I’ve heard the elders of the tribe talk by the fire at night.
When they whisper as they drink their strong tea, that is when I most want to listen to their words and nods of agreement. I know now. I know how other tribes look down on us and call us names. But…how would they know?
How would they know which berries to pick? How would they know which herbs are best for coughs and fevers and leeches’ bites?
I wonder about the places they see and the tribes they meet. Are they as stupid as we are supposed to be?
There are a lot of things I wonder about.
Sister tells me not to daydream so much and to pick the best berries. I look at her sideways and wonder more.
I know she thinks of marriage. I can tell by the way she helps mother and aunties while they cook. I can tell by the songs she sings when braiding her hair. I just don’t know – yet – which boy in the village she is going to marry.
Just as I was trying to ask her who she thought of, and yes! it was just after that bright truck passed by, the most unusual happened. I still question who they were and what business they had in our hills. Those kind of people never come this way.
We were just about to reach the road and I was still nibbling my picked berries, when we gasped. There it was. A white truck, smaller than the others. We pretended not to notice it and carried on our own business. Mother told us to stay close to her and not wander off.
We watched it carefully from the other side of the road, as a woman came out of the truck, then walked towards us. We still pretended to not see her. There were others in the car too. Auntie said it was time to go.
I looked back as I slowly shuffled my feet, my basket light, as Mother had shared my load. The same woman then came closer. This time she had objects in her out-stretched hands which I so loved. And I wondered….
I was the first to accept them. Quickly sliding off my basket of ripe berries, I sat and looked longingly at the smooth white paper. This paper was smoother than silk! No murky lines, a sky of white to do what I like. And my colours! Brighter than the bits I had at the school. There was no one who was going to stop me now, not even the strange woman who crouched by us, with a stupid smile on her face. Did she think we did not know even how to hold a pencil? Did she also think we were backwards as the other tribes called us? Well, I would show her!
Sister was slower than me. But then again, she usually was. She stood there, too shy, too unsure of herself to accept this wonderful, sky-white paper. I told her to accept and give it to me – that did the trick! Mother and Auntie said it was alright to accept as my sister took her paper and colouring pencils. As she bent down, she fondled the pencils gently. I smiled and looked at her from my drawing. I had to concentrate. I wanted straight lines. When I glanced at her again, she had loosened her basket and was lost in her sketching.
I counted the windows and doors. There would be flowers, of course. And a sparkling paddy.
In fact, my perfect picture would as perfect as the hills I lived in, as perfect as the people I belonged to.
Mother called out to us. She wanted to go now, no more excuses, no more fooling around with sky-whites and perfection.
And again I wondered…..would we get back in time so that I could complete my perfect house in the hills?