I can’t sleep.
Deep breath in.
Boredom has hit me like a speck of bird poop that I can’t shake off. I’m doing that thing I did when I was a kid and couldn’t sleep: partially opening my eyes in the blackness of my room, then fully closing them to test whether my brain can differentiate between the fabricated darkness of my squinted eyes, versus the real one of my eyes closed. Two points to my brain.
It is July in Kenya where the nights are cool and the days are warm, and the eucalyptus leaves have dried to a pale olive brown. Just the look of them tells me how crunchy it would feel if I pressed one between my fingers. It is an autumn of some sort. Though the seasons in this part of the world are less embellished and more limited, it is autumn.
It is a good time to wear my short dungarees. It is a good time to go for walks. It is a good time to pet my dogs. It is a good time to feel alive.
The bright white clouds bully the morning waves of the sun. And so the sun diminishes its glory, waiting patiently until the end of the year when it will have the sky to itself. The all year round bougainvillea compete with the newly bloomed flowers of reds and purples and pinks and yellows and oranges and whites. Where there used to be a skeleton of a bare trunk with its bare branches and twigs, now bears a voluminous tree in green and red. It is filled with assorted weavers foraging inside – their movements quick and assertive.
My skinny, green, branch-like veins are still pumping blood to my brain and my heart, so I must be okay. Even if my mouth doesn’t speak it, at least my body does. There is colour in my skin – a brilliant mahogany glistening like varnish on wood. Long breath out.
I think of the boy I loved in high school and wonder if his skin is this bright this time of year. I think of how people come and go, how certain relationships are only meant for certain seasons or a certain season, rather. Would it even matter if he were in my life today? It would never work, anyway.
Like the existentialism of Ecclesiastes, nothing under the sun is new, and yet, autumn comforts me.
I convince myself that I am growing a lemon plant. Weeks have passed since I buried its seeds in the ground. It is growing, tall and reaching. I am proud of it. I am proud of myself. I look at pictures online of the early stages of a lemon plant, and see leaves that are short and roundish, blackish green and waxy, robust. Then I look at my plant: it has light green lackluster leaves that keep duplicating in what seems like every other day. They are thin and slender with pointed ends and are easily moved by the wind. I could probably tear one apart without any effort and it would detach from
itself in a straight angle. Deep breath in.
Admittedly, what I’m really growing is a grass root. It is reaching almost five inches now, and I can’t for whatever reason bring myself to yank it out and start over
Besides an interest in gardening, boredom brings internalized thoughts and the task of entertaining others. My nephew is three years old. Every time I’m with him, there’s at least one moment where I think, Man, a lot can happen in three years.
We are walking to the chicken pen. There is a pair of butterflies flittering and fluttering ahead of us as though showing us the way. I pick up a dandelion from the ground and blow it in my nephew’s direction. As its flowers come apart, he giggles in that way that toddlers do, reminiscent of a newborn’s first cackles at amusement – evidence of how infantile he still is. At a distance we crouch, sitting flat on our heels watching the chickens peck at the ground. They try to act cool but at the same time appear cautious, as if we are going to pounce on them at any second.
My nephew asks me questions like: “WHY are they looking at us?” “WHY are the chicks sleeping?” “WHY is the daddy rooster coming to us?” “WHY are they looking for food?” I think of any answer that can convince him to stop talking and just be, but I am unsuccessful at that. Long breath out. I concede at “I don’t know – ” but even that’s not enough to get me off the hook so easily.
Still, the wind blows.
Deep breath in.
When it does, I feel it soothing my skin; anew, swooping all the remnants of the dead and broken off the ground. I am alive, I remember.
The March sun was full and harsh, but now it is mild and warm – the perfect temperature for me to lie out on the lush grass and disappear into sleep. I hear the wind once more in between the trees. It is moving throughout the foliage, not leaving any part untouched. It billows along like a gargantuan bed sheet being shaken up and down by its corners, taking some fallen leaves, flowers, and twigs along with it. One twig bounces off my arm. I look towards it and spot a little luminous orange dot crawling down my shoulder, barely a tingle on my skin. The wind’s inhale is deep. It is as though it has a bottomless diaphragm, ready to sing for all the living creatures in its world. It is loud like the waves pressing upon the sand, but gentle enough not to obliterate this tiny insect. Once its lungs are filled with enough air, the wind slowly exhales.
To me, this sound is everything, and I smile with my eyes closed as it stretches out all around me. I then mimic how long I can push out my breath. Looooooong breath out. 15 seconds
My nephew panics when he sees my two dogs fighting: one on top of the other, teeth bared, deep growl, furs on end. I feel I am slowed with time as I watch his face contort slowly: lips quivering beyond control, saliva thickening, eyes filling up, all dramatically preparing for an expression of complete anguish. The whole thing is so pure it satiates me somehow. Once he is bawling, I rub him on the back and say, “It’s okay, it’s okay.”
Deep breath in.
The nights haven’t gotten any better. My brain has become too agitated to play any more games with me. I look out the window to relax it a bit. The moon is out and it is full, highlighting the sprigs, shrubs, leaves, and chunks of bark spread all over the driveway.
Next week it will begin to rain. Three months later, the jacaranda trees will sprinkle their purple flowers onto the hoods of parked cars. The sun will be in all its scorching glory, drawing out all of my skin’s luster. Only those with deep roots will survive, their flowers big and bright. But one day, autumn will come back, and give us all a chance, again.
Turi Ekirapa is a writing, music-obsessing, ice cream-loving weirdo studying to be an artist of life. She is from Nairobi, Kenya, where she sometimes plays the role of teacher, musician or baker. She whines about her life at mgeni.org.