By Easterine Kire
My earliest memories of summer are watery ones: waking up to the sound of rain on the rooftops, watching the stream in front of my grandfather’s house flood over, and my brother and I making several attempts at rafting on a banana tree. Grandfather had built a bridge over the stream that ran through his land and emerged lower down the hill. The stream was a good boundary marker favoured by the locals. After a heavy shower, we children would gather in a group and stand on the bridge to watch the steady trickle of the small stream transformed into a mighty body of water swirling and rushing below the bridge at full speed. ‘Children don’t go on the bridge! You’ll fall into the water!’ Grandmother would shout. And we would always disobey.
Summertime was also when rainwater filled up the waterhole. Oh yes, we had a waterhole. It was an unkempt pond on my father’s land. A grove of plantains hid it from prying eyes on the road, and the wire fencing kept it sufficiently private. Shrubs, creepers and nettles grew wild at the edge of the pond where our land boundary ended. Once in a while Father got his men to drain the pond and clean it, but we never used the water for anything. In the sixties, the population of Kohima was limited; the government water supply was excellent and we didn’t need any other water sources. Father and Mother sometimes talked about keeping fish in the pond. But they never got around to it.
The pond was not deep enough to dive in. It reached up to my neck in the middle, supposedly the deepest part. Father had planted young weeping willows on the far bank and the willows constantly shed their leaves into the water. In the morning, the clear water surface reflected the sky, the willows and the electric poles on the road above. It always looked inviting but the moment someone waded in, it would instantly turn murky. Nevertheless, we could not resist the joy of cavorting in a pond in our own backyard.
Mother repeatedly warned me and my brother away from the pond. ‘You two are not to go in that dirty water! When the men cleaned it, they found glass and sharp stones. It’s very dangerous, you could cut yourself!’ Well of course, my brother and I became experts at sneaking off to the pond when we were left in the house on our own. We had heard it was possible to float a banana tree and use it as a raft. There was a plantain someone had conveniently cut down that we could experiment with. But staying atop the trunk was no mean feat. I sank every time I climbed aboard. My brother had so far managed to get from one side of the pond to the other side, and that made me vastly jealous and even more determined to succeed.
We kept sneaking down to the waterhole and Mother caught us every time. If she was unsuspecting, the maid would snitch on us. Mother’s threats grew worse and worse.
You are going to pick up malaria from the mosquito bites.
That water is so dirty it will give you Tuberculosis and Leprosy.
Your father said there are small snakes in the water.
It was all to no avail. Until that fateful day! There I was wading in the water when my foot twisted on a stone and I fell backward. As I fell, my elbow landed on something sharp and I tried not to scream. I righted my foot and scrambled out of the water and called out, ‘I’m hurt!’ My brother took one look at me and his mouth fell wide open. ‘Your whole arm is bleeding!’ he shouted. What had I fallen on? Was it the snakes that had bit me or the glass that had cut me? Whatever it was, the pain was piercing.
This time there was no way we could hide our escapade from Mother. We ran home and displayed my injuries, hoping that the fact I was in so much pain would save us a scolding (it didn’t). There were small cuts all along my left arm. They picked out the glass bits and cleaned the cuts with Dettol while I moaned through it all. My brother and I never used the pond again after that mishap. I still have the scars from the incident.
Father cleaned the pond again and after some years went by, it was filled up, and we now have a tube well in its place. Every year when the water overflows, I get to tell this story to the neighbourhood children.
And at each telling, the pond grows larger and larger.
(Easterine Kire, who hails from Nagaland, is an award-winning author of several books, most recently of the novel Don’t Run, My Love. The above piece first appeared in the Mint)