“Believe in your dreams. They were given to you for a reason.”
– Katrina Mayer
Every sunrise, the boy would wake up from a semi restless night; a night of tossing and turning on the shabby bug crowded mattress, one full of dreams; deep distant ones of foreign faces, blinking brightness and respite. On most, he would spend a full five minutes staring at the ceiling, watching the brown geckos, snap at little insects crawling about the incandescent bulb on mornings when it glowed a dim orange. When his mother’s voice or necessity called out to him from without, he would rise; stroll out to their lightly cluttered backyard to wash his face. Discarding the little plastic bowl with which he effected his engagement, he would stroll over to the chicken roosts to feed them. Mid-mornings found him bored; at school, in a little classroom with leaky roofs and patched desks. In the afternoon when he returned and after lunch, he would go to the backyard where he fished for his crude tools and half-finished creations. On some days, the boy would spend an hour tinkering away before he remembered he was needed at the farm and he would pick up the cutlass they left him and amble there. On most days, he forgot the world entirely especially when he was close to completing a creation or repair on a damaged torchlight or radio. On those days, when his parents and sisters returned, his father would threaten to split his head in two with a machete. His mother would restrain him and the boy would run away to allow the man’s lava-like temper to cool.
He would cross the stream born by the spring from which they sourced their water, ignoring young girls about his age, with short skirts and gowns, short, only from the fact that they had quite outgrown them. He could see it in their faces and in the way they would swing their hips when they encountered boys they liked, that they enjoyed their outfits. He would pause occasionally to mutter customary words of felicitation to grownups he met on the way. They would respond halfheartedly, looking at him warily like he was some feral animal. He puzzled them. They failed to understand why he never frolicked with his peers, why he had few acquaintances, went about fishing for discarded electronic parts in people’s backyards or undertook peregrinations into the woods. He would continue into the large expanse of farmland the community shared, broken into plots for each family, past farmers old and young still bent over greenery. He would continue uphill swinging by shrubs, thickets and tall trees, ambling over crisscrossing paths created by hunters and wild animals, until he got there.
On coming out of the edge of the woods, he stepped into the opening carpeted by short grasses and sun flowers. He saw his destination a few yards away, tall and majestic, sitting at the edge in arboreal beauty. The sheer size of it and the dark green leaves that grew from it always made him wonder ruefully why a tree this gigantic and beautiful didn’t bear fruits. Beyond that point, the hill began sliding steeply into a tree-filled valley. He didn’t understand why the forest stopped where it did or who hacked out the beautifully carpeted crescent from the woods. He didn’t care either. This was his sanctuary, where he ran to when his environment overwhelmed or bored him. He walked to the tree leaving crushed flowers in his wake and patted it. Old Acquaintance. With strong grips and swings he began the climb up. In five minutes, he was almost there. Climbing down would be trickier, more of grips and flailing of legs to catch opportune branches. A few grabs, pulls and near slips later, he got there, close to the very top and hauled himself to his favourite branch. From there, the vast carpet of greenery lay beneath him stretching in all directions, almost as far as his eyes could see. He sat, facing the direction from which he came, watching the yellow sun set. The way the orb slid slowly into the horizon setting the sky on fire amidst tweets and insect sounds, always sent him taking more gulps of air than he normally did. It enraptured him but it wasn’t the sunset that constantly brought him here. It was the magic that happened beneath the sun, beyond the green roof of the trees that flooded the valley behind him.
Finally, it sank totally behind the earth and darkness extinguished it. He stayed stiff for a while; waiting. He didn’t wish to ruin it before time. When complete darkness fell, he stood up on the sturdy branch, turned around and held his breath. The quite distant spray of lights captured him. Little lights, green, yellow, white and ruby-red. So many. Unlike the stars, these didn’t twinkle. They were from the skin and soul of the city beyond, separated from him by distance and the impenetrable jungle below. Somehow, he heard the hum; the steady throb, the beating of its heart flown to him by the gentle breeze lapping on the shores of his body and mind. And if he listened a little harder, his mind’s ear could grasp voices; of people in the bright streets, couples under the fluorescent street lamps he had seen in the comely pictures covering the pages of the big black book his teacher opened and passed in front of their faces and the ones his mind conjured from her old novels she let him borrow and read. He could see cars of shiny zing and beauty zip by at lightning speed. He floated up tall structures and peered into restaurants bathed in coloured illumination and filled with gaily dressed people, sampling delicious meals he had never tasted. He wondered what it would be like living there, and on warm nights, wandering by a variety of young and old purposeful faces, through the network of avant-garde architecture, screaming cars on gleaming roads and streets streaming with coloured lights. He had never been there nor had he ever left their little community before. Few people left and returned, bearing sweetly sewn tales of beauty, life and structural coordination from places outside. He longed for those spaces, even places beyond them. Places where he could attend schools where they actually taught you things beyond near basic mathematics, where you could be taught to build things you wished to create, an arrangement where he wouldn’t be scolded simply because he didn’t last long on the farm and preferred hours tinkering away on some broken electronic piece. He wanted the city. He wanted her lights and the world beyond it. With a glittering fire in his eyes, the sort the sight always kindled, he made a silent promise to do his bit and some day, set his course there. This was the reason he always came here. It kept him awake and focused. It gave him a sort of salve from the pastoral tar pit threatening to drown him.
Two hours after sunset, when his problems seemed to have disappeared, the boy brought out the little flashlight he had fashioned from electronic thingamabobs and with a soft smile plastered on his face and light in his eyes, he began the slow descent down. He didn’t stop to admire his surrounding brightened by the moon like he usually did when he came down on moon lit evenings. With his mind a newly kindled conflagration, he walked back the way he came leaving flames in his wake, past silver sunflowers and fireflies glittering in the grass, like a scenic facsimile of the city lights.
- Caleb Nmeribe #Carlflame