She stared up into the sky for the millionth time that day. Well, probably not into the sky, but into the bright gold spots of light that seeped through the canopy of dark green mango leaves. The sun’s rays painted dancing patterns against the background of leaves swaying in the breeze. She felt a bit like them, these leaves that moved not of their own accord, but simply swished wherever the wind blew. Occasionally, one would fall gently to the ground, another addition to the grave yard of varying degrees of rotting leaves lying beneath her feet.
She wondered, if the leaves had voices, would they cry out when they fell? Would they resist the call of the wind or simply mouth their contentment, in humble submission to their fate? Maybe the rustling sounds they made were whispers housing the secret desires of rebel leaves, who like her, yearned for something greater than kow towing to some unseen, all-powerful wind, but could see no way of escape, other than the piles of decaying foliage beneath. The life of the leaf; dance to the tune of the wind, or shrivel up and die….had become her life…
Looking down at the ground now, she traced another seemingly meaningless image in the sand with her big toe. It was a shapeless, almost hideous creation, nothing like the strokes of her paint brush against canvas. There was life in her brush and it gave her paintings breath so that they would leap out of their frames, giving some silent message to whoever cared to look. Their yellows spoke of happiness and their reds of anger and their blues of a myriad of things that could only be decoded by the discerning eye. Right now, her toe carried the opposite of the blood that coursed through her brush and her sand monster spoke of death; the death of the leaves and the death of her dreams.
She stood up. Enough time had already been wasted under the mango trees- not as if there was anything important to be done at the moment. She was playing a waiting game and her time was almost up. She had merely hours left until she would be packed up and shipped out to be made into an engineer. What manner of engineer she would be, she could not fathom. But her father was the wind and she was the leaf and she would bend or fall. She had been born into a life that had already been planned out. Father had said, “Awura will go to kindergarten early” and of course she had. “Awura will be the best pupil in her primary school”, and she had obligingly complied. “Awura will get into the best High School in the country” and she had all but killed herself to do so and had done so. She had lived to please her father. She had basked in the glow of his attention and flourished under his praise. But over the sunshine of his approval, had always hovered the cloud of her art.
She would never forget her first scribbles with a crayon, in the kindergarten she had started at 1 ½ years old instead of the normal 2 ½. The colours had made her almost giddy with excitement and she had discovered from that moment that she had been imbued with the power to turn colour into spirit and that her markings on any surface, were not just ordinary, but spoke volumes. That was the birth of the cloud.
She had bent, oh how she had bent and been blown and tossed by his stone will and steely resolve to mould her into the lead character of the script he had written even before she was born; an answer to the questions raised by his unfulfilled dreams. She had played the part well but it had been consistently adulterated by the additional lines sparked by her fire. And her father would have none of that. So for years she had painted in secret so that his conditional sunshine would never give way to a night that gave no guarantees of a moon’s guiding light.
But now the time had come when she was no longer a tender green leaf, desperate to drink in the sun’s radiance. She was dark green like the mango leaves above her head, but unlike them, she had a mouth and a will and a fire that gnawed at the seams of her soul, urging her to do more than just rustle.
So she got up and went into the house. She went to the file cabinet beneath the staircase and gathered them. There were some beneath her bed and she gathered them. The sack in the basement was full of them and she gathered them also. There were piles of them in the store room that her father never entered and she gathered them from there too. Then she picked up the last ones from her late mother’s locked up art gallery, whose key she kept in the locket hung around her neck.
She walked to her father’s study and entered before he could answer her knocks. She told him she was tired and she could not star in the charade anymore and that she was a time bomb about to explode and that she would not be made into an engineer. And he sat there and exploded but she stood firm and would not be blasted to bits by his dynamite. And in response to his tirade, she spoke no words but would pick them up one by one. First the painting of the happy family she had made the year before her mother had parted; the painting where the sun was a bright yellow and the sky a true blue and their smiles were more than bared teeth. Then the one from her thirteenth birthday, that depicted running blood and a broken heart, when her mother’s death snuffed out her father’s joy and grew the cloud between her husband and their daughter. Then she showed him the black hole swallowing the colours which carried her creativity. And then she picked up the shimmering gold work of art that her mother had painted for her just before the cancer had stolen her, in whose centre, she had carved in the words, “Follow your dreams, then you will shine, my star”. Those words were like lyrics to the song of her heart beat. But her father was a tone deaf bomb that refused to be deactivated. She would not remain to be torn into little pieces as he detonated, she would rather evacuate.
So she turned around with the gold painting in her arms and her admission letter to the art school somewhere in Paris, which he had refused to look at, and walked, away from her rustling, up the path of her dreams, so she could shine. Before she stepped out of the compound, packed up to be made into a star, she cast a sidelong glance at the leaves of the mango trees and whispered a parting message to them, “I’m sorry my old friends, but I had to do more than rustle to the wind”. And then she flew…