Neela's Green Thumb
“Waaah, Xiao Mei, you have such a beautiful garden!”
The little white Kacheek shrugged shyly to herself, watching her excited Aisha pen pal dash from bush to bush, babbling over the fountain, sniffing the fragrant flowers and almost dancing with glee at the sight of the neatly tended vegetable garden near the back.
“I don't know how you do it! I'd never have the patience to grow all this!”
It was true, and Xiao Mei knew it well. A small smile on her lips, she guided Neela back to the small, thatched gazebo at the very heart of her garden, almost having to force the Aisha into a seat to stop her from knocking the whole thing over! With practised grace, Xiao Mei neatly adjusted her tea tray into the centre of her little white table. All her furniture matched, naturally. A small place of serenity built just for two in the middle of her own personal Eden. The centrepiece of the place she'd worked so hard to create.
“It's like a dream!” Neela continued through a mouthful of sticky rice cake (Xiao Mei was sure it had a Gelert on it a second ago), “I am so glad I came all the way to Shenkuu to meet you. I wish I could live here too.” She stuck her tongue out and Xiao Mei giggled.
“Oh, Neela, you can come and visit me whenever you want. You know how much I like hearing about all your adventures. They are even better in person.” Now it was the Aisha's turn to act coy. Flapping her paws in an almost embarrassed fashion, she helped herself to another of the Kacheek's carefully arranged cakes.
“Oh, they're not all that great.”
“Oh, yes, they are!” Xiao Mei refuted, blinking in surprise, “I would love to do all the things you do. Going to visit the Snowager, dodging booby traps in Geraptiku, even playing tombola on Mystery Island. I wish I had an owner like yours...”
Neela scratched the space between her ears as she watched Xiao Mei's expression descend from one of longing to one of sadness. She hadn't the heart to tell her that most other pets she knew lead that kind of life. Looking around, the Aisha came to a realisation – she may have loved Xiao Mei's garden, but she had been cooped up in Shenkuu nearly all her life until its recent discovery. What else did she have to do other than tend her beloved plants? She didn't have a large family like Neela did, and her owner was often away on business to pay for the very large neohome she inhabited.
“Please excuse me,” the Kacheek suddenly said. “I'll just be a moment whilst I water my Sponderolas.” And off she glided across the immaculately trimmed grass, leaving the Aisha to her own thoughts as she watched Xiao Mei humming gently to her dearest flowers, seeking out the driest patches of earth to rain down upon.
After the last drop of lavender mint tea was drunk, and Neela had licked the remaining crumbs of cake from her paws, Xiao Mei finally came back to the gazebo looking much cheerier for having completed her jobs.
Almost at once Neela was up, grabbing her by the paws. “Right then,” she said firmly, staring the Kacheek right in the face, “I've decided you're going to have an adventure after all!”
Xiao Mei's eyes widened.
“What do you mean?”
“Just this!” And from the brown, battered, but well loved leather satchel that Neela always carried on her person, she produced a ticket, waving it with gusto at her friend. “Tomorrow I was going to take an air tour of Neopia, but instead, you're going to take it in my place!”
“Me?” she squeaked, paws on her mouth in shock.
“Yep yep,” Neela confirmed, stuffing it into the pockets of Xiao Mei's silk trousers, steering her towards the house. “You better go and get everything packed! You're going to need snacks, and a water bottle, and maybe some sun screen. And, of course, an umbrella just in case it rains.”
On the doorstep, Xiao Mei stopped, casting a worried expression over the garden behind them. Catching it before she could say anything, the Aisha shook her blue and pink head, fur shaking vigorously from side to side with the motion. “I'll take care of your garden for you until you get back!”
“But there is so much to do tomorrow!”
“Not to worry,” Neela trilled, prodding Xiao Mei's nose. “If you want, write me a list tonight with everything that needs to be done, and I will definitely, definitely do it.”
