THE PRICE OF FLOWERS (STORY)

THE PRICE OF FLOWERS (STORY)

The narrator of this story is Mr. Gupta. He is living in London. One day he was very hungry. He went to a vegetarian restaurant. He chose a corner and began to read the newspaper. The waitress came to Mr. Gupta and took his order and went away. After he departure of the waitress, Mr. Gupta saw a young English girl looking fixedly at him. She was  nearly thirteen or fourteen years of age. Her clothes indicated that she belonged to a poor  family. There was a sad expression in her large eyes.
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 The young girl seemed to be taking some interest in Mr. Gupta. She asked the cashier of the restaurant whether the narrator was an Indian. The cashier gave her a positive response. The girl looked at the narrator once more. Then she went out. Mr. Gupta went on thinking why the girl was feeling interested in him. After finishing his lunch, he asked the waitress if she knew who the girl was. The cashier told Mr. Gupta that the girl came to the retaurant on  Saturdays. He kept thinking of the girl's poverty-stricken, sad and anxious figure. He began to think as to how he could help the girl.

  On the next Saturday, the narrator (Mr. Gupta) went to the same vegetarian restaurant. He saw the girl sitting at the same table as on the previous Saturday. She was eating her lunch. Mr. Gupta took a chair opposite her and wished her good afternoon. She responded with some hesitation. After a few minutes she asked Mr. Gupta if he was an Indian. He said that he was.Then she asked him if he was a vegetarian. Mr. Gupta replied that he was not a strict  vegertarian. His talk with the girl revealed two things. She lived with her old widowed mother in Lambeth. She had a brother named Frank who was a soldier and was at present serving in India. They had not received any letter from him for a long time. The long silence of the  young man had been worrying the two women a lot. The girl requested Mr. Gupta to go with  her to her house. She was thankful to Mr. Gupta as he agreed to accompany her.  The narrator and the young English girl started walking towards the girl's residence. She told Mr. Gupta that she was working as a typist in the Civil Services Stores. Mr. Gupta felt impressed by the beauty of that simple, innocent and inexperienced English girl. She told him that her name was Maggie. Soon they reached a narrow door. Maggie took a key out Of pocket and opened the door, She entered the house and asked Mr. Gupta to come, mother was in the kitchen, The kitchen was in the basement. They went' down into the kitchen. The girl introduced the narrator to her mother. The old lady was making cakes so her hands were covered with flour. She used to make cakes and sell them in order to supplement their income to be able to live. Mrs. Clifford, the girl's mother, asked her to take Mr. Gupta to the sitting room. She said that she would come in a few minutes. But Me Gupta insisted on staying on in the kitchen. He praised her cakes. Mrs. Clifford thanked with a smile. She changed the subject of talk and started asking Mr. Gupta about India. She wanted to know what kind of country was India. The narrator praised his country. He told her that India was a safe county to live. It was all contrary to what she had heard about India being a land of tigers, snakes, malaria and Cholera. She then talked about her son, Frank. was a soldier. He was in the Punjab. He assured her that the Punjab was a fine place. She was glad to know that.
Maggie then brought Mr. Gupta to their sitting room. The furniture was cheap and rather insufficient. The carpet was old and torn in places. But it was neat and clean. Mrs. Clifford   showed him a photograph of her son, Frank. Maggie brought out a book of pictures he had sent her on her birthday.

Maggie then showed Mr. Gupta a ring with a crystal set in it. The old woman was rather superstitious. She believed that if she or anybody else concentrated into the ring thinking of a distant person, he/she would be seen on the crystal. But neither Mrs. Clifford nor Maggie  had been able to see anything. So Mrs. Clifford wanted Mr. Gupta to try. As he was an Indian, he might succeed in doing that. The narrator could not take courage and tell Clifford that the ring sent by Frank had nothing magical about it. It was just brass with a  piece of glass stuck onto it. He did not want to destroy their faith by telling-them the truth.  He took the ring in his hand and gazed at it for a long time. He gave up the attempt telling them that he had not been able to see anything in the ring. The mother and the daughter felt very much disappointed. 
Mr. Gupta thought of changing the topic of the ring. He wanted to know whether the  violin in the-house was Maggie's. Mrs. Clifford said that Maggie could play the violin very  well. Maggie agreed to play the violin after a lot of persuasion. She played a folk tune and  then a minor classic. The narrator and Maggie became good friends.
  For about three months there was no news from Frank. One day Mr. Gupta went to India House. He made enquiries. He learnt that Frank's regiment was fighting on the North West Frontier. The mother felt fear stricken on hearing this. One day Mr. Gupta received a letter from Maggie, informing him of her mother's illness. She also gave the information that she herself had not gone to work for a week. She had requested Mr. Gupta to come and see both the daughter and the mother. He told the family with whom he stayed about Maggie's letter' His hostess asked him to take some money and visit Maggie and her mother. After breakfast he left for Lambeth. Maggie was really happy to see Gupta in their home. Her mother's condition was. rather bad as she was very much worried about Frank. Mrs. Clifford told Maggie that if Mr. Gupta came and gazed into •the crystal ring, he might learn about Frank That is why she had written a letter to him. Maggie then requested Mr. Gupta to took into the crystal set in the ring. Mr. Gupta •told a lie. He looked into the crystal and told Maggie that Frank was all right, that he was alive. Tears welled up in the eyes of Maggie as Gupta told a lie only to console her ailing mother. He then went to Mrs. Clifford's bed-side and told her that her son was alive: She asked Mr. Gupta if he had seen her son alive in the crystal. _He lied that he really had seen him alive. She was happy to hear that. She blessed Mr. Gupta. The woman recovered. Obviously, an Indian's lie succeeded where Indian magic It was-time for the narrator to return to India. A month before his departure for India, Maggie had sent him a card with a blackborder indicating some tragic happening. He could make out that the boy Frank had died same day when he told his mother that he was alive and well. He felt ashamed and he did not have the courage to face Mrs. Clifford. He dropped the idea of visiting Maggie and her mother to say goodbye. Instead he wrote a letter to them telling them of his intention to go back to India.
The morning of Mr. Gupta's last day in London came. He was having his breakfast. He heard a knock at the door. The maid announced that Miss Maggie Clifford had come to see him. He came out and saw Maggie in the hall dressed in black. She asked him if he was leaving that day. He said that he was and that he would be in India in a little more than two weeks. She told him that her brother was buried at Fort Monroe near Dera Ghazi Khan. Mr Gupta promised that he would go there some day and write to her about it. She was filled with gratitude. She then took a shilling out of her pocket, put it down on the table. She requested him to buy some flowers with that shilling and lay them on her brother's grave on her behalf. Mr. Gupta was overwhelmed. He felt like returning that shilling. Then he decided that this would deprive the girl of the joy that her sacrifice would give her. He realised that she Was sacrificing the shilling for the love of her brother.

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