The bouquet of flowers in her basket bobbed as Anna glided down the street on her bicycle. The rows of modest neohomes with their quaint little gardens all seemed too familiar to her; after all, she had lived in the neighbourhood as a child. An elderly Aisha waved to her from her rose garden, and Anna waved back politely, recognising her to be one of the friendly ladies she used to live next to.
The Kyrii turned a corner, and pedalled steadily along the high metal fence that surrounded the NeoSchool she had graduated from several years ago. It still looked the same to her, only smaller. Beyond it, she turned, again, this time onto a winding path secluded by trees. Above her in the lush canopy were Beekadoodles, chirping busily as they flocked back to their homes to settle at sunset.
When she finally emerged from the green passage, she slowed down and braked at the two rusty poles that marked the entrance of the park she used to play at as a little Kyrii. Although they had lost their metallic shine, she still remembered them fondly. How could she not?
Every day after school, when the weather was fine, she and her friend Jimmy would run through the green passage, grasping onto the straps on their backpacks as they kicked up dust behind them. She remembered that they would run so fast that she could hear the spoon clanking noisily in her empty lunchbox as if it were a pinball in a pinball machine, and she remembered the way Jimmy's white mane would bounce softly with each leap he took in front of her. Excitable youths they were, and with much enthusiasm they would cross between the poles, entering their magical world.
Anna scooped up the bouquet of flowers from her basket and looked at the silent playground before her, which now looked to her small and decrepit. The yellow paint on the slide had started to peel, and the chains that held the swings had tarnished. She turned to see an equally dismal basketball court, its painted lines faded and its basketball hoops bent out of shape. The sight of its remains saddened her, even though she knew in her heart that it was inevitable. Being on the outskirts of Neopia Central, it was only a matter of time until it was abandoned and forgotten by the Neopians who were attracted to the newly-revamped Games Room and the glorious wonders of travel and consumerism.
However, when the pink Kyrii lifted her eyes from the playground, she realised that the hills beyond it had not changed. Shielding her eyes with one free paw, she gazed at the rolling hills that were basked in the heavenly glow of the setting sun. It was still brilliantly verdant and speckled with an abundance of yellow dandelion flowers, just as she remembered, and melding into the horizon, they seemed infinitely continuous. The big oak tree she and Jimmy shared stood in the distance, swaying in the breeze, as if waving to her. It seemed more lonely than magical to her now. As Anna gazed poignantly at the tree, she felt herself on the verge of tears, the familiar foliage prompting a multitude of childhood memories to fill her mind. She clutched the flowers tightly in her paw and made her way up the hill towards it.
As they sat under the shade of the tree, the two Kyriis would sip the juice cartons that they had saved from their lunch and pass time by daydreaming aloud and watching the world go by. That was pretty much what they did, Anna remembered. Those were the blissful days of carefree childhood.
Anna would weave crowns out of the yellow flowers, one for Jimmy and one for her. At first, Jimmy did not like them.
He screwed up his face and scowled at the flowers with disdain. "They're not flowers! My mum said they were weeds!"
"No they're not. They're flowers because they're pretty."
"There's thousands of them all over the hills! They're plain and look all the same."
"But don't you think they're cute in a way?" Anna had said, still weaving the crowns diligently. "They're sunshine yellow, for happiness, and they fill the hills with happiness."
She pointed to a bee that hovered above a flower before resting on it. "See? Bees are happy because they can make honey with the flowers."
Soon, the two of them became obsessed with dandelions and the concept of happiness. They would gather all the silvery dandelions they could find. With their backpacks filled with gossamer balls, they would climb the tree almost to its highest point. Then they would sit together on the branch with their golden crowns atop their heads. Despite the dizzying height and the hardness of the branch, sitting in their tree was somehow comfortable, and something about its grooves and ridges was reassuring.
"Go, my children! Spread happiness!" Anna would scream before sucking in the deepest breath she could manage, and with all her might she would blow on the dandelion seeds as hard as she could. When the wind swept the soft tufts across the hills, Anna and Jimmy imagined that the seeds were little children with white umbrellas travelling into vastness of the world, floating and floating, towards every little corner of Neopia.
They soon talked big dreams of expanding their empire of happiness.
"One day, we can fly to the Kreludor and spread them there. And after that, we can spread them everywhere beyond Neopia!" Jimmy declared, holding up a gossamer ball proudly before blowing on it. "I'm going to be an astronaut," he continued, his eyes bright with passion. "I want to touch the stars. You know, maybe we can put a bunch of seeds onto a shooting star, and it'll carry them throughout the whole universe."
The two of them beamed as they imagined their ideal universe, one that is covered in happy dandelions like the lands of Neopia Central below them.
Anna stood at the tree now. Its distinct woody fragrance enveloped her. She brushed her hair out of her face and tilted her head back to inspect the oak tree. Another memory resurfaced. She remembered developing a ritual of watering the tree with the dribbling remains in their cartons, brimming with ardent hopes of getting it to grow into a giant so they could fulfil their dreams faster.
It, of course, did not work.
The tree had not gotten any bigger, but rather, it had gotten smaller. Frankly, it was not the tower she remembered it to be.
With a woeful sigh, she laid the bouquet of flowers at the base of the tree where she and Jimmy used to nap. "Rest in peace, Jimmy," Anna whispered delicately, wiping away the tears in her eyes with the sleeve of her jacket. "At least you get to be with the stars now."
The sun had gone down. Anna gave a respectful nod before she turned away. Crickets chirped as she trudged her way through the dandelions, and once again, she found herself standing by the two rusty poles. Putting on her helmet, she turned to have one last look of the tree that stood on the hills where dandelions grew freely. Above it, in the darkness of the sky, a silver glint caught her eye. The first star of the night winked at her.