A series of swearwords was heard in the neighborhood, but it didn't alarm anyone, because Leo was used to being heard to swear. Locked in his garage, which he had transformed into a workshop, he repaired, designed and built unknown objects. He would lock himself in there every day between 1 and 4 p.m. and that's all anyone knew around here; that and his nasty tendency to hate the slightest gesture of empathy: he never greeted his neighbors and the few times you had to talk to him, he was so unpleasant that you had to use all your diplomatic skills not to be sent packing.
Today, he had hammered his left thumb on a nail and was beside himself.
He went outside and, under a bland sky of bare trees, Leo cursed the snow and winter that would soon settle in for many months. It was as if this phenomenon, which brought with it cold, wind, endless nights and the obligation to shovel, had been invented only to make him suffer from coughs, colds and flu that would take hold of him each time to weaken him until spring.
Meanwhile, Fairy Hibiscus was preparing to visit him. She knew Leo well. She had seen him born, married, and led his professional life with an iron hand. But since the death of his wife and the departure of his children, Leo needed help. Many had turned their backs on him and the children were afraid of him because he had become unbearable, no doubt due in part to the chronic flu that sapped his energy and his morale. But Fairy Hibiscus knew that he was a good man, that he would not survive this loneliness and that he did not have much energy left to invest in his anger and in the sense of injustice that was eating away at his dreams. On the eve of his 60th birthday, Leo had to take care of himself, his health depended on it.
She traveled hundreds of kilometers in an instant and, once in front of the workshop's door, she wondered how she would be received. Leo had to be approached gently and not be surprised: he might get high blood pressure. Hibiscus Fairy decided to show up with a steaming cup of herbal tea to please him, but also to introduce him to the benefits of hibiscus flower, a potion of her own that would help strengthen his immune system. She found him bent over a piece of wood that he was carving with a plane. He didn't look too good.
He put down his tool and looked up somewhat annoyed.
Leo refused the tea with the back of his hand and the cup smashed against the wall, tearing one of the Hibiscus Fairy's wings in the process.
When she awoke, she was in Leo's right hand, wrapped with her hibiscus flower in a fairy-sized wool blanket that Leo had kept since their last meeting. He immediately brought it into the house, where it was nice and warm.
Fairy Hibiscus would gladly forgive him anything as his wing slowly repaired itself. It took seven days. Meanwhile, the two friends chatted in front of the crackling fire in the living room while sipping on Fairy Hibiscus' comforting and restorative potion. She was happy to see that Leo was getting better and better; he had gradually returned to his workshop and eventually resumed his work schedule to finish his project, which, I must say, amazed the whole neighborhood: a series of beautiful cribs and rocking chairs lined up in what had been a garage, all embellished with hand-carved designs and flowers. His plan had been to give them to young families in the neighborhood to get them off on the right foot, just as he had started his own some forty years earlier. But since he had been alone, his goal had been filled with regret and a great fatigue did not seem to leave him.
However, the doses of vitamin C and antioxidants from the herbal teas, the presence of his friend and his hibiscus flower, plus a healthy revision of his diet had made him a stronger, more confident and conciliatory man. The neighborhood now waved at him, people were no longer afraid to offend him at the slightest comment, and families were grateful for his presence and generosity. Leo had become the hero of his own story. He had finally chosen to heal himself and others in his own way. Soon he was allowed to cradle his babies, invited to events, and new parents loved to listen to his good advice when they felt overwhelmed.
As for Fairy Hibiscus, she left Leo's house one evening in February. Leo realized this immediately when he saw a beautiful hibiscus plant in the middle of his living room. The plant, like the fairy, had once again brought a smile to the old man's face, and he thanked his friend. He was already looking forward to his next visit to continue their quiet conversations over a steaming cup of tea in the middle of winter.
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