Xiao Mei looked deep into Neela's face. Her friend was so big hearted, but did the Aisha even know how to garden properly? Paws trembling, she dug deep to find the now slightly crumpled ticket. As she touched the warm paper, she felt a sudden surge of emotion. She pictured herself leaning over the railings on one of the flying ships, sailing the currents and thermals high above Neopia, putting into port at all the places Neela had been too, walking the same tracks and making the same new discoveries, the exotic air filtering through her fur.
Her eyes filled with tears of gratitude.
“Thank you so much, Neela. I'll have the best time ever, I promise!”
* * *
“Wake up, Neela, wake up!”
Bleary eyed, she lifted her head. It was Credean, her Lupe brother, looking as stern as one of the statues of Mystery Island.
“Get up, it's almost noon. You lazy bones!”
“Shaddup,” Neela replied, turning over, determined to catch just five more minutes. She'd been having such a nice dream, about Xiao Mei in Shenkuu, and her beautiful garde-... Oh no!
“Ack!” Neela cried, forcing her covers back from her bed and ignoring Credean's derisive snort as she dug in her pile of clothes for her boots – her walking boots, not her nice ones!
“I thought you were going on that air tour today...” he reminded her as casually as he possibly could.
“Yeah, something like that!” Neela replied, tugging her Yes Boy Ice Cream shirt over her head as Credean sighed and tiptoed back to the kitchen.
There was only a blur of mismatched clothing and fur as Neela flew past him and the breakfast table, leaving behind merely a few crusts of toast in her wake. Her legs motoring as fast as she could, the little Aisha was exhausted by the time she managed to get to Xiao Mei's home. Stopping to catch her breath, she leaned on the neatly placed railings just outside the door.
Now first things first... ah!
Pinned to the beautifully floral patterned front door was a perfectly folded note. She grinned as she recognised the hand writing hailing her, and plucked it oh-so-carefully from the entrance. Well, she didn't want to tear the paint off now, did she?
I'm so thankful that you decided to give up your ticket just for me. As I write this, I am all packed and ready to go, and I look forward to my very first trip outside of Shenkuu! I am so excited I can hardly breathe! Please help yourself to anything in the house to eat and drink. I made some of my special rice cakes for you!
Lots of love,
Retracing the way the note had been folded, Neela slid it into her satchel. A note to keep forever, she would have to stick it into her scrap book as a keepsake when she got home herself.
Using the spare key that Xiao Mei had given her and making sure to wipe her feet before going inside, Neela let herself into the grand neohome. She always marvelled at how lovely it was. Delicately painted lamps, sparklingly clean floor boards, bright wallpaper and of course, all of it themed in the gorgeous style of the Shenkuu. Oh, how Neela would have loved to have joined Xiao Mei there. All she had back in Neopia Central was a far-too-jumped-on sofa and two little sisters determined to steal all her clothes.
They didn't even have a garden.
Which reminded her!
Hanging up her coat and her satchel in the doorway and slinking through the house, careful not to upset any of the ornaments, Neela made her way to the back garden. It looked the same as it had the day before, the sun catching the light just right from the little pond and fountain, the Kacheek's prized watering can set off to one side so she had no trouble finding it later.
“Time to get to work!” she said to herself, remembering Xiao Mei's list of things to do.
First, she needed to check all the plants for pests, and if she found any, a quick spray from the green can on the first shelf would see them off without hurting them – her own special mixture, naturally. That sounded easy enough, but she had to be careful. Neela definitely did not want to have to explain to Xiao Mei how she managed to snap all her plants in half!
Pawing gently through the flower beds, the Aisha was pleased to note that they all seemed to be pest-free. She caught no signs of movement under the leaves or munching on the petals of the blooming flowers. Xiao Mei did such a good job that she doubted she ever needed to use her green spra-... oh no. Just then, she caught sight of a familiar creature wiggling its way through the dirt.
“A Glyme! Oh, no, you don't!”
She was not going to be held responsible for all of Xiao Mei's flowers disappearing to the hungry little Petpetpet. Ducking back towards the house, Neela prised open the door to the adjacent shed where her friend kept her gardening tools.
