Tuesday, July 12, 2011

For a Friend on His Birthday

There’s the kid with the wild hair, running in the meadow. He’s just escaped a family portrait where he was forced to wear a restrictive pale blue and white checked shirt.

The family had posed for nearly half an hour before the photographer had released them, which was just as well, as he’d noticed the frown marks betraying the mother’s discomfort at having to sit still, when there were potatoes to be peeled and the porridge pot from this morning to be scoured.

The kid had jostled with his brothers, elbows jutting and hands slipping up behind their heads to show fingers to the patient cameraman and ruffle their still-damp parted hair. They were younger than he was, and drifted frustratingly between over-excitement and swift bouts of tears- no good as playmates.

He preferred the grass.

The green blades whipped at his shins even as his socks slid from their foothold on his calf muscles. He was wiry from endless forays into the hills, the exuberance he felt when he was breathing the fragrance of the wilds causing him to forget that he hadn’t eaten. Not that it mattered. He held a deep affiliation for the plants which hid amongst the boulders or waved their berries like sports fans from the hilltops, and could always find something to nibble on exploratively.

The sun was shifting behind the clouds sending down what his father called the “fingers of God”- beams which seemed to him more like spotlights as he crossed the green stage.

The photograph had been organized by his mother as an annual family boast to distant relatives. They’d comment each year on how the boys were starting to stretch- as if they were growing nodes and extra branches.

The kid settled in a clearing in the meadow, close to a huge oak tree. How the giant had come to be here in the middle of this African landscape puzzled the boy, and his eyes glazed over as he pictured men is strange outfits from centuries past kneeling in the dirt, their swine penned as they traversed the land, looking for somewhere to settle. An acorn dropped from one of the men’s pockets as he rested, the smooth nutty shell a comfort to him as he travelled.

A heavy boot crunched past, thrusting the acorn into the soil, and, with the drifting curtains of rain, it put down roots.

So lost was he in this daydream, that he was startled to see a white streak shimmer across the veld and into the oak. Blinking back his imagination, he saw that it was a squirrel. An albino marvel out here where snakes lurked on the open paths and the eagles drifted in endless circles up above.

The kid relished the stolen moments, and found the reward his father had slipped to him for staying almost quiet during the camera’s flash and the too-many calls of “cheese!” It was a box of smarties, and he lay back, letting them melt, one by one, over his tongue- lost in the reduction of the bright colours to the thin white shells before the cracks exposed the chocolate.

The smarties were deep brown inside, and the kid smiled as he imagined the albino squirrel dashing through the coming rains, his white fur being soaked away to reveal his true colour underneath.

A breeze made its whispering slalom through the blades and crowned stalks of the grass, and obscured the calls of his parents as they searched for him in the cool darkness of the house.


  1. it is brilliant how you can take a small slice of life and bring it into the sharp clarity of reality - I do love your 'stories'

  2. Stories? They seem so real in my head. Uh oh. Off to visit the sanatorium for a while, hey, Lisa?


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