My Year of Loving Backwards – Red Queen to White Queen, Part 14: The Orchid Garden


Over the next year, on Mondays and Thursdays, I will introduce consecutive passages from my new novel, Red Queen to White Queen. The book explores how a Colombian matriarch came to exert a lifelong dominance over her family, until a newcomer threatens her reign. At the end of each chapter, you will find a recipe from the book.

Cast of Characters:
Magdalena (Magda): Already in her 80s when the book begins, Magda is the most powerful figure in her family. Flashbacks explore the life that made her who she is.
Rosalba: Magda’s daughter, who has devoted her life to the care of her mother.
Immaculata (Imma): Magda’s lifelong servant
Dante: Magda’s husband
Seňora Moreno: Family friend of long standing
Desiderio: Magda’s son xxx
Don Claudio & Don Cosimo: Italian brothers, friends of the familyx
Father Martens: Magda’s Belgian tutor
Téodoro, or Téo (TAY oh): A young man of Magda’s own age, from Cartagena

Click here for Part I.
Don Arturo knocked on Magda’s door.

“I missed you at breakfast daughter. Is Señora Rodriguez not in her room? I have instructions for her.”

“I’ve also knocked on her door, Papá, but she’s not answering. I’m sure she’s just fatigued from yesterday. We walked a great distance in the heat. I’ll let her rest a bit longer then check on her.”

“Hijo de…” Don Arturo rarely swore and refrained from doing so now, though Magda could see it cost him some effort. She was confident he would not call a doctor. Doctors were expensive.

“We’ll stay in the hotel today. You’ll be back tomorrow night as usual?”

Half an hour later, Magda and Téo were hurrying to the public quay, where the carriage to Turbaco waited. Magda had swathed her face in a veil, both to avoid recognition and guard against the dust of the road. She wanted to look her best when they arrived.

“You’ll love it there,” said Téo. “My cousin has a small finca, where we can be together in peace. The farm is neither large or grand, but it’s private.”

“Your cousin seems the useful sort.”

Téo laughed. “It’s another cousin. I have many.”

Magda had no intentions of returning to Bogotá with her father and duenna. She was equally determined that Téo would not return to school. Seventeen was a good age to marry. Téo clearly came from a wealthy family; he had already mentioned that he would inherit a small farm of his own on his 21st birthday. Magda knew her own talents. Once married, she would help him build it into something great.

Another couple sat opposite them in the carriage. The woman was the talkative type: the torrent of words flowed in a single, eternal sentence while her husband looked morosely out the window. Téo sat listening politely, injecting a question or two when the woman surfaced for air. Magda could have screamed in frustration: once they were married, she would curb his habit of engaging all and sundry in conversation, no matter what their social class. In the meantime, she watched the scenery passing before their eyes. They were travelling inland, past immense plantations of coconut and banana. Labourers in the fields waved to them through the waves of heat haze rising off the land.The smell of flowers was intense.

Long before they reached Turbaco, a pack of small, underfed gamines began to gather beside the carriage, running dangerously close to the wheels and calling out to its occupants.

“Un centavo, patrones, un centavo por favor.” A coin, please, gentlemen.

Téo reached out the small window to throw a handful coins in a wide arc. The children fell back for a moment, scrambling in the dust and fighting among themselves. Moments later, they took up their pursuit with renewed vigor. Téo swung his arm wide again. Such generosity was another habit Magda planned to curb.

Turbaco’s single street was lined with ancient, mudded houses that leaned on each other as though they might tumble down otherwise. Old men and nursing mothers stood in the doorways to watch them pass. Magda was dismayed with the seediness of it all. Téo reached for her hand, laughing.

“Don’t worry. You’ll love my cousin’s farm. It’s nothing like this. I can’t describe how beautiful it is. You’ll just have to see for yourself.”

The road came to an abrupt end in a fine plaza, bordered by a vast, white church on one end and an entirely presentable hotel on the other.

Walking up the hill toward the farm was like venturing into another realm. Hundreds of butterflies wove in and out of the foliage. Téo pushed open an elaborate cast-iron gate, fashioned in graceful, curling circles.

Magda gasped as they entered the walled garden. Orchids—dozens, perhaps hundreds of them—peeped out from green foliage. Here too were butterflies, so thick they formed a solid wall of colour. The scent of the flowers was overwhelming. Magda removed her tightly veiled hat, the better to drink it in.

Téo raised her hand to his lips. “I wanted to be here with you in this place. Don’t worry,” he said, as she looked furtively for his cousin. “There’s no one here but the two of us.”

Téo led her deeper into the garden. There was no house, merely a tiled patio with a roof suspended on four stone pillars. Vines hung from it in ropes, sheltering and cooling the patio. The orchids pushed their way into the space, overwhelming the two with their scent. Several colourful hammacks hung from beams in overhead. A small, unlit cooking brazier was in one corner.

Téo leaped skillfully and gracefully into a hammock, his body spread diagonally to create a wide, open space beside him. He patted it in invitation.

“Have you ever slept in a hammock?” he asked, swaying.

“No, and I have no intention of sleeping in one now,” Magda announced. Téo laughed. “A turn of phrase. I just want you to sit beside me. As you can see, there are no chairs.”

Magda felt no fear. This was what she had come for. At the same time, she didn’t want him to feel too confident.

“I’m not sure I like the idea. How does one get on?”

“Just back into it, I’ll catch you.”

And catch her he did, turning his body towards her as she landed. The hammock swung from her weight, pushing them ever closer together. Magda felt giddy from the swaying of the hammock and the heat.

Her hat went first. It took a good 15 minutes of importuning on Téo’s part before she consented to remove her jacket. With every breath, she inhaled the scent of male sweat overlain with tropical flowers.

Téo was pressing his body rhythmically against hers, each push increasing the hammock’s arc. The movement reminded Magda of her childhood, pumping her legs to propel the swing ever higher. It was like flying.

“So this is what men and women do,” she thought.

Check back on Monday, April 11 for Part 15. All text is protected under copyright to Susan Young de Biagi. Images are in the public domain.

imageSusan Young de Biagi is a regular contributor to prdn.

As a trained historian, my twin passions are writing and teaching. In addition to Cibou – my first novel – I have written or co-written three books of non-fiction, and authored a number of digital, educational products.

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