Friday, November 28, 2014

Sketches from Boyhood

I remember when I was a boy walking through green fields of rice laden with the light fragrance of half-forming grains. The narrow borders between patches were lined with tiny wild flowers in yellow and purple. Sometimes my eyes caught little fish swimming in the clear water around the lush rice stalks. Where they came from and what lay ahead of them in life, they did not seem to care, but I would wonder for just a wee moment.

When the rice got riper, birds would flock to the fields to feast on the golden grains. To us who had toiled and sweated for the wetland to eventually yield its fruit that would give us a living, these birds were like blatant robbers, so we would scream and jeer and scare them away. We would stay until the stars came out in the dark velvety sky and the birds all went back to their nests and the insects began their nocturnal chirping and mosquito bites started to be felt, then we would walk home with peace both in the landscape and in our heart.

I remember a small river meandering behind our house, the bank on our side low and grassy, while the other side was high and bare almost like a cliff of red earth. I could glimpse mysterious thatched roofs half-hidden among tall green bamboo trees at the top of the high bank, all the more appealing because the kids said people grew sugar canes there, while on our side there were only patches of tobacco plants with their broad furry leaves and tiny pink flowers, which were inedible and did not interest me one bit.

My brother, who was four years older than I was, drew from that river a lot more than I could ever hope for. He could swim, he could fish, nameless little white fish and sometimes sizable carps which tasted delicious after being deep fried. As for me I would content myself by just sitting there on the grass watching the water flow, its color a cold grey occasionally flashing with a reflection of sunshine whenever and wherever a frolicking fish jumped into the air. Sometimes following the sound of grenade explosions upstream, a procession of floating dead fish, both large and small, materialized before my shocked eyes. Then with a sinking heart I knew unpleasant people existed very close to me, people who did not even need the fish they had killed in such an indiscriminate manner. These incidents always left me morose until I was otherwise distracted.

There was a brick kiln about a mile from school, where we kids would go for clay for our handicraft projects. We would take clay from discarded malformed bricks when they were still moist, cool to the touch and still malleable. From it we would make cubes and pyramids, elephants and chicken. My hands were by no means those of a sculptor, and the masterpieces I turned out were abstract at best. It was invariably a frustrating experience for me.

All the same going to that brick kiln was always a pleasure. What would captivate my attention was not the kiln itself, but the numerous ponds full of lotus flowers right next to it. Generous pink petals protectively surrounding yellow cores, broad green leaves floating in emerald water, then more and more of them all over the place until my senses became overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of their colorful radiance.

At twilight, across a meadow of rough, tall grass, the orange and purple afterglow put in sharp relief a smattering of clouds, wispy and eerie, as if coming from a long lost fairyland. I would stop to drink in that sight, that moment of nature revealing its finest magic. The trill of insects, the croaking of frogs, the occasional cry of birds hurrying back to their nests sounded lonely and gave shivers to a young boy still miles from home; yet the awareness of a different world apart from human hustling and toiling, judging and hurting, was quite fascinating and strangely comforting.

Only now that I realize I was rich to have so much to remember.

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