The African Violet

The little African Violet has never been to Africa, and she’s not technically a violet. Nevertheless, that’s what the grandma that waters her calls her. The little plant sits happily on her windowsill in a little apartment in Sydney, Australia, where the sun is bright and the water, clean.

The next door neighbour has come to visit, and in her typical ear-piercing fashion she proclaims “oh my! Look at your African Violets today Guinevere! Your thumbs are getting greener by the minute.” Gwen is chuffed and quietly proud of herself. “Although,” continues the next door neighbour, “MY African Violets are the purple variety, which are much harder to maintain.” Gwen longingly asks to learn some techniques, hoping that she’ll finally be invited to the apartment next door to see the lush oasis that reportedly exists within. In the seven years she’s lived next-door, she’s never been inside her neighbour’s apartment.

The kettle is screaming atop the oven and Guinevere fills the teapot with her favourite tea leaves. The ladies take a seat in the lounge room. “Dear me! Guinevere, you must get your house in order.” Protests the neighbour as she moves a half-finished crocheted throw from the sofa onto the old piano. She spills the needles and yarn on the ground and kicks them under the sofa to get them out of the way. “Really, Gwen. You knew I was coming to visit.” She complains, shaking her head.

The ladies begin to discuss neighbourhood politics as the tea cools. The steam abates and the neighbour lifts the cup to her mouth. “Guinevere, do you WASH these teacups?” Of course she does. “There is lipstick on the rim. Darling,..” the neighbour looks deep into Gwen’s eyes and lowers her voice. “…Do you need to see someone? I know a professional.”

Unsure exactly what her neighbour means, Gwen politely declines and takes the tea setting into the kitchen to tip away the unfit beverages. “I’ll see myself out, dear.” Comes the voice from the other room. The door closes before Gwen can rush out and bid her guest farewell.

The African Violet watches this all play out and she hatches a plan. She plays dead. She lowers her flower, she wilts her leaves and she waits. The little plant has been cared for so lovingly that she’s never been in such a sorry state. As predicted, Gwen sees the pathetic plant and, in a state of alarm she scoops it up and dashes next door for help.

Gwen knocks urgently. The neighbour answers from behind the door. Expressing her alarm, Gwen urges her neighbour to let her in. Reluctantly, the neighbour opens her door enough to make eye contact. She’s about to turn Gwen away, but Gwen barges through in a manner that’s uncharacteristic.

The two women stand stunned. They’re surrounded by boxes piled high filled with old newspapers and toasters. There’s a floor fan, a desk fan, an old lamp, three microwaves; there are bed sheets hanging over the windows and there isn’t a single clean dish amongst the fifty or so scattered over the bench. The seven pot plants on the windowsill are what Gwen has longed to see for the last seven years. One pot contains a dead stick. Another contains a collection of pens. The remaining five pots are empty.

Gwen’s neighbour still comes around from time to time. She still admires Gwen’s resplendent African Violet, and moreover, she NEVER complains about anything.



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