As the feral girl walked tentatively forwards out of the surrounding safety of her forest home into the tranquil oasis of the garden, the old man turned his gaze towards her. As his eyes found hers, the girl felt as she had felt when she attempted to peek inside him and discovered him looking directly, deeply into her. In that moment, she was aware that nothing was hidden from him; her life in the forest, her studies of the villagers, her spying on him, all was revealed and laid bare. How vulnerable she felt as her feet kept walking her forwards, and how fearful of his judgement.
But in the flickers of a second that she dared meet his eyes before looking back down at her feet, she felt her body be soothed by the softness of his gaze. And a moment later, the deepest, warmest smile spread across his face and flowed out from his body to envelope her in its velvet embrace.
“Welcome Lilanthro, please, would you be kind enough to help me tend to my plants?”
The feral girl had no idea why he called her Lilanthro, but all she could manage in reply was a quietly spoken, “Yes, of course.”
So together they made their dance of the garden, with him leading the way and she shyly following. The old man stroked and smiled at the plants, all the while talking soothingly to the girl. He told her the names of each plant, their characters, the colours of their flowers and which birds favoured each one. Many of these things she already knew, but she had never given voice to them before and never put names to them. She could sense that he was aware of her connection with the plants; he was not lecturing her with his own knowledge or declaring it better than hers, just including her in his world and delicately enticing her out of her frightened bubble.
From the brightness of morning till the soft dying glow of evening the man and the girl stayed in the garden together. She followed his lead in all things. They tended the plants, they sat, they walked, they mended broken pots, they planted bulbs, they watched the birds. At times the old man would gently tell her intricately woven details about his garden. At other times they would work together in silence. Occasionally he would ask her a question or two, but only simple ones like whether she would like some food to eat, or if she could hand him a tool to work with. He created a space in which they could both exist together and placed no demands upon her.
The girl would answer when questioned, nod in agreement with his words and smile when smiled at. There were a hundred questions she wanted to ask him and a hundred things she wanted to share with him. But instead she became like a timid bird of the forest watching the friendly giant hold out food for her, darting forwards to snatch crumbs from his fingers then returning to her position of fear-filled, hope-filled stillness. She felt in awe of the old man, tiny compared to his vastness, and awkward as if any knowledge she did possess had drained out of her and she did not have the words to recall it.
She was full of a blurred array of emotions yet empty of the ability to think or to act. She was so happy to be with the old man, so happy he had accepted her and was asking nothing of her, that she wanted desperately to throw her arms around him crying “Thank you, thank you, thank you…” a thousand times over. But she dared do no more than quicken her heart beat and hold back her grateful tears.
That evening, the old man turned to the girl and said, “Lilanthro, where would you like to sleep this night? I have a hammock we can hang in the garden where the plants will take good care of you, or would you rather return to the comfort of your own bed in your forest home?”
The girl replied, “I, I will go to my own bed… But, thank you.”
“Whatever you wish is good Lilanthro. I hope you will return and help me again tomorrow. I have enjoyed your company today and I have need of a helper here, to cultivate my garden and mend some baskets… Would you do me the honour of assisting me again?”
The feral girl blushed as she responded, “Yes, yes, please, I would like that very much. Thank you.”
And so the girl slid out of his garden to the edge of the forest. She did not go far, but slept in the branches of the nearest tree overhanging the garden, close enough to feel his presence, far enough away to be wrapped in the safety of her own solitary world. That night her dreams were full of both wonder and uncertainty, and the next day she awoke in the same state of slightly displaced suspension.
For the following two weeks, the feral girl arrived in the old man’s garden each morning as he greeted the sun. Their days were spent working together and each evening the girl would return to her nest in the branches next to his home. Over those days, the old man worked his magic, patiently, artfully inviting the girl out of her cocoon of shyness.
He talked to her, taught her how to weave straw into baskets, left her by herself amongst the plants, smiled and laughed often, gave her space to grow less timid and more bold. Over the first week, the feral girl began to smile more often, to answer his questions more boldly, to start telling him of her life in the forest, to ask him about his life, even to sing softly to herself as she worked. During the second week, she would laugh as he laughed, dance the morning dance in her own way while he sat by and watched, and have moments of unselfconscious talking, exuberantly telling him stories of wolf cubs, mountains and butterflies. She lost her fear, her shyness and once again became herself, free to be in tune with the garden, the animals and the surrounding forest, feeling equal enough to be in the old man’s company and able to hold a silence with him in which they both sat with calmness and lightness.
After two weeks of being in his company, she at last asked him, “Why is it you call me Lilanthro?”
“Ah, I’m glad you asked,” he replied with a twinkle in his eye,”The little gift which you left on the pillows of all the villagers, is the flower which we call White Star. Its secret name, which I use to call it out of its sleepiness, is Lilanthro. I thought you might like it… But you are of course free to change it and pick another name, or no name at all if you prefer…”
“I will keep it,” Lilanthro replied, “Do you have a name?”
“Ah, two wonderful questions in a row which I am happy that you’ve asked!” He said with a mischievous laugh and gentle smile, “I have a few names, and they have changed over the years, but you can call me Talas if you like.”
“Talas… You know all about me don’t you?” Lilanthro asked, with nervousness starting to creep up inside her and wrap itself around her throat.
“Lilanthro, there are a few things in this world I know, and many things I do not know, but yes, I know a little of you.”
With a sudden urge to speak what was in her heart, Lilanthro swept the nervousness to one side and said, “Will you teach me… Will you teach me to be like you?”
Talas laughed again, a rich vibrant laugh that caused the flowers to sway appreciatively and the birds to ruffle their feathers in delight, “A third wonderful question!” He declared. “However, alas, I cannot teach you to be like me. Maybe though, I can help you to be more like yourself… How about that?”
Lilanthro did not really know what he meant, but she did not want to turn down any offers of teaching from Talas so she replied, “You have given me my name, you have accepted me without rebuking me my errors, I will gladly learn whatever you are generous enough to teach me.”
At exactly the right moment, in exactly the right place, the pupil had found her teacher. How could it be any other way, does not a teacher always appear when a student is ready?