Cereus Blooms at Night

by Shani Mootoo

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Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 508

When Ambrose Mohanty, Mala's one-time suitor, notices the mutual feelings growing between Tyler and Otoh, he tells his son,

"I know what I am saying: Don't let a good one get away, is what I say."

In other words, a person must reach for love when love presents itself. Despite the obstacles society might pose in regard to a relationship between Tyler, assigned male at birth but who feels himself to be somewhere in between man and woman, and Otoh, a transgender man who was assigned female at birth, Ambrose encourages them to embrace their feelings for each other. Ambrose, himself, ran away from love once when he was frightened by the violent sexual relationship Chandin Ramchandin had with his daughter, Mala. After this, his life seemed to pass him by. He will not let the chance to love Mala pass him again.

Mala used to collect the dead insects and small animals on her property, placing them in a bucket.

She paid no attention to the odour rising out of the bucket. The scent of decay was not offensive to her. It was the aroma of life refusing to end. It was the aroma of transformation. Such odour was proof that nothing truly ended, and she revelled in it as much as she did the fragrance of cereus blossoms along the back wall of the house.

For Mala, past and present merge. Memories of her past, of being a little girl called Pohpoh, interject themselves into the present (or she purposely reaches back into them), especially when the emotional tenor of those memories matches the emotional tenor of Mala's present situation. For Mala, however, this is not frightening or strange; the past is not something she tries to keep at bay, despite its painfulness. It seems that, in accepting all the phases of life—including one's painful past or even one's future death—one can achieve of level of peace and understanding of one's place in nature. After all, "Death feed[s] life."

In this same vein, there is some kind of mystical connection between the blooming of the cereus plant—an event that occurs rarely and only at night—and one's identity. Lavinia Thoroughly loves the plant and brings some to Sarah's garden; only with one another are these two women able to truly be themselves. Mala loves the plant and grows it in her own garden, waiting for the blooms just as, when Otoh arrives, she seems to have been waiting for Ambrose. In the end, Tyler and Otoh wait to be together until the cereus blooms. It's almost as though one only gets a limited opportunity to be themselves and to be recognized and understood for themselves, and this is symbolized by the infrequent blooming of the plant. It is so beautiful and unique when it does bloom, but one must be very patient in waiting for it. Likewise, a person must be patient and wait for that person to whom they can reveal their innermost, beautiful self. Opportunities do not come along often.

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