“Green can...” she murmured. On the first shelf? She peered up amongst the array of cans and buckets and tools. There! Reaching up, she grasped the can. “Haha!” she exclaimed, pottering back outside to find her little friend from earlier, spray at the ready.
But it was gone.
Neela's brow furrowed. She just had to find him! She knew first-hand how dangerous to a garden a Glyme could be. Pushing bad memories about a sunflower that Credean had been growing to the back of her head, she moved onto the next clutch of Boadaisy. Surely it can't have gone too far?
Frantically searching, it was only when Neela's sensitive ears picked up rustling on the other side of the garden did she think that perhaps the Glyme had actually crossed the lawn. “The Kougra Lilies!” she gasped.
In a flash, she had skidded across to the blue and orange striped plants and had taken aim, ready to teach the Petpetpet EXACTLY whose garden this was.
“Take THAT foul Glyme!” came the battle cry.
SSSST. SSSST. SSSTSSTSSTSSSSSSSSST.
A dark cloud of terrible smelling purple mist rose from the Kougra Lilies, and Neela found her eyes watering and her nose burning. Too much! Although she doubted the Glyme was going to stick around long enough to find out. Stumbling backwards, everything slightly blurry, Neela tried to focus. It was only repellent spray...
Neela's head met the springy ground underneath and up and over her flew Xiao Mei's watering can in a pantomimed spiral right towards the...
“Oh my goodness!” Neela wailed, scrambling up. The can had crashed right through the roof of the gazebo, tearing a massive hole clean through the top. The sun shone downwards through the mess, highlighting the broken splinters of wood and straw that were sprinkled all over the table in the heart of the structure.
“I can fix it!” the Aisha told herself, in a blind panic, hurrying back to the shed. There had to be something that could help. All she needed to do was to find some wood and straw, and maybe some nails and a hammer... Things flew off the shelves – she could put them back later – as Neela urgently hunted like a Maraquan Grarrl for something, ANYTHING, that could help her.
“A hammer!” she cried triumphantly, holding aloft her prize. Maybe she could find some nails in the house.
Rushing out of the shed towards the home, Neela felt something tug at her ankle. In almost slow motion, she managed to look back over her shoulder to see that in her haste, she'd stepped in the garden hose that lay like a sleeping Cobrall coiled at the side of the shed... and that it was connected to the shed itself... and that it wasn't long enough to go any further...
Not for the first time that day, Neela had an unexpected visit from the ground, and the impact found itself ripping the hammer from her hand. With an almighty crash, it sailed right through the gazebo and smashed its way into the fountain, severing the poor statue of Xiao Mei's drinking Juma in two.
Water poured everywhere.
And then, as if things couldn't get much worse...
“Neela?! What in the name of Altador happened?!”
Neela kicked the dejected looking hose to one side. It was too late. The tiny white Kacheek was standing on the top step up to the house, peering at the mess, eyes like saucers.
“I'm so sorry, Xiao Mei... I tried my best, I really did. But you see... there was this Glyme and I sprayed him but instead it just made everything so much worse and I tripped over your watering can and made a mess so I tried to clear it up, I did, but but but...”
The Aisha gestured madly, trying to force back the lump that had been lodged in her throat, hot tears pricking at the corner of her eyes. How could she let her friend down so badly?
“It's OK if you hate me, Xiao Mei,” she finally finished, starting to cry against her own will. Neela rubbed desperately at her face trying to hide it but it was too late. Tutting, Xiao Mei came closer and, to the Aisha's utter shock and surprise, dabbed at the wet patches with her sleeve, a small smile on her face.
“Don't you want to hear what I did today, Neela?”
“...But your poor gazebo... your fountain...”
Xiao Mei shook her head firmly, helping Neela to her feet.
“Today I did all the things you did. I had the most wonderful adventure. And for that, I can never be mad at you for something like this. You are my best friend, and you gave me my very best dream. And so in return,” she said softly, handing Neela a spade, “we'll re-do the garden better this time. Together!”