Where Sunflowers Belong
A lone sunbeam always managed to illuminate the same patch of grass every afternoon, just underneath the pecan tree in the backyard.
It was what Che’s mother called the “lucky spot.” One year, the wind had blown seeds out of her hand, yet an entire head of lettuce had managed to sprout in the lucky spot. The birds and squirrels made quick work of it, but Che’s mother often said that it was proof of the power of positive energy.
Every day, Che would plop down in front of the lucky spot and watch as the sun performed its daily dance across the sky. He’d trace the shapes of the clouds with his finger and dream up stories of far-off lands while feeling a deep sense of comfort from the familiar warmth of the sun.
A tall sunflower now stood where the head of lettuce had once been. Che often thought of it as a reminder that the world was always sending him messages, if only he was brave enough to listen.
He was determined to make sure that nothing happened to the sunflower, not even if the sunbeam refused to show up one day. He wanted his lucky spot to stay right where it was.
“Well, that doesn’t go here.”
Che had only turned around for a second, but when he looked back at the sunflower, it was gone. In its place was a mound of dirt and leftover roots strung about the grass. His heart sank as tears welled up in his eyes. Where had the sunflower gone?
“It’s alright. You can still play with it.”
Che turned to see another boy in his backyard, though he hadn’t heard anyone come through the door or the back gate. He was clutching the sunflower, which drooped in his hand as if all the life had been drained out of it.
The boy had light brown eyes and a shirt with blue horizontal stripes. Che wondered why it looked familiar before looking down at his own shirt and realizing he had on an identical one.
“Yup! I saw you had on a shirt just like mine and wanted us to be twins today!” the boy said with a wide smile.
Che felt his heart lighten at the thought, and it suddenly seemed easier to breathe. The boy then leaned forward to hand him the sunflower, and that’s when Che noticed the funny smell.
He couldn’t quite figure out what it was until he remembered one of the kindergarteners in the nurse’s office had an accident the other day. The nurse had said he was six, which was way too old to still be wearing a diaper, but the boy didn’t say anything. He’d just stood there.
Che realized that was what the smell was, and he noticed the boy was also wearing a diaper. He could see the outline because the boy had tucked his shirt into it. Che’s brow furrowed. His mom said he didn’t have to tuck his shirt into his underwear, only his pants.
The boy took a step back, and the light hit his head. Che could see it was brown, but it seemed like the sun made it look like it had a reddish glow to it. He’d never seen that before. The boy scratched his head, and when he pulled his hand out of his hair Che had thought he’d seen a bug crawl back into it.
“I’m nine years old!” Che declared.
“Me too!” the boy replied with a happy smile.
The two boys then sat down in the grass, and just like old friends they talked until the sun started to go down. The lucky spot was gone for the day, but Che knew it would be back tomorrow. He had a new friend now, and that was all the luck he needed.
“Hey, do you think I could stay here tonight?”
The question caught Che off guard.
“I don’t know…” he started to say, but the boy interrupted him before he could finish.
“Please?” the boy asked, his voice a bit softer this time. “I just don’t want to go back home right now.”
Che looked at the boy, and then back at the sunflower in his hands. He knew that he’d like to have a friend stay here with him, even if it was just for one night. He started to answer when he heard the back door open.
“Che, you need to come inside to eat, and who are you out here talking to?” his mother asked as she closed the door behind her. Che had always been told his mother was beautiful. Her hair today was swept into a big, poofy side ponytail. She was wearing a sundress, and it was Che’s favorite color: blue.
She liked to wear big hoop earrings, and Che always wondered how they stayed on her ears the way they swung all over when she turned her head. She was usually smiling, but now she looked concerned, her dark brown eyes almost black in the fading light.
“Che, come here, honey…” she spoke in an even tone, measuring her words carefully as she gestured for Che to come closer.
Che looked up at the boy, who was now standing too, his head bowed and his face hidden in the shadows of the night.
“Mommy, this boy is my new friend!” Che’s voice was filled with youthful excitement. “He took the sunflower out of the lucky spot, but it’s okay. I can still play with it, right?”
“Che, I need you to come here…”
“Okay, mommy,” Che rose to his feet, “but can he come inside with us? He said he doesn’t want to go home yet.”
“CHETACHI!” his mother snapped through gritted teeth. “Come. Here. Now!”
Che froze in his place, unable to move for a split second. She rarely yelled at him, even if she was upset. His mother gestured for him to come closer again, and he slowly obliged. He kept his eyes on the ground, not wanting to look up at her in case she was mad.
“Che,” his mother said after a few moments, her voice now calmer and almost soothing. “I need you to go inside and play with your toys for a little while. If you’re a good boy and do as I say, we’ll have pizza tonight. I can save what I cooked for tomorrow.”
Che looked up, relief washing over him. He nodded his head and ran inside, his fingers still clutching the sunflower in one hand. He went into his room and stayed there just like his mother said, playing with his action figures until he looked up and saw her standing in the doorway.
“Mushroom, I need to make a few calls,” she always called him “Mushroom” because his name reminded her of shiitake mushrooms. “Then, I’ll order us some pizza. Are your cartoons coming on tonight?”
Che nodded his head and smiled, relieved that the sunflower was still safe in his hands and that he wasn’t going to get into trouble.
“Well, what happened to my new friend outside?” he asked, curiosity taking over.
“He’s going home for the evening,” his mother answered, her voice a bit sad.
“But he can come back tomorrow, right?” Che asked, his eyes widening with hope.
His mother’s gaze dropped slightly as if she was contemplating the request.
“Chetachi,” she replied after a few moments of silence, her voice still soft and sad. “I don’t think he’ll be able to come back for a while.”
Che wanted to ask why, but he knew his mother wouldn’t give him an answer. He looked up at her and nodded sadly, then went to the window and looked outside. The sun had almost completely set, leaving the street lights in its wake. He couldn’t see any sign of the boy, and he suddenly felt a deep loneliness creep into his heart.
He wondered where his new friend had gone and if he was okay. He clutched the sunflower tighter in his hands and felt a single tear roll down his cheek.
His mother turned and left, and he could hear her dialing the phone in the living room. She was whispering to someone, but her voice sounded frantic. After several minutes, she finally hung up and then dialed again. This time, Che could hear her more clearly as she ordered some pizza with his favorite toppings.
Che looked back outside, still hoping to catch a glimpse of the boy, but he was nowhere to be seen. He sighed sadly, placing the sunflower on his bed while he continued playing with his toys until the pizza arrived.
He never saw the boy again, but he vowed to find him one day. He didn’t really need the sunflower. His new friend could have it if it made him happy.
Che began to wonder again why unusual things seemed to grow in that spot in the backyard. If that wasn’t the right place for them, where were they supposed to go?
Where did the unlucky truly belong?