filtered sunlight

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    Filtered Sunlight

    Rosemary Temple

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    Filtered Sunlight

    First published in Great Britain in 2013 by TemplePress

    Copyright RosemaryTemple 2013

    The right of The Author to be identified as the author of this work has

    been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Design andPatents Act of 1988All rights reserved

    AcknowledgementsSpecial thanks to the creators of BBCs Africa who inspired the

    content of this pamphlet, to StockFreeImages and to Jason Skarrattwho allowed me to use his image of the Twycross Chimp.

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    I was born in a place where life is a goal, not a certainty. Where the

    ground crawls and the air hums; where trees fight their corners with

    barbs and poisonous saps; where beauty is used as a weapon.

    I was born in the Kongo ya ntotila: the Kingdom of the Congo

    forest.

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    I remember everything my mama taught me. Her lessons resided in

    me like organs; without them, I would die. Now they are whispered

    memories, and I cling to them more for the reminder of her than the

    knowledge they carry.

    I spent the first six years of my life plastered to her side, moving

    with her as she moved with our community. She was so calm among

    them, so at ease that even orders from Ntuadisi didnt unsettle her.

    She knew her function among our people, and as I watched her, she

    taught me mine.

    I was a playful child, oblivious to the danger of my

    surroundings. I used to roll around with the other young ones, chasing

    them into the undergrowth, throwing myself into a game of tumble

    amongst the debris of the forest floor. Once, when two of us had

    rolled a little too far from sight, we were seized by a pair of vice like

    hands and slammed against the trunk of a tree. Winded and

    breathless, we looked up into the fierce eyes of Ntuadisi.

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    Fools! he spat at our fearful faces. Look there!

    We turned our brown eyes to the spot in which we had been

    playing only seconds before. There, coiled around the branch of a

    tree that overhung like a great drooping arm, was a nioka, its scaled

    body glistening where the filtered spots of sunlight touched it.

    I remember thinking how languid it looked, certain it posed no

    threat, when a brightly coloured bird, its wings fragile and light,

    fluttered down to land inches from its head.

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    Bright eyes keen in alanguorous body

    muscles controlledpoised

    patientimitation lures a flutter of

    feathersgreen yellow and blue

    a deadly snatch adds red

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    We screeched. Ntuadisi howled and threw a rock at the nioka.

    Indifferently, it slithered into the undergrowth and away from our

    family.

    I could hear the frantic pants of our mamas as they trampled

    towards us through the tangled trees, their bodies materialising as

    though conjured by the mist of the afternoon.

    Ntuadisi slapped the branch where the nioka had been and

    finished his teaching with a warning: lufua.

    Death.

    How quickly it could come to the naive in the forest.

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    As a community, we travelled from place to place. Nomads of the

    forest. Whenever food sources ran low, Ntuadisi would order us to

    start walking, to follow the pathways cut by many before us, or to

    form new ones under his watchful eye. If danger was spotted, he

    would send out a call to the rest of us, and we would take to the trees,

    scaling them quickly with our capable limbs and settling amongst the

    protection of the leaves until the threat passed

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    Mama pulls me closer against her body in the tree and strokes my

    head to soothe me. My heart thrums in my chest and I know she can

    smell the adrenalin on my skin. I hear a crunch of leaves as creatures

    move beneath us; I have no idea what they are, only that the hush

    they cause amongst my people is absolute. The canopy is thick and

    lush; the perfect hiding place. Mama stops stroking my head abruptly

    as a series of grunts sound directly below us. It is a new sound to my

    ears from a creature I have yet to discover. I listen intently. The grunts

    vary in pitches and length. They stop and start. They move back and

    forth; an exchange; there is more than one creature.

    I lean forward, trying to part the leaves around me to get a

    better look, but mama pulls me back at once murmuring a warning. I

    can smell fear emanating from her in waves. It is mixed with the

    similar scent of others; my people who surround us, invisible forms in

    the canopy.

    We hold our breath.

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    The grunts recede, die and the familiar sounds of the forest at

    dusk filter back to our ears.

    I feel mama move away and turn to watch her reach up into

    the foliage above. When she looks down at me, dozens of tiny

    winged creatures cover her face. I begin to pick them hurriedly from

    around her eyes and mouth, but she pushes me away and gives me a

    look that I read in an instant:watch.

    I do as I am told as she searches the branches around her.

    With one hand, she reaches out and rips a thick one from the tree,

    sending a cascade of leaves down to the floor below. She presses

    the palm of her other hand against the trunk of the tree and lets it rest

    there for a while, then moves it up a little and lets it rest again, then

    again and again until she hoists her branch and begins beating the

    bark with all her strength. Like the shell of a nut, it splits and cracks

    until a swarm of creatures identical to those covering her face spring

    from beneath and surround us both. I swat the air with both hands,

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    nearly losing my balance twice and causing mama to stop her

    hammering to steady me with an irritated click of her tongue. I soon

    learn to sit still and suffer the creatures as they buzz angrily around

    my ears.

    Something golden and thick begins to ooze from the cracks

    and gashes she has made in the calloused bark, and instantly mama

    sweeps it up with her finger and sticks it in her mouth. She swipes

    another trickle, but this time offers her finger to me. I suck the end

    tentatively, and what I taste causes my tongue to cry out for more. It is

    sweet and sticky, and soothes my throat all the way down. We sit

    and gorge until the call of safety is sounded by Ntuadisi and we have

    to drag ourselves away from the treasures of the tree and its tiny

    winged guards.

