It’s a warm, still day. I’m chewing on a blade of grass and really don’t intend to get anything done. Certainly I’m not going to write. Writing requires thinking. Right now I don’t want to think. I’ve been feeling jaded and worn for some time now and I want to get past that. The light in the back garden is amazingly beautiful. Sunlight and Shadow, and Shadow and Sunlight. It keeps changing from moment to moment, making leafy patterns on my dress as I lie there on the grass. I look up and there are only a few patches of blue sky remaining; the dark clouds are taking up the rest of the space. There’s a speck of a lone bird gliding high up amongst them. At length swirling shapes appear before my eyes and I blink and look away at a beetle crawling up my arm. I haven’t seen this specimen before. It’s orange and blue – nature is almost always complementary – bright, shimmery colors. Another one alights, and, no kidding, this one is red and green. How come I never saw these guys before? There’s somebody else eying them – a yellow Honeyeater. He’s sitting on the mulberry tree with a cocked head, contemplating, of course, how he’s going to get them away from this human. There are sparrows chirping in the background, interrupted every now and then by the shrill call of the Cuckoo. I feel an ant walking on my leg, and shake it off. It’s one of those large red, nest-building types – they stick leaves together to make fairly large homes – I came across one just yesterday on the Red Hibiscus. Somebody calls me. It’s one of the neighborhood kids, aged five.
“What’re you doing?” he asks.
“Nothing,” I say.
“Are you going to do anything?”
He nods in understanding and leaves me to it. Not a pushy sort, this kid. And young enough yet to give people their space. Henry Thoreau would love him. I think of what Henry Thoreau said – ‘It is not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?’ You’re thinking again, I tell myself. I hear my young friend sloshing his legs idly in the pond. The splashing water shimmers in the fading sunlight. Look, he calls, that was a RED dragon-fly! I prop up on my elbow to look – it’s red alright and hovering close to him. And the fish are nibbling at my toes, he calls ecstatically. Nibble them back, I tell him. He laughs. You’re so silly, he says, they don’t have any toes! He calls them rainbow fish – they’re plain old guppies really, put in the pond so we won’t breed any mosquitoes – and reports that they’re swimming in and out between the underwater lotus stems. Perhaps we’ll get some goldfish soon, I muse. When, he asks at once. Soon, I repeat. Geez, he says, you’ve been saying that for ages! Yes, I think, so I have, haven’t I? Alright, tomorrow then, I say. GreAt, he shouts and splashes more water, what about a turtle too? And some ducks and pigeons, I counter. And some cows and sheep, he adds. A cow would be a VeRy good idea, he tells me earnestly, it would keep the grass trimmed and save you a lot of work – and…and it’ll give milk and you can use the dung for fertilizer. We’ll get a horse too, I tell him. Yeah, he says, that will save the bus fare. A bright kid too. I don’t think I was so commercial at five. I mean, I was all for maintaining a menagerie myself, but it was more like for the companionship, you know? The management was supposed to be my parents’ headache. I don’t know what it is – are kids wiser these days, or have I just grown smarter with age?
There’s a rumble of thunder overhead. The sunlight has gone entirely now and there’s a stiff breeze bending the tree-tops. I pull down my billowing skirt and sit up and watch the fallen leaves go cartwheeling over the grass. The birds are making a huge din and the fruit bats are swooping low. There’s a momentous, excited feeling in the air. It’s always like that before a storm. One of my favorite moments was getting caught in a rain-storm on a mountain slope with a friend once. The clouds were low on the blue mountains and ringing about us in a cold mist, and the ruffling grass on the slopes was bright green and dotted with blue flowers. We stood there looking down at glimpses of the deep ravine through drifts of swirling mist and needed to shout to make ourselves understood to one another. It was one of those times when you just have to tell someone how simply divine things are – it’s not enough seeing them, experiencing them, they have to be shared – and that’s why I sometimes wonder about people traveling on their own, isn’t it a torture not being able to point out something to someone? – something they can see very well for themselves, of course, but which is made all the more worthwhile by having pointed out. But, anyway, so here we were on the mountain and THEN the rains came down. We ran, laughing all the way, to a small, ancient stone temple we had spotted earlier. It was some way off, so we were well and truly soaked by the time we reached it. We stood in the dark, crumbling doorway, shivering in our wet things, and looking out, beyond the streaming rain, at the wild landscape. And we began talking again, of course – deep philosophical and heartfelt matters this time that we had never shared before and would have normally shied away from in embarrassment. Now we spoke urgently, excitedly, one idea tumbling out after another, each sounding freshly-minted and utterly practical. Oh, what a difference we were going to make! I had the feeling of being perched on the edge of a wide, new world, just waiting to spread my wings and take off, and there was a strong conviction too of soaring once I did. There was something about that storm raging outside that convinced me of that… Well, that friendship hadn’t survived the confidences, but that feeling had… And every time it rained and the smell of the wet earth filled the air, I knew there was a point to my life, that there was something good and useful about it, that this journey I was on would only lead to a place better and more beautiful…
“Hey,” my young neighbor’s voice breaks into my reverie. “Your Ma’s calling for us to go in.”
I look about and so she is. My mother is a wonderful woman, but she has the unromantic albeit unintentional knack of turning up and ruining the best ruminations. She’s signaling from the back window. It’s going to rain any minute, she calls, get inside. My friend looks at me. Are we going in, he asks, reluctantly.
“Not yet,” I say.
“Not yet!” he calls back, full of cheer.
“You’ll get wet!” she calls.
“She says we’ll get wet.”
“Tell her we won’t melt.”
He laughs in delight and conveys that loudly, “She says we won’t melt!”
Ma, with an impatient wave of hand, withdraws. I grin back at my friend, sitting there with his shirt billowing at the back and his hair, like mine, swept all awry. This is going to be grand, I tell him. And after we get thoroughly wet, he tells me gleefully, let’s make paper boats and FLOAT them!