it was the carpenter bee. black and rotund and a little hazy as it whirred about and dashed against the blooms of the bright yellow trumpet flower.

“oh, up early today i see!” exclaimed the lavender mauvely, it was the nearest to the blues it could get.

“let it be… let it be…! let it beeeee…” replied the carpenter bee, it had a thing for punning. no one ever said a bee couldn’t, after all. lavender rolled its spikes, its feathery petals quivered.

“now that sounds like a song…” mused the frog from deep within its money plant pot. it surveyed the balcony through lazy eyes, it had been drizzling since midnight, the sun wasn’t out yet.

“let it beeee!!!” the bee swung quickly in two circles, one on the horizontal plane, one on the vertical, and dived into a bloom.

“ouch!” said the trumpet flower, “mind my petals, will you.”

“it’s such a gloomy morning,” the flower continued in a morose tone, quite unlike its bright, cheerful, always up and about self.

being originally from america, the trumpet flower’s fore-parents had found it hard, quite understandably, in the beginning, when the colonisers had brought them along to this little island in asia. but they’d learnt to adapt. struggling in a new environment, they’d rediscovered their gritty will power, their strength; they’d found they had the ability to be impervious to drought, harsh soil, even lack of love and care. they’d become so good at blooming in the little island, almost no one suspected they might be originally outsiders. foreigners. that too from another continent in another hemisphere.

in singapore, yellow trumpet flowers – also known as yellow bells (for obvious reasons), and yellow elder flowers, and for some reason, ginger-thomas – grow in bunches everywhere. the lone tree in the big blue pot in my balcony though wasn’t doing too well in terms of multitude, plethora, abundance, profusion of blooms. the gardener had just informed me, after fixing me with a somewhat accusing stare, that it was all my fault. how come it’s always that… but anyway, seems i was watering the plant too much and insisting on fertilisers when that’s not really what it wanted.

i had come to take a look at the trumpet flower and intruded on the sunday afternoon conversation between the frog and the others.

there’s something about sundays. it might be sorcery, it might be the laziness the day condones, or it could very well be my deaf left ear. what i’m trying to say is, on sundays why i am not too sure, but i can hear every word the inhabitants of my balcony say.

not on other days though. while sorcery is an exciting option to explain this phenomenon, i think…

“it’s the deaf left ear,” whispered the frog and winked at me. i frowned, why was the frog so sure? but it had a point. i don’t remember ever hearing conversations like this when both my ears were working perfectly, hearing what they were meant to hear.

the trumpet flower wriggled, “aiyo, bee! stop, lah!”

it spoke with a lilting singaporean cadence. after all this time here, it had forgotten its south west american drawl, or whatever the way they speak in that part of america is called. i envied the trumpet flower, its “lah” had a note of authenticity that mine never quite reached.

“bzzzz! bzzzz bzzz bz bzzzzzzz!” went the bee, now flitting about the poor sad tree. i must say, the bee was not very gentle, it hummed around noisily, poking here, peering there, its energy high and happy. there was clearly a lack of chemistry between the two today.

“there you go singing again,” muttered the frog, lying on its side, its bumpy head was propped on the palm of a hand, its elbow cushioned on the money plant leaves. i noticed, it was shaking the toe on its right foot. a very indolent frog, i thought.

“hmmmmbhummm, you guessed, frog!” the bee zigzagged over to the other side, where the frog lay observing things.

“of course… of course… the butterfly used to love that song!” there was a note of melancholy in the frog’s voice somewhere. the constant rain since the night had told on everyone’s mood it seemed.

“stop speaking in riddles, frog, who’s the butterfly? i’ve never met one here!” the lavender was tetchy.

“oh, the butterfly… her wings were gossamer, her colours shimmered a thousand lepidopteran shades, you couldn’t catch her, you couldn’t count her, she went where she pleased and she never listened to the caterpillars…” the frog was looking decidedly dreamy now, a lost swimmy stare glazing its round protruding eyes.

“i say, why are you using such long words?” snapped the sunbird from somewhere on my left. i turned startled, and there it was, a brown throated sunbird. tiny fellow, its chest yellow, feathers in green and blue, and an irritated glint in its eyes. it sat lightly on a delicate woody branch of the trumpet flower tree. how long had it been there? it was small enough to get hidden by those compound leaves with their sharp, serrated edges.

i had noticed, somewhere in the middle of the sentence, the frog had switched to its british accent. who was this butterfly that made the frog so emotional?

“you haven’t met her, lavender, for you’ve never been to that garden… in assam,” the frog sighed.

“assam? but didn’t you say you come from india?” asked the wisp of pink. it had appeared suddenly, as was its way.

“well,” the frog sat up and looked around importantly, “assam is in india…”

“like, mmm, like…” the lavender swayed, thinking, then perked up and exclaimed, “singapore is in singapore?!”

“ha! it doesn’t rain… it pours! pourzzzzz!” the bee flew up and down very fast a few times, most pleased with itself, “get it?!!”

“we-ll, not that i have seen her either,” the frog conceded, “but my mother used to tell me stories of her. they were friends, when my mother was growing up. and the butterfly used to dance to that song.”

“floats like a butterfly… hmm… stings like a…” sang the frog, blithely out of tune, “bzz!” the bee completed the line.

“there’s a punch in the song, yeah!” it said, and shook with laughter at its own joke. i wondered where the frog and the bee had heard the beatles and that seventies’ song about muhammad ali.

the frog hummed away, and as it reached “catch me if you can…,” it suddenly sprang up and hopped a couple of hops. then the bee and the frog got into a merry twirl, the frog picked up a white jasmine that had fallen by the baby rubber plant and kissed it quickly before holding it aloft, standing straight and chest puffed out in a pose of some sort. there was a bated breath on the balcony. next thing, the frog was clicking its heels and flailing its arms, the bee had landed on a begonia leaf and started whirling about too.

the wisp of pink disappeared and reappeared next to the sunbird.

“what a farrago!” said the cross little bird.

“don’t you mean fandango?” the wisp of pink asked, nodding towards the dancers.

“no,” replied the bird, displeased, “i mean, farrago… ‘a confused mixture’… songs, buzzing, whining, long words, memories of butterflies you’ve never met, deaf left ears, dancing, nothing makes any sense, and then this rain… farrago, i say!”

“birdie, you don’t anyhow say, leh!” admonished the trumpet flower, “get yourself a drink… i want to see the frog and bee’s fandango.”

the sunbird tweeted its displeasure and sank its beak into the flower.

the dancers danced. i could see the begonia and the firecracker flowers turn to look at them. the asparagus fern’s gauzy fronds were trembling, a trail of minuscule black ants came out in a line from behind the maranta pot. the lavender giggled. the balcony seemed not to care that the rain had grown heavier.

is it really my deaf left ear, i thought. never mind, said something, it’s all a farrago.


yesterday, on twitter, after a long time the usual bitter invective and swearing and bashing paused for a while, as “farrago” had everyone in its thrall. someone had used the word and no one seemed to know its meaning. there were gasps, jokes, mirth, and fanciful usage, light and frothy went my timeline for a while. the frog said to me, write a story about that.

read a sunday tale here

and one more here

indrani’s index