Dirt

Mama tells me that I used to hate sand. When someone tried putting me feet-first onto the beach, I would kick my legs up and throw a tantrum.

The little girl is walking hand-in-hand with her mother. I think she is wearing a red cotton hat, and she is already tired from the walk towards the water. Every so often, she becomes determined about chasing the few crows that seem to move with them as they walk. One of the crows has had enough, and pecks the girl on the head. Maybe she wasn’t wearing a red cotton hat.

I like to think that I protected my brother in school. He is younger than I am, and was more introverted, and I desperately wanted us to have the kind of relationship where I was the protective older sister who scared all the bullies away.

The girl is standing at the side of a tall slide in the playground, carefully watching another child climb its ladder. She makes her way to the ladder, and begins to climb it, too. When she is at the top, she watches as the boy pushes the other children down the slide, laughing evilly; suddenly she looks afraid, and says nothing. As she slides down, the boy, who is now standing at the foot of the slide, decides to make his way back up. She smiles at the hunched, approaching figure in passing and decides not to tell her brother about it.

I was fascinated by the many bonsai plants that Suzette had in her kitchen. A miniature coconut tree, in particular. One day, she gave my brother and I two bonsai plants. I got a cactus, but I can’t remember what Nihal got. We put them on the window sill next to the inevitable mung-bean class project.

She is watering the plants. Her mother has put one at every edge of the flat, it seems. The plants hug a mossy structure in the middle, and like this, they grow. She remembers which plants she has watered by the colour of their leaves; downstairs, two plants have dark green and black leaves, and two have bright green leaves. She always begins with the plant with the dark green and black leaves, and takes longer to water them; it is like the colour absorbed the water better.

The first time Ilu and Suri heard that I had never eaten mud as a child, they assumed that I was joking. “But you never just picked up a handful of mud and put it in your mouth?” “Uh, what?” Their surprise doesn’t diminish with the growing number of people who say that they didn’t do this, either. “You were all just strange kids”.

They are returning from the beach. In the lift, the girl is arguing with her brother about who gets to bathe first once they reach the front door. After kicking their shoes off, and brushing the mat with their feet, they run towards the bathroom. Her brother is complaining outside, about how long she takes to bathe; somewhere from the dining room she can hear her mother saying that next time her brother will go first. When she is done bathing, and rinsing her swimsuit, she fills mugs of water to throw against the sandy floor; she watches as the sand collects and separates, and breathes, and finally reaches the reluctant drain.

I think it was the first time I did something to be able to say that I had done it. That, and for the brilliant picture I was sure it would make. I was twelve or thirteen, and we were at “Boot Camp”, which is just a fancy term for the weekend we spent trekking, and climbing fake hillsides and sailing. Basically, it was perfect, and on the last evening someone suggested that we have a boys versus girls mud fight in the disgusting mangrove mud that was full of twigs and god only knows what else.

The boys ran to the well and rinsed the mud from their short hair and uncomplicated bodies. The three girls spent two hours prying the drying cake from their tresses. The turtles in the well looked up and rolled their eyes.

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Turns out, someone did take a picture.
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