It lay shimmering in the African morning sun. Iridescent blue that appealed to my eyes. I crouched down to look closer and saw it was a beautiful blue butterfly. The way the sun created such rich, deep colours on its wings fascinated me. But something about it was not right. Moving its wings slowly, not flapping, and it was lying on its side. It was about the size of my hand, but I had the small hands of a six year old. A shadow came over the sun and I looked up.
‘What you got there? said my mum.
‘A butterfly mum, I think it’s broken’ I said.
I could see something in her eyes change as she looked more closely at it. I didn’t understand that look.
‘Can I keep it?’ I asked
‘Well its probably best to let it be’ she said
‘I’ll look after it, I am sure I can fix it’ I was pretty convinced of my abilities, all it took was love, right?
In the end she relented, but there was something that annoyed me in the way she did. It felt like she was hiding something from me.
I took the butterfly to my room, put it on a shelf and watched it. I could see its little proboscis moving in and out. I willed it to get better, I spoke to it, tried to gently touch it and stroke it, but dust came off on my fingers when I did, so I didn’t touch it again. I made some prayers to God, made some promises to be good if he fixed my little friend. Then I got my eye up real close and peered at it. It had such strange big and round, black eyes. I wondered what it was seeing. My Gran came in.
‘What do butterflies eat Nan?’ I asked
‘You could try giving it some honey’. I thought it was a great idea.
I fetched some and placed a small amount by its head as near to that flicking proboscis as I could get. I stayed for maybe an hour watching it, praying it would fix. I knew it would. I loved it so much, I knew it was going to be grateful to me and stay with me.. There was a kid at school who had a pet a crow that would sit on his shoulder. I wanted a crow. I didn’t know how you got one, he never told us. He never said much at all, he was pretty cool though.
‘Dinner’s ready Mark’ I heard my mum shout. I didn’t want to go but I knew they would insist.
At dinner I sat staring out the window thinking about the butterfly, I was eager to get back but my family had rules about eating; Kids never left the table until all the family had finished. It always frustrated me, there was always something better to be doing, usually out in the garden, especially in Africa, there was so much to see, I loved it there. It was so alive, in any bit of dirt you could find something. All adults seemed to want to do was talk, and about really boring things. Their voices brought my mind back, it sounded like they were talking about me, but I wasn’t sure.
‘He’s got to learn sometime Meredith’ said Gran.
‘Learn what?’ I asked.
‘We aren’t talking about you dear’ my mum lied, giving me another look I didn’t understand.
Why was she sad? I wanted to hug mum. There was something odd about Gran though, she was pretty scary, I wasn’t sure I liked her. She always showed me kindness, but to a kid, her worldly wisdom made little sense, she was a tough old bird.
When they finally let me go it was from a silence. All their eyes followed me out. I ran down the corridor to my room, burst through the door hoping to find the butterfly flying around, but it wasn’t. It was still in the same position I had left it, except now it was motionless. It looked just as beautiful, nothing about it had changed, nothing in the colour of it’s wings, or the eyes, there was nothing that really showed me much of anything, it just didn’t move anymore. I pushed at it. I couldn’t understand this. How could it not be moving, why would God not fix it after I had promised. I didn’t understand what this was.
My mum came in. She had tears in her eyes, and as soon as I saw her I burst into tears too. I wasn’t really sure why, there was a feeling growing in my belly that I had never known before, it was vast and uncomfortable, it was painful and I didn’t want it to be there, I wanted it to stop growing but it wouldn’t, it grew until it had consumed the warm feeling that was normally inside me. As it did all I could do was cry, and the more I cried, the more my mum cried.
‘Why wont it move any more mum?’ I sobbed
‘Its dead, darling. God wanted it to go to heaven to be with him’
‘Why couldn’t he let it stay here with me?’
‘I don’t know darling’
She had no answer for me, nothing that I could understand. I cried until I felt sick. After a day or two I got used to that funny feeling in my belly, or maybe it just went away again, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the butterfly or why God hadn’t let me keep it. I wouldn’t cheer up. I couldn’t, instead I sulked about the house, being scolded occasionally by my Gran for not ‘being a little more grown up’. I guess I was a sensitive kid.
I was moping about in the garden when I heard a voice,
‘Mark, come with me’ it was Smart, the gardener who worked at my Grans house. I had never spoken to him before, he was a really old black man and that scared me, I still wasn’t used to people with black skin. They seemed to keep themselves very separate from us, he never sat at dinner with us, and I never heard Gran invite him. I wasn’t sure what he wanted me to do.
‘Come, come’ he said again in his African twang, and pulled gently at my hand.
In the end curiosity got the better of me as much as his insistence, and I followed him out into the garden. He took me to the rockery and carefully held my shoulders for support as he got me to lean over a small bush and look on the other side. What I saw there was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. There were two snakes curled up enjoying the sun. I had never seen a snake before. I looked at Smart and he beamed at me. I beamed right back, I liked Smart, and best of all that pain in my belly was gone too.