In the Market for Flowers

In the spring, farmers' markets sprout up all over the city like mushrooms after a first rain. Now, there's a chill in the air and soon all but the largest markets will be closing down for the season.

Today, Elaine and I skipped lunch...and headed straight for the market near my office. The mission? Giant bouquets of flowers for the bargain price of $5.

Throughout the city, Hmong women are a familiar sight at the farmers' markets. Each week, they haul an endless supply of flowers, sold out of gleaming white 5-gallon buckets. Rejected flowers are strewn on the ground, and grow matted as the day wears on.

The kaleidoscope of colors instantly makes me smile.

Short, stocky women with broad faces and jet black hair, smile brightly and ask, "You want?"

I gesture towards a bucket of pink and orange variegated dahlias. She winds her way through a sea of flowers, grabs a small bunch and raises her brow.

I nod.

A rapid stroke from rough hands, strips the verdant leaves from their stalks. From another bucket, she plucks tall, deep purple stems that remind me of exclamation points. This adds the final touch.

An exchange of smiles and cash completes the transaction.

Before I can get a solid grip on my bouquet, she looks over my shoulder at the mother-daughter duo behind me and says, "You want?"