Winning Words: BIRD-TREES

Anthology preview

WHEN I was younger I thought that coconut trees were like giant birds, their fronds gently flapping in the wind. I would sit in our wraparound veranda or in my bedroom looking out at the tall bird-trees with their curved trunks. I would just sit and watch them, waiting for a great whoosh as the wings would begin to flap and the tree would take off and go wherever it was that birds that size would go.

Sometimes I dreamt that the trees would take off while I was still climbing one of the curved trunks, trunks that would turn out to be beaks. They would spend the day sucking the nectar out of the land, but at night when a quavering voice from a weekly karaoke session in the village floated on the wind, I would be whisked off to a dream kingdom in the clouds, ruled by the moon. Noel would be there, too.

It was Saturday morning when Mummy came into my room wearing the large T-shirt that she slept in. This only happened when I was in trouble. Normally she would shower and then head to the kitchen. I immediately confessed to lying about folding my clothes and putting them away, and told her they were actually balled up under my bed. She scolded me, but only half-heartedly.

"What did I tell you about lying," she said with a sigh. Now I was really worried. Maybe there was something else I did that I couldn't remember. I squeezed my eyes shut and searched but I couldn't find anything, no other wrinkles in my conscience.

"Sit down, sweetheart." I sat at the end of my bed waiting for her to fly into rage and demand that I get the belt for the thing that I couldn't remember.

She sat next to me and held my chin up so our eyes met.

"Yesterday Noël was waiting at school for her mummy, Aunty Phyllis, to pick her up to take to her to swimming, but Aunty Phyllis was running late. So Noël decided to walk." Mummy stopped, she looked like she was about to cry, like when I've disappointed her so much her anger is not enough, or like when she and Daddy have been fighting.

The faux grandfather clock in the kitchen, one a lot like the one my grandparents owned, began to chime. It chimed eight times, then all I could hear was the whirring of the ceiling fan and a distant chorus of lawn mowers and weed whackers. From the living room I could hear jazz floating through the house. Daddy had started his weekend Jazz session, but the speakers had not yet been turned up to unbearable levels. My brother gurgled in his crib. I'd wanted a sister. When Tony's mummy was pregnant she travelled to Jamaica, and when she came back Tony had a sister. I explained to Mummy that in order to have a girl you had to go Jamaica while you were pregnant. Jamaica was where the sisters were kept. She didn't listen.