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    Our forest had many faces. You could go to sleep and wake to find it

    unrecognisable. Colours changed, new scents expanded in our

    nostrils, sounds quivered, ceased and began again. We trusted

    every member of our community, but we could not trust the forest

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    Slices of sunlight begin to grow faint and the world around us fades

    into dark unfamiliarity. The heaviness of the air changes and the heat

    of the forest begins to rise.

    Mama urges me to climb the nearest tree, but instead of settling

    us half way up as she usually does, she pushes me on, up and up until

    I can feel the receding light of the sun on my face.

    We break through the canopy and I see the expanse of the

    world around me like a dizzying void. A blanket of cloud gathers

    across the sky, heavy and black and fearsome. As I watch, they roll

    into each other, crashing and toppling just like I do with the other

    young ones, and I feel myself relax as I watch their familiar game.

    When the first crack sounds, I am not prepared.

    I leap backwards, but mama is there to catch me. She holds

    me close and strokes my hair as the sky explodes around us and the

    foundations of our home shake. Flashes of blinding light illuminate the

    forest and I feel troubled for its safety. A bright jagged shard tears

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    through the sky and strikes a protruding tree not too far in the

    distance. I watch the leaves glow for a second and then fall back into

    charred darkness.

    When the first rain drops fall, mama pulls me back into the

    shelter of the leaves and we sleep to the sound of drumming.

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    The rain brought with it a new world to discover. Streams like blood

    vessels ran through the forest depositing new life. We drank from them

    deeply and played in the spray of temporary waterfalls

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    From the protectionof a watery home

    Mbizi hurls itself withfanned fins

    wings of a birdit twists and falls

    Splash!

    Gleaming droplets landone by one

    stretching ripples farto melt back into calm

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    The colours of the plants and leaves seemed to grow in intensity after

    a storm and everything I touched left moist dew on my fingertips. I

    saw my reflections in droplets of water that clung to leaf blades; I

    watched the steam rise into the canopy as the heat turned them to

    vapour. In those days, the forest rippled and shone

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    Mama tells me to leave them alone when I try to catch one. She

    teaches me to watch from a distance but never to interfere.

    I call them rain dancers and bring my friends to see their

    display.

    Chirrups and clicksthe melody to limbs that leap

    from leaf to leafand rest beside another

    throats expandlike yellow bubbles

    click click click

    I want to pop

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    We shared our forest with giants

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    We stumble across a pathway that is not made for our feet. Branches

    are snapped and lying limp on the ground. Purple and blue flowers

    lay scattered on the floor like bruises. Ntuadisi calls us to halt and

    inspects the damage. I hear many others scouring the undergrowth

    for food; mama hands me an orange fruit that I suck on gladly. We

    walk on Ntuadisis signal.

    I become weary and clamber onto mamas back. I see my

    friend do the same; we pull faces at each other.

    Dusk falls and we take to the trees. I settle my head on mamas

    belly, and thats when I hear them.

    At first I think its the clouds playing those crashing games

    again and wait to see the flashes of light illuminate the leaves above.

    But the sounds come from below.

    I sit up and mama tells me what they are as they start to chuff

    and blow.

    Nzawu.

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    Joined together as one, we swing through the trees, branch to

    branch, following the sound of their heavy footfalls. And then the

    trees end and we can swing no more. I scramble up to peer over

    mamas shoulder, and I see them forthe first time. Huge and shadowy

    in the clearing, like wrinkled boulders with flapping ears and nioka

    noses. We watch them greet each other in an unfamiliar language,

    and then they begin their games in the mud.

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    That was the first and last time I saw Dzanga bai, the village of the

    nzawu.

    Blind noses searchfor powdered treasure

    stifleda blow of bubbles

    the salt of the earth is releasedand fed to open mouths

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    Although our forest was dense and consuming, it had an end like

    every other living creature. The first time I found myself expelled from

    the lungs of Africa and into a dizzying world of space and sky, I

    thought my life was over. There was a river unlike any I had ever

    seen before, stretching out into unfamiliar territory. Under the blanket

    of cloud, it looked manic. Foam frothed at the edges.

    Then the cloud cleared, and the beauty of this new world was

    suddenly magnified by the rays of sunlight that bathed it in gold.

    Mama collapsed onto the soft sand as life continued to spring

    forth from the forest to witness the spectacle of space and sea. I fell

    onto her rising belly, and wrapped my arms around her tightly. We

    were shrouded in warmth from all sides.

    I gazed about me, watching the rest of my community fall into

    relaxed peace. Nothing could hide out there in the open, but it was

    not a place for lufua. Creatures went there to bask in the power of the

    unfiltered sun and to bathe, like the kiboko who thrashed and

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    crashed in the surf, his great mouth opening to taste the salt and

    swallow the experience.

    But the forest was our true home, and offered us the shelter we

    needed. It was part of us as much as we were part of it.

    Later, as the sun slipped in the sky and we walked back into

    the shadows of the sheltering, leafy towers, I realised that I lived in a

    world of miracles.

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    I live in a place where life is a routine, not a challenge. Where the

    ground lies still and the air hums a different tune; where trees are

    planted and restrained; where beauty is imitative.

    Where my mama is a memory.

    I have a new community now, but our instincts are quashed.

    We do what we do out of habit, not to survive. We have nowhere to

    go. We have nothing left to discover. We are fed, we are cared for,

    but our journey is at an end.

    We have nowhere to go.

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    I leave and forget.

    Through glass fingers press against fingersa mutated reflection

    eyes that knowthat have seen

    that misslock blankly with mine

    now look awayhands drop

    Protruding lips form the circle of a callthat could travel for miles

    but here held captive

    I read the signhis forest was felledwhile mine was builta home for a home

    comfort for constraint