They stared at her. In fairness it was hard for her not to stare back. She’d never seen anyone who looked like these people. Of course she’d known that people on this continent wouldn’t look like her. But still.
“Captain?” She asked the leader of the expedition.
Captain R. turned to her, his gaze betraying annoyance. He hadn’t wanted to bring her here. Not that he’d bothered explaining why but he didn’t.
“They’ve never seen a woman like you Ms. L.”
“What do you mean? They must have seen many…”
“Not women. You are the first in this colony.” He looked a little worried. “I don’t like it.”
“Well I’m here to study and bring sample of the vegetal species of this place, that we might understand it better.”
He shook his head; she obviously didn’t understand. But he wasn’t going to explain. He thought she was a flimsy lady who had wanted to come here on a whim, to punish her husband for cheating on her and dying while with his mistress, to deny society the pleasure of humiliating her. All of these were true but not the reason why she wanted to come. She’d always dreamed of travelling the world. And she was a scientist. And since she was no longer bound to a man who didn’t love her, she was going to work on what she truly loved.
She’d convinced the purveyor of funds that she must come. Despite the scandal it would create Lord K. agreed. And here she was.
Everything was so beautiful: lush, rich in ways that the old world no longer was. The trees seemed bigger, as if they had more earth to grow from. This one looked like a oak, but it was wider, its roots reaching far and deep. As they entered the village proper, a heavy and agreeable fragrance filled the air. She breathed in deeply; she couldn’t have described the smell. It wasn’t like anything she’d ever smelled before. She looked about to identify where that powerful fragrance was coming from.
It wasn’t too difficult. A few feet away, there were vines sporting beautiful flowers blue and white… and yellow fruit.
“Captain?” She reached for his arm but he didn’t allow it.
“Yes?” Again there was the growling of a man who would rather she wasn’t here.
“What is this?”
She pointed to the colourful vine that spread across the trees like some giant ivy. And there was some on the small wooden structures that the natives used as houses.
“We call it the clock flower. Because when it’s in bloom and open, it’s got twelve petals and the blue crown looks a little like the mechanism you can find in a clock. They call it Passiflore.”
She had no idea what that meant; her understanding of the language was limited yet. She could probably ask the Captain but he wasn’t particularly forthcoming. They reached the centre of the village where a group of white haired men and women waited.
“The Elders Ms. L. We need their approval for your research. Let me do the talking.”
Whatever the Captain said, it sounded beautiful. And articulate. The Elders nodded, turned to her and smiled, nodded some more.
“They want to know why you want to study their plants.”
She had no idea how to explain that in a way that he could translate.
“Tell me. I’ll translate.”
So she did. She spoke of her passion for plants since she was a kid, how she loved how they look but also what secrets they hid. Some could yield essence that could alleviate chest pain. Others had roots that could be cooked and used to help heal broken bones. One could use the leaves of others to brew a tea that would soothe and relax. Because of the molecules they held within. Others were just beautiful and smelled good. But she wanted to see what plants other places held, what they revealed about the people who cared for them too. It was hard to explain.
“I’m sorry, I’ve never been too good with this…”
But the Captain smiled. Well that was the first time he smiled to her since she met him. He spoke in that other language, that sounded very beautiful and very strange. Again the Elder nodded. But they frowned and asked some questions. Well at least it sounded like questions. And then the one who looked the oldest came to her and took her in his arms, kissing her on both cheeks.
The villagers cheered and approached her, embracing her one at a time. It was as if she’d been welcome as part of their clan or something.
“Well they accepted your request. And we’re being offered a house.”
“We’re not going to go back to the ship every day Ms L. We can’t. You wouldn’t have time to work on the plants efficiently.”
“No… it’s just…”
“You’re a widow and I’m a single man. They don’t mind here. But I’ll leave you the bed.”
He laughed. It seemed the man had humour but she wasn’t sure how she felt about being at the receiving end of it.
Later that day, there was a banquet. Tables were arranged in circles around the main square in the village. She was sitting by the Elder Lady, an honour the Captain said. He was next to the Elder who had first kissed her. They served dishes that tasted like nothing she’d ever had before. It was spicy but not overwhelmingly so. And then they brought the fruit from the vine she’d seen before along with a fuming drink. It might have been an infusion.
She cut the fruit to examine the interior. The girl who brought the fruit showed her she should eat it.
“Eat.” The woman on her right said with a heavy accent.
“You speak our language?”
“A little. Eat. Is good.”
“What does it do?”
“No… is for you. Gift for guests. Drink.”
On the other side of the square the Captain was eating the fruit, drinking the infusion. His raised eyebrow meant she should do so too. She nodded to him and drank too.
“What is it?”
“Leaves. Fruit. From the passiflore.”
“What does it mean?”
She seemed to think about it.
“Passion flower in your language. It opens the mind…”
Why? She already had an open mind. She was here after all. The woman looked at the Captain and back at her. What did that mean?