The White Ficafolia*

 William Loader

No one could know what colour. It is always a risk. You can end up with brilliant red and orange blossoms. You can be simply dull. So just to make sure they bought a larger one at the same time with a grafted branch of pink orange flowers - "just to make sure"!

 I was around the front. She was around the side. I held great expectations. It was as though every outing and every return included a glance, a small inspection. Placed where I am, I have been given the feature spot. And now they even contemplate decking me with Christmas lights for all to see.

 This is the now the fourth year. I knew how to grow. Within a year I had expanded from my small plastic tube, barely 3 cm in diameter to a metre high tree. It took only that long to outstrip my competitor, who seemed stuck at the same size for another two years and is only just starting to grow again now, reaching barely one metre, and probably growing from root stock. But I am at least three metres tall and right now shooting further into the sky.

 I have to cope with insects. They cropped most of my new shoots last year and the same happened again this year. The lookers were so disappointed this year. They were sure this would be the year for flowers, but they returned from overseas in early summer only to see eaten stalks.

 But then the mood changed. Lower down, away from the greedy bugs, some heads were forming. At first they saw two. Then in a matter of days they counted two clusters, each with three or four. It was not long before there were three clusters, each having at least ten buds.

 I remember some of the outings and returns. Excitement: the ones in the park are going to flower – bright red! (That's one of them above) Won’t that be wonderful! I held my breath, hoping. Would I join the gallery of stunning scarlet, enough to worry the New Zealanders that their beautiful pohutukawa, the New Christmas tree, were being outshone. Little did the looker know as a child that the strangers were from here. They were my family and traced their origins to the most southerly parts of this state.

Then it happened. It felt like rapid fire. In a matter of a few days the buds became large and threw open their closet to the wind. The looker had fetched the paper and was doing his looking thing again and there it was. But it was not bright red, not orange, not even the soft apricot colour which once had given colour to his first house in Hamersley. This was no colour at all. It was white! White! A white ficafolia! Oh no! (That's actually me in the picture!)

 Out with the axe or the electric chain saw. I could sense the disappointment. All these years I had tried. I am shapely, even if I say so myself; I am just about perfect for this spot – but only white flowers! I could have dropped my leaves and crumbled into the mulch. I was nothing more than fodder for the wood burner.

 But then there was a change. It was like a wave of sympathy at first, but then it grew into admiration and wonder, as though there was something here which the looker was slow to learn. He touched my strong trunk, looked up without disappointment. This was something special, something to talk about, something to look forward to. And now as the days have passed, the looker comes as if to a shrine and more and more white blooms appear. The unexpected has won his heart. And I feel strong and brave to assert my difference, to be the way this world of God evolved me to be and not be ashamed.

 I am there to greet the looker and all who come. I am what I am and if the looker must fantasise my thoughts to let that be, so be it. I greet the sun, hold myself aloft in the dark and sway in the wind. And I shine – white. White as a white ficafolia should.

* The Corymbia Ficafolia is the red-flowering gum tree (eucalypt), whose flowers are usually bright red and orange but can also be wider in range