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THERE’S THE PERSON who you think you should be and there’s the person who you really are. I’ve lost a sense of both.
A WEED IS just a flower growing in the wrong place.
They’re not my words, they’re my granddad’s.
He sees the beauty in everything, or perhaps it’s more that he thinks things that are unconventional and out of place are more beautiful than anything else. I see this trait in him every day: favoring the old farmhouse instead of the modernized gatehouse, brewing coffee in the ancient cast-iron pot over the open flames of the Aga instead of using the gleaming new espresso machine Mom bought him three birthdays ago that sits untouched, gathering dust, on the countertop. It’s not that he’s afraid of progress—in fact he is the first person to fight for change—but he likes authenticity, everything in its truest form. Including weeds: He admires their audacity, growing in places they haven’t been planted. It is this trait of his that has drawn me to him in my time of need, and why he is putting his own safety on the line to harbor me.
That’s the word the Guild has used: Anybody who is aiding or harboring Celestine North will face severe punishment. They don’t state the punishment, but the Guild’s reputation allows us to imagine. The danger of keeping me on his land doesn’t appear to scare Granddad; it makes him even more convinced of his duty to protect me.
“A weed is simply a plant that wants to grow where people want something else,” he adds now, stooping low to pluck the intruder from the soil with his strong hands.
He has fighting hands, big and thick like shovels, but then in contradiction to that, they’re nurturing hands, too. They’ve sewn and grown, from his own land, and held and protected his own daughter and grandchildren. These hands that could choke a man are the same hands that reared a woman, that have cultivated the land. Maybe the strongest fighters are the nurturers because they’re connected to something deep in their core, they’ve got something to fight for, they’ve got something worth saving.
Granddad owns one hundred acres, not all strawberry fields like the one we’re in now, but he opens this part of the land up to the public in the summer months. Families pay to pick their own strawberries; he says the income helps him to keep things ticking over. He can’t stop it this year, not just for monetary reasons but because the Guild will know he’s hiding me. They’re watching him. He must keep going as he does every year, and I try not to think how it will feel to hear the sounds of children happily plucking and playing, or how much more dangerous it will be with strangers on the land who might unearth me in the process.
I used to love coming here as a child with my sister, Juniper, in the strawberry-picking season. At the end of a long day we would have more berries in our bellies than in our baskets, but it doesn’t feel like the same magical place anymore. Now I’m de-weeding the soil where I once played make-believe.
I know that when Granddad talks about plants growing where they’re not wanted, he’s talking about me, like he’s invented his own unique brand of farmer therapy, but though he means well, it just succeeds in highlighting the facts to me.
I’m the weed.
Branded Flawed in five areas on my body and a secret sixth for good measure, for aiding a Flawed and lying to the Guild, I was given a clear message: Society didn’t want me. They tore me from my terra firma, dangled me by my roots, shook me around, and tossed me aside.
“But who called these weeds?” Granddad continues as we work our way through the beds. “Not nature. It’s people who did that. Nature allows them to grow. Nature gives them their place. It is people who brand them and toss them aside.”
“But this one is strangling the flowers,” I finally say, looking up from my work, back sore, nails filthy with soil.
Granddad fixes me with a look, tweed cap low over his bright blue eyes, always alert, always on the lookout, like a hawk. “They’re survivors, that’s why. They’re fighting for their place.”
I swallow my sadness and look away.
I’m a weed. I’m a survivor. I’m Flawed.
I’m eighteen years old today.
Copyright © 2017 by Cecelia Ahern