it was only during art class that we had a real opportunity to shine.

We both loved art class, and invested our heart and soul in every related endeavor.

From the front of the class, the teacher told us that she wanted us all to do one painting each, and that one of these would be selected for public display during Art Festival.

For Ai and me, while this undoubtedly offered exceptional exposure, the opportunity could go to only one of us.

Only one … This opportunity would necessarily pass one of us by.

I turned around to look at Ai and saw that she had already fixed her gaze on me. But this time, it was different than before. The familiar, playful twinkle in her eyes was gone. I quickly cast my gaze out the window, where I discovered that the rain had started up again. My heart sank. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that Ai too had turned her head away disheartenedly and was now looking down at her desk.

I turned my head stiffly back to the front of the class. Our teacher was already passing out drawing paper. I took one of the snowy white sheets and knew that it was perfect for creating a masterpiece. But, my artistic passions were unengaged. I turned my head slowly and saw that Ai had already drawn the rough outline for her piece. Her light, easy-flowing lines, however, were shackles digging into my heart. Did Ai really desire this chance so much?

As I pondered this question, I cast my eyes again on the classroom window. It was raining even harder now. I suspected that the downpour had likely decimated our dandelions. My heart sank a little more at the thought. I began drawing my picture.

A half an hour later, the teacher collected our efforts and, after examining them for a while, took two from the pile and showed them to the class. One was mine, and the other, an illustration of a burgundy-colored dandelion, was Ai’s. The teacher called Ai and me to the front of the room. She said that we’d both drawn well, but that she could only choose one. Neither Ai nor I said a word. We were friends, but I suppose that neither of us wanted to see such an opportunity slip away.

After a while longer, the teacher asked me to return to my seat. I knew that she had decided in favor of Ai’s painting. I turned around numbly and stumbled toward my seat. The rain outside was now coming down in bucketfuls. The dandelions were certainly no more.

Ai had stomped on our dandelions; had stomped all over our shared memories. She had uprooted them from their field and planted them in her miserly heart. Ai had severed our friendship. I despised ‘devil-may-care’ personalities.

Flowers Fall, Roots Remain

One afternoon the following weekend, my grandfather was at home tending his flower beds. The rain had broken so many of his flowers that I figured Grandpa would wash his hands of this hopeless scene in despair!

I came up to where he was surveying the damage and said abruptly, “Broken flowers, broken stems … what’s left to grow?” Naturally, I was surprised when Grandpa turned to me and said, “The flowers have fallen, but the roots are still there. As long as I take care of them, they’ll be ready to bloom again in the spring.”

The flowers fall, but the roots remain?

That’s right. The roots were still there! With Grandpa’s words ringing in my ear, I grabbed my long-dormant burgundy-red bicycle and sped down Ai and my granite-paved road. Wave after wave of dandelion seeds greeted me on the wind and I caught sight of a young girl with long hair waving at me up ahead in the distance. Her eyes sparkled with warmth and she had what looked like her red dandelion painting rolled up in her right hand. At this point, the battered dandelion in my heart bloomed once again, stretching out freely on the wide-open earth. I was still a ‘devil-may-care’ girl after all. But I wasn’t conceited. Ai wasn’t either.

In that instant, everything suddenly made sense. I peddled faster, carrying a basketful of dandelions on my resplendent burgundy-red bicycle down that narrow road to points distant … on solid footing into the future.

I took flight that day …

Reviewer Comments

This story tells how an intimate friendship broke under the strain of competition and then ultimately blossomed again, with the author using dandelions to echo these phases in a parallel narrative. The story flows well, although the theme of ‘growing up’ is rather weakly presented. 

This uniquely presented story creates something analogous to a four-act play. In the first, the author introduces the deep mutual friendship that she shares with her friend, as exemplified in their brazen bicycle rides and shared ‘secret’ dandelion garden. These echo the ‘devil-may-care’ attitude that they collectively took toward their fun-filled days. But flowers wither as does youth. Next, the two friends take up a challenge in which only one could win and, neither wanting to back down, they sacrificed their friendship on the altar of competitiveness. Doesn’t the author’s persistence reflect a problem often face in interpersonal relationships? The third section opens with the author’s grandfather planting flowers and the reminder that while flowers may break from their stems, the roots remain. The author appreciates the insightful message, grows as a result, and regains her lost friendship. 

The narrative streams intertwine well, with the flower lifecycle woven aptly throughout. Lovely verbiage, beautifully constructed text; a harmonious blend of elegance and simplicity in a compellingly touching wrapper.