My Gum Tree

Ezra Azra

Copyright 2022 by Ezra Azra

Photo by Trac Vu at Pexels.
Photo by Trac Vu at Pexels.
I claimed it as mine because of the three gigantic trees in our yard at my Grandparents' home in our Village, the gum tree was the one that only I climbed. All of us Grandchildren climbed the mango tree and the avocado tree.

The other two trees were easy to climb because they had sturdy branches low down enough on the main stem that children could easily reach.

The sturdy branches on the gum tree started so high up the main stem that we could not reach them, even by jumping.
We thought of one of us standing on another's shoulders, but how that one would climb down, presented too uncomfortable problems.

I came up with a way to reach those branches. I kept it a secret. Nobody knew I climbed the gum tree. Mind you, the secret held no obvious advantage because there was no obvious reason to climb the gum tree. The other two trees had fruit.

The mango and the avocado trees were in our backyard. The gum tree was in our front yard, a few steps from the steps of our front verandah.

At first, the only reason I thought of climbing the gum tree was because everybody else had given up. I tied a piece of wood at the end of a piece of old rope, and swung it up and over a branch. I climbed up the rope. Of course, I was not successful on the first throw. The old rope snapped a few times. The piece of wood snagged on a different branch; the rope snapped when I jerked too vigorously to unsnag the wood.

When I was successful, eventually, I pulled the rope up after me, and hung it on a branch while I was up in the tree. I did not want anyone to know I was up there. I climbed only when there were no other Grandchildren around. Seldom.

When there were other children around, I had to be content climbing the mango or the avocado. Strangely, inexplicably, while we occasionally encountered a snake in the other two trees, I never encountered a snake in the gum tree.

The gum tree grew higher than the other trees. From the highest branch, the sight all round was absolutely exhilarating.

I could see so many roads with all kinds of vehicular traffic.

Hundreds and hundreds of people walking, riding bicycles, pushing wheel barrows, running to catch buses.

Far away there was an open field on which there were ball games played, now and then.

Most exciting were police cars speeding along; they did not have sirens in those days.

I wished every time I would have a bird's eye view of a criminal act in progress; it never happened.

There must have been an aerodrome far away because frequently I saw aircraft flying either in a landing or taking off angle. About twenty years in the future I would be a passenger in an aeroplane, for the first time.

Only once, it rained when I was in the tree. On the one hand, it was a great new experience to see rain approaching in the distance. On the other hand, rain brought danger. Wet branches were slippery to my hands and bare feet. It took me longer than usual to climb down. I never again climbed up in the rain. If I was high up, and saw rain approaching, I would hasten down.

On warm nights on non-school days, I would sneak out and climb in the dark. The sights were incredibly beautiful. And frightening.

Frightening, because most roads in our village had no street lighting. The blackness stretched vastly in every direction. The few roads that had street lights looked like ribbons of fire; always made me shudder. In some directions, the blackness of the night was so vast, it seemed to be a bottomless black hole, brought on moments of vertigo dizziness.

Fireflies (lightning bugs) presented a real danger high up in the tree. When we encountered them on the ground in our yard, they were harmless and elusive, always seeming to be on the run. But when I encountered them high up the gum tree, they were aggressive. Their bumpings into my face seemed deliberate. The same ones would do it repeatedly. I kept my mouth shut; my eyes, too, as much as I could

Always, here and there at night, I would see backyard fires. Spectacular in the vast stretches of darkness all around. They were usually fires of burning garbage. There was no Municipal garbage pick-up in our village. We were obliged to come up with ways to dispose of our home garbage. Backyard rubbish-burning was a most common remedy.

In the utter darkness far away on the ground, people moving about briefly in their yards, with paraffin lanterns, looked like fireflies.

Lady, our beagle pet dog, was ever a problem. When I was up the tree, she would lounge on the verandah, sometimes looking up; sometimes just lying around, waiting for me to return. I was always fearful somebody would notice. Nobody ever did.

In the daytime, most of the birds did not mind me up there among them. The Mynah birds resented my presence, and showed their resentment by flying closely and screeching. Whenever it happened, I was careful to look around to see if I was close to nests. There were never any nests around. Those Mynahs were just being noisily and obnoxiously territorial.

The most welcome advantage of being so high up, was that I saw in the distance the two visitors that all us children hated. They were distant family relatives of Granny. Billy, and Mrs Wesley. Both were as old as Grampa and Granny.

They did not visit often. Because they walked slowly, I would see them coming when they were two roads away. I had enough time to climb down and hide. It was a good thing that they stayed for only one cup of tea. Although Grampa and Granny were always happy to see those two, I wondered, many years later, when I recalled Granny hastily making the tea immediately one of those two arrived. I do not remember them visiting together.

Grampa, too. He was retired, but always found something to occupy himself while he was, in passing, exquisitely charming to them. Had it not been exquisite, it would have been just common fakery.

Billy always required his back scratched. Granny would assign more than one of us to do the scratching. The only reason we did not mind, was because those who were assigned, got an extra biscuit with their tea.

It wasn't easy scratching Billy's back. We had to scratch while he wore his coat. We would grab the material and push and rub vigorously. Strictly speaking, that was not scratching. And he would continually direct us to where we should apply ourselves.

Mrs Wesley was a widow. She was worse than Billy. She would sweetly ask for her feet to be washed. She would sit. We filled a wide shallow metal container with cold water. She put her feet in the water, and we would wash her feet. The condition of her feet indicated they were not washed often enough. We used soap. Either, rubber hand gloves had not been invented yet, or we could not afford them. She did not require us to dry her feet. She would put her wet feet into her sandals. We did not see that as unusual. That was subtropical Africa. Most of the time, the weather was uncomfortably warm. Wearing socks was not obligatory proper wear. Especially not in Villages like ours.

I could hide from Billy and Mrs Wesley when there were no other Grandchildren around. When there were, I would not be up the gum tree to see whichever of the two were approaching.

I used to hide my rope under the verandah. We children never played under the verandah because of the insects. Millions in every nook and cranny and crevice, in subtropical Africa, during every season of the year.

Because of the insects, I knew nobody would find my rope hidden there. Nobody ever did. Although, many years later when I was in another country, and my Grandparents had passed on forever, years ago, I recalled, to my surprise, that often when I went to gather my rope to climb my gum tree, I would find it neatly folded and safely tucked. The child in me never noticed.

I remembered that folding and tucking our clothes was drilled into us by Granny. 

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