The Storm

nonfiction

Image by Nick Nice

        Children from well-off families were not loath to cyclones. On the contrary, these tropical storms, so frightening to the poor people of the island, were silently wished for. To us well- endowed kids, it meant not going to school. And this was good news in itself. As we grew up, we realized people sometimes lost their homes during the storm and had to seek refuge in public shelters. Planters were stripped of their crops, swept by the fierce winds, and whole plantations flooded beyond recovery. The downside was enormous compared with even the dullest day at school.
       A quarter of a century later, I was living comfortably with my family – my dear wife and three sons - in a house not far from the river. Tropical cyclones are recurrent on the island, and a Class II alert warns us of likely impending strong gusts and heavy rain. We would lock all the doors and secure the shutters to the windows. The backyard chickens roamed about freely in the yard, and we would lure the roosters inside the closed garage by scattering rice grains; the hens promptly followed in. A plentiful supply of water and food kept them happy, and they graciously responded by pooping all over the floor.

       Until the sun unveils itself again and the chickens return to the yard. Meanwhile, we still looked at the silver linings. I mean literally. We would gaze in awe at the clouds as they gorged themselves, swelling ominously and becoming ablaze at sunset, ready to roar. Like a grandiose opera.

       I recall this particular day during a cyclone, sitting alone on the veranda. My wife was reading in the living room while the boys were on their mobiles. The gales became stronger and the rain started pouring down. The veranda was built of glass panels, thick enough to withstand the wind and the smaller objects that sometimes came hurling at it. As the rain lashed against the glass panes, the raindrops seemed to break asunder into arrays of tiny droplets that adhered to the glass to form beautiful decorative patterns: sometimes geometrically shaped and sometimes irregular but artfully crafted. I was enthralled with these designs when I saw a pair of tiny eyes peering at me, almost beseechingly, from the opposite side. They were those of a butterfly.

       I immediately stepped forward to open the window next to it. Half drenched but still able to support its weight, its heavy wings flapped, and it flew inside. Just in time. Some minutes later, it would have been totally soaked and would have drowned under its own weight. It was probably sitting on a nearby tree branch and waiting for a pause in the downpour to fly over to the veranda. The glass panels invited it to safety. But it was illusory.
       I gazed at the butterfly. It was hanging itself on the interior glass panel, perfectly poised, in equilibrium. It was black, patched with oblique yellow spots all over the wings. And when the wings opened up, the spots fitted in symmetrically to create a consummate masterpiece. The hind wings were forked like the swallow's tail and were endowed with dark blue and eye-shaped red rings, not unlike the eyes. A subtle ruse to disconcert and ward off predators while the actual eyes were located in front.

       Such perfection can only culminate after a long voyage, not without effort and not without pain, I pondered. Not many butterflies would be able to see the storm out. In fact, not many insects would. There were also no birds in view. They had all moved to the trees by the river on the leeward side.

       The veranda was roomy and full of potted plants. The butterfly fluttered its wafer-thin wings and chose a little kumquat tree to take shelter on. It was drawing near the end of its lifetime, time to start the life cycle all over again. Attracted to the kumquat tree, it laid its eggs on the fragrant citrous leaves. Later the caterpillars would feed voraciously on the leaves until satiation before they go fasting and spend the next part of their lives in self-enclosed cocoons from which the butterflies would finally emerge only after strenuous efforts.

       After two days, the storm was gone; the rain stopped and the sun beamed again. The chickens rushed to the yard and the poop was scraped off to the compost bin. The butterfly went back to grazing on the yard’s flowers as it usually did. Other creatures outside the yard, left on their own, unsheltered and unprotected, were not so lucky. The storm was unforgiving. It showed no mercy to the little creatures and it humbled us, humans. Maybe there was a butterfly effect.

Bashir Cassimally lives on the Island of Mauritius where he does some gardening, loves hiking and snorkelling. He writes for local magazines and has also been published in Brittle Paper, The Island Review, Adelaide Literary Magazine, and in anthologies. He hopes to devote more time writing now that he's retired.