My Gum Tree
Copyright 2022 by Ezra Azra
Photo by Trac Vu at Pexels.
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.
other two trees were easy to climb because they had sturdy branches
low down enough on the main stem that children could easily reach.
sturdy branches on the gum tree started so high up the main stem that
we could not reach them, even by jumping.
thought of one of us standing on another's shoulders, but how that
one would climb down, presented too uncomfortable problems.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
gum tree grew higher than the other trees. From the highest branch,
the sight all round was absolutely exhilarating.
could see so many roads with all kinds of vehicular traffic.
and hundreds of people walking, riding bicycles, pushing wheel
barrows, running to catch buses.
away there was an open field on which there were ball games played,
now and then.
exciting were police cars speeding along; they did not have sirens in
wished every time I would have a bird's eye view of a criminal act in
progress; it never happened.
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
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.
warm nights on non-school days, I would sneak out and climb in the
dark. The sights were incredibly beautiful. And 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.
(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
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.
the utter darkness far away on the ground, people moving about
briefly in their yards, with paraffin lanterns, looked like
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
remembered that folding and tucking our clothes was drilled into us
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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