‘What is this one?’ asked Delenn, turning the piece of food this way and that before her eyes.
‘That’s a slice of tomato,’ John replied. ‘It’s got oil, basil, oregano, and probably salt covering it.’
Delenn inspected the slice. ‘What does a tomato look like before it is sliced?’
‘It’s round, or mostly round. It would grow on a vine, in a vegetable garden, even though it’s kind of a fruit.’
‘That is very interesting,’ the ambassador observed. ‘On Minbar, our fruits and vegetables are grown together, indoors, or gathered from the wild. Gardens are ornamental; we walk through them to reflect, or tend them as we meditate. Spending time outside, under the sky, can inspire thoughts that might not occur indoors.’
‘What kinds of plants do you grow there?’ John asked. He imagined Delenn, dressed in her usual robes rather than the Earth-style blue dress she wore tonight, strolling among flowers and ferns. Surprised as he had been to discover that for once, they both had a few hours to spare from their responsibilities, he’d wasted no time in inviting the ambassador to dinner. She had decided to take the opportunity to once again acquaint herself with human customs.
‘It depends on the garden,’ she said. ‘Some gardens have no plants at all. My family had a small garden of crystals arranged in white sand. When I was a child, I would often walk along the paths and look at my reflection in the facets of the crystals.’
‘That sounds great,’ said John. His mental picture altered as he envisioned Delenn’s image multiplied in shimmering translucent blades, though he had trouble thinking of her as a child. Had she been as dignified, as balanced, as wise then as she was now? Logically, she couldn’t have been, but those things were so much a part of her now that he wasn’t sure what she would be like without them.
‘Yes,’ Delenn agreed. ‘I learned some of the skills I use as an ambassador from observing my expressions in the crystals. Of course, I spent a great deal of time playing in the sand as well.’
‘I can’t imagine that,’ John admitted.
‘It can be difficult to see what someone used to be by looking at them in the present,’ Delenn said. ‘Our past always remains with us, however. The child playing in the sand is a part of who I am now, just as a part of you is the memory of who were were as a child.’
John nodded, thinking that perhaps that part was less deeply buried in him than in Delenn. The dignity she wore like a mantle, seemingly without noticing it, surely couldn’t have been with her in her youth. Then again, perhaps from an outsider’s perspective the weight of command seemed to rest more effortlessly on his own shoulders.
‘You know, when I was growing up, we had a garden too – well, an orchard,’ he said. ‘Orange trees. I used to love climbing them.’
Delenn smiled. John lost his train of thought for a moment, just watching as the lines at the corners of her eyes deepened and her cheeks dimpled. As the silence went on a little too long and her smiled faded slightly, he recovered himself.
‘My favourite place to go walking wasn’t in the orchard, though,’ he continued. ‘No, I liked the plains just outside it. The grass was so tall, I could crouch down and the tops of it would be above my head.’
‘You must have been much smaller then,’ Delenn said.
‘Well, yeah. Yes, I was! But the grass really was tall. Sometimes, when I was supposed to be doing homework, I’d go hide out there. I’d always start by being very careful, making sure I stayed below the level of the grass.’ John hunched his shoulders and raised a hand up over his head, palm down.
‘Oh dear,’ said Delenn, her tone solemn. ‘I wonder if your superiors know that they have put such a miscreant in command of this station. Surely they would not trust you with so much responsibility if they knew of your crimes.’
Startled, John stared at her for a moment before bursting into laughter. After a second, Delenn joined him. A few of the other diners glanced over at them, but John was too delighted to notice.
‘There was more to your story,’ Delenn said afterwards. ‘If you started out by being careful, how did you finish?’
‘Oh – well, just sitting in the grass waiting wasn’t any better than doing homework, so I’d stalk around pretending I was tracking something, or playing some other kind of game. After a while I’d start to really enjoy it, and I’d forget that I was supposed to be hiding. When I stood up, or yelled, one of my parents would find me and bring me back inside.’
‘To complete your homework,’ the ambassador finished for him. ‘So order was restored.’
‘Right,’ John chuckled. They ate in silence for a few minutes.
‘Sometimes,’ said Delenn presently, ‘I wish it were possible to return to that time. Our lives would be so much easier if hiding in the grass allowed us to escape the problems of the universe, if only for a while.’
‘They sure would,’ John agreed. He felt a little wistful.
‘I suppose this is not so different,’ Delenn said reflectively.
‘Coming here together,’ she explained. She placed one hand over his on the table. ‘Even though we are still on the station, surrounded by the same problems we face every day, we find more pleasant things about which to talk. Then, when we are refreshed, we stand up and return to our duties, but with lighter souls.’
Touched, as always, by the ambassador’s eloquence, John met her eyes with a smile. He turned his hand upwards and squeezed her fingers, hoping she could feel his appreciation for her insight and outlook. He wasn’t sure he could adequately express it – or his affection – in words.
Judging from the smile she gave in return, and the gentle grip of her hand, it seemed that she understood perfectly.