Thursday, October 1, 2015

Heat and Storm

I love African summers, when a heat-haze rises from the roofs of cars and shimmers from the tin roofs of lean-to shacks and precarious mud-brick buildings. On such days the heat is at first invigorating; only later do you notice how it has sapped your strength and left you feeling as wilted as the grass and avocado trees in your garden. On such days the sky is a deep blue that stretches out seemingly forever, a blue you can get lost in, a blue that is reflected in the bright shallowness of the water in your family’s swimming-pool. On such days the ladies walk slowly beneath umbrellas, shading themselves from the heat; matrons lounge on straw-coloured grass mats placed on smooth rocks beside water-berry trees that offer respite from the sun; and slowly, stealthily, snakes slither out unseen from beneath these same rocks to glide into the cool river nearby.

The Italian baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi described this weather musically in his Four Seasons concertos: the flies buzzing, the peasants drinking and dancing, the slumber of all during the time of siesta.

But just when the stupor and drowsiness is at its peak, a strong wind appears out of seemingly nowhere, rattling the windows and slamming the doors. The water in the previously placid pool begins to dance. The trees sway, the birds clack-clack in warning. You feel the cold air sucking in; in a moment the sky is dark, then a terror of power is unleashed from the heavens as the storm hits with a sudden onrush. Quick, quick, unplug everything! Quick, quick, bring in the washing from the line! Quick, quick, make sure the car is inside the garage, for there might be hail. You remember last summer, when the hailstones were as big as your fist, punching dents in your car roof as if they were the hands of a giant boxer going for a knockout in round one. They were like the hands of a giant drummer, pounding on the tin roofs of the fragile shacks now shaking in the wind.

There is nothing you can do during such a storm except pray. O Lord, keep us safe, protect our windows, protect our crops, keep safe anyone outside in this storm. The wind whistles, the thunder groans and roars, the rain-hail beats a tattoo on the glass panes and you realise just how small and weak a thing it is to be human. But our delicate fragile human lives, that pass like an African summer’s day, are also things of wonder and exhilarating beauty.

© Kenneth Rowley 2015

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