The Homeless Rose

We were sitting outside drinking beer at a moderately clean, somewhat uncomfortable micro-brewery in downtown Gainesville. The air was dry and cool. It had not rained for a month and probably wouldn’t for several more. We were saying good-bye to a friend—ten or so of us gathered around a table with only four chairs. Some us leaned on the wrought iron rail; others propped their elbows on a round bar table; a couple of people shared the chairs.

Suddenly a man appeared on the sidewalk and bent over the rail ever so slightly. He held an assortment of roses, various sizes and colors, as if they had been just recently plucked from someone’s backyard.

“Hey, man? A nickel? Just a nickel,” came a deeply resonant and pleasant voice. An educated voice. I looked up. I began to smile. A woman always smiles when she is offered a rose. I think this reaction is as old as myth and may seem sexist to the modern woman, but I think an honest soul search will produce agreement. I would have given him a dollar. But his eyes were focused on the male members of our group. I imagine he thought a gentleman would certainly buy a lady a rose. I glanced across the table. My friends turned stoic. No one spoke. And so our interloper babbled on with his monologue. I felt uneasy. I wanted to reach in my purse and give him money.

He left the rose. “Aw. I don’t need a nickel. You can have it!” And then he turned his attention toward working the crowd at the other end of the sidewalk patio.

Without moving or lowering his voice, one of our group said, “The roses are from the city park, and he gestured toward the east. “They’re from the park.”

Soon the peddler came back with a few dollars in his hand but no roses. He muttered and recaptured the flower he had left on our table.

“I think you should have it,” I said. Not really knowing what else to say. He mumbled and walked away, holding his last rose like a cherished prize in his hand.

So the roses were from the park. The man had stolen them. Stolen public roses and wandered around downtown selling them for a dollar or less. It seemed like simple commerce and trade to me: the foundation of this country.

How is this any different from the first settlers who came here, stole property from Native Americans and sold it to other settlers? Or any different from men who stole other men and women and sold them to the highest bidder?

These were roses. Roses from the park. Free roses. Roses that grow on public land. Roses that are a renewable resource. Roses that thrive the more they are picked. Roses that offer pleasure.

But this man was disdained for picking them. For violating some law that says you cannot take roses from public land.

And from whom, I wondered, was that public land stolen?

Creative Writing: Essay, Nonfiction

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